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Don's Directory, Colorado USA

Proposal

In 2001 Don Hart came to us with written explanations of a piece of software he wanted to have written. We were given the objectives and asked to write a proposal for achieving them. Mr. Hart presumed we would write the software on a single-user PC, but when presented with the possibility of creating a web-based application, and the advantages of doing so, this was met with a favourable response. The proposal was written and accepted.

In December 2001 we began creating a web-based application using Linux, Apache, PHP, and MySQL. We also took care of registering the client's domain and establishing the Linux server to host the site.

Software Engineering

The first project was to develop the back-office application that would be used for data entry and editing — to compile the data that would make up the first publication. The labour for the first phase was done by Angelo Babudro, project manager and software engineer, along with a graphic designer who built the user interface (UI) and a PHP developer to assist with coding. The first version was completed and placed into service by the autumn of 2002 and the first edition of Don's Directory was published in 2003.

New features were continually added to the application from 2003 to 2012, as well as the existing features being enhanced. Our company and in the latter years Angelo Babudro individually has continually managed the web, e-mail, and database Linux servers.

The back-office application has been enhanced continually starting right after the first release was in operation. We established a dual-layer Development+Production software management model with a version control system for tracking changes and deploying updates to the Production servers. One of the major enhancements from 2003-2006 was an order-entry system with a range of accounting features and reports, including accounts receivable and a specialised form of inventory control suited to their business.

In 2004 we were given the project of developing the Don's Directory subscriber web site that would allow access to and searching of the company listings. The public site was to have secure authentication and access to a portion of the publisher's database.

The public site had been started by another firm who was unable to finish, and the desire was to have it operational very quickly. Therefore, in the first phase of development the code and design already developed were merely completed. In subsequent development phases, the entire site was rewritten to improve security, increase efficiency and aesthetics (e.g., replacing graphic buttons with CSS styles), enhancing functions (chiefly the search function), add a news section (and the back-office controls to publish news articles on the public site), etc.

The search function seems relatively simple but was actually quite tricky. For example, the fields are not equally weighted, advertisers get higher priority than non-advertisers, and other special rules. Thus, making the search function intuitively for its users took quite a long time, but since it is the main feature of the site it was important to make it stand out from any other on the Internet, and it is what keeps the site's subscribers from finding any other competing service that can offer this level of ergonomics. Once a listing is found the user can bookmark it and make notes for themselves, creating their own annotated directory.

The two sites, public and back-office, access the same database so that changes made to the publications are instantly available to on-line subscribers. The back-office software was enhanced to provide subscriber management tools and reports, so they can view overall site activity, reset passwords, change subscription periods and types, etc.

For over a decade the site has remained stable and secure throughout all of its growth.

Server Administration

In 2003 and again in 2007 the company decided to change the web site hosting providers. Angelo Babudro managed the transition of the company's web site to new dedicated Linux servers, including these services:

  • Researching available options, proposing a recommended solution, discussing and explaining all the choices and variables involved.
  • Remotely loading Linux on the new server
  • Configuring the software (Apache, Sendmail, MySQL, etc.)
  • Installing the web sites on the new servers
  • Transferring the database to the new servers
  • Testing everything for proper operation in parallel with the existing web site
  • Making DNS changes and directing registrar changes
  • Final tests and reports to the client when the old host was ready to be decomissioned.

From the start to the present day, ISP Ltd. has managed the Linux servers for Don's Directory. The day-to-day server management has included:

  • System security, including firewalls and software patches
  • Fail-over planning and implementation
  • Making and maintaining remote off-site back-ups
  • Database replication
  • Web server load balancing
  • Server alert monitoring and response