Drupal Focus On Enterprise, London, 26 May 2010

Drupal Focus On Enterprise 2010

2010 saw the third annual Drupal Focus on Enterprise conference, which took place at the Sun Microsystems offices in London. The free event, which is sponsored by Sun, brought together a set of speakers to talk about different things that they or their businesses have done with Drupal. Even though I live in Manchester I was lucky enough to go along.

The conference consisted of two tracks, with a number of talks in each. I obviously couldn't go to every talk, but the talks I did see were of a very professional standard. The tracks weren't set in designated rooms but a head count was made of everyone who wanted to see which track and the bigger room used for the talk that got more votes.

I also arranged to meet fellow North West Drupal User Group (NWDUG) member @eli_t at the conference.

How Learning Styles Ease the Drupal Learning Curve

Paula Hudspith, Director of Learning, IO1 Limited

This is an informal, interactive session lead by Paula Hudspith from IO1.  For many, Drupal has a steep learning curve.  In this session you'll discover how understanding learning styles and incorporating them into formal and informal training sessions can boost someone's learning experience, interest and retention rate.  This is a hands-on session so please bring along your laptop.

I didn't go to this session as it was a beginners tutorial and I also wanted to see more about Drupal and web services.

Drupal and Web Services

Django Beatty, Managing Director, Adub

A look at the cutting-edge of Drupal web services and some interesting applications for enterprise.

Anyway, the talk was about the Services module in Drupal. This module causes Drupal to act as a web service server, exposing lots of functionality through these services. It will act as an interface to nodes, views, users, taxonomy, and search as a default and because it has an extensible interface it is quite easy to extend the service to incorporate your own module. Out of the box the Service module will use xml-rcp, but there are lots of sub modules available that will allow lots of different types of communication.

Django went through a few uses of the Services module, which included:

  • Ratings systems.
  • User generated content.
  • Content delivery
  • Syndication
  • Flash based site with Drupal backend.

The great power of the Services module is the ability to quickly create content and new features on existing sites without breaking them. It can also get content from Drupal and present it on a separate site. For example, using views with an argument to push relevant data out.

There are also several different modules that use the Services module as a base and build upon this. These are as follows:

Content distribution - This module allows you to create a Drupal site that will be a central hub site and act as a content repository. This makes many things possible, such as using internal syndication to push content between different sites.

Deploy - This module allows the pushing of content and even configuration from staging to live server. It's kind of like an automated version of the Features module.

Django then discussed the future of the Services module. It is currently in version 2 with version 3 in development and has been released as a beta. The author is using version 3 as a content delivery service for some 500 sites so it can't be all that bad. Some major changes are being incorporated into version 3, including:

  • The ability for any module to package its own service.
  • Allow different modules to use different authentication routes.
  • Making OAuth the authentication system.

There is also a proposal to make the Services module a core module in Drupal 8

Django covered a lot in his talk, but I clearly took it all in! I will definately be looking at the services module in the future.

Enterprise Search In Drupal

David Stuart - Axis Twelve

Exploring Drupal and Apache Solr advanced search features including indexing File attachments, Drupal Apache Solr Views, Synonyms, N-Gram Filters and Faceting.

This is something I am quite interested in and this content heavy talk didn't disappoint. After this session I had lots of notes that I need to look into more so I won't go into the content in too much detail here.

Essentially the Apache Solr server is configured using two files, these are solrconfig.xml and schema.xml. Setting up a Solr server can be time consuming, especially the tweaking that takes place in order to get the correct search results for the data present. Third party services like Acquia help to take the sting out of setting up these services.

There is a module available that integrates the search mechanism in Drupal into a Solr server.

Other modules exist that integrate Drupal with Apache Solr.

  • Apache Solr Views - Uses a different backend to create a view.
  • Apache Solr Attachments - Apache Tika will extract content from a document. This module is triggered on node upload. There are lots of types of file available.
  • Apache Solr multicore - Use different search indexes. Can use different cores with different views.
  • Apache Solr Autocomplete - Adds an auto complete feature to the search form.

This was a very well organised talk with clear breaks and summaries between different topics. It is apparent that David has lots of experience in setting up sites that use Solr, so he clearly knows his stuff and is a capable communicator.

Using Drupal To Deliver Professional Video

Jakub Suchy, Director, Dynamiteheads

Examples of using video in Drupal and a a detailed look at the new Brightcove Module for Drupal.

I wasn't able to go to this talk as I went to the Communicating With Your Users With Email And SMS track instead.

Communicating With Your Users With Email And SMS

Robert Castelo, Director, Code Positive

How to keep users connected with a website by broadcasting content via email and SMS.

Although I'm sure that Robert had the very best intentions in mind it seemed that this talk was just a showcase for his own emailing module. I was impressed by the features available in it and will be looking into the module in the future, although I was expecting slightly more information on interacting with Drupal to send email.

I have to admit that I was a little dissapointed by this talk. This might have been partly due to there not being enough seats in the room, which meant a few of us had to sit on floor at the back. I was expecting a few different solutions regarding email and SMS on Druapl, but this wasn't the case.

The talk also didn't run too smoothly as there was an individual in the room who kept interrupting Robert and trying to trip him up by asking complicated questions.

Scaling and Managing MySQL for Drupal

Ivan Zoratti, Director of Sales Engineering, MySQL

A look at how to scale and manage the backend database infrastructure that Drupal runs on.

Eli went to this and reported that the guy really knew the subject inside out. Although not really focusing on Drupal in particular the talk was still very much interesting and informative and Ivan was good at communicating that information.

Location, Maps, Drupal and You

Andrew Larcombe, Freelance Geospatial Consultant

Using Drupal to leverage your business' geospatial data - a beginners guide

Andrew started off his talk with the statistic that 80% of data has a location component, although addmitted that he didn't know the source. I'm quite skeptical of this claim so I did some Googling. The only reference I could find was to a company called Ovum, who are apparently industry analysts, so if anyone knows who said it or if this is true then please let me know.

Mapping data, at it's simplest level consists of points, lines and polygons. These can be combined in various ways to form other, more complex data like polylines. MySQL has a set of geospacial interfaces built in so it is possible to use pure SQL to extract, for example, points near a line or lines inside an area.

What we do with mapping data depends on what sort of data we have, there are three main varieties of mapping data that we all see in our day to day lives.

  • Structured data - This is things like addresses and postcodes. These can be directly geocoded to get a longitude and latitude value.
  • Unstructured data - This is free text, like a news article, that might contain mapping information. This text can be sent to a geoparsing service to extract all the location information within the document. You are usually given a list of places extraced from the text. This mechanism is less precise than direct address geocoding, but each location is issued with a confidence rating on the data so you can easily filter out low confidence results.
  • EXIF tags and social media data - Many devices will now write geospacial data directly into whatever they are creating. EXIF meta data is embedded into jpeg images and geospacial aware cameras will write longitude and latitude values into this data. Social media sites like Twitter allow you to tag your posts with geospacial data.

Here is a small list of notable Drupal modules that use mapping technologies in some way.

  • Geo - Raw geographic data
  • Location - Better geographic data input
  • Geocode - Convert loc+geo data into map coords
  • Geoparser - Convert loc+geo data into map coords, sends out data to service (Google, Yahoo, Edina are free)
  • OpenLayers - JavaScript framework to display map data.

Overall I was expecting a little more detail about mapping solutions in Drupal, but Andrew's talk was informative. He also successfully ran some live demos of things he had put together that used geoparsing or geocoding technologies.

Proving The Value Of Social Networks For Businesses

Matt Rhodes, Head of Client Services, FreshNetworks

Using case studies of businesses and organisations who have used Drupal as a social media platform, Charlie [sic] will look at how businesses can prove the value of social media and online communities, and will show how to measure success and ROI.

The first thing that Matt stated was that his talk had nothing to do with Drupal and that he wasn't able to talk about the technical side of things. The talk, however, was still very interesting and informative. Matt immediately got in my good books by saying that there are lots of people who say they are social media experts, but who know absolutely nothing about the subject. This is a statement I completely agree with as I am of the opinion that the term "social media expert" is quickly becomming meaningless and overused.

Matt compared the difference between social media and online commuities by saying that social media is like a pub, and online communities are like conferences. In pubs everyone has their own interests and conversations and it's seen as rude to butt in to try and sell your product. Conversley, in conferences everyone is at least partially on the same wavelength and quite receptive to your ideas.

i18n - Multilingual Drupal

Russell Blakeborough, Director, BrightonART

Find out what it's like run an international website: an introduction to Drupal's multilingual features followed by a short tour of Brightonart's latest production in 5 languages - energyunion.eu

I wasn't able to go to this talk as I attended the talk on social media.

After this talk @eli_t and I had to dash to the train station to get separate trains home to Manchester so I missed everything after this. If anyone knows how the evening talks (and the trip to the pub afterwards) went then please get in contact as I would love to know. I have included the talks that were on below.

How RDF Will Impact Internet Marketing

Fintan Galvin, Managing Director, IO1 Limited

RDF explained, and how the semantic web will boost your SEO.

Securing Your Digital Identity with Drupal

Mysty, white hat security systems expert

Demonstrating how easy it is to secure digital identities and make the web safer with OpenID in Drupal.

Adding Enterprise Content Management to your Drupal site using CMIS

David Gildeh, Founder & Director, SambaStream

Drupal currently has little out the box support for managing and searching documents. This presentation will show how to integrate an Enterprise Content Management system with your Drupal site.

Overall the conference was a brilliant day out. I would like to thank the people involved for the hard work in making this event possible. The free beer and pizza was a very pleasant addition to the day. I would love to see more of this sort of thing in Manchester and the surrounding area but they will very rarely be free due to the costs of the venue. Speaking of the venue I found out during the conference that Sun are no longer allowing people to use that space for free, which means that the next Drupal Focus on enterprise, if it does happen, will probably be a charged event if they don't find a suitable venue.

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