Improving Site Performance and Staff Happiness for Stillwater Area Schools

The Challenge

Stillwater Area Public Schools, with 8,300 students and 1,000 employees in Minnesota, had been struggling with the overall performance of their website:

  • page load times of up to 15 seconds
  • administrator access that was equally slow
  • deficient documentation for using the site
  • an ever-present list of training questions
  • site-wide search not indexing the last year of content – a particularly vexing problem
Stillwater_Computer_Lab

The Solution

A TEN7Audit was conducted to uncover problem areas and provide recommendations. Performance issues were tackled in three ways:

  1. A new hosting solution with Varnish to speed front-end performance, and Memcache object caching to reduce calls to the database. Drupal caching tools were enabled.
  2. Disabled non-essential and performance-intensive modules, like Database log (dblog), Statistics, Devel and RDF.
  3. Added the module Node Revision Delete to automatically purge old revisions, trimming the website’s database size.

Aha!

The site’s main menu was the biggest performance culprit: loading this block took almost 7 seconds for each page! We worked with the client to reconfigure the site for block caching. This reduced block load times down to milliseconds, reaping huge performance gains.

Other key findings included:

  • Core and contributed modules that required security updates
  • An out-of-date version of PHP
  • The need to configure PHP caching
  • Lack of SSL encryption
Stillwater_website

The Results

  1. Page load times were brought down to a snappier range -- as low as 345 milliseconds.
  2. All site traffic was secured by implementing SSL site-wide.
  3. Search woes were corrected when it was discovered that their firewall was blocking Google bots from indexing the site.
  4. Staff training sessions were conducted.
  5. User documentation was created for the site’s features and functions.

The Stillwater Communications team was so happy with the results, they sent us flowers. We ❤️ happy clients.

Tess Flynn

DevOps Engineer
 
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Tess Flynn

Tess is TEN7’s Swiss Army knife. She’s an ever-present force in Drupal and a frequent speaker at events, where she's known for comic book-style illustrations in her presentations. Her superpower is problem-solving—she’s always finding ways to improve a site’s infrastructure and efficiency, and she has the rare ability to look holistically at a situation through human requirements, not just those of technology and business. She also loves sleuthing out the source of hacks, especially the ugly and ingenious ones. Tess has encyclopedic knowledge of horror/sci-fi ranging from schlocky and campy to highbrow. She loves Star Trek, where the engineers use their skills to help people.

Madeleine Lowry

Technical Project Manager
 
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Madeleine Lowry

Madeleine is our queen multitasker and copious list maker. Clients love that she intuitively senses their urgency and needs while minding their budgets; developers dig that she keeps them challenged but not overloaded. She’s a particularly gentle PM with a calming presence. Madeleine uses her business background to contribute to big-picture marketing and strategy for clients as well as the home team. She founded Southwest Coder Dojo, where teens learn programming, but she believes that kind of work should be left to the real code wizards. Madeleine has often reinvented herself professionally, but her love of food and polka dots stays constant.