I imagine that Acquia Dev Cloud hosting would give any seasoned server administrator plenty to grumble about. There’s just so much it won’t let you do, whether it’s the big things like editing code directly on the server (you’re forced to use version control instead) or the small ones like creating a cron job from the command line (try to do so and it kindly directs you to the user interface instead). To anyone accustomed to the freedom of root access, to anyone who enjoys fine-tuning server performance and tweaking permissions, this must all feel like one big ball and chain.
And if that’s true, then I have an admission to make. I must not be much of a server admin; I love using the Dev Cloud.
In fact, I think it’s precisely the restrictions that are its greatest strength. Because you can’t make changes directly to code on the server, for instance, you end up using version control instead every single time. In effect, you’re simply not allowed to ever fall into the bad habit of making quick tweaks on the fly. Because you can’t easily change the database your dev site is using, or make a quick backup tarball, or do any of a thousand other little tricks that are probably innocuous but, with a little inattention and bad luck, potentially disastrous, you simply won’t take those risks in the first place. In short, Acquia’s Dev Cloud encourages—and, in some cases, requires—good web development practices in a way that no other host I’ve used even comes close to matching.
I think what I’m getting at is this: in a sense, the Dev Cloud is itself a sort of server administrator, and a pretty good one at that. It has its own very particular way of setting things up, along with its own rules for what everyone else is and isn’t allowed to do. It even installs all sorts of helpful utilities like Varnish caching and Apache Solr search, and puts together a pretty darn good version control setup as well.
Sure, it’s not perfect. But at least it’s not human…
UPDATE: As Acquia’s Barry Jaspan pointed out to us, they’re currently working on a new feature they call Live Development which will allow developers to make edits directly on the server (as of this writing, it’s still in private beta). Fortunately, you can’t enable it in Production (just on Stage and Dev), so you’ll still have no other option but to use best practices when moving code live. I’ll have to try it out, but it sounds like a great tweak that gives developers a little more freedom without compromising the “strict adult supervision” (as Barry calls it) that I’m such a fan of.