Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association
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  1. #1
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    Default Technology Upgrades Progress

    Hey all,

    As many of you have noticed from the big green banner, we are in the process of doing a major overhaul on PAFOA's technology infrastructure and we're nearing the point where development/testing is being completed and will begin rolling out the changes. This process is split into the following phases to minimize any noticeable impact of the function of our setup:

    Phases

    Upgrade the low-level hosting infrastructure

    Since 2012 PAFOA's sites run on a pretty slick cloud hosting setup at Amazon Web Services, however between 2012 and now a lot more technologies have become available that allow us better management of the infrastructure, specifically related to deploying infrastructure and code updates.

    Transition non-forum code-bases to more modern tools

    PAFOA runs a few websites, some of which everyone is familiar with (forum, main website) and a couple of more obscure ones like the reference library which don't see as much use. Many of these systems were written by myself years ago using custom-built technologies that were great at the time but have become dated. I have moved the functionality of these code-bases to more modern tools which should hold up in the years to come. Additionally, we will be retiring some of these tools and redirecting their URLs to more appropriate places.

    Upgrade vBulletin

    Because of the size and scope of PAFOA's forum and related customizations, it hasn't been quite as easy for us to stay on top of software updates over the years, but this has certainly left us behind the curve on all the latest and greatest that vBulletin has to offer. Once we complete the infrastructure transition, the next task will be to begin the laborious process of upgrading the forum software to the latest version. This will be a big task, but it's necessary for us to continue to be a great forum.

    Future updates

    We have a few other things planned for once we upgrade vBulletin as doing so will unlock a lot of new functionality features. Our plan is that once the upgrade is complete we will immediately begin evaluating what new features/functionality we can make available to you guys, but right now our focus is on getting through the infrastructure transition and software upgreades. Our main hope is that we may be able to finally offer a proper mobile access solution to everyone, but please understand that there is a lot to do before that even becomes an option.

    Status

    Infrastructure upgrade: COMPLETE

    The new design of our engineering infrastructure is done and tested in a non-production staging environment. We will soon be creating the new production stack side-by-side with the existing one so that we can begin moving the individual components over one-by-one.

    Transition non-forum code-bases: COMPLETE

    All of the non-forum components have been built and tested in a staging environment, we will soon begin deploying them to the new production environment and moving the DNS entries one at a time. With these pieces there is low risk that any noticeable impact to you guys. Some of these components will look and behave exact as they do now (like our main website) and some of them may simply redirect to new places (the reference library will begin redirecting all of it's URLs to the statutes pages hosted by the state legislature, for example.)

    Move existing forum to new infrastructure: COMPLETE

    This will be one of the larger steps that will require us putting the forum into maintenence mode and will possibly have some downtime in the process. While I've done everything I can to ensure a smooth transition, vBulletin is a very complicated codebase with thousands of small features and quirks. Even once we get everything up and running again, we'll all need to be on the lookout for things that aren't working quite right. I hope you'll be patient with us in this process, hopefully it won't be too bad!

    Upgrade vBulletin: PENDING

    This is going to be a significantly complex process for us because we are using a stable, but very old version of vBulletin and are 2 major versions behind. This is exascerbated by the fact that the forum uses some customizations that are no longer supported and may not even run in newer versions of vBulletin. There will likely be a transition period where the functionality these plugins provide goes away while we prepare for the process of upgrading and we will later need to reevaluate whether it's possible to get this functionality back with other tools. The list of functionality that will be affected is as follows:

    1. vBSEO: Provides the clean URLs that help us in SEO. Unfortunately the company that made this plugin went out of business, we have no option but to remove this plugin and revert to normal vBulletin URLs. We will do our best to set up redirect rules that preserve all current URLs and redirect them to the right place. This should have no noticeable effect for end users.
    2. Events forums: Makes it so we can post events that can be discussed. During the transition period, we will unfortunately have to shut these forums down until we can figure out what else to do. This also may unfortunately cause some data loss, there is nothing we can do about this sadly.
    3. Visual separation of Sticky & non-sticky threads: This is a very minor feature that should not have any real impact.


    In Conclusion

    I want to thank everyone over the years for your patience with some of the limitations PAFOA's technology setup has placed on all of us. I realize that it's been frustrating for many people who wanted to see us add new features and functionality, and I assure you, it's not for lack of wanting to do it and completely because of the lack of resources available to undertake the complex process of doing these upgrades.

    Once we complete this round of upgrades, I am going to be looking for clever ways to minimize the technological debt that accumulated over the last few years. In the coming weeks we may be posting about how technologically-inclined members may be able to help us out in the future. Basically, if you understand half of what was posted in this thread, keep an eye out for future announcements!

    I will be continuing to post updates to this thread as we hit certain milestones and close it down once we are completely transitioned.

    Thanks to everyone for the support over the years and here's to what comes next!
    Last edited by danp; April 6th, 2015 at 12:02 PM.
    Daniel Pehrson, Founder & President, Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association
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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress

    Thanks much for keeping on top of things.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress

    Quote Originally Posted by claudel View Post
    Thanks much for keeping on top of things.
    You're very generous in your description of "keeping on top of things"

    I kid, we've definitely gotten a bit behind, but the current push should get us up-to-date.

    The real test will be whether the newer, shinier setup will allow us to properly keep on top of things moving forward. I'm hoping that we may be able to open up parts of our development process and technology infrastructure to volunteers with varying levels of trust/access. While it isn't possible to completely open-source the PAFOA infrastructure, there may be a happy middle-ground so we can make use of the (likely many) smart people who use PAFOA and would be willing to pitch in.

    We'll cross that bridge when we get there, though!
    Daniel Pehrson, Founder & President, Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association
    Purchase a Forum Subscription Buy some PAFOA Merchandise Help PAFOA's Search Engine Ranking

    Arms Dealer - Find & Review Gun Shops, Shooting Ranges and other firearm-related businesses!

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress



    We've just completed a test run of issuing an infrastructure-wide update to the setup currently running the website, and nothing caught on fire.

    In the coming week I will begin transferring the smaller parts of our infrastructure from the old setup to the new setup. If I do my job correctly, no one will even notice anything.

    Here's to hoping I am competent!
    Daniel Pehrson, Founder & President, Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association
    Purchase a Forum Subscription Buy some PAFOA Merchandise Help PAFOA's Search Engine Ranking

    Arms Dealer - Find & Review Gun Shops, Shooting Ranges and other firearm-related businesses!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2011
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    DELCO, Pennsylvania
    (Delaware County)
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress

    You're the man, Dan! Your dedication, vision and expertise are much appreciated.
    "Everyone is entitled to my opinion."

  6. #6
    Join Date
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress

    Just don't Rotz it up.
    Rules are written in the stone,
    Break the rules and you get no bones,
    all you get is ridicule, laughter,
    and a trip to the house of pain.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
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    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress

    Quote Originally Posted by streaker69 View Post
    Just don't Rotz it up.
    I'm doing my best. I literally filled out the form to issue the update command and just stared at the button for like five minutes going "OK, I'm going to click you, please for the love of God do what I think you are going to do and don't break everything, thanks."
    Daniel Pehrson, Founder & President, Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association
    Purchase a Forum Subscription Buy some PAFOA Merchandise Help PAFOA's Search Engine Ranking

    Arms Dealer - Find & Review Gun Shops, Shooting Ranges and other firearm-related businesses!

  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress

    Here's to hoping I am competent!
    Seems to me that the success of this GREAT forum so far proves competence.

  9. #9
    Join Date
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    Scranton, Pennsylvania
    (Lackawanna County)
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress

    Just FYI, I see some pics are missing today. I can see the photobucket links when I quote the messages, but they do not display. I hope this was expected.

    Thanks for all your efforts.
    My goal in Life is to become the kind of problem that people throw money at.

  10. #10
    Join Date
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    Default Re: Technology Upgrades Progress

    Quote Originally Posted by harp28 View Post
    Just FYI, I see some pics are missing today. I can see the photobucket links when I quote the messages, but they do not display. I hope this was expected.

    Thanks for all your efforts.
    Could you point me to an example where this is happening? Nothing I've been doing should cause a problem like that, but stranger things have happened and it's worth a look.
    Daniel Pehrson, Founder & President, Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association
    Purchase a Forum Subscription Buy some PAFOA Merchandise Help PAFOA's Search Engine Ranking

    Arms Dealer - Find & Review Gun Shops, Shooting Ranges and other firearm-related businesses!

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