Faster, Smarter Web Maintenance through (Semi) Automation
Website maintenance is needed to address any vulnerabilities identified in software over time.
Thanks to the collaborative nature of the open source communities of Drupal and WordPress, we get a heads up when new vulnerabilities are identified (Read more about why open source is great for business). When the fixes and security updates for those vulnerabilities are released, they need to get installed and tested as soon as possible.
There are benefits and drawbacks to fully automated website maintenance, just as there are for fully manual website maintenance. The best path is to do both.
A machine never forgets a step in a process. It just gets confused when it's presented with the unexpected. A person can introduce human error, but can create novel solutions to unexpected problems.
Benefits of Automation
Machines are much faster than people at reading code. Computers are fast and they can apply steps in a process much quicker than we can. They can also run multiple tests simultaneously, leading to even more time savings. There is an inherent, upfront time investment to program the scripts, but once that time investment is made, all subsequent processes are significantly faster.
A machine can repeat the exact same process, in the exact same way, thousands of times. It can also log processes, errors and results at every step, every time. A person couldn’t log the results of every single step, or, if they did, they would take significantly longer than usual to finish each test and there’d be many more opportunities for human error. This accuracy in repetition and recording means that we have a clearer picture of the test and its results available to us.
A machine checks everything within the scope you set for it and nothing outside of it. It doesn’t care if “this little change isn’t going to mess anything up”. It checks everything you set it to. That total adherence to process is key when testing a system with multiple, related, and moving parts, like a website.
The Human Advantage
A machine never forgets a step, ever. It just gets confused when presented with the unexpected. People are needed to create novel solutions to those unexpected problems. A developer can invent new processes, fixes, and features and create new applications for existing ones.
We can give human feedback
A machine won’t tell you if the final result looks professional and aesthetically appealing. It can only check if objects are rendered in specific predefined colors, object types appear in the correct spot on the screen and so on. A person can see if everything comes together and looks good. They can provide feedback on the branding of your site, give you unquantifiable assessments of how your site makes them feel as a person.
We can do ad-hoc testing
Automated tests have to be developed, programmed and tested themselves before they can begin to test new features for your site. A person can run through some manual tests very quickly when there isn’t a need to develop a deeper test.
How we put it into practice
Our system automatically creates a cloned copy of our clients' sites and applies updates. It then runs a battery of automated tests on the patched clone sites, out of public view, before notifying our developers to review the results.
Once the updates are confirmed to be working properly and that nothing untoward is going on, the developer pushes the site to live. If anything is off, the developer can dive right in and make any needed adjustments, again, behind the scenes. For anyone visiting a site during this process, it's business as usual.
Website maintenance solutions like this are critical to any business. Gone are the days (if ever they existed) of launch and forget websites. Websites vulnerabilities are identified over time as intruders' techniques become more sophisticated. You can't prevent 100% of all data breaches, just like you can't prevent every burglar from trying to break into your house. But you can fix the porch light when it gets broken, and tighten up the deadbolt if it gets loose. So long as you've got someone checking the lights and testing the doors.