Cloud

WordPress: A surprisingly viable enterprise cloud option

When determining whether WordPress has a place in your enterprise cloud environment, scale and management are key factors for your technical architects to consider.

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WordPress is a popular CMS written in PHP that powers websites around the world. The factory settings for WordPress provide a blogging site aimed at individuals. With some work, WordPress can be configured for many uses, from intranet to e-commerce. It's meant for B2C transactions — that is, websites used by people. WordPress is not used for B2B web service work like behind-the-scenes information exchange.

WordPress isn't enterprise-friendly out of the box. It requires plenty of architecture work, adding plug-in extensions and theme work to match it to business needs. WordPress isn't the most developer-friendly either, although how a developer defines "friendly" has more in common with religious belief than with social comparison.

Should WordPress be taken seriously for use in the enterprise? How well does it work in an enterprise cloud computing environment?

Small-scale WordPress

If you are new to WordPress, you can start small with one virtual machine (VM) or shared hosting.

In the old hosting days, the basic unit was a slice of a web server, and this type of hosting is still around. DreamHost has been supporting WordPress shared hosting for many years.

The basic computing unit in cloud IT is the VM. Managing a VM requires some DIY work, so that keeps the IT department out of trouble. DigitalOcean offers a one-click install for WordPress on a DigitalOcean droplet. Amazon provides a guide to building WordPress on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Internap describes its favourite software stack for WordPress.

Enterprise-scale WordPress

There is no single type of enterprise, so coming up with one definition of what enterprise-scale means leads to a pretty vague summary: an enterprise-scale application is something that works well with big numbers. Maybe the application is distributed across a huge organization, or manages terabytes of data, or deals with a thousand customers a day.

If the application can be configured to meet business requirements, it is customer-friendly. If the application follows the 12 operational principles, it is operator-friendly. If the application can be automated and scaled out, it is cloud-friendly.

Figuring out whether WordPress has a place in the enterprise means the technical architects have to answer questions like these.

Can the IT department manage WordPress?

The enterprise IT department has to be able to work the software. The WordPress installation must be developed to meet business requirements, cope with customer load, and be security hardened. No site owner wants any nasty surprises like finding the site comments blocked with spam.

Unfortunately, the enterprise IT department is more likely to have experience operating the LAMP stack that typically powers WordPress, rather than WordPress itself. Since WordPress needs a lot of configuration, expertise is required through the whole application lifecycle. This requirement is often outsourced to web design agencies and hosting organizations.

Commercial support is available from many agencies and hosting companies. Wordpress.com offers premium commercial support.

An advantage of WordPress over other CMSs (and there are many CMSs) is the widespread community support. WordPress isn't just a popular CMS, it's the most popular — that means expert help is not hard to find. Whatever you want to do with it has probably already been done by an army of WordPress users and written about in community forums.

How far does WordPress scale?

WordPress can be used to power high-traffic websites — Wordpress.com runs its own high-traffic sites. WordPress is no harder to scale out than any other LAMP-based application. That's not meant to be reassuring — learning to scale out means facing a learning curve like a cliff face. By the time you have climbed it, you may feel like throwing yourself back down again to stop the pain.

Adding high availability to a WordPress system requires scaling the database, synchronizing customer sessions, maintaining response times, coordinating code updates across servers, and providing a centralized console for site administrators, all while maintaining site availability 24/7, 365 days a year.

WordPress on Amazon

AWS provide CloudFormation templates for WordPress to automatically build single machine and high-availability architectures. These are the choices.

  • simple: Single EC2 instance with local MySQL database
  • medium: Single EC2 instance web server with Amazon RDS database instance
  • complex: Highly-available web server with multi-AZ Amazon RDS instance

Cloud vendors want your WordPress business

While blogging may seem to be all about personal journals and nothing to do with business critical enterprise work, blogging systems are used in many professional contexts (you're looking at an example right now).

Clever web designer tricks like integrating WordPress with Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are usually performed by domestic and small business users, but these days you also find that kind of fluffy social stuff inside the enterprise.

Big cloud vendors make it easy to get started by supplying shortcuts to get WordPress customers up and running quickly. Cloud vendors want enterprise customers, and some have many years of experience hosting WordPress sites.

Plenty of cloud vendors want to entice WordPress customers to their service with ready-made solutions. If you are ready to get started with WordPress in the cloud, start small with a single box or slice of shared hosting. When you are ready to scale up your operation, you can — as long as you are prepared to put in time and money to climb over the LAMP scaling barriers.

Are you using WordPress in an enterprise cloud computing environment? If so, what is your experience like, and would you recommend it to other enterprises? If not, what are your reservations about using WordPress? Please join the discussion.

About Nick Hardiman

Nick Hardiman builds and maintains the infrastructure required to run Internet services. Nick deals with the lower layers of the Internet - the machines, networks, operating systems, and applications. Nick's job stops there, and he hands over to the ...

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