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Smart Updates – What makes Plesk the preferred choice of WordPress developers?

Jan Loeffler, CTO of Plesk

In the last years we saw WordPress continuously increasing market share and becoming the CMS standard for building websites. Today, more than 31% of all websites worldwide are built with WordPress and this number is still growing.

However, maintaining WordPress sites, keeping them secure and up to date is a real challenge – especially if you run multiple sites! We know the numbers: More than 60,000 websites are hacked every day, so it’s absolutely critical to secure WordPress and the underlying infrastructure properly and monitor its status to avoid downtime and prevent sites from getting blacklisted.

Plesk WordPress Toolkit takes away the burden of WordPress management and significantly increases website speed, performance, security and a web pro’s productivity!

Recently, we interacted with Jan Loeffler, CTO of Plesk, to discuss about WordPress, WP Toolkit, Plesk’s relationship with Automattic and more.

1. Plesk – one of the leading names in the WebOps hosting platforms that is running on more than 380,000 servers. Give us a quick overview of Plesk and its journey so far.

Plesk is a website management platform that powers 11 million websites and 19 million mailboxes for customers in 230 countries. It was founded back in 1999, when Rackspace became Plesk’s first customer and now, 19 years later, Plesk is used and offered by thousands of Hosting companies and Cloud Service Providers worldwide – incl. top players like GoDaddy, 1&1, Media Temple, AWS, Google, Microsoft Azure and many more.

The core mission of Plesk is to simplify the lives of web professionals. Web Professionals are web developers, web designers, system administrators, digital agencies and service providers that mainly create or manage websites and web applications for business. We simplify their lives by automating and securing web operations (WebOps) to free up time and allow focus on their core business which is not infrastructure management.

2. Initially, Plesk was largely used as a software for server administration. But now, we see it expanding to include WordPress and web applications too. Please enlighten.

Having our core mission in mind, we continuously analyze how web pros work, what challenges they have to overcome, and where they lose precious time that cannot be billed. Our goal is to help them increase productivity through automation and intuitive ways to address the most common pain points. To complete our mission, we’re constantly adding new tools and features to Plesk to stay ahead of the game and provide web pros with the latest and greatest technologies.

In the early days we focused on automating server management only. That’s still part of our DNA but not enough to address what the market demands today. We cannot ignore millions of end customers who are using WordPress to build successful websites, web apps and online businesses. WordPress still is the most widely used and fastest growing solution to build a website.

3. Plesk is steadily entering the world of WordPress. How’s the experience? Throw some light on working with Automattic and WordPress Developer community.

At Plesk we have a passion for WordPress! A lot of Pleskians have been using WordPress for years, plesk.com is built with WordPress, too. But besides using and understanding WordPress we also contribute back and sponsor many WordPress events like WordCamps and Meetups to support and engage with the community. If you want to be best in class and become a trusted advisor you have to know WordPress by heart and be very well connected with the WordPress developer community.

When Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress and CEO of Automattic, came to us 2 years ago, we immediately understood that this was the beginning of something great. We’re closely working with the Automattic team to make the whole WordPress experience better and more secure. As a result, I’m proud to say that the second largest number of WordPress sites is already managed by Plesk WordPress Toolkit.

4. Plesk’s WordPress Toolkit simplifies WP installation and management. What was the idea behind launching WordPress Toolkit?

In the last years we saw WordPress continuously increasing market share and becoming the CMS standard for building websites. Today, more than 31% of all websites worldwide are built with WordPress and this number is still growing. It became pretty obvious to us that just installing WordPress for our users is not good enough. The community is making it very clear that the installation of WordPress is easy and not an issue at all.

However, maintaining WordPress sites, keeping them secure and up to date is a real challenge – especially if you run multiple sites! We know the numbers: More than 60.000 websites are hacked every day, so it’s absolutely critical to secure WordPress and the underlying infrastructure properly and monitor its status to avoid downtime and prevent sites from getting blacklisted. For example, let Plesk install patches & updates immediately before the site can be harmed and block attacks already at web server level without the need of deep technical knowledge.

Plesk WordPress Toolkit takes away the burden of WordPress management and significantly increases website speed, performance, security and a web pro’s productivity!

5. That’s interesting. Can you shed light on some more distinctive features of Plesk WordPress Toolkit? Does it actually take one-click to install WordPress from start to finish?

Yes, of course. Installing WordPress on Plesk is just one click and done within 20 seconds. That’s easy as pie. The real benefit is a ready-to-code/ready-to-design WordPress environment that is automatically hardened for best security.

And if you want to make changes on your site or test different themes or plugins, never do it on a live site! Use the integrated 1-click cloning and data synchronization features instead to clone websites to one or multiple test environments whilst keeping all data in sync. The time savings are tremendous and provide web pros with unique possibilities of testing changes safely or developing in an iterative approach!

Web pros love to make changes or play with different variants – i.e. multiple site designs. When the end customer has chosen his favorite the web pro can even improve it step by step and then move the latest and greatest version to production without any hassle. And, if the end customer suddenly changes his mind? No problem, just switch back to a previous with 1 click.

6. Updates are crucial to WordPress security. We heard something about Smart Updates. How does that help Plesk users with WP updates?

The biggest problem is that many WordPress sites are not using the latest WordPress version and as a result do not utilize its full power. But even worse those outdated WordPress sites are very vulnerable and can be easily attacked by hackers.

We spoke with many web agencies and learned that a lot of them are reluctant to update customer websites automatically because often sites break after an update and cause severe damage. We listened and put our heads together. WordPress updates should no longer be considered a business-critical issue and run without disruptions. We made it happen and proudly present Smart Updates!

Smart Updates uses Artificial Intelligence technologies to keep all WordPress instances – including plugins and themes – up to date without ever breaking the sites. There are two options of Smart Updates available: interactive and automatic. The interactive approach allows web pros to safely check how websites will look like after the installation of an update and checks if there are any issues.

The whole process is fully automated and happens on a dynamically created test environment without any risk of impacting the live websites. You can watch the process live and decide on your own whether it’s safe to push the updated sites to production or if it’s better to reject them.

The automatic process does everything in the background. It checks for updates for all WordPress sites daily, tests the updates and double-checks all web pages. If everything is fine, Smart Updates deploys the changes to production without any human interaction. If the AI discovers a problem the web pro will receive an e-mail notification describing the identified issues in detail. In case of an issue the production sites won’t be touched. It’s up to the web pro to decide whether the changes are intended (i.e. improvements of themes) or not (i.e. bugs, wrong layout).

Smart Updates is able to differentiate intended dynamic changes like video content, twitter feeds or JavaScript animations from unwanted changes like a broken site, unwanted line breaks, etc. The AI system uses a Deep Learning technology that works similar to a human brain.

7. Which option do you recommend more out of the two options for smart updates and why?

Personally, I’m always using the automatic mode of Smart Updates to focus on more important tasks of my business instead of watching WordPress updates. Staying up-to-date and secure are the key principles and core functionalities of Plesk WordPress Toolkit.

8. It would be completely unfair if we do not discuss the security aspect. How does Plesk ensure a site’s security?

Besides keeping sites up to date, WordPress Toolkit continuously applies best security practices. This includes limiting file system permissions to reduce the attack surface, generating strong passwords and obfuscated database prefixes, just to name a few. It would take more than half an hour to go through all the security features and many other improvements for secure WordPress hosting.

Besides automation of most common tasks of a web pro’s workflow, enhanced security features make Plesk WordPress Toolkit the perfect solution for web agencies and experienced WordPress users, but newbies also can fully relax and let WordPress Toolkit do the job.

9. So, are there any new updates or upcoming versions that we should look forward to?

Definitely! We just released WordPress Toolkit CLI feature that allows automating WordPress Management from the command line. This was highly demanded by managed WordPress hosters using Plesk.

Additionally, there will be a solution for web agencies which allows them to publish finished websites back to the client’s webhosting plan – no matter where it is located. This feature was also highly requested by many web agencies we engaged with at WordPress events. It does not only simplify their work but also increases productivity and elevates customer service levels.

For developers and professional users, we will deeply integrate “git” as the most loved version control system directly into the WordPress Toolkit. You can already use git with Plesk today, but we’ll make it super easy to use for WordPress as well.

In fact, we publish micro updates for WordPress Toolkit every 4 weeks and automatically update it on all Plesk servers. Nothing to do, just relax and enjoy the new WordPress experience.

And, if you don’t want to use WordPress – no worries. Simply use Joomla! Toolkit for Joomla! sites or code your app with NodeJS, Ruby or any other technology or web app you prefer.

Suggested reading: ZNet becomes authorized Plesk distributor in India

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