opinion

Staying Up-to-Date

Stephen Yagielowicz
Like many adult webmasters, I’m a big fan of leveraging my time through automation; relying on script-based solutions to handle things like TGP and content management, link maintenance, gallery submissions, stats analysis and more.

Some of the technology that I employ for these tasks can be nothing short of amazing – especially since I’ve been around long enough to pre-date most of these tools and have seen their growth and evolution over the years and the vast improvements they’ve made over my previous “manual” efforts. This evolution, while bringing many unprecedented benefits to webmasters, comes at a cost, however – a cost that often goes beyond the merely monetary. What I’m on about is the “upgrade cycle” where today’s tools are regularly replaced by a newer, better version.

Sometimes this replacement is a revolutionary enhancement to an existing tool, while other times it may be a relatively minor “maintenance release” intended to address certain shortcomings or recently uncovered security holes.

In the case of security upgrades, the decision to update a particular tool is usually easy; after all, none of us wants to be exposed to known exploits and vulnerabilities. In the case of non-security related upgrades, the decision gets to be more complicated. If you already have a working system, making changes to it can throw your operation into disarray and cost not only the price of the upgrade, but lost revenues, traffic and man-hours due to its implementation and the time required to get back up to speed.

With these considerations in mind, it makes sense to carefully evaluate upgrade plans and to ensure that you have adequate backups in place to ensure a smooth migration.

As an example of how “unexpected” issues can arise, following a server problem the other day, I took the down-time as an opportunity to upgrade one of our TGP scripts to its latest version. While I had the database and basic template files backed up locally, the script allows for customization through its online control panel, modifying the various aspects and features of the script and site without the need to edit and upload any files. The problem is that these changes are often not saved as part of the backup, and upon performing a fresh install of the script set, my customizations were gone…

Well, almost. Even with the ease of use of online ‘control panels’ and integrated tool sets, I still write out the code I’m going to change by hand, saving copies of the original code and settings, as well as my changes, onto plain text files, “just in case.” Thankfully I did so, and was able to restore my site in a few hours instead of a few days.

Having the very latest version of your tools is always a good idea. Planning for the upgrade and having contingency plans and measures in place in the event of a problem is an even better idea. Stay up-to-date, but do it wisely.

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