New Features for WordPress VIP Webinar
In this webinar our product team introduces some of WordPress VIP’s most exciting new features in 2023, showing how they can help you move faster and with greater confidence. Our engineers have been working tirelessly to keep WordPress VIP on the cutting edge of all the features you’d expect from your enterprise CMS platform, including usability, developer tooling, and even more robust security measures.
Listen to members of WordPress VIP’s product management and engineering teams to learn more about the most impactful features released over the past year. We’re excited to showcase how our groundbreaking innovations can empower marketers, IT and site managers, and developers alike with more ease and freedom than ever before.
New features we talk about and demonstrate include:
- An Updated, More Efficient WordPress VIP Dashboard. This includes a new help center, media library exports, WordPress VIP Status check, and more!
- Management of Software Versions. In the new Software Management panel, you can manage versions and initiate upgrades for WordPress itself, WordPress VIP MU plugins, PHP, and Node.js
- Better Validation for Headless Setups. To help improve the reliability of deployments for Node.js applications, we have released a new VIP-CLI command that runs a suite of preflight checks against your local codebase.
- Improved Management and Launch of Network Sites. We’ve added enhancements and granular tools to make it easier to launch individual sites in a network, as well as download and analyze site information.
- New Security capabilities, such as plugin vulnerability scanning. Easily identify outdated versions or potential vulnerabilities for WordPress plugins and themes with new solutions built with WPScan.
Get the inside scoop around the WordPress VIP Dashboard and get a rundown of our efforts to give you a top-notch experience on our platform.
Okay. Hi, everybody. Welcome to this webinar. My name is Simon Wheatley. I’m a product manager with WordPress VIP. As I said earlier, I’m joining from England, in the UK. With me are my colleagues, Joanne Lee and Lucas Radke. Lucas is a product manager as well. He’s joining us from Germany. And Joanne leads one of our engineering teams, joining us from the West Coast of the US. We’ve also got Stephen Edde from our product marketing team helping to wrangle the webinar logistics and helping to any questions.
So today, we are really excited to show you some of the new tools, features, and capabilities we built for you on the WordPress VIP platform. I can see we’ve got a good number of folks joined. Lovely to see some names I recognize. Excited to see some folks that I haven’t met yet, and I believe we’ve got a mix of existing customers and some folks who are new to WordPress VIP. I hope that we can show you all something new and exciting that’s going to help you in your work. We will collect questions as we go along, so please type them into the chat box you can see in the GoToWebinar controls on the screen and we will follow up with answers by email to everyone. So if you have a question, drop it in the chat, we’ll follow up on email.
So what we’re going to cover today is in five areas. We’re going to talk over improvements to the WordPress VIP Dashboard. We’re going to show you some tools that we built for developer agility, to help your development teams move faster and with more confidence. We’re going to talk you through some WordPress multisite enhancements that we’ve built that allow you to really easily host, manage, and support WordPress multisite on the VIP platform. We’re going to check in on the coming WordPress 6.2 and talk about some of the new features there that will help your teams. And we’re going to go over some security improvements that we’ve got on the WordPress VIP platform.
So let’s talk about dashboard improvements. The VIP Dashboard is your control panel for the VIP platform, and this last year, we’ve been working hard in this area. We’ve been improving accessibility and user experience details, we’ve been building out a Help Center, and we’ve added capabilities to download your database or your media files on an ad hoc basis and to regularly ship a copy of your database to an S3 bucket so that you can ingest it and bring it into other tool chains.
So in terms of accessibility, we’re working towards a WCAG 2.1 AA accessibility standard. We’re seeing benefits from these changes that go beyond what you might think of as screen reader-only accessibility. So for example, as part of our accessibility changes, we’ve made improvements for anyone who needs or wants to use a keyboard to navigate and use the VIP Dashboard. So people who like to use keyboard efficiency, keyboard shortcuts will find some advantage here.
We’ve been improving colors and fonts on the dashboard. So for everybody, it’s sharper and more readable in both the color modes, in the light mode, in the dark mode.
We’ve added a new top-level navigation so you can access your applications and your organizations, allowing you to switch context faster.
We’ve added tabular alternatives to charts. So where there’s a chart, there’s a table of data, and we found that people can copy and paste that data into spreadsheets.
In general, the improved consistency, so going through and making sure that everything is consistent through the form fields, notices, and all the controls throughout the dashboard, we find this helps people orient themselves faster between different screens and as they find new areas and work more efficiently as people move between different areas. So this accessibility work is opening up, deepening, and adding efficiencies as you use the dashboard.
I mentioned that we’ve been building a Help Center. The Help Center is your dashboard tool to access support, documentation, and guidance from wherever you are in the dashboard. Each tab is linkable for you to share with your team or bookmark for future reference. So here we’re looking at the resources tab. Right up front, we’ve got a documentation search, and documentation is a constant focus for us at VIP. The aim is for our help documentation to be an ever-present VIP support agent, always there with the information you need to get your work done.
Below that, we’ve got getting started links, which serve to orient you or a new member of your staff or team on key concepts when you first arrive at VIP. And then further down this tab, there’s a link to VIP news and to the product feedback portal.
In the next tab, support. Support is a key pillar of the WordPress VIP experience. We always want you to have access to your support team. So a quick link here to submit a ticket and links to key contacts in VIP and in your own organization.
We know that launch is a critical moment for many teams, and that a smooth launch is what our customers want. Later, Joanne is going to talk you through our latest tooling for WordPress multisite. And here, the Prepare to Launch tab takes you through the recommended steps in key areas to get your application ready to launch. Each step contains a link to documentation and, where appropriate, a link to the tool or screen where you can complete the tasks to be done. Our aim here is to orient you and your whole team around the work to be done to achieve that smooth launch, bringing the guidance for that into the dashboard so it’s the hand as you work.
Moving on and out of the Help Center, there’s some tools we’ve added for accessing files and data through the dashboard. First off, media backup exports. All user-uploaded files for a WordPress application on the VIP platform is stored in our VIP file system. The VIP file system is distributed across all our origin data centers. It’s integrated into our built-in CDN and it provides a range of image transformation similar to the Jetpack Photon service. Here in the dashboard, we’re giving you control to generate a file of all the uploaded files for your environments. For a WordPress multisite, you can configure the backup to include just the files for one particular network site in the multisite, fitting in with our commitment to that great WordPress multisite experience that Joanne’s going to talk about later in the webinar. So each backup that you generate can be downloaded directly, or you can copy a link to using the terminal to input into a script, et cetera.
Database backups. We know that easily downloading your data is important for all kinds of reasons, so we were pleased to add database backup exports early in 2022. The feature allows you to pick through your database backups. So database backups are hourly for production environments and daily for non-production environments, and this screen gives you the controls to generate a zipped SQL file from that backup. We provide the controls here to either download the file, or copy a link to use in the terminal, or, again, as an input to a script. For security reasons, we expire that link after 15 minutes to reduce the chance that someone could find that URL and access your data. Accessing a copy of your database and making that as flexible as possible is something we’ve been focused on a lot over the last 12 months. For example, the majority of customers use this to refresh their local development environments, and at this point, I can tease that Lucas has some new features here up his sleeve for exactly that situation. Joanne also has part of this story in her section on the WordPress multisite.
As well as database backup exports, which are great for getting a copy of your data on an ad hoc basis, we’ve also implemented database backup shipping. This feature exports a copy of your database every hour or every day and drops it into an Amazon Web Services S3 bucket for you to do with as you will. This was originally envisaged the customers to use as the starting point to ingest data into a business intelligence and analytics pipeline so that customers could include their content or their WooCommerce orders in that analysis. Since implementing the feature, we’ve also seen it used to facilitate convenient data access for the whole team without having to run a database export and download as well as to fulfill business continuity requirements to store a copy of the content database outside WordPress VIP infrastructure.
And now I’m going to pass you to my colleague Lucas over in Germany.
Thank you, Simon.
Hi, everyone. As said, my name is Lucas. I’m the responsible product manager at WordPress VIP for exactly this dedicated problem space. So let’s talk a little bit about the developer agility, because developers on VIP should find it easy to get their work done, faster, less frustrating, and with as few roadblocks as possible. We will achieve this by providing a curated set of tools that you integrate well with our platform to smooth the path to your development goals. Just like the paved road simplifies traveling between two destinations, we see this journey on the paved road as puzzle pieces fitting together in a never-ending life cycle between development, deployment, and debugging. Let’s walk through some changes we’ve rolled out in the past month and see what we got to release soon.
Starting off with the debugging part and our runtime locks, we’re allowing developers to easily accept the locks of the applications on the fly, either through the VIP Dashboard or by tailing with the VIP CLI tool, supporting both Node.js and WordPress applications. While with Node.js, you can simply use the included console class, for WordPress logs, you need to use the error log PHP functionality and send your errors and warnings there.
But to not only debug during the runtime of your application, we’ve added some enhancements to our deployment screen. With the new insights into the prepare step of your deployment process, we are enabling the developers to gain more insights into the whole phase, not only to build and deploy part of the application. And speaking of deploy, we are improving the overall experience when it comes to deploying applications on our platform. This also means that we are enabling you to get validation by our systems before actually merging your code in the code base. The validation process will be triggered during the poll request workflow and our WordPress VIP bot will command on your poll request. Please note that this feature might be still disabled on your repo, so please reach out to us to opt in for that feature.
But it’s not only about the poll requests. Last November, we released a new VIP CLI command that runs a suite of checks against your local code base, assisting you in the deployment phase by deploying a Node.js application by making sure to mimic the VIP platform’s Node.js environment. So you don’t even need to create a new poll request to the repo and wait for the result. All locally and on-demand now. And let’s close the deployment phase with one last addition that will be available soon.
Rollbacks, because errors happen, and while it’s good to learn from them, you still need to ensure the stability of your application. We will allow you soon to roll back to recent code changes without the need to create a new poll request or revert to changes on GitHub. Keep an eye out on our VIP lobby for more information soon. And let’s go ahead with some other updates.
We’re currently performing some updates to the Enterprise Search, which is powered by a fork of ElasticPress. The upgrade will take you from version 3.6.5 to 4.2.2, including some great additions in the feature set. The rollout has already been started on March 1st and will occur over the next few weeks. Simply check your WordPress dashboard to find out which version of the Enterprise Search is currently powering your website. Oh, and versions reminds me of my next topic.
With our new software manager, we are now providing an easy way to switch between different PHP, WordPress, Node, and must-use plugin version. This also includes the ability to pin yourself to your current version of WordPress and therefore delay the next update to a more convenient time for you.
As I’ve already mentioned, the versions of must-use plugins. As you know, your WordPress website on WordPress VIP comes with a predefined set of so-called must-use plugins provided and tested by us. To offer more insights and ensure predictability and testability of the platform’s code base, we are offering you to get ahead and try out the staging branch of our must-use plugin releases, everything available in the software manager. And before we now end this section on the webinar, one last thing.
It’s already teased by Simon quickly, we are working on a new way to easily keep your VIP local development environment up to date with the latest data from your environments. Past are the days where you need to manually request backups, download them from the dashboard, decompress, and search and replace. This way, we improve the local development experience and also reduce the time you need to spend syncing data. Keep tuned. And now I’m happy to hand over to our studio on the West Coast of the US and my colleague Joanne.
Thank you, Lucas.
Hi, folks. Just to introduce myself again, my name is Joanne Lee. I’m one of the engineering leads here at WordPress VIP, and I’ll be walking you through what we worked on last year on the multisite side of things on the VIP Dashboard. So if you have a WordPress multisite installation, you’re planning on creating one, or you’re thinking about combining multiple WordPress single sites into a single multisite installation, features I’ll be walking you through will be very handy for you.
So starting off with the Network Sites panel, this is a list of all the network sites within your WordPress multisite installation. We want to give you visibility into your multisite straight from the VIP Dashboard to make it easier to manage your complex sites. You can search for network sites by blog ID or by their home URL. You can also access the network site’s WordPress admin straight from the VIP Dashboard using the WordPress logo buttons on the side there.
The launch status column here is for production environments. This is also really exciting. Previously, the launch status was on a per-environment basis, which meant that the main site of your multisite, which is typically site ID 1, was either launched or not launched, but you wouldn’t have visibility into the other sites within your WordPress multisite. So if your main site was launched but you had nine other network sites that weren’t launched, your site would still be considered launched. So we wanted to give you more granular visibility into your network sites so you can manage each one individually. So we introduced these launch status for individual network sites, so you can now mark each one as launched or not and filter by their launch status.
So one of the ways we’ve seen this helping our customers is, let’s say you’ve got 10 network sites that you plan on bulk launching, and you’ve already launched five of them, you need to distinguish the five that haven’t been launched yet. So you can filter for those sites as well as filter for sites that are in the process of launching. Some of our customers have hundreds of network sites on a single multisite installation, so you can see how both the search and the filter functionalities are crucial for them.
So in our public documentation, we go over the detailed definition of what it means for a site to be considered launched. For the purposes of this webinar, we’ll distill it down to a simple definition. So a launch network site is essentially a site that’s ready for public traffic. So how do you launch a network site? We can do that through our handy Network Sites Launch Tool.
So this Network Sites Launch Tool was previously called our Multisite Launch Tool/Wizard, and it lived in our Domains panel in the VIP Dashboard. We’ve since taken it, revamped it, we added steps, we refined it last year to really help you launch individual network sites within your multisite as smoothly and easily as possible. We now support launching network sites with a subdirectory structure, and once you update your site to the new domain, and we’ve done the search replace of your old domain, we’ve updated your WP options and WP blogs DB tables and done all the magic behind the scenes, we also now run an automatic sync to Jetpack to allow for a seamless update of your Jetpack cache site so there are no old values remaining. We have also incorporated our DNS and TLS certificate pre-flight checks that you can find in our Domains panel straight into the Launch Tool to ensure that the domain of your network site is ready to safely receive traffic on our platform. You can also provision a Let’s Encrypt certificate directly within the Launch Tool itself if you’d like to.
So when we release the tooling and over the course of folks using it and getting customer feedback, we’ve heard from customers that they’d like more flexibility and increase control during the launch process. So we’ve made it easy for you to go back to your previous step, change things up, even pause the launch, leave the tool, come back to resume the launch at a later time. Maybe you need to contact someone else on your team to point the domain to VIP. Maybe you need to wait for the DNS to resolve. Whatever the reason, you have full control over the launch process at each and every step. We’ve also included a step to mark the site as launched or not launched. Marking the site as launched will let VIP know that this site is publicly accessible, which will trigger monitoring and alerting on our end.
So we’ve essentially bottled up this complex process of launching network sites into this easy-to-use straightforward tool. We’ve consolidated the flow so that you can get your sites launched to the public as soon as possible with little friction.
All right, shifting our gears back to revisit the database backups exports feature that Simon mentioned earlier. We worked on this feature throughout the year. One of the things that we worked on adding was the capability to download a database backup for a single network site within your WordPress multisite installation. So if you choose to download a copy of your main site or site ID 1, that includes your multisite global tables along with the standard standalone tables, which are your WP options, your WP post tables, et cetera. For all other network sites, only the site-specific standalone tables will be included. So this is really handy if you have a large complex multisite with lots of network sites and you don’t want to have to download the entire database of the whole multisite to work on it locally, to analyze data, or all the things that you may need to do with your database backups. We want to make it easier for you to isolate the data per network site to use it for analysis, testing, and launch prep.
Similarly, another really awesome partial database feature we released is the ability to download specific tables of a WordPress single site or multisite. So this not only works for multisites but also single sites as well. So a couple of ways we seen this helpful to our customers is if you have custom tables in your database or you want to manipulate data for testing. For local debugging, for analyzing your data, prepping your site for launch, this is a really handy way to do that. For WordPress multisites, this is also a handy way to download database cables from multiple network sites. Again, the name of the game here with all these features that I’ve walked you through is to give you more control and granularity. That’s a common theme you’ll see with all of our features, actually. We want to make this easy for you, we want to help you achieve your goals and do what you need to do with minimal friction. And with that, I’ll hand it back over to Lucas.
And you’ve might already heard all of it, WordPress 6.2 is just around the corner, and we want to take the opportunity of today’s webinar to walk you through some of our personal highlights for the upcoming version.
And so we will start with the new block editing experience. So not only is the site editor, which was former known as Full Site Editing, out of the beta now, but new features made their way into the WordPress core, features like the new distraction-free mode that removes any visual distractions in the editor itself, or the new and improved template overview, including easy preview of all your things.
Next step, we have some updates on how to work with blocks. The right-hand settings for blocks now got splitted up into the block setting itself and the style settings for this block, making it easier and cleaner to work with them. A new menu block allows you to directly work with a menu built in into the editing capabilities. Gone are the times of going back to the WordPress dashboard and creating new menus.
Just yesterday, Beta 5 was released, and the WordPress team is planning on releasing the RC1 for tomorrow, March 9th, followed by two more release candidates and the final 6.2 release on the 28th of March. As always, remember that the release schedule might change. You can always test the latest version of WordPress on VIP by using the Software Management page or by creating a new local development environment and selecting TRUNK as the version. Make sure to follow our VIP Lobby to always be ahead of those releases or if there’s another delay. And now, going back to Simon.
Thanks, Lucas and Joanne.
Hello again. I’m going to talk about two features we’ve added to help you with the security of your code base on the VIP platform. I’m also going to give you an update on our FedRAMP progress.
So both of the code base features I’m going to talk about are based on the services of WPScan. WPScan provides a vulnerability database focused on WordPress plugins and themes. They have a team of security researchers, and they do their own research as well as collating reports from elsewhere in the industry. And they joined the automatic family, which VIP is part of, in November of 2021.
So the first way we’ve integrated WPScan is to scan all pool requests on your WordPress VIP GitHub repository. Our scan detects any plugins or themes that are included in the pool request and will report any known vulnerabilities or available updates. The results of the scan and any recommended actions are displayed right in the poll request UI on GitHub in a comment, as you can see here. Here, we’ll give you the information about any vulnerability found, with the links out for more information and to download the fixed version if there’s one available. If there’s updates available, it’ll be a link to the most recent known version to download.
Once your plugin is on our platform, once it’s been deployed, occasionally, vulnerabilities are discovered with deployed code, and we want to make sure you’re aware of newly discovered issues and give you tools to address these. So for this, we’ve added the Plugins panel to the VIP Dashboard. As you can see here, the Plugins panel lists all the plugins installed on each environment. Our tooling regularly scans all your environments for any known vulnerabilities from the WPScan vulnerability database, and we’ll highlight them on this panel. We show the severity and the link out to WPScan to read the details for that issue. If a plugin has an update, you will see the Create a Pull Request option on the plugin row, and if you’ve already created a pull request, you’ll see an option to go and view it. This listing table can be filtered down to show only plugins with updates or only plugins with vulnerabilities.
As some of you may know, WordPress VIP currently has an LI-SaaS authorization to operate in the US Federal Government’s FedRAMP framework, and we’re in the process of upgrading our authorization to moderate from light. The audit for that work completed last year, and a key addition to our FedRAMP offering was encryption-at-rest for the WordPress database.
The final thing that we want to mention to you today are the news and status areas that we maintain for WordPress VIP. We changed how we reported our service and data center status in 2022. Now we have a dedicated status page at wpvipstatus.com, and we recommend all our customers please bookmark this page. Here you can find statuses for our key components across all our origin data centers, including the Enterprise Search VIP API, which is what undergirds our VIP Dashboard and the VIP CLI, and the status for the VIP Dashboard itself. If you suspect there is a platform issue, this page can be your first recourse to find out more. We show a recent history of any incidents here, too. You can subscribe to receive incidents and updates by email, by RSS, or as a calendar feed. So again, if you’re a customer, we recommend visiting wpvipstatus.com and bookmarking the page.
Another customer resource we maintain is our lobby. This is your source for all VIP news, updates, and alerts. WordPress core, PHP, and JetPack updates are all covered here. And this is where we announce new features, such as the ones we’ve been touching on today, upcoming changes to the platform, scheduled maintenance, and we keep you informed of what’s going on. As with the status page, if you are a customer of VIP, I suggest bookmarking this site, which is lobby.vip.wordpress.com.
And that’s a wrap, folks. We’re grateful for the opportunity to have taken you through some new WordPress VIP features today. We’ve shown you improvements to the dashboard, keyboard navigation, screen reader support, clearer colors and fonts, greater consistency, ad hoc download options for media and database backups, database shipping to regularly transfer a copy of your database to Amazon S3. Then Lucas took you through new tools for developer agility, including runtime logs, additional information for deployments, and rolling back deployments, pre-flight validation for Node.js applications, updates to our Enterprise Search service to improve the default algorithm and enhance support for WooCommerce, individual control of PHP, Node.js, and WordPress version, staging releases for our MU, must-use plugins, to facilitate testing, and coming soon, a sync command to update data in a VIP local development environment in one simple step. Joanne talked you through our fantastic support for WordPress multisite, including our network sites listing page, our Network Site Launch Tool, and how we built multisite support into backup exports.
WordPress 6.2 is coming, with distraction-free mode, improvements to full site editing, now out of beta, block settings, menu blocks, or making it easier to maintain your site and navigation. Security improvements on our VIP platform mean we now scan your code before it’s deployed, showing you any known vulnerabilities or updates, and regularly scan already-deployed plugins to show updates and vulnerabilities in the dashboard. And our FedRAMP offering continues to evolve.
On behalf of Joanne, Lucas, Stephen, and myself, thank you again for your time today. As I said in the beginning, we’ll respond to any questions in a follow-up email. So there’s a Questions panel, I believe, down in the GoToWebinar controls. Please do add anything in there or follow up with us via email. We will collate everything and send an email of all the questions and answers back to you. I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve asked when I finish talking here today. If you’re new to VIP and you like what you’ve seen here today, please do contact our team for a demo. The link is on-screen now, wpvip.com/contact. We’ve only shown the relatively new features in this webinar, and there is much more to our platform. It’s all designed to help you and your teams. If you’re an existing customer and you’re interested in learning more about anything we’ve shown you here today, please do feel free to contact our support team or your relationship manager and we’ll be happy to help. Goodbye for now, and we’ll see you next time.