Lightweight Web Management

24 07 2009

In the fifth blog post written by IWMW 2009 plenary speakers Christopher Gutteridge talks about you can learn from Southampton’s mistakes when it comes to Web management.

Hi, my name’s Christopher Gutteridge and I’ll be giving a talk about some of the problems (sorry, “challenges”) we’ve encountered running the web systems for a bunch of demanding academics. A few years ago we had to face facts, and we couldn’t just run our web systems “by the seat of our pants” any more. We had to get a bit more professional. My talk’s going to be about where we used to suck, and how we’ve tried to sort it out without becoming too officious or restrictive.

For example; one thing that has made our life much easier is to keep a list of the owners of every website. We used to spend ages trying to figure out who to contact about issues with a site, only to discover the person had left nine months ago, and nobody knew their current email. We made a rule that all websites should be owned by at least one current member of our School (not a guest, but students are OK), and that if all the owners leave, we may turn the site off. To make sure we don’t forget, we automatically compare the list of website owners with a list of valid accounts. If the owner of a site leaves we get an alert. It’s way more easy to sort out what to do with a website the day someone leaves than months later, and we save lots of tedious ringing up people tracing if something is still in use or not. A nice side benefit of this is that it was then easy to make an Intranet web page telling our staff which sites they are listed as a contact for.

Another example: We set up a system that reminds us when our HTTPS certificates are 28 days from expiring. That alone has prevented a few embarrassing incidents.

We are far from perfect, but we’ve improved over the years. I’ll be sharing some of the problems we’ve encountered managing an ever expanding set of servers, sites and services, and the solutions we’ve found to more-or-less keep on top of things. Not all our solutions will work for everyone, but you’ll get some ideas of ways to improve your service. I’m not planning to go into scary implementation details in the talk, but ask me at a coffee break or bar if you want any gritty details. I’m easy to spot being 6 foot 3 with bleached hair…

Photo of Christopher Gutteridge

Christopher Gutteridge has been running the Web Systems for the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton, since 1997 and still isn’t bored. He is also lead developer of the award winning EPrints repository software, used by hundreds of organisations. He strongly believes that tedious work should be done by computers, not people.

Christopher will be giving a plenary talk entitled “Lightweight Web Management“.




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