Northwestern University

A WordPress Hosting customer study.

Customer: Northwestern University

Northwestern University is a private, Illinois-based research university, with satellite campuses in Chicago, Qatar and San Francisco. Renowned as one of the most elite universities in the country, Northwestern is known in particular for its excellent programs in law, journalism, medicine, and art.

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Northwestern has many campus organizations that need the ability to publish WordPress sites. The system they were using to manage affordable hosting at scale had technical limitations that precluded them from accommodating certain plugins, themes and configuration requirements. Pagely stepped in and enabled Northwestern to run these feature-demanding WordPress sites while maintaining the high degree of security and support a top tier university requires.

"Pagely has done an excellent job hitting [that] sweet spot for us and delivering these products to our end users with the performance, the up-time, and the security goals we seek in an affordable manner."
Northwestern University Harlan Wallach - Associate Director of Media & Design

The Challenge

WordPress is extraordinarily important within the academic community. Regardless of whether a university officially supports it, people are going to use it.

There was a time in Northwestern’s history where we had many different departments and schools independently running their own WordPress instances, and there was a pretty broad range in how it was implemented and with what level of efficiency.

That situation led to a problem of sprawl and security exposure. Despite WordPress’ popularity, if it’s not properly managed-- not just with the core product, but with the plug-in modules as well-- it can quickly devolve into an institutional security risk.

It became clear to us that it would be best to create a mechanism inside the institution that allows and provides online publishing for our users that want to use WordPress, with some limitations.

The hosting company we landed on for the institution at large-- the one we still use today-- allowed us to limit the themes and plugins that are available, and all of them are thoroughly evaluated and tested.

Users of this hosting platform exist in a closed environment that keeps the university secure and restricts the plugin and theme selection to a vetted subset so that users are protected. That being said, not everything that we do with WordPress falls into that bucket. Some sites require sophisticated customizations, unique requirements, and configurations that are simply not possible under this platform. We needed the ability to have a different bucket of sites that could be more freely administered while retaining all the maintenance, security and support benefits we had come to expect from this other platform. That’s when we went to Pagely.

The Solution

Here's an example of a sophisticated requirement we couldn't previously address: we have a high-end interactive presentation in our visitor center that needed to be syndicated to sites for three different campuses. This is currently accomplished on Pagely by running a headless WordPress environment - we had no way to do this under our other platform. We’re using Pagely to syndicate this content from one networked location to these high profile, museum-quality interactive displays.

This is something Pagely does exquisitely well. We’re able to do this in a cost effective way, in that our data only needs to be uploaded to Pagely in order to be distributed to the three different locations.

We have other custom applications that high profile researchers have developed in WordPress that require the security and the reliability that the Pagely environment provides, but also the freedom to be able to be outside a narrowly defined, commodified WordPress experience. That’s the spot that Pagely fits for us, and it performs well in that role.

We’ve had a great experience working with Pagely. Anytime we’ve had issues or concerns, they’ve been addressed. We have a very defined and focused mission of how and when our WordPress applications that are being delivered by WordPress. It has been a great vendor-client relationship.

We have very specific and defined goals that we’re looking to deliver with WordPress on our Pagely platform. Pagely has done an excellent job hitting that sweet spot for us and delivering these products to our end users with the performance, the up-time, and the security goals we seek in an affordable manner.

What is your WordPress challenge?