Product Reviews

Web Site Change Management

Keeping track of changes to Web sites can be of a great importance, a good reason to put SiteRecorder to work for you.

Change management can be a tricky thing when it comes to managing a Web site. For a lot of companies, there is a single webmaster who keeps tabs on who changes what on the corporate Web. But if the organization is a nice big monster of a company that has many teams adding information to the different Web pages on a daily basis, the webmaster could get seriously bogged down with just managing changes.

It can become far too easy for anyone with permission, notwithstanding those without, to make a quick change without any control. This can be a dangerous prospect for an e-commerce site whose entire revenue drive is based on their Web site. And with more and more news of Web site defacement, insuring that code stays right and where it belongs is essential.

SiteRecorder from Lockstep Technologies answers this question by facilitating a means to manage changes through notification. SiteRecorder keeps track of changes, keeps backup copies of the managed Web site, and has a fast restore operation, should the site controller have to roll back to an earlier iteration of the Web site. SiteRecorder sends a quick e-mail notice to the administrator when a change is detected. Couple this functionality with, say an e-mail notification to a cell phone, and the administrator can literally keep tabs on the Web site from anywhere.

SiteRecorder also has a younger sibling, called SiteRecorder Express. Express is only a backup tool that takes up to 10 iterations of your Web site. SiteRecorder has this functionality, although it's not restricted to 10 iterations. SiteRecorder increases the number of iterations to an unlimited number and incorporates change notification as well. For the purposes of this review, we'll discuss SiteRecorder. Just know what Express can do, should this be an influence to your decision about this product.

SiteRecorder has a simple and intuitive installation procedure. Having two install options, it can install as a server service on an NT or 2000 Server box or as a remote administration client that can run on any 32-bit Windows platform.

SiteRecorder has three ways to access Web spaces. It can connect via FTP, folder share, or FrontPage Server Extenstions (FPE).

So, to put SiteRecorder through its paces, I set up a test environment of three machines, an Apache Web server running on Redhat 6.2, a Windows 2000 Server running IIS, and my notebook as the client running Windows 2000 Professional and FrontPage 2000. I, then, configured three different Web sites, one on the Apache box, the other two on the IIS box. I defined each of the three connection methods respectively for each Web site, FTP for Apache, FPE and Folder access for the IIS sites.

I was able to configure SiteRecorder to use the respective access method for each Web site to access the Web site. It took a baseline copy of the Web site and cached it. Then, I set the constraints of when and how to check each Web site for changes. I was able to control how much or how little SiteRecorder checked my changes. It does a fast check by looking at the time-date stamp and file size of the files or a thorough check through an effective binary comparison. SiteRecorder allows you to configure how much bandwidth is used for each connection, so the administrator controls the amount of network lag is generated from the operation.

One would think that SiteRecorder takes up a large footprint, since it's actually caching many files from many different Web spaces, but that's not really the case. The program itself takes up about 2MB of disk space, not including the Web cache. The cache holds only the changes, to facilitate roll back. Although SiteRecorder can effectively store an infinite number of change iterations, the administrator can limit this number to reduce actual disk space usage. Essentially, the oldest revisions are rolled into the baseline after the cutoff.

SiteRecorder does exactly what it is supposed to do. It backs up Web sites locally and remotely. It keeps track of revisions and notifies folks of changes. But there isn't any way in SiteRecorder to keep changes from happening. You can set constraints to alert you each time, but there's no way for SiteRecorder to directly act as an intercessor for changes. So, it's not true change management, but it's close.

The only other downer I found about SiteRecorder is the price tag for the package. At $795 per license for each managed Web, it could be a little out of the league for a small business whose principle revenue doesn't roll in from the Web. Not to negate the purpose of their Web site, but it's not as important as a major e-commerce site, which could make or break the company with each second of downtime. SiteRecorder would be a good insurance policy for make or break Webs, but I'm afraid that price would be out of touch for any business other than a major player on the Web. It would be up to the company to decide if the cost is justified.

At the end of the day, Web site security is always a good thing. And if this is what you need, then SiteRecorder just may be your tool for the task.

About the Author

Rick A. Butler, MCSE+I, is the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.

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