With CWP support ending, Government agencies are facing new choices in local Silverstripe hosting.
After playing a big part in almost a decade’s worth of digital transformation, the Common Web Platform (CWP) is entering its final phase. It's time to think about making good Silverstripe hosting decisions in the post-CWP era.
A revolution in online Government
The online face of New Zealand’s Government has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. It’s strange to think that it wasn’t always easy or even possible to use the internet to renew passports, pay road tolls or register your baby’s birth.
Government-wide digital transformation is still happening today, too. Transformation is hard, especially in large organisations, or places with a number of strategic goals and priorities, or if you can’t afford to leave a single user or customer behind. All of these things apply to Government, which makes the success so far even more impressive.
Like any sort of standardisation, CWP has worked well (or well enough) for a lot of cases but also made some things harder.
This success comes down to countless hours of effort from thousands of people working towards a big, hairy goal - nothing less than unifying and modernising public service, with citizens at the centre. Many teams of people have shared an overarching strategy, followed guidelines covering everything from design to privacy, and conformed to robust technical standards.
For web hosting experts like us the most interesting of those standards has been the Common Web Platform, or CWP.
What’s the CWP?
The CWP is a platform-as-a-service that includes the CMS, web hosting, and other tools and services that you need to keep a website online and operational.
The big idea behind CWP was to let individual government agencies focus on creating and managing successful websites. It did this by taking away a lot of headaches by picking a set of standard suppliers (like Silverstripe for content management) and packaging up a small selection of tech stacks that are ready to go. You can select a CWP stack and get to work on your website without having to assess vendors or compare quotes. There’s no testing to do, either. You know for sure that the systems you’re using are compatible and compliant.
Like any sort of standardisation, CWP has worked well (or well enough) for a lot of cases but also made some things harder. One size never fits all, and today there are four sizes of CWP stack (the Mini Stack was added in 2019), each split into multiple releases or “recipes”. Five recipes were in support at the start of this year. As instances proliferate and use cases multiply, maintaining a standard tech stack is bound to get harder.
Cost has emerged as an issue, too. Because the CWP is designed to work in almost every situation, it’s often more than enough. Some Government agencies find themselves looking at a package that comes with bells, whistles, and costs that they just don’t need.
As often happens with centralised solutions, CWP has been criticised for being too slow as well. You can’t just spin up an instance and immediately get to work - instead, there’s a wait time that can last days. If you attract more traffic and subsequently outgrow the stack that you started on, it’s not quick or easy to scale up to the next size.
But when you look at the big picture, CWP’s shortcomings are only so well-known because it’s been so widely used. This is a sign of success.
From September 2021, the CWP as we know it will enter its sunset phase.
Don’t forget that the CWP has lasted eight years, which is an age in IT. Back in 2013 the world was just getting to know Windows 8 and iPhone 5. Internet Explorer started the year as the world’s most popular browser. After a long, fruitful life it’s no surprise that the CWP has started showing its age. And now a very big change is coming.
As the CWP site put it: “The Lead Agency Agreement for the Common Web Platform (CWP) expires on 16 September 2021.” This means that active development of the CWP will end. Only the latest recipe will keep receiving critical bug and security fixes.
From September 2021, the CWP as we know it will enter its sunset phase.
CWP support timeline (from cwp.govt.nz)
But that doesn't mean that there’ll be a sudden free-for-all in the world of Government digitisation. Instead an "All of Government Digital Experience Services Strategic Framework" will come into view. You’ll be able to operate within this framework while choosing from a broader range of suppliers than the old CWP offered.
The idea is still to let Government agencies focus on the web experience rather than technical procurement. The new framework will make it easier to find services that work best for you.
Before September 16, you need to be ready to make good technical decisions rather than follow someone else’s recipe.
Comparing hosting options
It might be the first time in almost a decade that you’ve gone to market for a Silverstripe hosting provider, so it’s time to define your priorities. What requirements will your Government agency have? And how can you find a hosting provider that meets them all without charging for gold-plating that you don’t need?
High on your list, we suggest looking for a hosting provider with Silverstripe experience. Every CMS comes with its own quirks, and you don’t want to be the test case for a provider who’s not handled your CMS before.
We have been hosting Silverstripe developers like Central Station and Sunny Side Up for years now. In most cases our Cloud Containers offer everything you might need, but bigger or more complex instances of Silverstripe can sit on a VPS or even a Dedicated Server. Every SiteHost option is ready to deliver a fast, secure Silverstripe experience.
If data sovereignty is a consideration - and throughout Government it often is - then servers on New Zealand soil are a clean and compliant option. As well as being certain that your live server is local, you want to know that your hosting provider isn’t backing up to an offshore location. When most of your site visitors are in New Zealand you have a second reason to store your data close to home. The smaller the distance bits and bytes have to travel to reach your site visitors, the quicker they’ll see your site load.
We’re the largest NZ-owned hosting company, and we operate out of three locations in Auckland. Our largest data centre is in our Penrose HQ. We have a range of customers with data sovereignty requirements - for example ensuring that their data and support is handled 24 x 7 within NZ. As big believers in data sovereignty and the ability of New Zealand companies to deliver for New Zealand, we’re always willing to discuss other requirements, too.
Hosting isn't only about machines and networks. The human side of hosting can often make the difference between a stressful day or week, or a good night's sleep. When you choose a Silverstripe host you want to partner with a team who will take proactive care of your infrastructure. You also need to know that any issues or requests will be addressed quickly.
Support standards can be a very big differentiator. Look for a host with high standards and a genuine belief in partnership and accountability.
Our homepage always shows a rolling average of our support team's response time and customer satisfaction rates. We report these things alongside our network update because we believe that they're equally important.
You might think that since the CWP mandated a single hosting supplier, then finding others with relevant experience would be impossible. Not quite.
The CWP has never been fully enforced as the one and only way for all government agencies. We know this because we’ve been hosting a number of government sites for years now. Usually these sites had requirements that the standard approach couldn’t easily handle, or that were too simple to justify the cost of a CWP stack.
Look for a host with high standards and a genuine belief in partnership and accountability.
As an example of a Government site that we’ve hosted, we’ve already mentioned that the nation’s official Covid-19 site started out inside one of our Cloud Containers. Days after launch the Prime Minister directed the entire team of five million to all take a look, which made for an interesting time.
With Government experience comes familiarity with privacy, security, and compliance. We’ve seen the issues and questions that arise during Government digital projects. This can be the sort of thing that makes other providers back off, or inflate your costs.
If your project is your hosting provider’s introduction to the world of Government compliance, it’s very easy for surprises to pop up and deadlines to be missed. It’s one thing to have read up on things, and quite another to know what it takes to satisfy every last condition.
One example: We’re very familiar with the 100+ questions that make up the Cloud Risk Assessment Tool. Every installation is different so we’ve worked through these considerations alongside different development agencies, and for different Ministries, Departments, and Government Offices.
We also have experience complying with the New Zealand Information Security Manual (NZISM). We’re already hosting multiple sites that are up to NZISM standard and have passed independent pen testing. If your site facilitates payments, we have completed all the requirements for compliance as a PCI DSS Level 2 Service Provider. Whatever security threshold you need to meet, we can work with your QSA (qualified security assessor) on compliance.
It’s quick and easy to spin up a Cloud Container and see for yourself how well Silverstripe performs. Or if you’d rather talk with us first, we’re ready. Contact us to hear more about the Government agencies we’re already working with and to start a conversation about your move away from the Common Web Platform.
We’ve begun the process of becoming an official Marketplace supplier, but this can take a bit of time. In the meantime we can work through other procurement processes with you.
A new era for Government
CWP’s contribution to the digital transformation within New Zealand Government has been immense. The new era which starts this September holds a lot of promise for the future. We’ll be delighted to be a growing part of it.