It’s true, we build awesome new sites using DNN and we’ve been known to fix the sad, broken, underperforming ones too.

My work is consumed these days with fixing up broken sites, most of them are DNN ones, and the work consists of advising clients on how to get the most out of their DNN website when it’s been built sadly and badly.

It doesn’t matter the technology.  I’m convinced whether it’s WordPress, DNN, Drupal or other systems that allow users to self manage the content, it can be a complete disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.

For me, active blogs are pre dnn 6, I’ve been hellishly busy since then, I talked about upgrades and how the software performed and and it would be fair to say that over the last decade we’ve done hundreds and hundreds of upgrades from various versions of DNN.

One thing that I feel is a real bonus for DNN is the stability of the software. DotNetNuke, for all the frustrations that some people feel they have, it’s been for me, incredibly robust, but not without it’s problems.  It has not stopped my clients from building their business online and their return on investment has been exceptional.  When I think how much people invest in building their sites, redoing their sites, rebranding, redoing… our clients on the DNN CMS software just keep on keeping on.

You know when a product is good when you have a long retention rate on client sites.  
For me, I work with the team in strategy, management and user experience, and for us to provide our clients with the best outcomes for their business, we need to make sure their time is spent focus sing on their business, the content that goes into the site, the sales and other business expectations they may have.

While a larger part of our client base has some form of user management, we have quite a few portals where the child portals exist and have done so for many years.

I have client who has the same site (upgraded of course) since 2006.  It lead me to think about my own website and how long I’ve had this build for.   And a recent upgrade made me stop and look at just how many upgrades the site has had and had the integrity of the site been kept.

109 Upgrades and 8 years on, still going strong

The website has has 109 upgrades.  From a DotNetNuke 3.1 build through to the latest version available at time of writing, it’s gone through 109 updates, iterations and improvements.  I think from my point of view shows the stability of the product and the fact that you can continue with business, rather than having to rewrite your website.

And yet I’m about to contradict myself.. We’re currently replacing a website for a client, rather than upgrading it, and as I go go through the project, perhaps we could have simply upgraded it, but it would have been quite a big task to remove or repurpose the content due to the way it had been written.  So the issue at times is not always that the technology is broken, but the fact it’s been put together without rhyme or reason brought about by lack of planning, lack of understanding and lack of experience. That’s where we step in and make a difference.  We can assess whether the site is viable to be upgraded and restructured or if in fact, it’s easier and quicker and more efficient to rebuild the site from scratch, copying and cleaning the data and preparing it for the next many years of work.

The key is understanding what you’re working with

Often the lack of knowledge makes people use the html module that is the most used module in DotNetNuke inneffieciency.  While it’s a fantastic and diverse module, it can be overused and there are at times other ideal modules to do many of the tasks it’s asked to do, in a more effective way to manage.

The upgrade process I feel for DNN isn’t like a once click upgrade that WordPress has, but if you take this aside, I can’t see any reason someone wouldn’t consider using DNN (Formerly DotNetNuke) as their primary tool for an online presence.

There is an excellent backup tool provided by Evotiva which allows you to backup the site on a regular basis, and, also an upgrade option which takes the worry out of it for you should you need to roll back.  I have found this module to be a ‘must have’ for those who don’t have access to their servers, and would like the security of being able to manage backups and upgrades at a level that gives then confidence. With the ability to save to dropbox, have an ftp account for it to be uploaded to or emailed a link to download, this really does help.

Take the time to try, learn, research and experiment

Fortunately for me, I have an environment that lets me explore and trial all aspects of DNN before upgrading and being satisfied that the build is suitable to use commercially.

I think it’s the errors of the past that has made me aware of what to look out for and understanding of the different growth stage of DNN is the key to identifying how far you can push the boundaries.

Sometimes, and it used to be late at night, just before I went to bed, that I’d get this epiphany to ‘upgrade a site’ to start the day fresh with a new build of DNN.  I think I’m a slow learner because it’s really only the shortest time recently that I’ve had these disastrous memories of spending what should have been sleeping hours, turned into searching hours, trying to find out why something didn’t work.   I can’t believe how naive I am at times thinking that things should work as expected, but when I look back, it’s really only been a few versions where the behaviour hasn’t been what I expected.

The main points I learnt was when you can skip an upgrade and when you can’t.  We’re quite methodical here when it comes to upgrading.  Sometimes we’ll take a snapshot of a site, upgrade and test it, documenting as we go whether the build upgrades have been successful and then switching the dev site to be the live site.

For our busy membership sites, we’re more inclined to do the testing but then switch off the site and upgrade, test and post live again.  That’s proven to be quite successful.

We are surrounded by talent

Our service we provide to companies allows us to upgrade their sites and then hand back a cleaned up, tidy version of DNN, modules checked, updated, skins updated if needed and in general the once over to give the site a new breath of life and a better experience for the website owner and hopefully visitors.

To be practical, we don’t employ full time developers, although we have trained staff to work exclusively on DNN so their knowledge is deep, and our relationship with other developers, allows us to be very effective in how we deliver solutions for clients, whether it’s building their new website from scratch, or upgrading it. 

We do this work on our servers, where our clients drop their sites into dropbox folders and when finished, pick it up and simply attach and run with it again.  

Our own hosting environment is unique

We analyse every module that is installed, prior to going our live server and our servers are setup specifically to be DNN friendly. Perhaps my OCD in reference to performance and security.  We have turned away clients who we feel might not be a good match if there is a risk they will affect other client sites. 

For our own site you might be surprised to know that we’re still using virtually all the standard modules that we purchased in the early years, and they still work.   I am always surprised about this and it gives me great confidence in the product given that some people worry about what happens to the modules if they upgrade.

I think the key to having a successful build of DNN is to keep it clean and light and if you’re not using modules that you’ve tried and don’t want to use, then get rid of them.  Delete them.  Not the admin ones of course, but if you’ve tried a handful while updating your website and no longer want to, then uninstall them.

So there you have it.. an old site – 8 years old plus, same code base and upgraded, with most of the same modules that have not been upgraded and they still work.  

How can you not love this great product?  

Stable, secure, reliable, upgradeable, scalable and with a pinch of frustration and challenges, the DNN CMS (formerly DotNetNuke) is a product for those who are serious about software that delivers solutions virtually out of the box.