Nexcess Cloud clients using Magento 2, WordPress, or WooCommerce can easily create cloud development ("dev") sites through the Nexcess Client Portal for a small monthly charge that varies by size. Setting up a cloud development environment is a great way to test how software updates and other changes would reflect on the production site without any risks.
Nexcess customers are reminded that because under Flexible Cloud Plans you can install any custom site, it is not possible to spin up a staging/development environment for those hosting plans.
What are Nexcess Cloud development sites?
The Nexcess Client Portal allows you to create and manage your cloud development environments for your Managed WordPress, WooCommerce, Magento, or StoreBuilder hosting plans. In this guide, we will learn what Nexcess Cloud development sites are and how to create a dev site in the Nexcess Cloud.
5 most frequently asked questions about dev sites
Development and staging environments are a popular and widely used way to test how specific software updates and new features would affect a website’s usability and performance by creating a copy of the production environment. Below we have gathered the most common questions that arise with regard to cloud dev sites and their usage.
1. What is a dev site?
A development site is a copy of your live website created for development and testing purposes.
2. Who has access to the dev site?
Dev sites are usually entirely hidden from the public, allowing access to a limited group of users, including the website owner, developer, and other people involved in the development process. It is not uncommon to make the dev environment completely offline, password protected, or not have an IP address it points to — so users need to add a DNS entry locally.
3. What is the difference between a dev and a staging site?
Dev and staging sites are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences that we can point out here. The development environment is usually actively used by developers to apply changes and add new features to the dev site.
In contrast, the staging environment is designed to test the new website version before pushing the updates to production. Depending on how you decide to implement the various environments, your dev and staging sites can have different categories of live website information not included for security reasons.
4. What can dev sites be used for?
Cloud dev sites are ideal for operations that are too risky or impractical to perform in the production environment. These include, but are not limited to the following:
- Software updates or any changes to the current software stack.
- Benchmarking performance and improving website load speed.
- Adding new features to the website and experimenting with styles.
5. Is sensitive data copied to the dev environment?
All sensitive data — including customers' and users’ information — is usually either not copied to the development environment or replaced with placeholder information. Personal information does not need to be available on a dev site, especially if you work with a third-party agency or developer.
Overview of Nexcess Cloud development environments as a feature for our hosting customers
A Nexcess Cloud dev site is a great way to set up a cloud development environment for your website that can be managed from the Nexcess Client Portal, so you have everything you need in one place. Here is a bulleted list of some of the most essential aspects of Nexcess Cloud dev sites:
- Pricing. Cloud dev sites incur a small monthly charge that ranges from $5 to $50 monthly, depending on the sizing of disk space and bandwidth included in the plan selected.
- Sensitive information protection. Nexcess Cloud dev sites utilize database scrubbing which maintains the security of your users by replacing personally identifiable information with placeholders.
- Software stack. The dev site will use the same software stack as your production website.
- Availability. Password protection can be used to restrict access to the development environment.
- Production environment updates. Unfortunately, there is no way to automatically push the updates to the live website.
Database scrubbing — removing or replacing Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
Database scrubbing is used to protect all Personally Identifiable Information (PII) by replacing it with fake data. The information replaced during the dev environment setup process includes:
- Names, addresses, and phone numbers
- Email addresses
- Credit card details
- Expiration dates
- Content in comments and posts for WordPress
How to create and manage Nexcess Cloud development sites
The Nexcess Client Portal allows you to create and manage your cloud development environments and all related technical aspects in one place. You can set up a cloud dev site in three simple steps:
- First, open the chosen website’s dashboard.
- Create a Cloud development environment.
- Open the newly created dev site’s management interface for further configuration and credentials retrieval.
Step 1. Open the chosen website’s dashboard in the Nexcess Client Portal
Log in to your Nexcess Client Portal and open the corresponding managed hosting plan. You can view the development and staging environments you created. Or you can add a new cloud dev site by clicking on Environments or navigating to the site dashboard to access the Staging & Dev area within the portal:
Step 2. Create a new development environment
2a. Now you can open the dashboard and navigate to the Staging & Dev interface by choosing the corresponding option from the left menu. The user interface will display all existing dev and staging sites and allow you to add a new one:
2b. Click the Add Development Environment option and choose Create Development Environment to set up a new cloud dev site:
2c. Choose one of the four plans shown based on the disk space and bandwidth required:
2d. Decide whether you want your website data to be copied to the cloud dev site. By default, the dev site will contain all the data in your production environment without replacing sensitive information. You can uncheck the Do Not Anonymize Data option for Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to be replaced with fake entries.
If you choose not to copy it, your new cloud development environment will be created with a new database containing only the default tables and data of a blank Content Management System (CMS) installation:
2d. Here is an example of how Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is replaced during the dev site creation process. You will notice the fake names and email addresses in the updated WordPress users database table in the screenshot below:
2e. Once ready, click the Create button and allow the system a few minutes to get your new cloud development environment up and running.
Step 3. Manage your Nexcess Cloud development environments
You can manage your cloud development and staging environments from the Staging & Dev user interface within the Nexcess Client Portal, including adding new sites and removing the existing sites:
Each cloud dev site you create will have its own Site Dashboard from which you can manage the environment and retrieve credentials. These options also include the accessing the SiteWorx panel for the site, if that feature is available.
Leveraging the benefits of a separate development environment for web presence in the Nexcess Cloud
Setting up a development environment in the Nexcess Cloud allows you to create a full copy of your production website that can be used for development and testing purposes. The newly created development environment will have the same software stack as your production site, so you can work with it as if it was the live website, but without any risks of taking it down. For the dev site, you have the option of replacing all sensitive information in the database with placeholders, so it can be safe when giving access to third-party developers and others.
Why use a dev site?
Making changes to a website can lead to unexpected results. Things can break, performance can take a hit, or a page’s look and feel can change. Dev sites let you test results before pushing them live.
Nexcess Cloud development sites allow you to have both development and production environments in one place, so you do not need to look for any other options. In addition, our hosting plans are fully optimized for the chosen platform, combining our robust enterprise-level software stack with a built-in CDN and advanced caching. Check out Nexcess Managed Hosting plans to start today with a trusted hosting provider.
Note about the original publication date
This article was originally published in September 2019. It has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.