WordPress Site Networks vs Pantheon Upstreams

With the release of Pantheon Upstreams, I’ve been asked a few times to clarify the story vis-a-vis multisite from the WordPress perspective. Unlike Drupal, where I think there’s a clear and easy choice, WordPress has a first-class core feature for operating sites in a multisite configuration called Site Networks.

While complex and not without some risk, Site Networks have been proven to be highly valuable at serving the “website in a box” use-case, most famously by WordPress.com, but also in many other niche implementations. Site Networks are fully supported on Pantheon. So, given that, why would anyone use an Upstream approach rather than a Site Network?

WP Site Networks v. Upstreams

Why Custom Upstreams?

This question takes me back to the centeral concern I outlined in my initial blog post: who realizes the benefits of open source, and where? If you use-case is to deliver turnkey blogs-in-a-box, or something not much more complex than that, with end-users purely interacting with what to them appears to be a SaaS CMS, then Site Networks are your ticket to ride.

And if that's the case you can still use the Pantheon Workflow to develop that SaaS experience as a single project on the platform. This still delivers a lot of benefits. When one deployment can take down 100 websites, having a solid workflow for review, testing, release, and if necessary rollback has a lot of upsides. Likewise, knowing you can scale your traffic out, and that production is a locked-down environment can lend a lot of peace of mind.

However, if you are looking to deliver the value of open source to the sites themselves, then Upstreams are the only way to go. For example: do you want to do site-specific customization or light development? Do you want to engage a wide pool of talent—e.g. allowing individual sites to hire their own designers or developers to innovate? Do you want a site owner to be able to Google a specific WordPress use-case and ask to implement that, or even implement it themselves? Do you ever want offer an individual site owner the ability to take ownership of their site, even to the point of moving it elsewhere?

If the answer to any of those questions is “yes” then Site Networks are a non-starter, but you can get all that and more with a Custom Upstream on Pantheon. Our model is unlike anything else in the market, and has the unique property of allowing you to keep your common elements common across the platform, but also to do whatever you need (including involving other developers or teams) at the site level.

We see this as being especially valuable at large hub-and-spoke style organizations—large companies, universities, chapter-based organizations, and even media networks. Pantheon Upstreams make it possible for big orgs like this to say “yes” to WordPress and all of it’s open source value, and maintain great efficiency, without losing control. It’s a real win-win where the situation is right.

To sum up: If you want to give everybody a standard blog, use a Site Network. If you want to make WordPress the foundation of an enterprise CMS platform, let’s talk about Upstreams. Interested? Let us know. You can also check out our in-depth guide on WordPress Site Networks & Pantheon Custom Upstreams.

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Topics WordPress Hosting, Website Technology

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