Recently we embarked on an evaluation of Joomla! website management tools, with a view to offering managed website maintenance to our clients in 2017.
We decided to review three products which are currently available on the market:
We settled on Watchful because it best met our requirements, but thought it might be beneficial to others to document our evaluation process.
Our requirements, in order, were as follows:
- Primarily, to automate Joomla! core and 3rd-party security updates for multiple websites more efficiently.
- Automation/simplification of backups.
- The ability to run site audits as required.
We started by setting up an account with all 3 providers, and doing what could be done for free/evaluation purposes.
- Watchful allowed us to run a free trial for 30 days for up to 5 websites.
- MyJoomla/mySites.guru and PerfectDashboard both allowed us to install one site for free.
We initially decided to run each platform for a week at a time.
We started with PerfectDashboard and ran into a snag fairly quickly - our website hosting account ran out of bandwidth! In Australia, almost everything internet-related is disk- and bandwidth-limited, and PerfectDashboard runs its own internal backup service which seemed to be continual, which ramped up the bandwidth numbers quite dramatically. We didn't realise this at first so it's possible the product could be configured not to do this, or to at least do it less often, but it seemed a little problematic to be running continual backups to the other side of the world so we stopped this test and moved onto the next platform.
MyJoomla/mySites.guru had a similar interface to PerfectDashboard, with the left menu sidebar. Unfortunately, we were unable to test the Updates section without signing up so it was a little hard to evaluate our primary requirement. On the plus side, the initial audit was very comprehensive and produced some surprising results which we were able to go off and fix, although we couldn't then re-run the audit to make sure we got it all without signing up.
Watchful has a different layout, and the focus is different - the main login screen shows all sites and their update status. We could test the Updater with the 5 sites we'd set up, and were quite excited to see how fast it was compared to manual updates. We also configured automated website backups (using Akeeba in Joomla!) and tested that and it all worked nicely. Lastly we ran a site audit, which was far less comprehensive than the MyJoomla/mySites.guru audit - it basically just showed if the site was infected or not, without identifying all the things that could potentially cause an issue.
Our view, which may or may not be correct, is that Watchful was initially about updating and then added audits, and MyJoomla was initially about audits and then added updating, and over time they're getting closer together in terms of functionality. PerfectDashboard is newer to the scene and not yet fully developed, but looks promising. Watchful and PerfectDashboard both allow management of Wordpress sites too**, which can be useful if you manage more than one type of CMS.
- Watchful is US-based and advertises as $1/site/month.**
- MyJoomla/mySites.guru is UK-based and advertises as £5.00/month for a single site, £19.99/month or £199.99/yr for unlimited sites.
- PerfectDashboard is EU-based and at #JWC16 was quoted as "$1-$2/month", but has no public pricing on the website at this time.**
To compare apples with apples, we converted to Aussie dollars and came up with this (numbers correct as at January 2017):
Watchful (https://watchful.net/pricing) **
30 days free trial for 5 sites
25 sites US$215/yr (approx AUD$292.39)
50 sites US$421/yr (approx AUD$572.54)
First audit / add first site free
Unlimited sites £199.99/yr (approx AUD$283.60)
Add first site free
So without knowing exact PerfectDashboard pricing, MyJoomla/mySites.guru is the cheapest option.
We're not suggesting that any one service is better than the others - they are all a bit different and what works best for you depends on your requirements and the number of sites you need to manage.
The MyJoomla/mySites.guru audit is more comprehensive, and the service overall is less expensive than Watchful. They also provide a service to "unhack" your website. The main reason we settled on Watchful was because our primary requirement was monitoring and fast updating across multiple sites, and we found the Watchful interface the simplest for our needs. It also helped that we could see it fully functioning for 30 days before making a decision. We've since found that the support is excellent and very friendly, and new features are continually being added, both of which are value-adds which make the cost worthwhile. We're going with the theory that if all client sites are fully updated in a timely manner, there should be a reduced/no need for unhacking or audits to identify problems.
We have also set up fully automated offsite backups, using Watchful, Akeeba Backup Pro and Amazon S3 - which will be the subject of another blog post.
** Updated August 2018
A new product with similar functionality has been released - YourSites https://www.yoursites.net. This is not a 3rd-party service like the other services reviewed in this article, but instead a Joomla extension which is installed in a Joomla site and configured to manage other Joomla sites.
** Updated May 2019
Watchful has changed its domain name to watchful.net. We've updated URLs where applicable.
** Updated August 2019
PerfectDashboard has now been acquired and no longer offers Joomla-based website management services. We've removed URLs.
** Updated October 2019
MyJoomla has rebranded as mySites.guru and added Wordpress management functionality. We've updated URLs and added the new name and a screenshot from their website.
** Updated October 2020
Watchful has announced new pricing plans for new customers which are usage-based pay-as-you-go. The new pricing is US$1.83 /site /month. Existing customers maintain the US$1 /site /month price. We also notice the "Forever Free" plan no longer seems to have a 30 day limit, not sure when that happened.