Blue Acorn was one of the first organizations to get trained on M2 in the first offering of their training classes. We invested countless hours to learn the platform very early on, and we were ready to hit the ground running. However, what we learned through that process, that Magento even acknowledges themselves, is that the earlier releases of M2 introduced a few unexpected hurdles. Early adopters who required complexity (most of the initial builds were very simple requirements) saw their project costs skyrocket. They either had significant challenges along the way, or they now face a long road ahead with difficult upgrading.
Today, M2 is in a better state, and version 2.2 is a great place from which to start. Total cost of ownership has always been a strength of Magento, and with 2.2, that benefit is safely returned to Magento’s corner. Not only is our team fully capable on M2, but our M2 projects are coming in on time and on budget. This article focuses on the updates that have been released with the new version and how they could affect your decision to replatform, given these powerful new updates.
B2B Functionality (Enterprise Edition only):
Built-in B2B functionality has long topped our wish list. For years, we’ve custom-built this functionality into Magento, but the cost of custom development was a barrier for many CMOs and CIOs who came to us looking for a B2B ecommerce solution. We established our reputation in the space over six years ago when we built an incredibly custom, B2B Magento site, but duplicating that today with the same budget, considering the amount and level of quality control standards and practices we have since implemented, would be seriously cost-prohibitive.
If you have to build every B2B feature from scratch, and every new feature needs to adhere to quality standards of fast, reliable, scalable, and aesthetically pleasing, things get expensive. Besides quality, there are a number of issues that have gotten more and more important, specifically ADA compliance and security. On a related note, Magento is releasing updates that will improve security and web accessibility. Straight from Magento’s release notes, here are the features you can expect in Magento 2.2:
- Company accounts
- Buyer roles and permissions
- Custom catalogs and price lists
- Request for quote support
- Payments on account
- Fast ordering – quick order, requisition lists, reordering
- New B2B APIs
The pro version of Magento BI allows you to customize your reports and dashboards. It also comes with customer success reports and the ability to purchase professional services offerings from Magento. But, as you might suspect from the nomenclature, the pro version isn’t free. However, Magento BI Essentials comes free with Magento 2.2, and the twenty-five reports on orders, customers and products ought to be enough to get your strategic wheels turning. And if you’re still on Magento 1, you can get essentials for $100 per month (or for free as a Blue Acorn client).
To paraphrase a famous mathematician, “Bricks are to a house what facts are to science, but a collection of facts is no more than a pile of bricks.” In other words, you need BI to compile something useful out of all the data your systems are collecting. The essentials version is basic, but it’s a step towards better data management. When you get to a place where you want everything customized and set up a certain way, you can look at Pro. While you’re testing things out with Essentials, I’d recommend sharing your insights with a broad sample of your organization and see what questions they would like answered from a Pro Version.
On M1, you would download the code and throw in on any server you want. We internally built mechanisms to allow us to streamline the process of deploying code from development to production environments. It’s a series of scripts that allow the right code to go to the right spot. Our best people write these scripts, but with this latest update, they can spend their time on something else. Give me three paragraphs, and I’ll try to explain why this should matter to you.
Here’s how it works. The cloud is the de facto method for implementing M2. With the cloud, the code does not live on servers that we have full access to. Because of that, our tooling can’t be applied to just any server or environment like Amazon. Not to mention, the tooling was built for something like Rackspace. This could be a problem, but instead, Magento has turned it into a solution. These changes allow you to build and deploy faster, and they’re specifically built for the cloud.
Yesterday, you bankrolled tooling whether you knew it or not. You would pay a solution partner for their labor costs, into which were built the costs of their tooling. If you remove the need for expensive resources to develop internal tooling, you impact the internal cost of solution partners. They’ll either pass their savings onto you or spend it on innovation. Either way, you benefit.
Lastly, tooling often belongs to the agency you work with. If you fire a construction crew, they’re taking their bulldozers and equipment with them. The next crew you hire is billing you for the time it takes to bring the bulldozers back and set up their equipment. Likewise, if you were to leave your solution partner, their tooling would no longer be available. On the other hand, tooling that’s built into the platform removes some of the costs of changing your partner. Transitioning to a new agency won’t mean paying your next agency to install their own tooling. With Magento 2.2, you’ll spend less time and effort to set-up and on board a new agency. Say, for example, Blue Acorn.
The intricacies of how these updates affect security and performance are usually foreign to non-developers. For all I know, the new version of PHP includes minigames like Frogger (which would explain why our development staff is so eager to adopt it). Luckily, you don’t need to know PHP to understand how these particular updates improve security, stability, and scalability.
- Zend framework 2: 2.4 to 2.5
- Zend Framework 1: to latest available 1.12.20
- Dropping support for PHP 5.6
- Adding support for PHP 7.1
- Composer: from beta to stable 1.4.1
- Redis support to 3.2
- MySQL support to 5.7 support
- Several dependencies and libraries are also updated
Zend Framework 2.5 was released in 2015, so this is a long awaited update. Without getting too technical, it’s useful to know that MySQL and the Zend framework are dependent on PHP. In other words, the move to PHP 7 allows you to move to the new Zend framework and mySQL. Why care about the new framework? With it, you’ll need fewer servers to host the same applications. Whether you’re talking about Magento or WordPress, you’ll need less server power. Considering the impending holiday shopping season, the improved ability to handle transactions is well-timed.
Security is another important aspect of these updates. Regardless of the other details, old code has more vulnerabilities. The list of options available to malicious hackers (looking at you PRNK) gets longer as the years rack up. Newer components are developed with new security breaches in mind. Whether we’re talking about the new version of Windows or PHP, that fact remains relevant.
Frontend Development Enhancements:
While Magento is working more on the stability of the platform itself and delivering on client expectations, they did release several enhancements to front-end development. For example, they’ve updated the checkout in a way that should improve checkout conversion rates. Currently, if you entered your credit card information before entering a discount code and then pressed “Place Order,” the credit card information fields would become empty and you would have to enter your credit card information again to proceed. With 2.2, credit card information now persists as expected after you enter a promotion code.
Second, front-end documentation is more robust, including some additional topics not covered before 2.2. For example, it includes additional information on theme configuration and management in the admin and applying a custom theme to the admin. There are also some error corrects, and topics brought up to date with changes from 2.1 & 2.2.
It’s not certain when we’ll see improvements to the development process or updates to the native theme as a reference app to make it easier to develop quickly on the platform. That’s why we’re in the process of creating our own reference app based on Luma to remove some of the pain points that slowed us down on M2 in the past.
Other Platform Updates:
Magento is planning on releasing some improvements to web accessibility, security and APIs. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss our further coverage of any Magento announcements.
The next version, Magento 2.3, will be released later this year. Find out what features we’re excited about.