Best Practice for Separate "Update" Applications for Website

I’ve got a company e-commerce site built in Rails 2.3 that’s up,
running, doing fine. However, for several reasons, security chief
among them, I’m not allowing ANY way of making changes to the database
inside the website’s codebase itself (there are absolutely no edit/
update or delete actions anywhere). Instead, I have two separate
“updater” applications. And I get told to make a ton of changes all
the time.

Maintaining three different applications is a PITA. I’m looking for a
better way.

Basically, it’s set up like this: ← primary customer-facing site ← available internally only (in our DNS) -
updates products, page copy, etc. ← where our fulfillment people check to
process e-commerce orders (primarily read-only, internal DNS)

The trick is that they all use the same database, which resides on yet
a third server:

Now, let’s say I need to make a model change (or in reality, a LOT of
them, damn “business users”). Not only do I have to update,
but update. and fulfillment. as well. In other words, I’m not
updating and maintaining one web application, but instead three.

What I’ve been doing is writing the new “read” functionality into the
customer-facing site, including database migrations, and then making
changes to the model where needed in both update applications. So far
it’s worked fine, but it’s pretty kloogy.

I can’t put all this under for security and PCI-DSS
compliance reasons as well as other legal and security reasons my
organization enforces. They have to be separate applications and
available under separate virtual hosts (Apache/Passenger) to enforce

Is there a better way of doing this, or is what I’m already doing
really about the only way to skin this cat?

If the models are the same in all three sites, would it be possible to
abstract them out into a separate piece? Maybe an Engine kind of
thing, maybe a git submodule - or even just using some symlinks (for
app/models and db/ ? The goal would be to keep the code in one place
and just have all three apps point to it.

–Matt J.