Managed WordPress Hosting is a term that is somewhat ambiguous. Many companies advertise themselves as such but use their own terminology. Additionally, there are a lot of marketing buzzwords used and much criticism on how expensive managed WordPress hosting is. In this in-depth article, we will clear up what managed WordPress hosting is, what problems it solves and how to go about deciding if your website and business really need it!
First, let’s pretend for a moment, that hosting providers do not exist, and that you need to set up and run your own self-hosted WordPress.
Requirements for a self-hosted WordPress
Before anything else, you need to rent space in a data center. This is absolutely crucial as datacenters provide adequately equipped space to host servers, keeping them physically secure, running at the right temperature, and protecting them from fires. Thus, you will need the following:
1. A physical server to host the software (well, duh). An off-the-shelf computer would do, but commercial servers offer much more, including redundant hardware (For example, an extra power supply).
2. An operating system. Although WordPress is usually installed on Linux, it can definitely work on Windows as well.
3. WordPress is written in the PHP language, so you will need a PHP interpreter installed (such as PHP-FPM and HHVM).
4. As WordPress is used to create websites, you will also need to install a web server such as apache2 or nginx.
5. Network access: Τhe physical server would need to be connected to the Internet.
6. Finally, WordPress itself!
Once you have all the parts gathered, load them up in your car and drive to the datacenter where you will need to perform the following operations:
- Physically install the server, screwdrivers and all. This will take considerable manual effort!
- Install the operating system.
- Install the network.
- Install the web server.
- Install the support software, such as email, database, etc. as WordPress needs them.
- Install the PHP interpreter.
- Install WordPress.
Alas, we are not done yet.
All this needs maintenance!
After installing the operating system, the network routes and firewall, the web server, the PHP interpreter, and so on, you will need to configure and optimise them:
- The operating system needs to be kept up to date, and secure.
- Operating system backups need to be in place.
- The database needs a separate backup plan, along with security patching and upgrading. You need to figure out stuff such as whether you need indexing or not and perform query optimisation to remove bottlenecks (if any).
- The web-server and PHP need fine-tuning. You need to research and make technical decisions for things like threads, events, preforks, and such. As always, the web-server needs to be kept up to date, and secure too.
And lastly, WordPress itself. Installing the core is easy, but after that, you have to configure and install your plugins and themes. There are also WordPress-related cron jobs you need to set up and do research for technical things like caching and optimisation.
Not all sites run better with caching, so you will have to experiment and see. And as for optimisation, there is a plethora of articles and tips on how to optimise your WordPress site. But it’s better to begin by consulting the official WordPress.org Optimization documentation. Unfortunately, not all of them are necessary or even valid. Again you will need time for research and experimentation. Time that you could otherwise invest in running your business, or spend it with your family.
You will also need to set up separate backups for the development sources and the WordPress site as well, because:
Things will break
This is a fundamental law of Nature. And it is observed in computers too and quite frequently :
- The CPU can get burnt. Usually due to heating problems, or just plain bad luck and inherent hardware fault. This is rare, but it can happen.
- The hard disks! Oh, the hard disks can break in so many interesting ways!
- Network ports in Ethernet cards usually blow out after some time of continuous operation.
- Τhe software problems are so many that we do not dare list them extensively here. Usually, a patching procedure goes wrong or a misconfiguration happens, and half of the operating system breaks.
Where are we going with this?
The problem is not in the initial setup. The problem lies in your website’s need of daily maintenance. You need to allocate time every day in order to keep everything up to date. Plus the necessary checks for a) the security of all the components b) any new software updates or patches. If you consider yourself a systems or database administrator, preferably with an expertise in security then more power to you! However, it will still cost you a considerable amount of time. If you are not, then you will probably need to hire some people.
The thing is, you can’t really just set it up and “leave it running”. It is a disaster waiting to happen.
So, the real problem is time.
As you increase the time spent on maintaining your websites the quality of your business and overall life decays. As your business grows and your clients multiply so does the pressure. There are 24 hours in a day, and yet all these new demands must be somehow fitted into your schedule.
Managed WordPress Hosting
Managed WordPress hosting is not a panacea neither does it suit everyone. If you operate a website critical to your business, and you do not have the time nor the technical know-how to maintain all these disparate hardware and software components all by yourself, then it is the only way to go! We will take a look at some of its advantages first, and then we will address the disadvantages. These are often associated with managed WordPress hosting in general.
When something physical breaks on your server, such as the power supply, or RAM, there is dedicated datacenter personnel that will replace the faulty hardware and will get your website back online. Hopefully with very little downtime if any.
You get experienced systems and database administrators equipped to perform all the finetuning and daily maintenance procedures we spoke of.
Managed WordPress Hosting providers are generally more sensitive to security matters leading them to implement advanced multi-layered security mechanisms such as Web Application Firewalls, proactive scanning for malware, and so on. Additionally, if your site gets hacked, the provider cleans it up for you, runs sanity checks and presents a post-mortem analysis.
Be aware, though, that since security is a big thing these days, the use of buzzwords for purely marketing purposes is quite common. Make sure that the provider actually uses these technologies and they are used for benefiting your business and not just because the competition uses them.
DevOps is probably the biggest advantage you’ll get. It opens a communications channel between the website owner/developer and the operations department. This allows more efficient collaboration and tighter integration between your code and the provider’s platform. The ideal scenario is for you to be able to communicate your development planning and needs to the provider and receive consulting on how to fully leverage the power of the hosting provider’s platform.
Speed and Performance
Most managed WordPress providers do excellent in terms of performance since website speed is pushed by companies such as Google. However do not be so quick to jump to a company just because you see an increase of 100ms. Frankly, it is not that big of a difference, and it must not be the sole purpose for choosing a managed WordPress hosting over another.
If your site goes from 100k visitors to 1m, it just won’t work on the same machine, be it a self-hosted WordPress or a shared hosting solution. Managed WordPress hosting providers offer a feature called transparent scalability: in such an event, your website simply continues uninterruptedly like nothing happened.
The heart of a managed WordPress hosting provider is its people. You get expert support from seasoned engineers that live and breathe WordPress, and not just scripted responses from level 1 telephone agents. Experiencing typical problems that can be solved by looking up a recipe book and doing something is one thing; the real value of having expert WordPress support is having people collaborating with you in solving difficult technical problems, and succeeding together!
Some people believe that managed WordPress hosting is too expensive a service for simply hosting your website. But from what we have seen so far in this article, it is far from simple and it is not only that. If you factor in the expert personnel, the daily maintenance, the support, and most important of all, the time you save, it’s a no-brainer.
Limitations on plugins concern only plugins that do work that is already taken care of by the infrastructure. Plugins which if installed would actually degrade your website performance. We maintain our own list of banned plugins on Github.
Theoretically, the technical expertise of a managed WordPress hosting platform is perfectly transferable to other CMSs as well. The technology behind fault-tolerant, highly available architectures is the same. What differs thus, is the platform integration work and its specifics. Any provider then is free to adapt its own platform and offer the same service for Joomla (for example).
What features does managed WordPress hosting offer?
Quite a lot… The market is filled with buzzwords!
Since we would probably need a whole article for each of these terms, we’ll just focus on a few that we consider the absolute basic ones. Those that all managed WordPress hosting providers offer:
You have a guaranteed backup that you don’t get in shared hosting providers. Shared hosting providers can claim that your website ‘takes up too many inodes’ and that they couldn’t back it up. Managed WordPress hosting providers have in place extensive backup planning, easy access to backup and restore procedures, as well as options for safe offsite storage.
Integration with repositories such as Git and SVN is not directly related to WordPress. However, managed WordPress hosting providers offer such features, plus staging environments, in order to make the developer’s life easier by integrating the platform with his/her workflow.
Transparent scalability is very important. Imagine having your site hitting the big one, while you’re running a campaign, thinking “Finally I’m starting to earn some money!” and having the site go 503 on you. Your advertising worked, something went viral! it doesn’t matter. In any case, the sudden traffic spike of new visitors will not affect your website in the slightest.
These are front-servers that forward the visitor requests to multiple web servers that serve your site, based on their load. If your site reaches 100k visitors, we just add more servers and that’s it! No site migrations, no nothing. Your website won’t experience any downtime. Managed WordPress hosting providers have highly available clustered environments that can seamlessly scale horizontally if the need arises.
Escape the buzz and identify your business needs
Before Choosing a managed a WordPress hosting provider over a shared hosting or a VPS one, you need to understand your business needs. Below are the 6 things you need to have in mind when researching for a solution:
Website uptime is important, sure. But do you really need 100%? If you are an auto mechanic shop and your website is basically a digital brochure, then spending money to keep it online all the time, does not make sense. Your website doesn’t contribute or control your revenue. Meaning if it fails, people can always go to your actual shop and get serviced. If you have a fast-growing website that you make money out of, then it becomes crucial.
We all need speed, no doubt about that. But if your website is rendered under 2 seconds you’re doing great.
Absolutely critical, particularly if you make money from your website.
Maybe you just need a brochure website that won’t be changed at all. Obviously, if we’re talking about 3.99$ hosting plans you won’t get much of a support, and deep down you know it. However, If you pay for support, you need to use it. And while Enterprise WordPress support has raised the bar, make sure your business really needs it.
Conduct thorough research about which company has the features you need. If you don’t need advanced features such as staging environments, repository integration, or cloning then you shouldn’t pay them and not use them. However, if you do need them, contact the company, acknowledge that they offer these features in the plan you’re interested in, and start a demo account.
Always have this in mind. Even in development, you will need to rewrite code which you’ve written, simply because at that time you didn’t have 1k visitors in mind. Your managed WordPress hosting provider needs to be able to handle that change as well. As a developer, you need to redesign your code, but you need not worry about the server and its administration. Do what you do best. Both, you and the hosting provider must grow together to meet the needs of the website.
Important points to remember
- Be aware of the various marketing buzzwords, and do understand that there are things like paid reviews.
- Fuss about uptime only if you truly need it. Worry about speed only if your website passes the 2s mark.
- Security is critical! Contact the company and acknowledge whether it supports the features it advertises (such as proactive malware scanning, post-hack care, and so on).
- Do not let a low price automatically lure you in. Cheap hosting plans are cheap for a reason.
- Do you really need expert WordPress support? or the extra tools and features? It all comes down to what kind of website you have and where it fits your business.
- You must plan for future growth and so must your hosting provider! If you need to rewrite code because you went to 1 million visits from 100k, then your provider needs to accommodate for that as well.
Self-hosting WordPress is hard and maintenance is a never-ending job. If you are not a systems/database administrator that is aware of correct security practices, then you need to hire one. If you do have technical abilities, then, either way, you will need to spend a considerable amount of time daily just to keep everything running. This means time spent away from your business and your family. You will need to do this on your free time. Managed WordPress hosting solutions ultimately save you the most important asset that you possess: Time. They let you focus on what you do best, and they worry about everything else so that you won’t have to. You get peace of mind, expert WordPress DevOps support, and quite a few advanced features as well. But before committing to a company and a hosting plan, make sure your website and business need it.