Which is a better cPanel alternative of a VPS – Cloudways or ServerPilot?
I’ve been looking for a new hosting solution for VMinstall.com and I thought I would share my research in a series of 3 posts.
This is part 2 and covers Cloudways. Enjoy!
Before we dig into this review let me quickly give you a recap how my other test (Part 1) is going with ServerPilot + DigitalOcean + WordPress.
Here’s what I tested and reviewed:
- Creating a DigitalOcean account and server droplet.
- Creating a ServerPilot account and linking it to a DigitalOcean droplet.
- Creating an App, database, configuring SFTP and copying over the WordPress files.
- Configuring a domain and DNS, and setting up a WordPress site.
- Installing PhpMyAdmin and running basic testing. (Create database, edit database, import database)
And here’s an update how the testing is going…
The ServerPilot POC has been going great and all my objectives have been completed. The only thing to report is two small gotchas:
1. Twice over the last month my test WordPress site, VirtualizeAz.com, has been hung-up on a ‘not able to connect to the database‘ screen. In both instances I did a full server reboot by logging into DigitalOcean and restarting the VM. This has fixed the problem both times. I know rebooting the VM was extreme but there’s only one website on the server so bouncing it wasn’t a big deal.
2. Overall the integration between ServerPilot and DigitalOcean has been seamless and has worked out well. However, as I mention in my ServerPilot review, having 2 or more platforms to manage adds complexity. I want simple!
Here’s an idea for the ServerPilot team. It would be nice if ServerPilot was a Droplet App that could be installed on DigitalOcean…
Other than these 2 small items there’s not much to fuss about. It works as advertised. So far it’s good enough… Here’s a link to the full ServerPilot Review.
Help me before I break something!
Now let me ask you a question.
Is good enough, enough?
Like most good IT professionals I have a problem with good enough. If there’s anyway possible to tweak or hack something to make it run faster, or better, we are going to do it – or break something trying, right?
Which is why after more than a month testing ServerPilot and ‘Good Enough‘ results, I’ve decided to test out Cloudways to see if it offers more PIZZAZZ…
Reviewing Cloudways for Pizzazz
Let me start from the beginning and set the stage for this review.
I don’t want another Godaddy or iPage hosting experience!
Please can somebody say, “AMEN!”
I signed up using the Cloudways 14 day trial but after only one day of trial I ended up coughing up my credit card and put $20 worth of credits on my account. Not a good first impression!
Note: Cloudways does not accept Paypal but they do take Bitcoins. I prefer Paypal.
Now before I move on let me give a quick warning to anyone thinking of using the 14 day trial.
DO NOT DELETE YOUR SERVER OR THE TRIAL WILL BE OVER!
Also not a good first impression!
I found this out the hard way after I was having problems with too many attempts to access my server directly from the IP address. Which also brings to mind something important I want to share about DigitalOcean.
You see, DigitalOcean recycles a lot of IP addresses from all their customers (actually all providers do this). But spammers love the low prices DigitalOcean offers and they love to build out websites overnight then dump them once they get reported. Unfortunately, the IP addresses used by these folks get recycled. And like I was seeing, a lot of traffic was directed straight at the IP.
After only one day my logs were full of 404 errors for pages and files with very interesting names.
What did I do?
I did what anyone would do, I deleted the server to get another one with a new IP – hence my trial was over…You have been warned!
Cloudways Look and Feel
As I noted in the ServerPilot Review, ServerPilot mimics the looks of DigitalOcean. But the first big deference I noticed about Cloudways is its uniqueness in how things are laid-out. There’s no similarities with DigitalOcean.
Let’s dig in.
After setting up my account in the members area, I clicked the orange button on the top of the screen and went to the Application Console. Here’s where you set up servers and install applications.
Here’s a view of the Application Console with my first VPS called Host01
Now let’s get to the good stuff!
After clicking the big grey Manage Server button we are taken to another dashboard (see below). Here I can select my server and see other important information like: Summary, Monitoring, Vertical Scaling, Manage Services, Server Setting and Packages, Backups and Server Add-ons.
At Cloudways, for the price of any DigitalOcean server (including the $5 per month one), they offer a lot of GUI driven manageability. This is perfect for non-Linux admins of the world. And this deal also applies for Google and AWS, if you choose their cloud services instead of DigitalOcean.
My only concern on pricing is how long will the current pricing model last before Cloudways eventually starts taking away features for “Pro” or “Premium” customers?
Let me show you what you get…
Here’s a look at the Summary. Pretty much the same info that was on the front dashboard. My server config, the cloud provider, and the location of the server. (Don’t click the Delete button!)
And here’s a look at Monitoring. As you can see in the drop-down there are plenty of graphs to analyze server performance.
And here’s a peek at Managed Services. Basically it’s like running a CLI stop or start command for these services except it’s a button with a status indicator. Very cool!
The other monitors on this page are pretty straight forward.
Server Settings lets you tweak server related configs such as logging, time, as well as allows you to do other tuning a Linux admin would love. But there’s also a tab for packages that lets you change PHP, MySQL and Redis versions. I thought this was also a nice-to-have GUI.
OK, I’ll give you a peek at this too!
Security and Backup monitors are plain. Nothing too exciting here.
And for the final item on the page, Server Add-ons are just other services you can pay for to add SMTP, and NewRelic Pro.
Not a bad system!
This completes the introduction to Cloudways and a quick high-level view of the Management Console. Hang in there because next we will be spinning up a WordPress instance and configuring the Domain and DNS. Then later-on I’ll share Pros and Cons, and summarize the review of Cloudways…
Creating a WordPress Instance on Cloudways
In this part of my review, I’ll show you step by step how I created a WordPress App on Cloudways and setup the domain…obviously this can vary.
1. On the Summary Monitor screen we’re going the click the green Add App button. See the red arrow in the screenshot below?
2. The Application Management tab will open to a slider of applications shown as big buttons that you can choose from. Hover over the WordPress button and then a small window will open with 3 choices. Choose the top one for a basic WordPress install. The others will configure WordPress for WooCommerce and WordPress Multisite. Nice!
Once you make a selection the indicator will turn green and the big orange Add New Application button will activate. Click the orange button!
Next you will see the screen below for about 2 minutes (actually it was less than a minute).
3. When the installation of WordPress completes, you will be sent back to the main screen where we started. Now click the big grey Manage Server button and navigate back to the Application Management screen. There you should find a long name in the My Applications box at the upper left. This is also a drop-down for when you have more than 1 app installed.
Note: In my trial I did notice there was already a WordPress app installed. You may want to delete it and start with a fresh install.
Also while we’re on the topic I want to briefly cover the Application Management page. Similar to the Server Management page, there are a bunch of boxes that open to services. Real quick, let me show you few of them starting with the Access details.
Look at the screen shot above. We’re going to click the 2nd long URL in the Access details. This will launch the WordPress logon screen. You can logon with the username and password listed in the Admin Area Access details. This works without your domain associated with the application.
4. Next I’ll show you how I setup a domain for the site. Open the Domain Management box and click the big green Add Primary Domain button. Type in your domain name and include the ‘www’. For example: www.mydomain.com – now click save. That’s it!
5. Once you’ve installed WordPress and setup your domain, you’ll also need to configure the DNS of the domain to point to the WordPress URL. Clicking the more details link show above at the bottom of the screen will open a support page with step by step instructions for setting up DNS for your application.
6. One final step I want to show you is how to change the WordPress Address URL and Site Address URL for your new website. This is very important because currently the URL points to a sub-domain on Cloudways. Here’s how you change this:
After logging into WordPress and navigating to Settings>General. Carefully type (or paste) the full URL including HTTP into the 2 box shown below with red arrows. Then click the Save Changes button at the bottom left.
Please do not make any typos or you will not be able to access your site!
That completes the installation of a WordPress app installation on Cloudways. Six easy steps!
Next I want to show you a quick view of managing MySQL, which by the way was a major requirement on my ServerPilot review.
Managing MySQL on Cloudways
1. From the Application Management tab, on the Access detail monitor, click the green button on the lower left that says Launch Click&Go MySQL Manager.
You’re probably wondering why you got Your connection is not private page, right? I’ll tell you in a minute…but first.
To continue to the MySQL Management page click the Advanced link on the bottom left and you will get another scary screen that has another link at the bottom left of the page that says Proceed to XXX.XXX.XXX.XXX (unsafe), click it to continue…
I freaked out the first time I saw this screen, and the next one!
Basically this page is warning you since it does not have a CERT setup for the secure HTTPS URL.
When you’re done freaking out, you’ll be taken into what looks like a PhpMyAdmin page with limited access to make changes, and no permissions to create databases. Emphasis on “no permissions”…
I say limited access because everything I tried to do would warn me that I didn’t have access to make the change! But I could import data and change it.
That concludes this quick view of the MySQL Manager page…Now let’s wrap things up!
Cloudways Pros & Cons
Starting with the Pros…
My overall impression of Cloudways was good.
1. Creating my Cloudways account was easy and I was able to quickly settle in and install WordPress without any problems. This was my overall goal and it was completed within minutes.
2. Cloudways is feature rich and has an easy to use dashboard with big bright buttons that are labeled intuitively well.
3. Cloudways pricing is well within my budget, almost too good to be true, which worries me about what will happen in the future???
Will I settle into Cloudways and then a year from now be hit with a new fee for Pro or Premium access to what is now free???
4. Cloudways support was good but they seemed distracted. Maybe they are juggling multiple customers at the same time?
5. Cloudways server and application management is excellent! I really like the management console and how it’s laid out. It’s clear and easy to use. You have everything you need under 2 tabs for managing your servers and your applications. Awesome!
6. Cloudways performance with DigitalOcean VPS was very good. As you saw earlier when I covered Manage Services, Cloudways automatically adds Memcache and Varnish, which are both caching solutions to boost performance of your application. Combine this with SSD storage on the DigitalOcean server and you have a very fast combination. More Awesomeness!
Now for Cons…
1. First off, after setting up my account I was having a problem accessing the Application Console. Basically I would enter my username and password on the homepage and it would loop. After contacting support, which by the way is a pop-up chat box that is always lurking on the bottom right corner of every page. I was given another link to log into. This stopped happening after I became a paying customer.
2. I had to chat a couple of times with support and would rate their overall awareness about a (3.5 out of 5). Why? Because it seemed like they are flipping between multiple customers so there is some lag in the response time. Also I noticed the support pages I was given did not go very deep and comments left by other customers in the comment area of the page (see below), with the same question I had, were not answered.
3. As I explained very clearly in my ServerPilot review, I like to spin-up databases and do my own installations of applications. I did find the Cloudways MySQL manager tool to be limiting, and when I tried to create a new database I found that I had to create a blank Php/MySQL application (this makes me wonder if somehow each app is a separate Docker container?).
Here’s the support link for adding more than one database to an application so you can see the complexity for yourself.
4. While in a Filezilla SFTP sessions I noticed after installing a couple of applications that I was not able to copy files between websites in the public_html folder. It seems like each application creates a new virtual instance on Apache so they do not share the same public_html folder (another reason I think this is a Docker container). This means you will need to set up a separate SFTP instance for every domain. More complexity!
5. Cloudways doesn’t take PayPal! This was almost a show stopper for me because I don’t like giving out my credit card information online to anyone. For the record, ServerPilot also does not accept PayPal…
6. No root access to my server or databases. This is good and bad. I don’t expect to have a Putty session opened all this time for what I need to do, but I do know some webmasters who are Linux admins that would want root and this would be something they would not like.
What was the biggest difference between Cloudways and ServerPilot?
The difference I noticed was Cloudways handles both server and application management, whereas ServerPilot was more of a server management platform. But that said, with ServerPilot you have full control of your server and the application installation; whereas on Cloudways you are limited to using their preconfigured systems. Not to say this is bad but it is limiting – but maybe for a good reason like security?
Was setting up an account easy?
Yes. But Cloudways (and ServerPilot) don’t take PayPal. This really hurts!
I know both of these companies have my precious credit card information in a safe place. But that doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy. PayPal on the other hand makes me feel secure!
Does Cloudways do the job?
After figuring out how the Application Console works, I became comfortable enough with the system to use it in less than 30 minutes. Yes, I would say Cloudways does the job!
Does Cloudways have Pizzazz?
Hmm…I would say yes if I am putting myself in the shoes of non-technical webmaster or blogger who is looking for GREAT hosting for WordPress. And honestly, I was also very impressed by the UX maturity of the platform.
Answer. Yes, Cloudways does have Pizzazz!
Is Cloudways a Better Choice than ServerPilot?
I hate using these kinds of answers but it’s true in this case. YES and NO.
NO – only because ServerPilot gives more freedom and access to my VPS. Now, I didn’t try accessing the server directly via SSH from the Cloudways Server Console, but then if that is was how I wanted to manage my website I could do this from DigitalOcean and I wouldn’t need Cloudways or ServerPilot…
And YES – because Cloudways has server and application management in a single place. Less complexity.
Which Cloud Manager will I use?
I think like Olaf at FinalWebsites, for now I am still undecided.
After testing both products here’s how I feel.
Though Cloudways does have more Pizzazz than ServerPilot…Neither ServerPilot nor Cloudways really gives me all the features I want in a single platform, which is performance, more control, and better management — without complexity!
In conclusion I will keep using both at least until I can sort out what really matters. (Complete)
Read the Best VPS Case Study to find out which cPanel alternative I chose to manage my VMinstall.com VPS.
- Easy WordPress Migration Plugin
- VPS Cloud Options from: DigitalOcean, Vultr, Amazon & Google
- cPanel alternative for managing websites, DNS, sFTP and monitoring
- Plans start at $5 per month
- Does not allow root access to servers
- Does not have PhpMySQL
- Does not take PayPal
Thank you for taking time to read this Cloudways review. If you found this useful I’d appreciate if you would Tweet it or share it with others…