cPanel alternative: Cloudways vs 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 proof of concepts…
This is part 2 of my Cloudways review and it explains how their platform is an alternative to cPanel and ServerPilot. Enjoy!
Before we dig into this review let me quickly give you a recap of 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)
Note: This review was updated on 3/25/2017 and now includes new features, screenshots, and updates to Cloudways.
Related guide: Vultr VPS Review
And here’s an update on 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?
This is why after more than a month of 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!”
Signing up for the Cloudways 14 day trial was easy…
Now before I move on let me give a quick warning to anyone thinking of using the 14-day free trial.
DO NOT DELETE YOUR SERVER OR THE TRIAL WILL BE OVER!
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. It brings to my mind that I wish to share a thing or two about DigitalOcean as well.
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. All thanks to the service offered by DigitalOcean.
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. One of the big differences which I noticed about Cloudways is its uniqueness in how things are laid out. Cloudways offers a user-friendly interface that does not hold any similarities with DigitalOcean whatsoever.
Let’s dig in.
After setting up my account in the member’s 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 Admin Area Dashboard at Cloudways
Now let’s get to the good stuff!
To access the server management details, simply select the “Server” option from the top bar and it will lead you to the server management screen. Here I can select my server and see other important information like Server Credentials, Monitoring, Managed Services, Server Setting, and Packages, Security, Vertical Scaling, Backups, and Server Add-ons.
The Server Management Screen
To access the Application Management screen, simply select the “Applications” option from the top bar of your Cloudways platform Screen. Select your application and it will direct you to an application management screen. This screen contains a number of options such as Access Details, Domain Management, Cron Job Management, SSL Certificate, Restore, Deployment via Git, Application Settings, Add-ons, and Migrator Tool.
The Application Management Screen
At Cloudways, for the price of any DigitalOcean server (including the $7 per month), they offer a lot of GUI driven manageability. This is perfect for non-Linux admins of the world. And this deal also applies to Vultr, Google, AWS, and Kyup, 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 start taking away features for “Pro” or “Premium” customers?
Let me show you what you get…
Here’s a look at the Master Credentials Screen. From here, you can access your server details.
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 Manage Services Screen. 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 straightforward.
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 version, MySQL, Elasticsearch, 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 NewRelic Pro.
Not a bad system!
This completes the introduction to Cloudways and a quick high-level view of the Server Management Platform. 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 the 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 set up the domain…obviously, this can vary.
On the Applications Page screen, select the green button +Add Application.
As soon as you are going to click the +Add Application button, it will open up a new pop-up labeled as ADD APPLICATION asking the name of the server where you want to add a new instance of your application. Select your server and click on the green Add Application button.
You will be automatically directed to the Application Management tab. Select WordPress from the first drop-down, name your app, and select your project.
When you are done setting the attributes, simply click the green Add Application button again. This will automatically add a new WordPress application to your server.
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 a few of them starting with the Access details.
The screenshot above is where you can access your WordPress application. Click the URL mentioned under ADMIN_PANEL. It will direct you to the WordPress login screen. Here you have to provide the username and password listed at the Cloudways Access Details option. Your application works without your domain associated with your application.
Next, this is how you can set up a domain for your website. Open the Domain Management box and add a Primary domain in the provided section below. Type in your domain name and include the ‘www’. For example, www.mydomain.com – now click save. That’s it!
Once you’ve installed WordPress and set up your domain, you’ll also need to configure the DNS of the domain to point to the WordPress URL. Clicking the more details link shown above at the bottom of the screen will open a support page with step by step instructions for setting up DNS for your recently launched web application.
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 subdomain 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 boxes 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 for 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 a 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. They also have a plugin to migrate your WordPress site to Cloudways.
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 the performance of your application. Combine this with SSD storage on the DigitalOcean server and you have a very fast combination. More Awesomeness!
7. Cloudways accepts PayPal! I don’t like giving out my credit card information online to anyone so I prefer transactions through PayPal. For the record, ServerPilot does not accept PayPal…
Now for Cons…
8. 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.
9. 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 container?).
Here’s the support link for adding more than one database to an application so you can see the complexity for yourself.
10. While in a Filezilla SFTP session 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!
11. 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 pre-configured systems. Not to say this is bad but it is limiting – but maybe for a good reason for security?
Was setting up an account easy?
Yes. Cloudways offers Paypal and that gives me a warm, fuzzy, and secure feeling.
Does Cloudways do the job?
After figuring out how the Cloudways Platform 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 a 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 on 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.
Thank you for taking the time to read this Cloudways review. If you found this useful I’d appreciate if you would Tweet it or share it with others…