How to host, where to host, what hosting provider? Here’s all the steps to start putting your website on a cluster of super computers for super saiyan 4 delivery speed.
After a series of unfortunate events happened to Custom PC Guide.net –let’s say it’s about files were loading slow then disappared and pages were crashing, children got kidnapped and bridges burned– I finally got my third eyes opened and decided to change the hosting service for all my websites once again!
Going away from Hostgator to Cloud VPS has been a great experience thus far. I wish I had done it sooner, the damage it caused was a significant loss of income for nearly half a year beat self with Negan’s spiked bat.
What Happened ?
When I first started, Custom PC Guide.net was hosted by JustHost and it was decent enough for me to stay there for nearly 3 years. The site was small and traffic was light, there was no need for anything more than what I got. Then suddenly, the third year holiday season happened. Fortunately, for some reasons Google picked up Custom PC Guide.net and sent us a ton of traffic out of nowhere. Views were increased nearly 5 times as much and dear Marley, that was amazing. Think so? Until life plans to kick you in the dantien. Well one day it was nice and alive, the next day I had to use every single questionable CPR practice in the book to resurrect the dying site due to the constant beat up of incoming traffic waves.
Fortunately, my hosting renewal period had conveniently arrived and I could just upgrade to a better shared hosting package (grasp!). Just like every parent who want all the great things in the world for their kids, I wanted to do the same for my blog. But the unfortunate turn of event was it was actually too expensive. Let me put it in another word just so you don’t think that I was being cheap (I only was poor, my parent had to count diamonds for a living), $380 a year for a shared host where your site got crammed into an overcrowded server with thousands of other neighbors is definitely not worth it. Or at least not worth it in my CPR book.
Fortunately, I left my original hosting provider and found a better cloud hosting package at a ridiculously great price by Hostgator. So the story was that before I hit the Place Order button, I hesitated. As I hesitated for a good 15 minutes, Hostgator ran out of patient and gave me a coupon.
Experience with Hostgator
What this told me was, if there is an odd percentage of discount like this 44% OFF coupon, there gotta be another coupon that’s better. And that’s when I found the 60% OFF coupon from Google. I ended up with 3-year Cloud Hatchling plan for a little over $100! Amazing, right?
I was excited and immediately migrated my site over.
Unfortunately, the honey moon didn’t last very long. If this Hostgator’s cloud hosting package was anything like I believed, it would have been at the level of super saiyan level 4, speed-of-light fast; or at least it’d act like a server-graded 2-Core CPU, server-graded ECC 2GB RAM streaming on a quantum physic-defying gigabit network fast as it advertised so. Look:
But for most part of the days, it felt like my grandfather’s Windows 98 machine that always pukes itself trying to calculate the 10th digit of π.
I bet I got my hope too high. But I have that impression because several of my other small sites were here on Hostgator way before Custom PC Guide.net; such as Local Success.org. They were very fast. I missed the Hostgator when it was great and the top among other competitors.
My old neighbor always told me you get what you paid for, and I told him I got a fast & reliable host for cheap so beat it old man. Now I’m gonna have to help him mow the lawn as an apology to fix my karma. Last time I didn’t let a guy merge in on the highway and my site was down for a day.
Upon further reading, I found more unfortunate events regarding Hostgator; especially the acquisition of Hostgator by the Endurance International Group. Here’s a quick rundown: EIG is famously known for their intention of silently acquiring successful hosting services instead of competing with them, in order to expand their market reach in this niche. Over the years, EIG has collected quite a portfolio under their wings –I got this list from wikipedia, highlighted are the well-known hosting services:
- A Small Orange – 2012
- Arvixe – 2014
- Berry Information Systems L.L.C.
- Bluehost – 2011
- Directi – 2014
- Escalate Internet
- HostGator – 2012
- Hostnine – 2012
- HostMonster – 2011
- Host with Me Now
- Intuit Websites
- iPage – 2009
- JustHost – 2011
- Networks Web Hosting
- SEO Hosting
- Southeast Web
- SuperGreen Hosting
- Webstrike Solutions
- Webzai – 2014
Being acquired by a big company is usually a good thing right? Like how Toshiba netted OCZ out of the sea, brought it home and nurtured it back to its happy life again. It’s a beautiful thing. But unfortunately for Hostgator, the EIG has a track records of bad customer service, raising server’s density to maximize earning and here’s the most horror story for webmasters everywhere: slow response site, downtime and bad performance.
For a moment, the light bulb went on in my head. This company owns a majority of web hosting providers in the game. Chances are people like you and I got frustrated with our current host (JustHost) and wanted to switch to something better (Hostgator), but then we would likely end up under the same company again for the same crappy experience. Happened to me. Happened to thousands of others. Really bad.
I got lazy and never fully addressed the issues with Hostgator, so I let Custom PC Guide.net went under the radar for several months without switching to a different host provider. Big mistake! This ebook by WP Engine “Every Second Counts: Why Page Speed Matters” explains very well my situation and why I’m losing visitors. Slow site is bad for SEO. Slow site agitates people. I saw traffic gradually dropped in the recent months with my own eyes, but I thought it was just after the holiday season and everyone weren’t shopping much for stuffs. But when I compared traffic of this year to the year before, that’s when I know I was digging a big hole for my blog.
Yet I was in denial that Hostgator was to blame. I said to myself that maybe cloud hosting wasn’t sufficient enough for my site. If I upgraded to VPS package for $1400 a couple of years, maybe it’d be better?
Today, I cringed so hard every time I recalled of that moment. I’m glad I didn’t fall for that bullshit.
Later on, Hostgator was playing ball with me upon the refund of just $100 prepaid for the remaining months of Custom PC Guide.net when I request an early cancellation of the Cloud hosting for Custom PC Guide, let alone $1000+ package. I’d never see that money again. Like poor Ned Stark never saw his family again.
Choosing a New VPS
So I set out to look for a VPS provider elsewhere because I grew tired of shared host and EIG Hostgator. There is a handful of the “good” host providers left on the Internet and hopefully they can hide themselves from the wraith of EIG and the Dark Lord Sauron. Here are some of those rare entities, just to name a few:
The first 3 of the hosting service providers above offers managed VPS and here’s a sneak peek of their cheapest VPS plan. Siteground is the only one that offers a Cloud VPS plan, which is the evquivalent to what we will be setting up today with Cloudways or ServerPilot; for a lower price of course. I’ll also explan the differences between VPS and Cloud VPS in a moment.
While DreamHost, Siteground and A2 Hosting are probably the best direct alternatives to Hostgator/JustHost/BlueHost (which all of these are under EIG) for their speedy shared hosting plans & premium VPS, WP Engine is a special shared host environment where their servers are fully tuned and catered just to run WordPress platform at its best.
All four of these companies have a strong reputation for their great performance service and of course, a premium price tag when compared to other average hosting services. If somewhere along the way you change your mind and want to go with a hosting service that requires less works on your end, I encourage you to check these guys out. As far as personal choice, I’d lean towards Siteground since they have proven a solid track record years after years.
There is managed and un-managed VPS. Un-managed means you must take care of the web server all by yourself and there are nobody, no server admin, no geek monkey to keep an eye on this virtual private server for you. Fortunately, there are services like ServerPilot and Cloudways that provides automated professional management for your un-managed Cloud VPS. They reduce the amount of works that you need to involve by a good 80-90%; the rest are mostly about assigning domain, turning things on and off, creating email routing service and reading it a bedtime story every now and then.
Why bother with the complication? Are they any better? Well, Digital Ocean and Vultr for example, guarantees you a dedicated block of resources from their server. Unlike shared hosting where hundreds to thousands of websites fighting each other to get the attention of the CPU. Website that runs on VPS always have a guaranteed allotment of attention from the CPU at all times. In other words:
– Shared Host: your site is currently hosted on the same server as trumpisdabest.com. This morning trumpisdabest.com got hacked (i’m glad) and it turned into zombie mode, generating thousands of heavy database queries, sending millions of emails, eating up 20% of the server power before sys admin woke up and shut it down. Your website though has nothing to do with this site, got affected in a huge deal and it’s slowed to a crawl for several hours. Now here’s the problem, there will be hundreds of sites like trumpisdabest.com on your shared hosting server at any times.
– Managed VPS: your site is currently hosted on one big server as trumpisdabest.com. This big server is divided into 100 little virtual private servers. As opposed to shared host where you pay for the service, here on a VPS you pay for the resources assigned to your own little virtual private server (VPS); meaning the server is yours to do whatever you want with it. It’s like shared host is sharing a room with someone and VPS is living in separate apartment unit of an apartment complex. So trumpisdabest.com could be any maggot-infected zombie it wants, it can only consume what ever resources it pays for within its own VPS. Hence, it cannot eat into your private resources and slows down your website in anyway. Another good thing is you can host as many websites as you want until your virtual server becomes too slow for your taste, then you can just scale it up to be more powerful within a few minutes. No dreadful server migration, no downtime!
– Unmanaged Cloud VPS: In a similar fashion to traditional VPS, a Cloud VPS is where you get dedicated private server with its own resources to run your web applications. However, a Cloud VPS is a cluster of multiple servers connected together and share one central network storage where your website is saved on. That means when server A is a little caught up at the moment, your site will be then handled by Server B or C or all the way to Z. It’s nearly impossible to cause a major negative performance impact on a Cloud VPS. One big great thing about Cloud VPS as opposed to traditional VPS is when the server crashed and needs to be restarted, your site is still running by another server. On a traditional VPS, if the big server happens to shut down, everybody on it will experience downtime.
Typically you get 5x to 10x better performance going with a VPS Cloud.
I tested Custom PC Guide.net when it was still on Hostgator via Pingdom Tool and the result was 8.1s load time. Look how much faster it is now. Amazon did a research and they learned that just 1 extra second of wait time for their website to load would cost them $1.6B in missed sales a year. Haha I got 8.1s on a simple blog that does not even show 100 of products on the homepage.
Anyway, I digress. If I recall correctly, VPS alone (not Cloud VPS) used to cost at the north of $149 a month a few years ago. I’m glad the technology has grown fast enough that we start to see Cloud VPS are being offered at very affordable price, challenging shared hosting service even. What a time to be alive!
Why so cheap ? What’s the catch ?
Well as opposed to managed VPS which is more expensive, this is un-managed Cloud VPS hence the lower cost.
Essentially it’s just an empty virtual cloud server with nothing on it. If you are not tech savvy enough, imagine the nightmares you must go through just to run a fully optimized WordPress-powered website that otherwise, only takes seconds to install on a shared host. That is why un-managed VPS and Cloud VPS are not popular to the common webmasters. You don’t have a Cpanel management system with all the handful tools right at hand, you don’t even have an email server. You have no one to keep the server maintained and updated in case there is a security exploit or technical problems.
It sounds horrible but fortunately that is why Cloudways and ServerPilot were invented. Their purpose and responsibility are to address these major concerns of a new webmaster who want to have a fast website on a Cloud VPS but don’t want to deal with confusing text-based SSH operations and all the god-know-what technical knowledge to manage a Cloud VPS properly. Cloudways and ServerPilot are like the middle-man between you and the server, the pimp between customers and whoever.
There will still be a learning curve around the block, but it is not steep and requires no coding experience. In fact, once you are hooked you probably never want to go back to shared hosting plan again.
Throughout this series of the Poor Man’s Fast Website, I will walk you through every single step to open and a run a holy mother of love swift website from the beginning to the end. It’s easy done than said once you are in the action. For starter, we will not immediately sign up for a Cloud VPS directly from the host providers then fiddling with Linux commands. It’ll be too much for you to swallow at the moment. Plus on the long run, it likely will be a huge liability/distraction that sure takes away your time and productivity on the website since you keep wanting to fine tune or fix the server issues by yourself.
And for that reason, we shall pick another route and let services like ServerPilot or Cloudways do the dirty works for us.
What’s the differences between ServerPilot and Cloudways and what are they ?
A. First, how it works.
- ServerPilot comes with a free plan that does installation and maintenance for all the important applications, security patches and configurations for your server. It’s done simply by a click of mouse to connect ServerPilot service to your Vultr or DigitalOcean Cloud VPS whenever you’re ready. If you decide to go with ServerPilot, you will have to sign up a server on Digital Ocean or Vultr separately first.
- Cloudways does not offer a free plan but it’s bundled with the Cloud VPS packages from several providers. Meaning you do not have to buy a Cloud VPS separately.
In simple words, both of these products help you take care of your Cloud VPS more efficiently without the need for technical knowledge in Linux and other server-related components. Those are typically the major reasons why people are not very interested in Cloud VPS, even Cloud VPS is a lot faster than shared hosting plan and more often costs you less money on the long run.
B. Second, performance and security.
- Cloudways offer an impressive Thunderstack which consists of several layers of powerful cache, services and engines that powers the backbone & frontend of your website. These components will be installed automatically once you sign up for Cloudways.
- ServerPilot has similar features to Cloudways, but does not automatically install two of the very great cache layers in the picture above: Varnish and Redis. There are readily available documents on ServerPilot guiding you on how to install Redis and install Varnish cache service. So things do get a little technical there. On the other hand, Cloudways lets you switch on or off these services easily right on the server management page.
In my opinion, when you have your website running smooth for years, you wouldn’t want to wake up one day and have to deal with an issue that requires vast understanding of Linux and hours on end to troubleshooting. Maybe you will get that kind of knowledge along the way, but I prefer to start with something easy to grab a hold of until further ados.
When it comes to encrypted connection, both Cloudways and ServerPilot offers free SSL certificate via Let’s Encrypt.org. That means you get to have https for your eCommerce website without having to pay to get certified. This usually costs an addition of $19-$39/mo on traditional shared hosting plan. However, it’s important to keep in mind that ServerPilot free plan does not allow you to touch SSL setting; so there’s a catch 22 somewhere here –it’s free to obtain but you have to upgrade to paid plan to be allowed to request it. Cloudways on other hand allows you to install SSL certificates in just a single-click.
- Cloudways does not allow root access to your server –read Why Can’t I Have Root Access to My Server? @ Cloudways.
The reason behind it is simple: Cloudways setup a complex system of services and packages to ensure the consistency in performance and security all across your Cloud VPS and tons of other people’s. They want to have this system in uniform when they roll out an update or make some big changes. Without root access, you cannot install new services or packages –so things stay the same where they are and how they are. In short, when people like us start to fiddle with new stuffs there is a high chance we are going to break something or make stuffs work different from the way they are supposed to —like me and my auto repair journey. Cloudways does not allow root access to prevent unexpected issues from personal modification of the server.
- On other hands, ServerPilot opens up a pool of opportunities for you to make personal changes and setting up new packages for your Cloud VPS –thanks to the granted full root access. It’s a great deal for developers and sys admins. That is exactly what you want, a complete control of your server. But it’ll be quite a headache, you know it ;)
Another thing Cloudways is being a hassle is that you can only run one version of PHP runtime at a time. That means if you set PHP to version 7, you can’t force PHP 5 using .htaccess file –you will be stuck with PHP 7 until you switch the whole server to another version of PHP. ServerPilot lets you run any PHP version you want, from 5.x up to the latest 7.1 via Handler declaration in .htaccess file. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, me neither. Since we both don’t, you don’t have to worry about this anymore. PHP 7 is all you need and it’s more secured and runs a lot faster than PHP 5.
Here’s a basic pricing layout of ServerPilot and Cloudways. You should note that SeverPilot’s pricing is without the Cloud VPS. In order to determine the monthly total, you have to head over to DigitalOcean or Vultr and choose a plan that fits you best. Then add $10 or $49/mo on top if you decide to go with ServerPilot paid plan, or $0 with the free plan.
Cloudways’ offers already include the server cost from one of the Cloud VPS providers of your choice.
Which one is cheaper ? ServerPilot free plan + Vultr $2.5 plan (1CPU, 512MB RAM, 500GB Bandwidth) means it costs you $30 a year to host a website on a super fast cloud VPS that puts many shared hosting plans to shame. But there is a serious lack of available management tools and also as I mentioned early, there are some services and packages that if you want, you may have to perform the installation by yourself.
The lowest price plan you could get from Cloudways is $7/mo with a Cloud VPS @ 1-core CPU, 512MB, 20GB SSD, 1TB Bandwidth by DigitalOcean. If you visit DigitalOcean, you’ll realize this plan costs $5/mo. So Cloudways charges an additional of $2/mo for their service which I think it’s reasonable. Right Comcast?
I also wonder why Cloudways does not offer Vultr $2.5 plan at the moment, I hope that will change in the future.
For the money, you get a lot more out of Cloudways in term of server status monitoring, services and cache system goodies.
The management panel of ServerPilot looks rather plain and empty. Lots of features are not available under free plan but for $10 (before Cloud VPS cost), you’ll unlock many of them. However, that means it starts to cost more than Cloudways $7 plan.
E. Customer Service
– Cloudways Customer Service is praised by a lot of experienced webmasters and new customers alike for their short wait, live chat 24/7 support. When I first started Cloudways Free trial, there were more than one occasion when I needed an answer for my question at 4:15 AM in the morning (if you are wondering, it was about Woocommerce cache configurations). And the guy got my issue straightened up in no time despite the fact I didn’t decide whether to stick with them just yet. Great move they did, I guess?
- ServerPilot on the flip side has a support ticket form in your account panel. As a free user, it seemed I did not get a very fast response from the team or maybe it’s just the regular pace. Yet ServerPilot has a very strong support community that you probably could find the answer for your problem there easily.
Setting up your first Cloud VPS via Cloudways or ServerPilot
Be that the Cloudways or ServerPilot, whichever one you have decided to go with –I have a guide for you to setup your first website below. Pick A or B.
A. Sure, let’s get started with Cloudways.
- Head over to Cloudways and pick up the free trial along with whatever coupon code is available right now. Be sure to insert it on the registration page.
- Next, you will be greeted with what I think is the most annoying step of registration on Cloudways: the screening process. You will have to fire up a live chat with a CSR to get access to your platform control panel. Well, it’s a good opportunity to experience the quality of support desk first hand. However, You may not have to go through this process at all since it depends on the country.
- From the time I contacted the rep to having the activation email in my inbox was less than 3 minutes. So I got that going for me, which is nice.
- On the first screen after verification, you will have the opportunity to setup your first server. From the list of applications, pick the web platform you’d like to go with. If you want to host a single website, I recommend WordPress (ver 4.x.x). This instance comes with pre-installed Breeze WordPress cache plugin that will be used to control Cloudways’ cache services. You can also pick WordPress with Woocommerce if it’s going to be an online shop, or Multisite WordPress for multiple sites. Lastly, there is a clean version of WordPress which is WordPress in its bare form, no optimization plugin or addons.
In the server option, I suggest DigitalOcean 1-core CPU and 512MB RAM plan for $7/mo. It should be more than enough to host 1 to 5 websites; up to 3,000 views a day or a little more with no trouble since there are several cache layers to reduce resource consumption. You can always scale up the server specs anytime later when needed, hence this is not something to worry about right now.
When you have made the decision, click Launch Now. It will take 7 minutes or so for Cloudways to configure your new server. Wait patiently or yell at the screen aggressively to make the progress finishes faster.
- Thanks to all the screaming, my server setup was done within 6mins and 42s. If you click where the orange arrow pointing, you go to server settings. If you follow the blue arrow, you’ll find information regarding your new WordPress blog –including the public URL to access it.
- Today we’ll follow the blue arrow first just so you can see how your new site looks like. Under Application URL, you can find the link to your new site. Check it out!
- Cheesus what an ugly domain name right? Who’s going to remember that, let alone typing it into the address bar? No worries. We can add a domain of your own to this application via the Domain Management tab on the left hand side. But that is for another article. You are done here. Go play around with your new WordPress blog for now!
B. Setting up your new Cloud VPS with ServerPilot it is.
You are taking a more difficult road to travel. I commend you. Let’s get to work.
Most reviewers agree that DigitalOcean has faster servers, but those benchmarks are usually not up to date. In the Cloud VPS world, server specs could get better very quickly. Vultr just announced their new $2.50 plan a few weeks ago. It seems like they are expanding fast to compete with others in the niche. Well for this quick walk-through, I’m going to pick a trial offer by Vultr for demonstration. Yet I’m sure you can just follow whatever it says on the screen to finish and get the same result.
- Vultr requires a linked credit card to your account before they hand over $10 credit for your trial. Complete this step so you can begin deploy a new server under Vultr Cloud Compute (VC2).
- During the new server deployment, make sure you choose Unbuntu v16.10 (32bit) or Ubuntu 16.04/14.04 (64bit) for Server OS; because they are the only versions that are compatible with ServerPilot right now. If you make a mistake, you can go to Settings > Change OS to switch to the correct version later.
Server location should be one that’s closest to you or to your audience market. Perhaps you could also pick central Dallas, TX so both coasts could access your site at nearly the same latency.
- Once done, time to wait for Vultr to create your new Cloud VPS. This process may take up to 10 minutes, but it should be shorter if you sing it a lullaby.
- When the server deployment is completely. Click Manage to view your server statistic. You will need the circled information below in order to connect ServerPilot to your Vultr server here.
- Head over to ServerPilot and make yourself a new account. Fill out the required IP address and password for root user that you got from Vultr Server statistic page. SFTP Password is what you will be using to FTP into your server for file management, make up one and don’t forget it.
- Wait another half a minute or so and you’re one step away from the finish line!
- Upon completion, click Create App to install your web platform onto the server. There are not many options like Cloudways, so the only choice you have is ticking the WordPress box and fill out all other boxes. For Runtime option, I opted to go with PHP 7 as default because this is the latest version and it’s a huge improvement in term of performance over PHP 5.x. ServerPilot lets you run multiple PHP versions on your server with no problem.
- All set! Your new WordPress site is ready for use. You can view it using the IP address of the server right now.
Congrats on your new Cloud VPS and new website! I hope this whole shenanigans does not cost you more than $10/mo on the first run. Well, if you are a big one online then I’m sure you can afford it!
Things are just going to get more exciting from here.
Next we will go over how to assign a domain to your web application, changing its look and then tweaking the performance of your WordPress site. Are you tired yet? Well take a break then we will continue again soon.
Remember to let us know whether you picked Cloudways or ServerPilot, as well as Digital Ocean or Vultr or something else completely in the comment section below. You know, just for CIA research purpose.