WordPress Hosting: ServerPilot vs. Cloudways

If you look for WordPress hosting there are many powerful solutions for a reasonable price. I’m using ServerPilot for two servers (DigitalOcean) for some time now and the performance is still amazing. In response to my ServerPilot review I got several questions and comments, why I’m not using Cloudways to host my WordPress websites. I used Cloudways hosting only once, to gather the information for this article. I hope this comparison will help you to decide which kind of cloud hosting is the best for your WordPress website(s).

How to compare both hosting services?

To compare both WordPress hosting services I used a 1GB server from DigitalOcean with a single CPU.

  • Features – Comparing the features was the most difficult part, because both products are very different. I summarized the most important features for both products.
  • Speed – To compare the speed, I’ve installed WooCommerce and the Storefront theme to create a “real” situation. I used also the W3TC plugin as cache module which is already installed for each WordPress app by Cloudways. Next I’ve used blitz.io for the load tests, with 200-1000 users from a single location during 2 minutes.
  • Ease of use – Is it possible with both services to install a WordPress website without being a server administrator?
  • Customer service – How fast and professional is the support you get for the service? How much support do you get for the subscription level?
  • Price – For many people an important point, how much do I have to pay to use both services. Is there a free plan available?

ServerPilot – VPS Hosting for PHP Developer

The Serverpilot client installs an optimized stack on your VPS installed with Ubuntu 14.04 or 16.04. The configuration includes Nginx in front of Apache, PHP-FPM and MySQL. If you need other packages you can install them using apt-get or you can build your own installation packages. All important updates are executed by the ServerPilot client to keep your VPS safe. From the ServerPilot control panel it’s possible to configure servers, Linux users, apps, database users, databases and SSL certificates. Beside the configuration options, they offer real-time analytics and a log file viewer. If you need to setup anything else you need to use the command line from your server.

Choose the PHP version you need

Using ServerPilot it’s possible to choose for each app which PHP version I want to use: 5.4, 5.5, 5.6, 7.0 or 7.1. ServerPilot doesn’t use a Varnish cache, but all static files are served by Nginx. That will say I need to use a file based cache for my WordPress website(s). I played a bit with the settings from the W3TC (W3 Total Cache) plugin and the speed test results are okay:

49,130 Hits with 1,096 errors & 139 timeouts

Sure there are still a view errors and time-outs, but I’m okay with the result. Don’t forget I didn’t used Varnish on the front-end! During the test the server load was higher, but the server was still accessible for other visitors. Installing the ServerPilot client is even for the beginner very easy and is just a single step you need to do from the command line of your server. You need a SSH client (Putty) to install the SP client. Adding apps, users, databases  and SSL certificates is very easy while using the ServerPilot control panel. After the  app is created, you need to upload WordPress using a sFTP client. Using ServerPilot you’re free to install additional modules on your server.

Huge library of how-to guides

They offer a huge number of guides on their website and the support offers also some help if you need some (even for the free version). Seems like they offer (free) support only during the office hours, at least for general questions. There was no emergency, so I couldn’t test their availability during other time periods. On the other side, it’s not a managed hosting service, so I can contact the VPS hosting provider (DigitalOcean, Vultr, Linode, Rackspace, …) in case of server related problems. There are 3 plans with a different set of features: Free, Coach and Business. The free plan has all the features you need to run a regular server, for example for your WordPress website. The Coach plan adds it possibility to manage additional sFTP/SSH users, SSL deployment and server analytics to your account. The costs are $10 a month for each server. If you need more support or features like a log file viewer and slow request stats, you need to add the Business plan for $49 a month to each server in your account. You can’t have different plans for your servers in a single account, but you can open different accounts for each plan.

Pros

  • ServerPilot is a service on top of a VPS you’ve using from a 3rd party cloud hosting provider
  • If you go for a paid account type, the price doesn’t change if you get a bigger server
  • You’re free to install/modify your own server if you like
  • You can use multiple databases for each app
  • There is a free account type you can use for as many servers and apps you like!

Cons

  • The service requires some basic Linux knowledge from the user
  • Varnish isn’t available by default and you need to configure it by yourself
  • No 1 click app deployment
  • No database management tool (you need to install phpMyadmin or stuck with the command line)
  • You need to setup your own backup functions

Cloudways – Managed WordPress Hosting

The first thing that I noticed during sign-up and server installation was, that I didn’t need a DigitalOcean account to get a VPS. Everything is done from the Cloudways control panel. Each server is installed with Nginx, Varnish, Memcached, Apache, MySQL and PHP. They also create daily backups and statistics for your server. From the server control panel it’s also possible to configure some server/PHP settings like the max. upload size or the memory limit.

No root access!

While I’m using a managed WordPress hosting service, I can manage my server using the command line, but I don’t have root access. At moment that the server is ready, I’m able to create different apps like: WordPress, WordPress + WooCommerce, PHP/MySQL, Magento, Prestashop, Joomla, WordPress Multisite or Drupal. Each app type has a different setup for Varnish. Will say you need to decide right in the beginning what you need. It seems to me that a later move from “standard” WordPress to WP + WooCommerce could be a problem.

Admin panel for common jobs

On the admin page for your application, you will find the logins for WordPress, SSH/sFTP and MySQL. There is also an interface for CRON jobs, domain names, SSL certificates and a function to restore your application from a previous (daily) backup. As mentioned before, every application is installed with Varnish and that make your WordPress website really fast even if your site get a thousand visitors at the same time. Check this test results:

50,082 Hits with 119 errors & 10 timeouts

If you install a WordPress application, the W3TC plugin is always pre-installed. Sure the plugin offers more options than a file cache, but why Cloudways suggests to use Varnish and a cache plugin is maybe a little secret. Every feature that is available from the Cloudways control panel is easy to use and even the beginning WordPress webmaster should be able to manage these options. The database management tool isn’t from this time and you should use your own phpMyAdmin application instead. If you’re not sure what each options means, there is always a short information and if necessary a link to the documentation.

Support via live chat and email

Cloudways offers email support and if you like you can use the live chat 24×7. The support agent I spoke to was very qualified and was able to answer all my questions I had about their services and the control panel. There is also a knowledge database with documents for all common questions. They don’t offer a free version like ServerPilot and the price for a 1GB server is $15 a month. There are no different account types and the price becomes higher if you need a “bigger” server.

Pros

  • Full managed service
  • Available even for beginning webmasters
  • 1 click app deployment
  • Varnish and Memcached pre-installed
  • Managed app and database backups and restore function

Cons

  • No root access, no server modifications
  • The database management tool is outdated and doesn’t work very well
  • You can’t choose from different PHP versions
  • No DNS zone available
  • You can’t directly downgrade a server

Conclusion

Actually it’s very hard to compare both WordPress hosting service, because their offer very different in features and options.

If you need something better than shared hosting or if you don’t like to use a command line interface, than go for managed cloud hosting with Cloudways. But if you’re a developer and you like to have the freedom of modifications with strong base for your server, than is ServerPilot the service you should try. If you’re not sure you can try them for free. If you have any question regarding both service, please leave a comment or contact me in person.

30 Responses

  1. Cool comparison, it would be interesting to see how Cloudways perform while Varnish is turned off. This can be more precise comparison, so if your servers with app are still alive, maybe you can turn off Varnish and hit blitz again? :)
    Currently I use both service for all my website, while Cloudways for sites, which has to be online :) – bc. its managed, so if some trouble their support is still there. I use them several months and their support do really great job, answer fast and always fixed any problems. On the beginning I had several questions or trouble and I found, that their support really care and try to fix issue fast. I just experienced many problems with Varnish – in Joomla and WordPress too, contact forms does not works 100%, so I turned that off, bc. that was my call action.
    So after that I m not big fan of Varnish at all, so I checked other options and found ServerPilot which is really good, but u know, just one wrong word in terminal and app is forever in the hell :D That is why Cloudways powers all my critical websites – daily automatic backups.
    On other side, I m not ”terminal” guy, but install WordPress on ServerPilot was easy and I experience just ”beginners” problems bc. I did not understand this and that :)
    I really like both services. Advantage of ServerPilot is more freedom and that by default they install just necessary things, no php admin, no varnish, no other staff which eat source.
    I was close to do similar comparison, so nice to read it here, anyways I hope you can hit blitz without Varnish and I don’t have to install everything :D
    Anyway will be interesting to see how both services will move in time and if similar new services will arrive in this area. I was surprised for small number of Cloudways current customers, that was on the begining of this year around 1000.

    1. Hi Peter,

      thanks for your reply!

      …it would be interesting to see how Cloudways perform while Varnish is turned off.

      Actually I did that test and there are much more time-outs and errors than with Varnish enabled, but if you use SuperCache with mod_rewrite (check my previous article) the results should be okay, too. Cloudways servers are optimized to serve web pages with Varnish, so it’s not surprising :) Sorry I can’t run another test because my Cloudways trial is over.

      I just experienced many problems with Varnish – in Joomla and WordPress too, contact forms does not works 100%

      That’s a common problem, many cache systems doesn’t support Ajax based forms very well. Try the new WooCommerce app from Cloudways for those sites were the contact forms doesn’t work.

      The daily backup feature from Cloudways is very nice, but not very useful if you need to restore a single file ;) I backup a few of my website with rsync and Dropbox. Dropbox has a nice file restore feature which gives you another 30 days of backup versions (for free). I’m sure that any Dropbox based backup plugin can do the same right in WordPress.

      I was surprised for small number of Cloudways current customers, that was on the begin of this year around 1000.

      That’s not so much, but hosting is a hard business. There are so many WordPress hosting services and some of them are very good.

  2. Interesting comparison.
    In a way, I really like what CloudWays is doing. However, I never found their setup to be as fast as ist could be, especially in the (uncached) backend. I also had quite a lot of errors when testing with blitz.io.

    As to ServerPilot, what is needed there is (also) quite a bit of fine-tuning, I think.
    Turn off Apache altogether, use Percona or MariaDB instead of MySQL, set NGiNX to cache the front-end using fastcgi_cache, add a Redis Object cache, and you’ll have a truly world-class WordPress setup. How such a non-standard setup actually can persist within ServerPilot, that’s what I’m currently trying to find out (explains all the techno-verbiage, I hope).

  3. Hi Philippe,

    Thanks for your comment. Right, without the cache a Cloudways server isn’t much better than a standard Ubuntu LAMP setup on a DigitalOcean VPS.
    The good thing about ServerPilot is that your server becomes more powerfull and they keep it that way by provinding updates as well. I’m not sure about the mods you suggest: Not all of them might work smoothly with the ServerPilot setup.

    I will really try the Redis object cache for the WordPress backend. I found this article these days and that should work with ServerPilot very well: http://bryanapperson.com/blog/using-a-redis-object-cache-for-wordpress/

  4. Hi Olaf
    I did some further testing yesterday.
    Unfortunately, using NGiNX fastcache has not worked out just yet, as there is a problem with processes (NGiNX is www-data, WordPress is serverpilot).

    Being lazy, I turned fastcache off, and tried using Zencache and WP Rocket within WordPress. The results were rather nice: Response Times Fastest: 114 ms Slowest: 132 ms Average: 117 ms; 13,661 successful hits in 60 seconds and we transferred 1.14 GB of data in and out of your app. The average hit rate of 228/second translates to about 19,671,840 hits/day.

    All the while, RAM usage was really low, and CPU did not even register in ServerPilot.

    1. Hi,
      Right all PHP tasks are done by the current user (default serverpilot) and that is good this way, otherwiser you need to change the permission for uploads and updates.
      I tried all bigger WP cache plugins and also WP Rocket. The results are good for all of them:

      • WP Rocket very fast, but to expensive for smaller sites
      • W3C good performance, but to complex and often problems with other stuff/plugins
      • Super Cache, very good performance if you use the htaccess mode!

      I never had any problems with Super Cache during the last years and the plugin performs excelent in htaccess mode. If you use PHP5.5 you get ZendCache enabled by default as an extra bonus :)

  5. The reason I still prefer WP Rocket, even though a) it is expensive and b) it’s far from trouble-free, unfortunately: it still is the only WP cache plugin that at least tries to be fully compatible out of the box with somewhat advanced setups like WPML and WooCommerce. Also it is by far the simplest to configure, and has nice CSS and JS concatenating and compressing.
    I actually have PHP 5.6 set as default on my Linode/ServerPilot box, but haven’t checked the now built-in OpCache yet. While probably not quite as fast as Redis, using it would mean one less move-able part in the setup.
    In the next few days I’ll probably try to have Percona or MariaDB on that server, see how this goes.
    The end result I’d like to have is: really fast cached pages, and almost indistinguishably really fast non-cached pages (WooCommerce).

    1. it still is the only WP cache plugin that at least tries to be fully compatible out of the box with somewhat adavanced setups like WPML and WooCommerce.

      I’m using Super Cache for all WooCommerce site I manage and never had any problems. I’m sure WP Rocket is a great tool, because it offers more than just a cache function.

      …and almost indistinguishably really fast non-cached pages (WooCommerce).

      How is WP rocket responsible for the performance of non-cached pages?

  6. I hadn’t tried SuperCache really, to be honest – I had just read lots of reports about problems. My bad.
    And of course neither WP Rocket nor SuperCache nor even Varnish or NGiNX fasctcgi_cache have anything to do with uncached pages speed – but I think that if I get WordPress to be really really fast with MariaDB and so on, “live” pages should be almost as quick as cached ones.
    The advantage of cached pages would remain: very low CPU and RAM usage.

    1. Let me know if the change to MariaDB is a great improvement. Some smaller sites of mine are hosted with Webfaction and they are using Percona for their MySQL databases. Their bare metal servers are much stronger and I can see a difference to regular MySQL servers :), but their servers are great performers, too.

      I will check the Redis object cache for the WP backend and I will post the results here as well.

  7. Just moved one Joomla website to Serverpilot from Cloudways and without any settings loading time is much better on ServerPilot.
    For the same website without cache/varnish its 220ms (ServerPilot – DO) vs 440ms (CloudWays – DO). 512mb DO droplet both.
    So 100% boost its really cool :) Anyway I have to play with backups and also be careful if do something on server :) but still feel somehow more free with this … will see how it will going

    In regards to WP cache, currently I use wp-rocket several months and I am satisfied, simplicity, clean design, just few buttons for all jobs and everything works well and fast.

    1. Hi Peter (again) :),
      Nice to know that the ServerPilot setup works for Joomla as well. It’s funny this website with ~1500 daily visitors is using only ~40MB of memory. Maybe it’s because most visits are from custom code PHP pages? I have other WordPress sites which need much more memory (200MB and more) while having less than 50 uniques/day.
      Try also a server vultr.com, they are a bit cheaper and offer more CPU power. The other great point with vultr is that create more backups than DigitalOcean.
      For the cache plugins I see not a clear improvement. I tried also W3TC using Memcache for objects and the database. Sometimes W3TC is better than Supercache ans sometimes not :(
      I think I will try WP-Rocket again (before the free year is over). I have also one WP site using Cloudflare, but this seems not to be a help to save memory (my first priority).

  8. Yes, how you mentioned all cache plugins do similar jobs, so I took the simplest one and I like it.
    Cloudflare is one of the best for things what they do the best – DNS and its free too. I use them for all DNS. Compared to any domain registrar’s DNS it saves 100 – 200 ms for DNS lookup what is not bad. Also manage all domains DNS in simple dashboard its nice.
    I tried and tested Cloudflare cache, but sites with it was even slower than without it, so I m not fan of this service. Its probably good for shared hostings, where performance its not so high.

    1. (strange, this comment was added to some other post)

      Funny, I never thought about that Cloudflare is also a DNS provider. I used them in the past to block/filter bad traffic in the first way.
      Will say if you disable the cache function it’s only the DNS zone you use. The next great think is that you can use the SSL certificate from them as well. Cloudflare is one of the fastest DNS providers and also the biggest victim for DDOS attacks :) But if you use a whole day for the TTL of your main DNS records, it shouldn’t be a problem.

  9. The bold part from serverpilot is security, thus I trust them to host critical sites that attract hacking activities. I simply not prefer cloudways, why I’m using a vps if I don’t have root access?

  10. Weeks ago I had reports of that one of the VM I have in Digital Ocean (using Serverpilot)
    couldn´t be accessed from certain IPs. I happens that I also couldn´t reach it.

    According to Serverpilot they don´t have any kind of login/failure firewall and Digital Ocean neither.
    I ended cloning the VM on another zone to have this issue solved.

    Has anybody experienced a similar problem?

    1. Hi Alejandro,
      it would help if you send a trace report to DO. Sure now it’s too late for that, maybe the next time. Maybe there was an issue somewhere in the network? I remember me there was a network issues for some people the Netherlands 6 month ago and the first question from DO support was about a trace report.

  11. Can’t you use Cloudaways to choose a php & MySQL environment (thereby having control over things like the php version) only… and then install wordpress yourself. Then you would not have control over the environment that is not given to you in the managed wordpress offering?

    1. Hi John,
      sure you can configure some PHP settings and you can choose different PHP versions, but the options are limited.
      Their hosting plan is optimized for specific WordPress configurations. If you need something specific, go for SeverPilot or try them both.

    1. Just like any WordPress website. There is no server migration here, because you’re not the server admin for your host at Cloudways.
      For WordPress website migrations I advice this WordPress plugin. The free version works great for websites smaller than 500MB.

      1. Hi Olaf,

        Thanks for the detailed comparison, I’ve been using ServerPilot (with Vultr) for about 1 year and have been very pleased with it, but I was curious about what CloudWays has to offer too.
        The biggest downside for me is “No root access”, I definitely like to get my hands dirty and mess up with the server myself.
        Backup first, try stupid things, repeat :)

        Also it is possible to have SSL even on the free plan of ServerPilot (if you get your hands dirty), I don’t use the paid plan on all servers, but SSL is a must nowadays.

        If you don’t mind me asking, what are you using for FinalWebsites? Cloudways or SP?

      2. Hello Tazz,
        Thanks for your comment.
        Right while using Cloudways, you have less freedom. Sure they offer now a lot of options like Redis and MemCache, but you can’t tweak a server like you can do with ServerPilot.
        ServerPilot keeps up the basis and offers some quick tools for creating users, apps, databases etc.
        I know there are ways to use let’s encrypt on a server with the free version of ServerPilot, but personally I would never do this.
        What if something changed in the ServerPilot configuration that breaks your modifications?
        There is maybe a better way: Take the free month of the ServerPilot Coach plan and get SSL installed. After this month downgrade to the Free plan (SSL is still installed).
        Create a self-signed certificate via the command line and use this certificate with the free version of Cloudflare (Full SSL support). The result better and more safe for your server :)

        I’m using ServerPilot for all my servers and only used Cloudways ones for the tests in my review.

      3. Do you advice for WordPress website migrations with websites about 10GB (1GB database) ?

      4. Hi,

        if you have such a big website I suggest to transfer that site via the Linux terminal (using rsync). Create for the database an export file with mysqldump, transfer the site and import the database via the terminal again. This way is the fastest and is more secure.

  12. Not sure when the post is online, and when you have the tests done. I’ve receiving many updates from Cloudways as they’ve implemented a few new features to improve the performance and security.

    In regarding the WP migration tool, All-In-One-WP-Migration, I was happen with it when it first came out many years ago. Since they’ve released the paid services, the free version was stuck and failed 50% of the time. And the 500MB limitation may be just a maximum for VPS or above, for shared hosting, it failed even under 250MB, with timeout or alike. It took more time to prepare and archiving before you can download the backup for migration. So disappointed and moved to some other plug-ins.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      this article is actually not about the features of ServerPilot or Cloudways. The article should help the reader to decide which service is the best fit. From your comment I would say CW is the best for you. For my own needs I CW is absolutely not the tool I’m looking for. We’re not the same type of users right? About the migration plugin. I’m using the tool very often to migrate a website from some crappy shared hosting to a VPS I manage (with ServerPilot of course). The export goes very well in most of the cases but sometimes an import could be a problem. The reason why a backup doesn’t work might be some limitation in the PHP configuration of some cheap hosting (10USD for multiple websites is cheap). Do you tried to contact the ServMask support? They are very helpful, at least to paying customers, but you can always try. I know they look always for information to optimize their services.

  13. Hi, great article. I’m new to serverpilot and I was wondering what Page Cache Method: to choose for serverpilot? Also any other recommended settings for w3tc you have when using serverpilot?

    Thanks

    1. Hi David,

      I use for more than 200 WordPress website SuperCache only (htaccess mode). I’m sure you can use w3tc as well with any cache you like: Redis, memcache etc. You need to install them first, the SP site has some great documentation for this kind of stuff.

  14. Hello Olaf,

    We’re looking at moving a few hundred websites to DO+SP — great article, thanks so much for sharing your insights!

    How long have you been using SP? How many installs? Any feedback now thats its been a bit of time since writing this article?

    Thanks!!

    Ben

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