Changing your web hosting company is like getting a divorce. You’ve been with your current host for as long as you can remember, sure there were good times and bad there always are, but where did it all go wrong?
Over those years you’ve boasted about the good things, even recommended others try your favorite host (ok that’s where the marriage analogy should end right?) but more and more you’ve heard people talk about what their hosting can do and you can’t help thinking – “that _would_ be nice”.
I only ever like to write a review of a service if I’ve honestly tried it out and recently I have given WP Engine a go, so I thought it would be good to share my experience and provide you with my WPEngine review. I had heard a lot about their system that did sound good, so I approached with an open mind.
The hosting company I’ve been with for around 4 years now has a lot going for it but it’s not specialized for WordPress in anyway (other than the one click install), there we have around 45 stand alone WordPress setups as well as 6 WordPress multisite installations, with probably just over 100 sites running on them. All of these sites have been built by my team and we manage them on an ongoing basis for our clients (See my recent post on ManageWP for more on that).
And with that comes the first pain point – backups.
Having used Backup Buddy since version 2.x we’ve had great success with it on the one off setups but this year the developers behind it announced that they were not really committed to the multisite support. For us it has been working well for Multisites but for others on the support forums I think there were lots of problem. Where we’ve had problems with Backup buddy is on very large WordPress installs. Backups timing out, not completing, a pain and something that has sucked a lot of time.
Having said all of that, I think any WordPress plugin solution that depends on zipping up the data base and the file system, developing it so it will work on the multitude of PHP and web hosting environments that exist, would be a tough job.
Backups On WP Engine
So it’s tantalising when you read some of the pitch from WP Engine around backups. The way they put it, it’s like “using Apple’s Time Machine or Microsoft’s System Restore”.
So is it?
Well I couldn’t help myself. As soon as I created a fresh account there I set about moving one of our largest WordPress sites to test.
No disappointments here: I deleted posts, destroyed plugins, removed parts of the theme – then chose to return to my manually created restore point – Voilà – it just works!
The following day WordPress 3.5.2 was released. Happily in my list of restore point was this.
Yes the WP Engine software had updated WordPress for me, created a restore point before and after they did it and all (in this case) while I was asleep.
Backups are important to me and important to our customers. Honestly this alone has me happy to have a new account with WP Engine.
Is It Quick?
Browse through their homepage, dig into the rest of the web site, it doesn’t take long before you are left with the impression that the hosting should be quick.
Yes, yes it is.
I’ll come clean I don’t have a live site running there yet, but my aforementioned testing site is and I’m here to tell you – it’s quick. If you’ve read my Author info here you’ll know that I come from Australia, not only do we dangle off the end of the globe geographically but also in Internet terms we are a bit out of the way. So it’s always a question we get asked by clients – “ohhh you’re going to host my site in the U.S.?” It’s been bred into us that this could be a bad thing because it will be too slow. Not so with this new hosting, it’s on par or better than a locally hosted option.
The couple of sites I’ve loaded up so far are so quick to load that I got just a little bit excited.
In the past, I’ve been known to spend hours tweaking and testing a site with various caching plugins, getting browser caching working even working with a variety of CDNs to distribute content. Even though I do enjoy the technical quest to work through these setups, I can’t tell you in words the joy when I see a tick box for CDN in the control panel and then it just works.
One of the test sites managed to get a 91/100 results with Google page speed, with very little effort from me (this did make me think what the heck you have to do to get a score of 100).
The WP Engine Control Panel
I’ve seen them all: C-panel, Plesk and innumerable custom jobs when it comes to hosting control panels. When I first logged into WP Engine I was left a bit wanting. It should be simple right? Well it took me a few minutes to get my head around what was going on and certainly the user interface was no Picasso, yes I was a bit disappointed.
After spending a bit of time I tried the “public beta” version of their control panel – now this is more like it. Obviously I’m not the only one that’s been of the opinion that the user interface needs a coat of paint, the beta interface is much more like it. In fact it’s the URL that I’ve bookmarked and will just use that, it better laid out and makes it easier to understand what’s going on.
There is a version of PHPMyAdmin, tools to add and redirect domain names, access to error logs and the backup tool but there’s not much else. And, that’s ok. You don’t get exposed to the usual setup a database, configure WordPress etc.. that most of us are accustom to. You just click “Add Install” and it’s done – nice.
Meeting The Needs Of The Developer
If you’re in the business of building and maintaining WordPress sites, you’ll surely have come across this situation. 6 Months after the build your clients want to do another round of work, add some cool new tools to their site.
For me this has in the past meant backing up the whole site, installing it somewhere else under a test URL ready to do the work. WP Engine lists this as one of their key features and it is. The above process now involves (assuming you’re logged into the WordPress Dashboard), two mouse clicks. Explained on the resulting pages is how to access your staging area via sFTP. Very nice indeed.
Support, Is There Any?
Well I had a problem that I could not work out. I’d selected a WordPress Multisite to be installed but their system had created it under a sub-domain (like bla.wpengine.com) and I wanted to use my own domain. Sent a support ticket at about 3PM Sydney time and got a response about 90 minutes later. Ok in my book.
The reply was spot on and pointed me to a well written article explaining exactly what I had to do.
Is It Value For Money?
Starting at $29 per month for one WordPress install, it’s not the cheapest – but being the cheapest is not their intention. Being highly customized for WordPress is the intention and for that WP Engine is in a league of their own. If you’re WordPress site is not worth $384 annually for brilliant hosting, I think you’ve got misaligned priorities. Seriously, it’s false economics to buy cheaper hosting then spend your valuable time messing with it to get it anywhere near the quality of this.
Yes, I’m a convert – not ashamed of it at all.Learn More About WP Engine