Managed WordPress hosting has been around for quite some time, but I’ve always stood on the edge of the pool, watching everybody splash around. Recently, I finally dived in and gave it a try. After a couple of months using Media Temple’s own WordPress hosting package I thought I would check in and highlight some of the benefits of a managed host, and why you might want to try it too.
The What and Why
In general, when you purchase a shared hosting service or dedicated server, your account is, in some senses, managed. Updates are applied to software your server is running, security patches are installed, and sometimes, regular back-ups are made.
But managed WordPress hosting takes this model and expands on it. Managed accounts are tailored to the needs of WordPress, so the server your site runs on can be uniquely optimized for speed and performance. Most managed services will update WordPress software for you, and make sure that your site is compatible with new updates. Security patches can be made quickly and effectively. And extra tools specifically built for WordPress are bundled with every install. Media Temple’s service, for instance, offers a quick caching mechanism right out of the box, with no set-up needed.
This means if you are running a WordPress site, switching to managed hosting can make your site faster, more secure, and easier to set up and maintain. This also means your month to month pricing is a bit more expensive. But, if you’re an active WordPress user who’s business or service depends on your site running effectively, it’s worth the cost.
Setting Things Up
I work on WordPress sites all the time, but in my day-to-day I have two main sites to maintain. The first is Tidy Repo, my curated plugin review site. The second is a site I use to test out plugins in a live environment. Step one was getting these migrated to managed hosting without too many complications.
My first hurdle: moving the Tidy Repo database and files. Anyone who works with WordPress knows that database migration can be a real headache. But Media Temple had a tool built in that migrated the site’s database and files automatically, in one fell swoop. All I had to do was enter in my FTP and admin credentials, and everything was migrated for me.
That’s a theme you’ll see in managed hosting quite a bit. Once we know what we are dealing with (WordPress), it is far easier to build useful and specialized tools for it.
My next step was to set-up my test environment. All I had to do was click an “Add Site” button and a new WordPress instance was booted up for me in a few minutes. I imported my test content, added a few plugins, and was ready to go. Nothing too complicated yet.
Feeling the Advantages
In the last couple of months, I’ve noticed a couple of key advantages. First up, the speed of my site has increased quite a bit. Why? Well first, the server that I’m using is tailored specifically for WordPress. WordPress can run on any Apache server, but the way it interacts with a MySQL database, and how it generates pages is fairly unique. Small server changes can optimize for this kind of content generation. As an added bonus, static caching, process of taking dynamically generated pages and turning them into static pages that can be served very quickly, comes free. Tuning servers to meet the requirements of WordPress caching can be a bit difficult, but most managed hosts include this kind of functionality, perfectly integrated with the server, so you don’t have to.
Behind the scenes, there’s also quite a bit of security enhancements I never could have set up on my own. WordPress is often exploited in common ways that can be easily prevented or checked against. And since my host absolutely knows that I am running WordPress, it knows exactly what to look for. Media Temple scans my site for common bits of malware and lets me know if something comes up. In case of an attack (worst case scenario), they keep backups of the site that can easily be restored to a new instance.
Those that have been paying attention to WordPress’ core development have probably heard that minor updates will now be applied automatically to your site. Major updates, the upcoming 4.0 for instance, still need to be applied manually. But managed hosting can take care of this for you. Before an update is installed, it can check to make sure that your site is fully compatible. For me, this is a minor plus. But if you work with a lot of clients, you know the drill. You hand off the site, and the WordPress install never gets updated again. Setting them up with managed hosting means all of this is taken care of without them having to do a thing.
There are also a few bonus features I’ve already grown accustomed to. These vary from host to host, but they encompass the little things that make working with your site’s server that much easier. For instance, my SFTP credentials were set up automatically and I can retrieve them for each individual site right from the control panel. That caching mechanism I talked about has a “Flush Cache” button that lives right in my admin bar so I can clear it at any time. Staging sites come free with each install, so I can easily set up a staging server, and test changes before I push them live. Bundled in is great support, free themes, and email. I won’t go into everything, but these are the details you’ll come to truly appreciate.
Many of us deal with WordPress every single day. But the mysteries and particulars of a server will often be elusive and hard to manage. But some of the greatest enhancements to your site can come server-side, and I can guarantee you haven’t explored them all. Why not let your host do that for you?