One of the many technical decisions we face as an internet marketing company is which hosting company to use to host our numerous websites. This decision is of particular importance because if a website loads slowly or gets hacked or goes offline it is immediately noticeable by us, our clients, and our clients’ customers — which is a HUGE deal.
Over the years we have sampled the services of numerous hosting companies for both business and personal uses. The market for hosting is extremely competitive and most hosting companies these days are of a generally high standard. An individual with a personal website can choose from a hundred companies and expect to pay just a few dollar each month for a suitable hosting solution.
The hosting needs of Big Blue Local, however, are squarely in the realm of enterprise hosting, which is why the topic of this post is why we switched to WP Engine hosting from Rackspace Cloud Sites hosting.
Importantly, we only host WordPress websites — WP Engine is built from the ground up for WordPress, whereas Rackspace Cloud Sites supports WordPress as well as Drupal, Joomla, etc. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to compare a WordPress specialist against a more versatile hosting solution, but as WordPress becomes more and more ubiquitous we thought you might find our experience insightful if you’re considering either company for your WordPress hosting needs.
For managing your sites (individual WordPress installations), WP Engine wins. The WP Engine interface is slick and fast and intuitive — no complaints. The Rackspace Cloud Sites interface is a little clunky and can be painfully slow at times.
For site speed, WP Engine wins by an unbelievable margin.
WP Engine has proprietary caching and CDN integration (NetDNA) built in to their offering. Our sites typically load in less than one second, which is a huge plus for both our SEO efforts as well as conversion rates for our clients.
Rackspace Cloud Sites frankly leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to site speed on WordPress websites. Our sites were just plain SLOW on a typical WordPress install. We contacted support about the issue and they recommended that we install a third-party caching plugin to speed things up (WP Super Cache) and this did speed up the page load time dramatically. We also took it upon ourselves to add some sites to the Cloudflare CDN, and this helped too. So, with a caching plugin installed and signing up for Cloudflare (and changing our nameservers to Cloudflare’s), our sites were in much better shape (in fact, they were really fast!), but still not as fast as with WP Engine.
For site-generated email, WP Engine wins. WordPress system emails and contact form submissions are essentially emails sent by your website, and it is critical that these emails arrive instantly and that they arrive in the inbox as opposed to the spam folder.
Emails sent by sites on WP Engine do just that — they arrive in the inbox instantly. This is because WP Engine has an enterprise SMTP service (SendGrid) built in to their hosting. Of course this is not an appropriate solution for email blasts to your mailing list, but for system notifications and contact form notifications, it fits the bill perfectly.
Emails sent by sites on Rackspace Cloud Sites normally arrived in inboxes, but there was often a delay of several minutes up to an hour. We contacted support about this and they instructed us to install a third-party SMTP plugin (WP SMTP) to ensure timely email delivery and this did the trick.
For WordPress security, WP Engine wins.
Security is a top priority at WP Engine and it achieves this by locking down a lot of server settings that are exploited by hackers as well as through regular scanning and a partnership with a web security company (Securi). Our sites have never been hacked on WP Engine.
To cut to the chase, our sites have been hacked on Rackspace Cloud Sites, even though we use extremely secure passwords, CloudFlare, and the WordFence security plugin on very high settings. None of the hacks were serious, but they are still annoying and time consuming to rectify.
HTTPS / SSL
For ease of setting up HTTPS / SSL, WP Engine wins.
If you’ve ever tried to add SSL functionality to a website so that it loads over HTTPS (and so you get that shiny green padlock in the browser address bar), you know that it can be an unpredictable and frustrating task. There are so many things that can (and often do) go wrong, meaning downtime for you sites or adverse SEO consequences. Redirect loops, duplicate content, improper 301s, mixed content issues, etc.
On WP Engine, there is a dedicated part of the hosting dashboard that makes buying the SSL certificate and setting up perfect HTTPS a breeze. It literally takes a few clicks and five minutes.
On Rackspace Cloud Sites, as with almost every other host out there, you’re pretty much on your own to figure it out (good luck with that).
For site backups, WP Engine wins.
WP Engine includes daily automatic backups of your entire WordPress website and database. You can also manually create a backup point at any time. Restoring your site from a backup takes just a few clicks — it is the ultimate backup solution.
Rackspace Cloud Sites does not include a solution for regular backups or restores. To get around this we used the third-party plugin BackupBuddy from iThemes (which we highly recommend) and more recently a cloud-based service called CodeGuard (also highly recommended).
One feature of WP Engine that deserves special mention is the one-click staging function. Do you want to make major changes to your website in a live environment, but don’t want your site visitors to witness your experimentation? Just create a staging clone of your sites, fiddle around with the code, plugins, etc (and hopefully don’t blow it up!), then click to put it live. Wow. Rackspace Cloud Sites does not offer anything similar.
Both WP Engine and Rackspace Cloud Sites offer great support via chat, email, and phone. In fact, we probably have to give this one to Rackspace because they are truly 24/7/365 for all means of contacting support.
OK, we’ll leave it there for now. There certainly are many other factors to consider when choosing the perfect host for your websites but, for us as an internet marketing company, these were the most important. Just in case you skipped over the article and came right down here for the conclusion, WP Engine comes out the clear winner over Rackspace Cloud Sites by a wide margin.
Compared to almost any other hosting solution, Rackspace Cloud Sites is a great choice. But up against WP Engine, which is a specialist managed WordPress hosting environment, there really is no comparison.
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