Cloudways Review [2021] – How it Differs from Traditional Web Hosting

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Cloudways, as the name itself indicates, is an innovative cloud hosting control panel. If you are looking for a way to host your WordPress website on Amazon AWS or DigitalOcean, then this post may help you.

In this Cloudways review, I am sharing my experiences after using their services for almost two years. First of all, let us see how it differs from traditional web hosts.

If you would like to watch a quick video on how to create a server and install WordPress on Cloudways, here it is:

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How Cloudways Works?

You know how traditional shared or VPS hosting works. You can buy one of their plans and start hosting your websites right away. Nothing wrong with that approach.

In contrast to that, Cloudways is not such a web host. It works more like a middleman between you and other cloud providers like Amazon AWS, DigitalOcean, or Google Cloud.

Cloud hosting has several benefits like higher uptime and better scalability compared to the normal shared, VPS, or dedicated hosting. Amazon AWS and DigitalOcean are examples of cloud providers.

However, there are some practical limitations that prevent a normal user from hosting directly with AWS or DigitalOcean.

  • Unless you are a system admin, configuring, and managing a cloud server yourself is not an easy job. You need a good understanding of Linux and security measures.
  • Constant maintenance, security, and dealing with software updates is time consuming even if you are a Linux ninja.

That’s where platforms like Cloudways comes in.

They allocate a server from your favorite cloud provider and provides a user interface to manage it. You need not worry about anything except your websites or applications. In effect, you get the benefits of a cloud platform as well as the ease of use of a shared host.

In short, Cloudways provides a control panel to manage your cloud servers and your applications.

Note: Don’t confuse managed cloud hosting with managed WordPress hosting. The latter manages both your hosting and WordPress installation while the former manages your hosting only.

How to Use

Signing up Experience

Since Cloudways offers a free 3-day trial, you get enough time to get familiar with the platform even before providing your payment details. After creating an account with your email, you will be redirected to the server creation page.

Before starting, you may need to verify your phone and email, which is a straightforward process.

signup with cloudways
cloudways account verfication
account verified

Overall, signing up with Cloudways should be a pleasant experience. Unlike signing up with shared hosting providers, there aren’t any upsells or configuration options to confuse you.

Creating a Server

Once you have signed up and verified your account, the next step is creating a server.

To be more clear, hosting with Cloudways involves mainly two steps:

  • Creating a Server
  • Creating Applications/Websites

If you are just starting out with cloud hosting, DigitalOcean is the cheapest way to set up 1GB VPS servers. Linode and Vultr are also comparable.

Creating server - Cloudways Review

AWS and Google Cloud are also available but they are expensive and aimed at more advanced use cases. They might be overkill for most WordPress websites. However, if your use case needs that level of infrastructure, you can choose those too.

Creating Applications

Applications in Cloudways refer to your websites or web applications. While creating the server, you have to create the first application along with it. Later on, you can add as many websites as you wish on that same server.

Currently, Cloudways supports only PHP applications. Installing popular CMSs and PHP frameworks is just one click away. These include:

  • WordPress
  • Laravel
  • Magento
  • Drupal
  • Opencart
  • Prestashop
  • Joomla

In addition to these applications, you can also install custom PHP applications.

Migrating WordPress

For moving your WordPress site from your existing host to Cloudways, they offer a free migrator plugin.

After installing the WordPress application on your server, install the plugin from the repository. The plugin asks for your old host’s FTP credentials. After that, the plugin pulls all the content to your new site.

Migrating WordPress to Cloudways

Once you make sure that everything is in place, you can change your domain’s DNS to point to Cloudways’s IP address.

How the Control Panel Feels

Navigating through the different settings in Cloudways’s admin panel should not be difficult as all the controls are well-arranged in a simple manner.

The control panel is split into mainly two sections – Servers, and Applications. In the Servers section, you can see all the servers you have deployed. Toggle the switch to Applications and you can find all the websites you have created. Note that a server can contain multiple applications.

Cloudways Dashboard

If you are coming from a shared environment, the dashboard can feel a bit unfamiliar. But you will get used to it after playing with it for some time.

The control panel layout is altogether different from that of the cPanel you see on shared hosts. Still, the dashboard is quite intuitive to use.

In my opinion, Cloudways’s custom control panel seems a bit easier to use compared to cPanel.

Important Features

Supported Cloud Providers

Currently, Cloudways offers five cloud providers for you to choose from:

  1. DigitalOcean
  2. Linode
  3. Vultr
  4. Amazon AWS
  5. Google Cloud Platform

Out of these, I have tried DigitalOcean only. So, note that this review is mostly based on that experience.

Free Let’s Encrypt SSL

Let’s Encrypt is a popular Certificate Authority providing free domain validated SSL certificates. Although formed recently in 2014, it has gained a lot of traction due to its free pricing.

Cloudways allows enabling Let’s Encrypt certificate for each of your applications without any further costs. There is an auto-renewal feature too.

Enabling SSL

In addition to that, you can also install certificates issued by other authorities.

Performance Packages/Software

Cloudways offers a set of packages for improving the performance of your applications, which it installs automatically when you create a server.

  • Varnish
  • Redis
  • Memcached
  • PHP-FPM
  • PHP 7.4 & MariaDB
  • Built-in CDN

You can manage most of these packages by going to Server Management > Settings & Packages > Packages.

cloudways server settings & packages

Some other settings like Varnish, SSH, and PHP-FPM Settings are available from the Application Settings page for each individual website.

cloudways applications settings

Varnish Cache

Varnish Cache is another technology that accelerates your applications further. This works as another layer of caching over the WordPress page caching. You rarely get this feature on shared hosts.

Since Varnish sits in front of Nginx or Apache, the requests get served even before it makes it inside.

The result? You can serve a lot more concurrent visitors from a single server.

Note: Varnish may not be practical if you want to serve any dynamic content. In that case, it is better to toggle it off. To enable or disable Varnish for a specific website, go to Application Management > Application Settings

How to check if Varnish is working?

Varnish feature is enabled by default on all WordPress applications deployed by Cloudways. To ensure that it is working, open the Networks tab in Chrome developer tools and reload while opening a page on your site.

Then check the Response Headers. If you can see something like X-CACHE: HIT, then it is served by Varnish. Otherwise, if it is a MISS, it needs more digging to find out why. Sometimes, certain cookies can prevent Varnish from working.

Checking Varnish Cache

Redis & Memcached

In addition to the normal page caching, database and object caching adds another layer of caching. It stores the results of database queries and PHP operations in the memory, thereby improving the database speed and the overall backend performance.

Redis and Memcached are two different packages that allow implementing these types of in-memory caching. Cloudways supports both.

But, which one is better?

According to this Stackoverflow thread, Redis has more features and an overall better choice than Memcached. However, the default option enabled on Cloudways is Memcached.

PHP 7.4 & MariaDB 10.4

If you want the latest PHP version for your applications, you won’t be disappointed here. Cloudways currently offers upto PHP 7.4. Otherwise, older versions down to PHP 5.6 are also supported.

For the database, Cloudways offers MariaDB, an open-source database management system derived from the older MySQL. It supports more storage engines, and is said to give better performance than MySQL.

Currently, Cloudways allows setting MariaDB version 10.1 to 10.4.

HTTP/2.0

These days, most of the hosting providers offer HTTP/2.0. It is much faster than the earlier version – HTTP/1.1. The benefit is more visible on webpages with more number of requests.

However, the latest version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol is HTTP/3, which is still not available on Cloudways. Hope they start offering it soon.

WordPress Cache Plugin

You might be already aware that WordPress is a resource-intensive application. That’s why everyone speaks about caching. Cloudways offer its own caching plugins called Breeze.

Breeze Cache

Server & Application Monitoring

Monitoring helps to find out if you are exhausting server resources. Cloudways’s monitors all the important metrics and presents it in the form of graphs. These include CPU usage, memory, and bandwidth along with cache hit rates.

Server monitoring

So, by checking these graphs, you can determine if you need an upgrade or not.

New Relic Application Monitoring

In addition to the built-in monitoring features, Cloudways also offers New Relic integration for advanced application monitoring. New Relic is actually a paid service. But Cloudways has partnered with them to offer a smaller version of it for free.

New Relic allows performing a detailed analysis of how your applications perform. For example, it gives colored graphs for each WordPress hook and its execution times over a set period of time. It is highly helpful in finding out which plugin or theme is slowing down your site, or causing server overload.

Look at the image below:

new relic application monitoring on cloudways

Under the WordPress hooks section, it shows the most time consuming hooks in descending order, along with the top five hooks plotted on a graph.

Scalability

Since it is a cloud platform, you can vertically scale your servers at any time.

That means, you can start with a small 1GB server and scale up to 2GB or more as demands increase.

Cloudways vertical scaling

CloudwaysCDN – Integrated Content Delivery Network

A CDN can considerably improve page speeds by delivering static files from locations closer to your visitors.

According to their blog post, Cloudways have partnered with Stackpath to offer the CDN service.

The base price is $1 for 25GB per month. However, remember that this pricing is per application. So it may be a bit expensive if you want to enable CDN on multiple websites.

Also, each additional GB over the first 25GB costs $0.04. If your bandwidth is in the range of 1TB/month, the monthly cost becomes $40.

In comparison, Stackpath’s CDN plans start at $10 per 1TB per month. So, if your bandwidth requirements are high, going directly for a CDN service will be more value for money.

If you want to know more, I have written a separate review on CloudwaysCDN, where you can find the speed test results and features. Please check that out too.

Performance

The performance largely depends on your provider. With DigitalOcean, I can say that the uptime and speed have been excellent.

I’ve conducted multiple tests using GTmetrix, and these are the average TTFB and load times of a WordPress website with some sample content.

  • Datacenter: New York
  • Provider: DigitalOcean
  • Server: 1GB, $10/mo
  • WordPress 5.6, Plugins: Yoast, WPForms, Elementor, and some sample text and images

Pingdom Tests

Cloudways Speed Test
LocationTTFBLoading Time
Tokyo863ms1893ms
Frankfurt303ms958ms
Washington DC369ms803ms
San Francisco362ms783ms
Sydney1054ms2177ms
Sao Paulo680ms1343ms
Average528ms1182ms

GTmetrix Tests

Cloudways Speed Test
LocationTTFBOnload Time
Dallas135ms391ms
Hong Kong668ms1928ms
London226ms630ms
Mumbai641ms1753ms
Sydney690ms1870ms
Sao Paulo379ms1074ms
Vancouver223ms640ms
Average423ms1184ms

LoaderIO Tests

To find out how well Cloudways can handle simultaneous visitors, I used a free account from Loader.IO to stress test a 1GB server. I did two tests. In the first one, I enabled only page caching using W3 Total Caching, and disabled Varnish from the Cloudways control panel. In the second test, I enabled Varnish in addition to the page caching.

Load test 1 – without Varnish

cloudways stress testing using loaderIO
cloudways stress testing details.

Without Varnish caching, timeouts started occurring at around 40s, and the overall error rate was around 7%.

Load test 2 – with Varnish enabled

cloudways load testing with varnish enabled
cloudways load test with varnish - details

With Varnish enabled, the errors came down to zero. Average response times also reduced to half.

without Varnishwith Varnish
No. of users0 – 10000 – 1000
Total Time60s60s
Avg. response time1292ms506ms
Success rate93%100%
Timeout started at40sNone
Test completedYesYes

That shows Varnish can greatly improve the server’s ability to handle a lot of simultaneous visitors. However, Varnish acts as a reverse proxy, and if your site sets cookies, visitors will miss Varnish and goes directly to the server. So in many practical cases, there is no way to ensure maximum Varnish hit rate. Many analytics services like Google Analytics set cookies, which prevents Varnish even if you have it enabled on the server.

WPPerformanceTester Benchmark

The WPPerformanceTester plugin by Kevin Ohashi benchmarks the server by measuring PHP execution time, WordPress execution time (lower is better), and database queries per second (higher is better). It helps to know how powerful a server is.

cloudways wordpress benchmarks
Server Benchmarks
Execution Time8.346s
WordPress Performance
Execution Time1.36s
Queries per second736.52

Cloudways + DigitalOcean performed better than most of the shared hosts I have tested so far. That is impressive for a small 1GB VPS.

WP Query Monitor Results

WP Query Monitor plugin measures the page generation time and database query time. Although not a benchmarking tool like WPPerformanceTester, it also gives you an idea about how fast a server handles PHP and MySQL operations.

Home PageAdmin Page (Dashboard)
Page Generation Time (avg)263ms208ms
Database Query Time (avg)14ms14ms

Less than 300ms page generation is good enough for a WordPress application. That means, even in the absence of page caching, the server will be able to process a request and start sending a response in less than 300ms.

Uptime & Reliability

I have monitored the uptime of a 1GB DigitalOcean instance using both UptimeRobot.com and Freshping.io. And these were the results in November 2020.

Cloudways uptime in nov 2020 - uptimerobot report

The server was up for 100% of the time, although there were a few spikes in response time once in a while. But nothing serious. Also, using a more powerful server could possible improve the response times.

cloudways uptime report - freshping - nov 2020

I was also monitoring the uptime of this site using UptimeRobot for almost two years now. During this period, I have only experienced about 5 minutes of downtime.

Overall, Cloudways servers give much better uptime and reliability than other shared hosting providers.

Plans & Pricing

Just like performance, pricing also depends on the provider and the plan you choose.

Unlike other web hosts which require you to purchase their plan for at least one month, Cloudways follows a pay-as-you-go approach. The billing can be hourly or monthly.

You use your servers only as long as you need and pay at the end of the month. If you use it only for one hour, you have to pay for that only, prorated.

In short, your bill amount depends on the number of servers you create and how long each of them runs.

For now, $10 with DigitalOcean is the cheapest plan to get start with Cloudways.

Cloudways DigitalOcean Pricing
Cloudways Amazon AWS Pricing

Unlike other platforms like SpinupWP, the price you pay Cloudways includes the price for the control panel as well as the provider. So, you don’t need to manage two billings.

For example, when you buy a $10 DigitalOcean server from Cloudways, they, in turn, pay half of it – $5 – to DigitalOcean, and they take the rest.

Free Trial

Cloudways also offers a 3-day free trial, without requiring credit card details. Also, the trial begins only when you deploy your first server, not when you signup.

The maximum server size allows with a trial account is 2GB with DigitalOcean, Linode, or Vultr. To increase the server size or to use GCP or AWS, you have to upgrade the account. Other than that, it is fully functional.

Sign up for a free trial

Support Quality

There are four ways to get help if you face any issues with Cloudways:

  • Knowledge Base (documentation)
  • Live Chat
  • Ticket
  • Forum
support options

Also, there are three support plans:

  • Standard (free)
  • Advanced (paid)
  • Premium (paid)

Out of these, the Standard tier is free and is available for all customers. It is more than sufficient for most users. Otherwise, if you have a mission-critical website or application, you can check their paid support options. Look at this screenshot:

free and paid support options

A crucial difference between the free and paid plans is that the latter offer server-level customizations. That means, if you want to install extra packages on your server, you can ask the support team to do it. Instead, with the Standard plan, you are limited to the default software stack Cloudways installs for all.

SLA also differs between the three plans. The chat duration allowed under Standard support is 15 minutes. If the issue couldn’t be resolved within that time, they will convert it to a ticket. With the Advanced plan, you can chat for a maximum of 30 minutes, whereas with Premium, there is no time limit. Similarly, the guaranteed ticket response time also differs between the plans.

Out of these options, I have tried both the live chat and ticket system with the Standard free plan. Here are my experiences:

Live Chat Experience

  • Recently, I was having a broken image issue while moving a site from staging to live. I thought the links would update automatically. But somehow, the URLs were still pointing to the old staging site, resulting in 401 errors.

When I contacted via live chat, the initial responses were from Cloudways’ chatbot. It suggested some support articles, but none of them were enough to solve the issue.

cloudways live chat experience

While it’s a good thing that the bot eliminates the initial wait time, it isn’t capable of solving the issue most of the time.

Since the bot was helpless, it transferred the chat to a real person, who joined within a few seconds. So, there was literally no wait time.

live chat

It turned out to be a simple problem, and he suggested a few Search & Replace plugins to change the URLs. And the issue got resolved in around 12 minutes.

live chat - solving wordpress issue

Another time, the problem was a bit more complex:

  • I was trying to remove the browser cache headers for one of the sites. Despite removing the rules from the .htaccess file, the cache persisted. So I opened a chat session.
live chat - cache issue

As usual, the chatbot attended it first and handed over to support staff. It was the same person. At first, he suggested checking my .htaccess rules and that he could not find any issue. But I was pretty sure that the problem was not on my side.

cloudways support quality - live chat

Since I knew that Cloudways uses Nginx along with Apache, I asked if that is causing the problem. He went back and checked again and solved the issue in a few minutes.

live chat responses
cloudways live chat - issue solved

The chat session lasted for more than thirty minutes, which was longer than the guaranteed chat time duration mentioned in the SLA (15mins). So, that was generous.

Support Ticket Experience

I tried the support ticket once to enable a custom domain for the CDN. Despite the 12 hours guaranteed response time, I got the initial reply in around 1 hour.

cloudways support ticket response times - review

The issue got resolved in around 2 hours. As far as I’ve experienced, that’s fast enough.

Overall, my experiences with Cloudways support are fairly positive so far. The support team is knowledgeable and cooperative, although your inputs can speed up things.

Cloudways Review: Pros & Cons

With that, you have an idea of what a managed cloud host is. You also know what Cloudways has to offer here. So, let’s summarise the advantages and disadvantages.

The Pros

  • Makes managing a cloud server easier
  • Better uptime than most web hosts
  • Scaling is no-brainer
  • No upfront payment, pay only for what you use
  • High-end performance features

The Cons

  • Expensive – Starting at $10, the price is a bit expensive than a basic shared hosting plan. There aren’t any offers or introductory prices.
  • Limited control – Since Cloudways registers and manages your server from the provider, you don’t get root access. If you purchase a VPS directly from a cloud provider, you can install whatever you want on your virtual machine. So, with Cloudways, you are trading off control for ease-of-use.
  • Only PHP applications – If you want to run something like NodeJS or Python, it is difficult. The platform is primarily meant for PHP applications only.

Verdict: Do I Recommend Cloudways?

Yes, I highly recommend Cloudways.

If you are looking to upgrade from your current shared hosting, you should definitely take a look at Cloudways.

Price-wise, it stands in the middle between shared hosts and managed WordPress hosts.

Get Cloudways

Finally, do you have experience using Cloudways? How do you feel? Feel free to comment, be it good or otherwise.

Cloudways Review
  • Ease of use
  • Features
  • Performance
  • Reliability
  • Pricing

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