Cloudways, as the name itself indicates, is an innovative cloud hosting control panel. So if you are looking for a way to host your WordPress website on Amazon AWS or DigitalOcean, this post is for you. In this 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.
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 about 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 manages 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.
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.
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.
Ease of Use
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.
How the dashboard feels
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 layout is altogether different from that of the CPanel. Still, the dashboard is quite intuitive to use.
In my opinion, Cloudways’s custom control panel seems a bit easier to use compared to the CPanel used by most shared hosts.
Creating a Server
Hosting with Cloudways involves mainly two steps:
- Creating a Server
- Creating Applications/Websites
After signing up, the first thing you have to do is to add a new server.
If you are just starting out with cloud, DigitalOcean is the cheapest way to go with 1GB servers. Linode and Vultr are also comparable.
AWS and Google Cloud 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.
Applications in Cloudways refer to your websites or web applications. While creating the server, you have to create the first website 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:
In addition to these applications, you can also install custom PHP applications.
For moving your WordPress site from your existing host to Cloudways, they offer a free migrator plugin.
After installing 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.
Once you make sure that everything is in place, you can change your domain’s DNS to point to Cloudways’s IP address.
As I have pointed in the previous section, Cloudways makes it easy to install popular PHP applications. However, the features are not limited to that. Let’s see what else they have on offer.
Currently, Cloudways offers five cloud providers for you to choose from:
- Amazon AWS
- Google Cloud Platform
Out of these, I have tried DigitalOcean. 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 nature.
Cloudways offers to enable Let’s Encrypt certificate for each of your applications without any further costs. There is an auto-renewal feature too.
In addition to this, you can also install certificates issued by other authorities.
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.
Varnish Cache is another technology that accelerates your applications further. This works in addition to the WordPress caching mentioned above. 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.
How to check if Varnish is working?
Varnish feature is enabled by default on all WordPress applications. 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.
HTTP2 & PHP 7.3
HTTP2 is the latest version of Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. The newer version offers several advantages over HTTP 1.1 like the ability to handle multiple requests over a single connection between the server and the browser. It results in better page load times.
While many hosts still continue with HTTP1.1, Cloudways supports the latest protocol by default for all their new users.
To verify that it is enabled, go to your server’s Settings & Packages page and select the Advanced tab. Under the NginX section, check that it toggled on.
They had already supported PHP 5.6, 7.0, 7.1, and 7.2. In addition to these, PHP 7.3 is also part of the options.
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.
So, by checking these graphs, you can determine if you need an upgrade.
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.
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 can be a bit expensive if you want 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.
Performance & Uptime
The performance largely depends on your provider. With DigitalOcean, I can say that the uptime and speed are 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: No plugins, home page with 10 images & some text.
- Tested using GTmetrix
|Cloudways Speed Test|
I haven’t experienced any down times in the past three months.
Just like performance, pricing also depends on the provider and plan you choose.
Unlike other web hosts which require you to purchase their plan at least for one month, Cloudways follows a pay-as-you-go approach. The pricing is 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 just one hour, you need to pay only for that.
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 start with Cloudways.
There are four ways to get support if you face any issues with Cloudways:
- Knowledge Base (documentation)
- Live Chat
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:
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 can’t be resolved within that time, they will convert it as a ticket. With 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 sytem with the Standard free plan. Here are my experiences:
Live Chat Experience
- Recently, I was having broken images 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The chat session lasted for more than thirty minutes. It was longer than the guaranteed chat time duration mentioned in the SLA (15mins).
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- Expensive – Starting at $10, the price is a bit expensive than a basic shared hosting plan.
- Limited control – Since Cloudways registers and manages your server from the provider, you don’t get root access. If you buy directly with 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 basically meant for PHP applications.
Verdict – Is it worth buying?
Yes. 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.
Finally, do you have experience using Cloudways? How do you feel? Feel free to comment, be it good or otherwise.