So I made the decision to go for WPEngine hosting. It’s not the same as other hosting packages I have used. Firstly it’s WordPress only. That’s right, no e-mail, no name servers, just WordPress. Secondly their pricing is a little bit tricky. I have to pay more if I get lots of visitors. Here’s how it works
I opted for the professional package, which allows for 100,000 visits per month. If I go over this, then I pay for overages (additional visits) each month. WPEngine, claim they don’t throttle things back. Their view is that I want lots of visitors and they will meet the demand. That’s obviously good for them. They would argue its better for me, since I don’t want my sites to stop working. So how does that compare to my other hosting packages?
In nearly every case, I get a specified and finite resource (VPS and dedicated host). Failing that I get an unspecified share of a finite resource (shared hosting). In other words if traffic gets too much, the site will fall over. For most people this isn’t really going to happen overnight, but hopefully will happen, some day.
Before I go through the transfer process, it’s worth recapping on the pros and cons of the WPEngine package
Things I like about WPEngine
- Built in daily backup routine – also available on demand
- Built in staging server – this is great as I can test things get feedback before I commit to changes. Its not strictly a staging server, but very useful
- CDN – This comes with the professional package. I haven’t used it yet so can’t really comment
- Inbuilt cache – WPEngine admit they ‘aggressively’ cache. This has some implications on site design, but does make the sites fast. Also you don’t need to be installing W3Cache or the like.
- Security – WPEngine have security features built in. They claim that if you get hacked they will do everything they can to get you back up and going. This offer isn’t unique and I don’t know if it has been tested, but at least I don’t need to add in security plugins.
- Easy migration process. WPEngine claim their migration process is very easy, using their migration checklist.
Things I don’t like about WPEngine
- The technical library is no where near as extensive as I would like. Its not as bad as getting an answer out of Vodafone, but certainly isn’t comprehensive.
Things I’m not sure about
- WPEngine outlaw some plugins. They argue this is because they have vulnerabilities, are resource hungry or simply duplicate their own functionality. Which leads me on to ….
- WPEngine must be offering a doctored version of WordPress. They have built in security and caching into the core rather than installing plugins. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it does make me wonder if I can successfully migrate a site away from WPEngine. (note to self) Some testing needs to be done in the future
- Aggressive caching. This has already caused a few problems, which I have managed to resolve. It seems that you either like caching or you don’t. WPEngine love caching.
- There is no user forum – I’m not sure why
In a nutshell, WPEngine offer a WordPress hosting package with a great user interface. It is very well thought out and lets you get on with WordPressing, rather than worrying about system administration. So how easy is the transfer process?
The WPEngine user portal has a migration checklist that takes you through each step. Some of these steps are very easy and well documented. However, some are ambiguous. The process is
- Setup – create your WPEngine site. This is easy –you set up some basic details, such as domain name, user name for sftp access. The domain name redirection is not so well explained. Suppose you have a website www.yoursite.com. You should really redirect yoursite.com to this address. You might also want to redirect other domains e.g. www.yoursite.net
- Preliminaries – Back up you existing site. I bet lots of people don’t do this. Next you check to see if the existing site uses any disallowed plugins. WPEngine have a plugin that you can install to check out your existing site. This works well, but offers some diagnostic warnings without any suggestions about how they can be resolved. Lastly update all plugins themes and WordPress. You would have done this already – wouldn’t you?
- Export existing site. This is well documented and covers both database and WordPress directories. Just a suggestion – I would empty out any themes and plugins that you aren’t using before you do this. You need to do a bit of MYSQL admin, but its all easy stuff.
- Import – again this is well documented. I had to edit my wp-config file. This is because Dreamhost sometimes add strange prefixes to the WordPress tables names. I’m not sure why, or if other hosting companies do this. WPEngine explain how to do it, but it’s easy to miss
- Verify – This didn’t go so well. At this point you have a copy of your site. In theory you should be able to test it. The only problem is that when you point your browser at you new site, it gets an identity crisis. All of the entries in the SQL database will point to the real site. The chances are you will get a redirection error of some sort, when you preview the new site. WPEngine offer two options. You can edit the SQL database or you can edit your hosts file. I wouldn’t edit the SQL database for a number of reasons. Firstly you don’t know how many entries need to be edited and you might forget to edit them back. I edited my hosts file. Crudely speaking this is a map of the internet that will override DNS servers. You can edit in a line that says – “when you see a reference to yoursite.com then go to this ip address”. It’s so easy to do and doesn’t compromise your production site.
- Launch – this was also a bit tricky. In fairness not because of WPEngine as they don’t do name servers. I had to point the Dreamhost name server to my new site. The problem was that, I could only do this by removing the hosting option from my Dreamhost package. This meant that whilst the Dreamhost name servers were busy telling the world that my site had moved, my site was down. If I had independent name servers this wouldn’t have been a problem.
I didn’t have to worry about user interaction during the transfer process. Imagine that you have a healthy level of user interaction – you could lose some of this during the transfer process. I would suggest that you inhibit comments whilst you are carrying out the transfer. Most importantly let people know you are doing this – and why.
I haven’t mentioned mail servers. WPEngine don’t provide this service. I am experimenting with some alternatives and will report back soon. The good news is that for the moment I can continue to use Dreamhost’s mail servers.
So the final verdict ?
I think WPEngine is good so far. I really hope it continues to work well. Yes some people have reported bad experiences, but find me a web host that doesn’t have detractors. The features are great – staging servers and backup are worth loads. The transfer process is very easy. I’m not 100% on their user support, but in theory, I won’t need it much.
In terms of speed its much better than my Dreamhost shared and virtual servers, but not much different to my UK2 shared server. I am a little concerned that when I run Google Pagespeed tests, it sometimes says that I should reduce server response time. I need to keep an eye on this.
All I need now is a top quality VPS