I have a tale to tell. And though it’s dark, strange, and scary, I promise it’s all true. This journey through hosting hell is what gave me and my team the knowledge and expertise we needed to make our WordPress support and maintenance company wpXPRESS, what it is today.
When I first started using WordPress to build websites in 2008, I opted for shared hosting, as most do. It’s not a great option, but it’s cheap. So when you’re just getting started it’s a great place to start.
As my small business grew, we quickly outgrew the limitations of shared hosting. Even though it’s supposedly “unlimited,” it’s an outright lie. The servers they put you on simply can’t handle unlimited traffic, memory usage, etc.
So I started looking around, and I tried a few options with VPS’s, dedicated hosting, and even colocation hosting. Often times, I’d move a site or two to try a hosting plan. Then if it went well, all my personal, company, and member sites may have moved to the new cloud hosting. I would use the hosting plan for months before scary things started to happen.
Moving hosts is a lot like the digital version of moving people in real life: you have to move the files and the database of the site (think boxes and furniture), but then you have to make sure all that other little stuff gets properly moved too (think all the junk that accumulates in people’s houses). This includes email accounts, domains, domain DNS, and even SSL certificates and much more. So it’s no small undertaking to move even five WordPress websites, especially since we were hosting some of our customer’s emails on the server as well.
Many modern hosting companies and services like Migration Guru have made migrating WordPress sites, ten times easier than it was back then.
The Horror of Bad Hosting!
Early on, I had hired a freelancer to help with a few things here and there. He knew quite a bit about hosting that was beyond my knowledge. When he found out I was moving from one host to another, trying to find one that fit our needs, he offered to set up my first VPS. He recommended this hosting company (we shall not speak its name) that was very inexpensive and said he would do his part for a very low price. He set up our new server and we migrated all our sites.
Within a week, it became apparent that something was terribly wrong. Sites were breaking and having all kinds of problems. The server had something rotten in its software setup. So he rebuilt the server (meaning he basically started over from scratch). That didn’t help, so he did it again. Things did not improve no matter what we tried. It was a nightmare for me. Client’s sites were going offline randomly, and I was up until all hours of the night, getting a crash-course in Linux+Apache+cPanel-based server setup and management.
After a week or two of that mess, I couldn’t take it anymore and migrated back to the previous hosting, this time on a reseller plan, instead of shared. I believe the previous host did most of the migrations. But they made a critical mistake and migrated the entire cPanel installations over. That brought some of the previous software problems, though it did eliminate the OS level issues. I ended up firing that freelancer since he over-promised and under-delivered in the deal.
Running a Cursed Business
Months and even years later, issues continued to plague us. In looking for help, a very kind person reached out and offered to put us on his hosting and help us sort out some of the issues. It seemed to work for a while, but then email problems started popping up, where client’s emails weren’t getting delivered or received. That was followed by what appeared to be a hacked server. In fixing that, they accidentally caused the written content on all our client’s sites to get cut off after about the first paragraph!
We thought we were literally going to have to go through and hand-restore every page on every client’s site. Luckily, they brought in their WordPress database guru and he was able to work some magic and get it all sorted out.
Those people were great to work with. We ended up buying our own server and installing it in their data center (co-location hosting), and they installed the new InterWorx software on it, that was supposed to be way better than cPanel, Also see cpanel alternative.
Guess what? For us, it just didn’t work. We still had email issues, WordPress websites that were not working correctly, and user access issues. In fact, the amazing team at that hosting company started joking that there was a “Fiddler curse.” At the time my business was called “Fiddler Online” (now wpXPRESS) and they saw so many new and unusual problems with our servers and sites, that they couldn’t resist attributing it to a curse.
One night all our sites went down. I reached out to the hosting company owner and he said a car had crashed into their power center, that supplied all power to the data center where our servers were.
It took out not only the connection to the power grid but also the connection to the backup generators and batteries that would normally have kicked on when the power went out. Of course, they blamed the “Fiddler curse.” We just wanted our client’s sites to work.
I did learn some great things from those good people, and from the experiences, though. The key one is that you don’t need to have hosting that handles the website, email, DNS, and the kitchen sink. You can break those things out into separate systems so that when one is affected, it doesn’t mess up the others. We were also using WordPress Multisite at the time, which meant all our client’s sites ran on two WordPress installations.
I decided that my next hosting wouldn’t do all those things. It would do one thing only: website hosting. The rest of the requirements (email, DNS, and others) would be hosted elsewhere. Plus I’d break all those sites out of the Multisite so that each was its own WP install. The idea was that if one site broke or had issues, it wouldn’t take down everything else.
Cloudways Reversed the Curse
I don’t remember how I first stumbled on Cloudways, a cloud hosting for WordPress sites, but I loved the whole concept from the start. They don’t have their own servers, they use cloud hosting services like DigitalOcean, Google Cloud Platform, and Amazon AWS, and then layer their simplified hosting software on top of it.
Plus they add in their managed hosting support. They won’t support WordPress itself, but they do have one of the simplest “1-Click” options for installing WordPress (which they call an “app”). And their support for the hosting and their stack is great. Plus they don’t do email hosting, or DNS, or any of that other stuff that really shouldn’t be done on the same server as the website hosting anyway. They don’t use cPanel either, which seemed to be at the center of many of our hosting related problems.
I tested Cloudways out a while and was very pleased. We worked hard to break all our client’s sites out of WP Multisite and install them as individual WordPress “apps” (aka installs) on Cloudways-managed servers. Eventually, we got all or our member’s sites spread across 6 small servers on Cloudways. I was sad to stop working with our previous hosting team because of how great they’d been. But after years of hardship and headache, we just had to change things up. It really shouldn’t have been that difficult to keep those sites online.
As part of this overhaul of our hosting infrastructure, we moved all our clients over to either Google Apps (now called G Suite) or Hover for their email. We moved all the DNS to Hover as well since that’s what they do well: domains and email. We also used MailChimp’s Mandrill to do any transactional email sending from WordPress. Later we switched to SendGrid when Mandrill got merged into the main MailChimp plans.
This hugely simplified our hosting situation, and the Cloudways servers only had one job: to serve WordPress websites. This separation of everything into separate systems on specialized servers/services broke the Fiddler curse apparently, and after a few kinks related to caching with WooCommerce were worked out, we never had any major issues.
WordPress Maintenance & Hosting Experts
Though all the adversity with different hosting options was terrible to live through, and nearly sunk my business, it was also an incredible learning experience. It was literally a trial by fire.
Nowadays, we don’t encourage every new wpXPRESS member to let us host their website. We still offer a plan with hosting included, but our most popular WordPress support and maintenance plan (called the “Boxcar”) lets you keep your website on your current hosting, whoever it is. Because of the trials we experienced, my company wpXPRESS can support our members on any hosting and know how to work with the hosting company to handle almost any issue that should arise.
If you’re looking for great WordPress hosting, I highly recommend Cloudways. Their non-traditional hosting saved our business and provide great value for anyone wanting a better WordPress hosting experience. Cloudways will give you awesome, fast, stable, cloud-based hosting. If you could use WordPress-specific support, maintenance, and security, wpXPRESS’ support and maintenance plans are second to none, (though I’m clearly biased).
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Mustaasam is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed WordPress Hosting Platform, where he actively works and loves sharing his knowledge with the WordPress Community. When he is not working, you can find him playing squash with his friends, or defending in Football, and listening to music. You can email him at [email protected]