The Future of Managed WordPress Hosting (my take) – by Chris Lema


Did you see today’s podcast?

The folks at WP Bacon ran a Google Hangout today with several founders and top folks from companies in the managed WordPress hosting space. It’s a great look at all the players and you get to hear their take directly from them.

On there you hear from companies that are of every different size and with very different stories.

WP Engine started as a bootstrap, but now has raised tons of venture capital.

MediaTemple is now part of GoDaddy – which is huge in the shared space, but now they’re each offering managed solutions.

Pagely continues to be bootstrapped and its recent hiring of a CTO has moved them to completely different hardware (on Amazon).

FlyWheel focuses on design and ease of use with raving fans, without the need (for now) of an affiliate program.

Everyone has their own challenges

As you listen to these guys talk about their definitions of managed care, you realize just how far we’ve come from budget shared hosts, and yet, how far we still have to go.

Today GoDaddy is mired with a long history of upsells that betray it’s relatively strong performance (as seen in this recent benchmark). It’s hard to shed your track record and a little marketing won’t do it. So I imagine it will be a lot of work for a long time, but their product may end up being pretty useful to some folks.

Pagely struggled for several years with their infrastructure, depending on Firehost (which should have been great, but consistently had hiccups that Pagely had to message around). Today they’ve taken architecture into their own hands and moved to Amazon, which will help them scale. But they now need to convince folks to circle back and give them a shot.

WP Engine may have been the only one that talked about givingHHVM a shot (it would offer ridiculously high performance for some), but they’ve had a few months of struggling with performance and customer care slips that have been off-brand.

And while FlyWheel hasn’t had any of these issues, they’re still pretty new. So we’ve yet to see them experience the pain of fast growth.

Some folks weren’t on the show

If you’re going to look at managed WordPress hosting, there are a couple folks that weren’t on the podcast – which made a bit of sense given that Mike Schroder from DreamHost was on a plane to Nicaragua for an upcoming WordCamp (and yes, he’s previously done his talks in Spanish too). But they’ve stepped into the managed game and it would have been great to hear from Mike.

Additionally, no one from SiteGround was on the show – a hosting provider that did really well in both this benchmark andthis other one. While my main site is on WP Engine right now, one of my new ones (WP Advisor) will soon launch on SiteGround.

And the good folks from CopyBlogger Media – Synthesis – weren’t there either. If you were pulling the top 10 hosting players in the space, you’d want all three of these guys to join the others in the dialogue.

One more recent development

Before I share with you my take on what was missing from the dialogue above, let me highlight one other thing you might have missed.

It’s this:

Now, don’t worry too much about the technology stack being talked about. Pay close attention to something else: the fact that they don’t care which core hosting provider you run it on.

The future of Managed WordPress Hosting

Here’s the thing. We all know that all these providers will end up having some downtime. So let’s move on from that part of the discussion to focus on the real value that these guys can add.

I don’t really care how well any of them manage the physical servers, do I? Nor do I care specifically about the actual specs of the servers. Because I assume all of that will become part of “all things being equal.”

What these guys bring to the table is a deep understanding of WordPress and how it works. To that end, they know things about how it scales that others don’t. And because of that, they can offer additional scripts, configurations, routines and more to help me.

What I’m saying is that they can abstract better because they know things better.

Let me explain my point by showing it to you in a completely different way.

This clip is from Life of Brian – a Monty Python classic. But here’s the thing. I’ve found that it’s only funny to people who know the original material that it’s mocking. The more you know (in this case of the New Testament, and specifically the Gospels), the funnier this movie is. And the same goes for some of Monty Python’s other great films.

It’s funny but it takes a certain level of depth and knowledge to be this funny. Because you have to know so much to be able to pull off all the little details in this scene.

And that’s why I think it’s a perfect illustration of the future of managed WordPress hosting.

These guys know a lot about WordPress and all the nuances and details – and only because of that info can they then create solutions that sit on top of hardware that will be pleasing to us (and make me smile).

Technically, what does this look like?

That recent launch of Forge (optimized for Laravel) was interesting because it suggests (at least to me) that in the future I’ll be able to buy as much hosting infrastructure as I want from Amazon, Digital Ocean, Linode or others, and then my managed WordPress host will simply do their magic on top of it.

In essence, I’ll have two providers – one for the hardware and network, and one for the optimized software and support.

Today we see tight coupling, but then we are left with struggles like choosing a new host when the infrastructure of one isn’t as good as another. But in my wonderful future, I’ll be able to take my “portable” instance of a site and move it around to another infrastructure player while keeping the same good folks I’ve built relationships with to support my site.

You’ve likely heard of number portability with cell phones. I guess I’m saying that in my future world, site portability is a thing. And a good thing at that!


Note:  I am in the process of moving all my clients’ WordPress sites to alternative hosting.  I find that the specialised WordPress hosting I am getting from FlyWheel is excellent.  One big advantage is that they take care of the transfer.  It takes me between 3 and 12 hours to transfer a site using other methods, which makes Flywheel a huge time-saver for anyone wanting to transfer a site!

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