After years of being a satisfied customer of Siteground, I finally had to find a new host because my sites were outgrowing their GoGeek shared hosting plan. I guess that’s a good problem to have.
Although I love and still recommend Siteground for their shared hosting, and I knew they offered VPS hosting, I wanted to try out true cloud hosting, especially with all of the hoopla about control panel services like Cloudways, Runcloud, Server Pilot, Server Avatar, and GridPane, and cloud hosting providers like Digital Ocean, Upcloud, and Vultr.
So, I started a free account on GridPane and the lowest-level High Frequency Compute hosting plan on Vultr. I tested for several months, then upgraded to a paid GridPane Pro account and a more powerful Vultr server and put more sites on there. Here are my findings.
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The signup process was very easy for GridPane and Vultr High Frequency, and so was the process of connecting the two. This was not the case with some of the competitors I tried.
Once migrated, my sites loaded in about half the time as they did on Siteground, which was already pretty fast. So, I’m quite happy with the speed. Note that speed ratings and grades are pretty meaningless, so I’m leaving those out; what really matters to me is the real load time.
The GridPane control panel is easy to use and the documentation is very good as well. They’ve made configuration and setup much easier with a GUI for many security and server hardening options that were only available using the command line before.
GridPane has an incredible online community on their Facebook group where founders and employees of the company will regularly answer questions, as will other experienced users. Seriously, the online community a major benefit of GridPane, and the commentary can get pretty entertaining at times.
By the way, this is an excellent knowledge base article on how to secure sites on GridPane.
The Caveats: GridPane
While I’m very happy with GridPane and Vultr, not every tool is suitable for every job, and that is true here as well. There are some cases where you should not use these. Here are some things to consider about GridPane:
- It is for WordPress only
Although you could theoretically SSH into your server and install whatever you want, if it’s not WordPress, it’s discouraged by GridPane. If there are any WordPress sites on that server, they won’t be supported.
- Installing WordPress in a subdirectory is not allowed
While you could manually install WordPress in a subdirectory, GridPane will not support it and they definitely don’t recommend it.
- It’s NGINX, not Apache
You may not care about this, but if you have a bunch of custom .htaccess code, you will have to convert that to NGINX directives.
- There are limitations for WordPress Multisite
GridPane’s automatic backups don’t work on Multisite, but it’s on the roadmap. Uploading of plugin or theme zip files doesn’t work on Multisite if you have “www” routing enabled. You can either upload by FTP or temporarily disable “www”. I’ve found a few other quirks with “www” routing such as not being able to save parameters in Duplicator Pro or in the Sucuri WordPress plugin. Sucuri site scan doesn’t work either with www enabled on Multisite; it looks for the non-www version of the URL and runs into CORS policy errors.
- GridPane’s minimum suggested server memory is 2GB
This means Vultr’s cheapest hosting plan is not recommended and you’ll be spending at least $12/month on Vultr (due to Percona database memory requirements). I tried a 1GB server anyway and it worked, but there was heavy disk activity hosting a few not-so-busy blogs, so I don’t recommend it. After I upgraded from 1GB to 2GB, the disk activity went way down to almost nothing as you can see here:
- There is no server email
If your site sends a lot of email, you’ll want to use a third-party email service anyway. GridPane integrates with Sendgrid in the GridPane control panel.
- Divi forms (and possibly other form plugins) don’t work on mobile when using GridPane’s Redis Page Cache (but there is a fix)
The fix is to reduce the cache time (i.e., to 8 hours). Here’s how to do it. NOTE: you need to reload NGINX afterward.
- There were some bugs in the control panel GUI
I have found some bugs in the control panel related to the GUI not reflecting the actual settings, and in one case, a control that affected something totally unrelated, resulting in commenting being shut off. But, in all cases, Gridpane responded quickly after I reported them.
- Beta server hardening broke my comment forms
I enabled one of the “beta” server hardening settings (“Disable username enumeration” in the Security section) and it broke WordPress commenting (a separate issue than the one above). GridPane confirmed it would do that when I filed a ticket. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover it until five months later. Granted, this was a “beta” feature, so I guess user beware.
I haven’t had any problems with Vultr High Frequency aside from one period of downtime due to server maintenance (which they warned me about in an email). This was the only downtime I’ve had in something like six months.
But, here are some caveats with using Vultr:
- Vultr HF is different than regular Vultr servers but it’s hard to tell the difference when you provision in GridPane
When you provision a new Vultr server in GridPane, there is no checkbox to select “High Frequency” servers when you select your server plan. You just have to choose a combination of server specs that correspond to a Vultr HF server. The confused me at first, as I was looking for the “HF” checkbox somewhere. The cause is that Vultr does not distinguish HF vs. regular servers in their API, so the GridPane control panel has no way to know which is which. The solution is to check Vultr’s website for the HF specs and use instances with those specs, if you want HF.
- Some of your disk space will be used by the OS
Not all of the disk space they advertise to you will actually be available for storage since some of it needs to be used for the OS. This is a given for cloud server providers, as they don’t have any idea what you’re doing to load onto them. But if you’re coming from shared hosting like Siteground, where the space they advertise is exactly what you get for storage, it might be a bit of a surprise.
- You can’t easily downgrade your Vultr server
Upgrading your Vultr server is as easy as tweaking a few settings (as long as your new desired server is available). Unfortunately, downgrading is much more involved. This is what they say on their “Change Plan” page: “Downgrading is currently not supported. Shrinking the hard disk is not possible without risking data loss.” It’s still possible to downgrade, but the process is much more involved, so Vultr is not a great choice if you want to be able to rapidly ramp your server capacity up and down frequently.
- Vultr HF servers are often in short supply
The selection of servers in your region might be limited, especially larger HF servers. I was surprised to find that no servers above 3 CPUs were available in my region (Los Angeles). So, don’t count on instantly being able to upgrade, as servers come and go in availability. This could be a problem if you plan on dynamically changing your server horsepower based on surges in visitors.
- Vultr backups cost 20% more
If you want automated backups, the cost is 20% on top of your plan price. Backups are not included.
- Some Vultr datacenters have frequent downtime reported
Some users on the Gridpane Facebook group have complained about frequent downtime with some Vultr datacenters. I can only say that in almost a year, I’ve only experienced one incident of downtime (which was scheduled) in the Los Angeles datacenter.
As great as Gridpane / Vultr are, “self-managed” hosting is not for everyone. You should be comfortable with the command line to make use of all of the features, and the hosting is definitely not suitable for your clients to be monkeying around in (unless they are web developers themselves). Also, if you want to host non-WordPress sites, you should not use GridPane.
I would recommend using GridPane and Vultr if you’re looking for a high-performance WordPress hosting solution and you’re willing to do a bit more work setting it up compared to, say, Siteground or other shared hosting solutions. The speed is outstanding! Learn more about Vultr plans.
I hope this article was helpful for you. Let me know about your experience with GridPane and Vultr! Or, leave your questions below! – Brian