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 and Vultr.
So, I started a free account on GridPane and the lowest-level High Frequency Compute hosting plan on Vultr. I’ve been using them for several months now on a number of my blogs and I eventually upgraded to a paid GridPane Pro account and a more powerful Vultr server and put more sites on there. Here are my findings.
The signup process was very easy for GridPane and Vultr, and so was the process of connecting the two. This was not the case with some of the competitors I tried.
In my case, my sites loaded in about half the time as they did on Siteground, which was already pretty fast. So, I’m happy with the speed. Note that speed ratings and grades are pretty meaningless, so I’m leaving those out; what really matters is the real load time.
The GridPane control panel is pretty easy to use and the documentation is very good as well.
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.
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 won’t be supported and will be discouraged by GridPane.
- Installing WordPress in a subdirectory is not allowed
While you could manually install WordPress in a subdirectory, GridPane will not support it and definitely won’t condone it. Things might not work if you do 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 some limitations for WordPress Multisite
GridPane’s automatic backups don’t work on Multisite, but they recommend All-In-One WP Migration instead to do that (they provide the MultiSite extension at no additional cost). Another quirk is that 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. The workaround is to temporarily disable “www” in multisite if something doesn’t work, then re-enable it later.
- 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 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:
- Extra server hardening requires SSH and command line
GridPane says their servers are hardened for security, but they also provide some server-level tools such as fail2ban and 6G WAF which require command-line to configure. These are optional (you could use a plugin like WordFence instead), but I like having protection at the server level rather than the plugin level. There have been other issues that I’ve needed the command line to debug. I’d consider command line almost a necessity.
- 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 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.
- 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 was very quick to jump on the problems after I reported them.
I haven’t had any problems with Vultr 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.
I highly recommend 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 performance is great and the service is good. However, it’s is not for everyone. It’s called “self-managed” hosting for a reason. You should be comfortable with the command line to make the most 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 hope this article was helpful for you. Let me know about your experience with GridPane and Vultr! Or, leave your questions below! – Brian