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Why We Built It

Introduction

In today’s WordPress ecosystem there are perhaps a good half a dozen admin panels geared towards WordPress users. Some of them are highly focused on WordPress admins while others are focused on “applications” which include WordPress.

These panels include:

  • SpinupWP
  • GridPane
  • CloudWays
  • ServerPilot
  • WordOps (command line only)
  • Easy Engine (command line only)
  • Vepp

And, of course, all the major cloud server companies make it ridiculously easy to spin up a server with WordPress already installed. These include:

  • Digital Ocean
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Linode
  • Vultr

And a couple of others like Azure and Google.

Of these, SpinupWP and GridPane are 100% focused on WordPress users.

And they all have beautiful SAAS (software as a service) admin panels – as you might expect from any SAAS service these days.

On top of that, there is another large group of providers that all specialize in selling hosted WordPress sites. You might recognize some of these names:

  • WPEngine
  • Pagely
  • FlyWheel (now owned by WPEngine)
  • Kinsta

And some general purpose hosting providers have also built out WordPress focused offerings:

  • GoDaddy
  • BlueHost
  • SiteGround
  • LiquidWeb

Finally, there are general purpose admin panels such as cPanel, Plesk, WebMin, ISPManager, ISPconfig, Vesta, DirectAdmin and such.

So, given all those options, why did we embark on a major project to build yet another WordPress focused admin panel that would compete with all these options?

Frustrations

Over the last few years we’ve used all the major hosting companies and then, after getting frustrated with them, we switched to SpinupWP and GridPane.

But we ran into some frustrations with those companies too.

Anyone who has spent a lot of time with WordPress hosting companies can generally sympathize with the following limitations:

  • Performance – it costs a lot to get top notch performance.
  • Flexibility – need to run something a little off the beaten path? No can do.
  • Costs – the most practical plans (which are not the lowest level plans of course) can easily cost $25.00 or more per month per site. And even volume plans are expensive.
  • Support – many of the hosting companies don’t exactly have their best technical folks working the front-lines
  • Reliability – this is only as good as the cloud provider the hosting company chooses

When we discovered SpinupWP and GridPane we were ecstatic – the concept of using our own cloud servers with an easy to use management panel was very very attractive and for multiple sites, would cost way less than any reputable host.

But, after using them, we still felt a little shackled and, well, insecure. After a while we got pretty worried about security. Being small companies, its very hard to do security right so the idea of our servers being easily exposed like that really really bothered us.

The security issues were driven home to us when we called into technical support for an issue and without a second thought the person on the other end was in our servers rummaging around. They literally had the keys to our customers kingdoms at their finger tips. Yikes!

And finally, we were bothered by the fact that none of these companies seem to be using WordPress as their base. Its like Microsoft using Linux for their webservers or internal file servers – it rubbed us the wrong way. What does it say about the platform you’re selling if you’re not using it and, instead, spent uber amounts of monies to build a non-WordPress based app?

So after a while we sat down and made a list of things we would like to see in a WordPress management panel.

Our Ideal WordPress Management Toolset

When we made our list, it looked like this:

  • Hosting in our accounts at our choice of cloud server providers – this meant that no matter what, our servers and data belonged to us. And if we negotiated special volume pricing or got other deals, the cost benefits would flow to us and our customers.
  • The panel should allow for each server to run multiple isolated WordPress installations.
  • Ideally, the management panel itself should run on WordPress – WordPress provides a lot of flexibility and, by running on it, we can use our favorite plugins and existing coding knowledge to easily tweak things to our way of working.
  • It should have a command line option.
  • It should be easily extensible. (If it ran on WordPress, this would be a given.)
  • It shouldn’t treat us as beginners – in other words, expose and offer the advanced things that we might need – without forcing us onto the command line all the time.
  • Be cheaper than the existing options out there – not on a single site basis but on a multi-site basis since we handle many sites.
  • Be flexible – we wanted to be able to sort and filter our server and application list by any dimension.
  • Secure – it should have only our keys and our cloud providers keys on the server. This one was non-negotiable. We might be flexible on some items above but this one was the most important for us.
  • Support – we knew if we built this we would have to support it ourselves. So we wanted to make sure the tech stack was something that most sysops would be comfortable trouble-shooting.
  • Speed – We didn’t need the most blazing performance on the planet if it meant creating a custom stack that few sysops could handle. We were willing to take a ten percent hit compared to the best performance we could get if it meant something more mainstream could be used.

We didn’t relish the idea of building this ourselves. We knew it was going to be a lot of work. But after months of looking we couldn’t find anything that came close to our list.

So we went to work. We figured if we can convince the 1000 users or so out there who are having the same issue, we might have a business while scratching our own itch. And, if we built it on WordPress we could eventually do front-end type subscriptions with WooCommerce which might open an additional niche market.

Did We Hit The Mark?

So, after all this time, where are we relative to our list?

  • Hosting: Hit – We can use servers from Digital Ocean, Linode, AWS EC2, AWS Lightsail and VULTR.
  • WordPress Based: Hit – its a WordPress plugin.
  • Command Line Option: Hit – its there.
  • Extensible: Hit – its a plugin and based on WordPress so, definitely a hit.
  • Advanced Options Available: Hit – many things exposed that aren’t exposed in other panels.
  • Secure: definitely hit.
  • Support and Tech Stack: Hit – we use a familar LEMP (Linux, Nginx, MariaDB and PHP) stack.
  • Speed: Hit – we haven’t see any issues and, with our own servers in play without the overhead of other stuff running on it, we’re very happy.
  • Cost: Hit – if you’re running multiple sites and servers, the cost will be far lower than any WP focused hosting service.

Overall, we got most of what we were looking for. We’re especially excited about the extensibility and customization options as well as the plugin architecture for supporting new cloud providers.

Your Turn

Its your turn to chime in and let us know if we hit the mark. Check us out for 30 days with no risk. If you identified with our list of frustrations above we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Just make sure you check out the pre-requisites before purchasing!

You can also get a site pre-built with the plugin starting at just $1.00 per month for 3 servers on Digital Ocean – check that option out here.

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