WP Engine Review: Managed WordPress Hosting Developers Will Love

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With new options for hosting coming out every week, I decided it was time to do a review of one of the main players.

Supporting folks on WordPress can be a real pain.  I’ve been working on making that easier for folks for years over on WPMU DEV. Five months ago out of frustration with how difficult it continues to be to provide ongoing support for my own clients I started WP Valet.  At WP Valet we aim to “take care of WordPress, so you don’t have to”.  That’s a pretty lofty goal and we’ve searched high and low exploring loads of available solutions in order to ensure we can deliver.

I knew from the start that the #1 single most important decision would be the hosting provider.  There’s loads of options out there and my business partner and I tested several of the key players in the market.  Ultimately we went with WP Engine.  WP Engine offers WordPress hosting and while not the cheapest option out there, offers the most impressive list of features.  We liked the idea of having WordPress experts running servers “finely-tuned” for WordPress. Interestingly, we quickly discovered that having a highly-specific server config comes with it’s advantages and it’s drawbacks as well. Ultimately, there were a few key areas that meant WP Engine was the right solution for us.  Rather than explain all the millions of benefits to going with managed WordPress hosting, I’m going to share the few key reasons that led us to our decision and why, five months in, we’re still with WP Engine.

One of the main reasons we went with WP Engine initially was that they are unique in allowing database access to their customers.  If you are in the business of supporting WordPress, database access is essential.  There are obviously security issues involved with providing access and by not providing access, hosting providers can avoid a less-than-savvy user accidentally messing something up.  That makes good sense for loads of users.  But for developers and companies providing management, database access is essential.  WP Engine was the only ones with a mechanism to provide this.  While it does seem that others are now looking into providing this, WP Engine is the only company that does this for you by default.

Do a search for the term “cowboy coding”.  Are you making untested code changes to your live site?  Then you’re guilty of this practice.  If your site is a hobby project that may be just fine.  If you’re running a company you need to avoid this like the plague.  WP Engine provides a staging environment and ability to create independent SFTP credentials for live and staging environments.  That’s freakin’ genius.  We can provide developers access to the staging installation and have no fear of something going wrong and bringing down the live site.  Need to start over?  No problem.  WP Engine provides a one-click process for creating a brand new staging environment.

A staging environment is ridiculously handy, but WP Engine takes it the final step by providing .git for you for full version control.  This rounds out the development needs for any site project and best of all, it’s available on any of their plans.  All you need to get it is drop a note to their support team. Once you have it installed, make changes locally and push them to your staging environment.  Once everything’s perfect, push it to your live site.  This is by far the best way to ensure that nothing goes wrong due to human error – and only WP Engine offers it.

Finally, you’ve got all your beautifully coded plugins and themes backed up via WP Engine, which most other managed hosts provide, but WP Engine offers a secondary backup.  They’ll send a daily backup of your site (files and database) to your Amazon S3 account for you.  Again, this is available at no additional cost, on any of their plans.

All of these additional tools and features are exactly what’s required for us to be able to deliver a solid experience to our clients each and every day.  Nobody’s perfect, of course. We’d love to see the ability to turn off ALL caching on individual files in the live environment.  Because there’s no caching in the staging environment things may appear to work correctly only to fail when pushed live.  This is mainly an issue when actions depend on cookie sessions.  Once you know that you can watch for it and even contact support to disable caching on a certain file, but being able to do it ourselves would be icing on the cake. We’d also love to see a “collaborators” feature like ZippyKid just announced whereby we could send SFTP and DB access to folks more securely.  We use LastPass to avoid sending sensitive info via email, but it’d be fantastic to see this built-in.

Those are pretty small issues when you compare them to the heaps of advantages. Add to that the quick responses we get from WP Engine’s support team and you’ve got a solid win.  We’re looking forward to working more closely with WP Engine in the future and excited to see them aggressively pursue the development community inside WP Engine. What has your experience with WP Engine been?  Do you use any of the services above? What have you found?

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8 Responses

    Phil Simon 

    I’m a huge WPEngine fan and have only one regret: that I didn’t sign up sooner. I’m not a proper developer by any stretch of the imagination but, as you correctly point out, their set of dev tools is very useful.

    sarah_weeger

    I couldn’t agree more with everything in this post.

    I was happy with my decision to go with WP Engine and have been impressed since day 1. Same goes for signing up with WMPU! Your products and services are both unbeatable, and it’s hard to explain how great – superior, really – creating wordpress sites with both companies have been for me as a web designer. I’m especially impressed by the customer service that consistently comes with WP Engine. I actually felt compelled to write a blog post about a recent an experience I had with WP Engine and WPMU (they worked together on a tricky problem I was having on a client’s site… related to what you said about their caching methods): http://www.great8creative.com/2012/08/the-best-customer-service-in-the-wordpress-world/ But they handled it very professionally and efficiently.

    I wish all of my client’s sites were created with your themes and plugins, and hosted by WP Engine. You can’t beat the combination.

      Mason James

      Thanks for your comment, Sarah, and I loved your post!

      We’ve actually worked with WP Engine to ensure compatibility with both MarketPress and Membership, two of our biggest sellers. It’s great when you find other companies that are willing to work together for the better of all members. The customer experience at WPMU DEV is our #1 priority and I know that’s true for WP Engine as well.

    Paul Stokes

    I hated every moment with WPEngine. Sure it all sounds great on screen but the implementation was horrible.
    Couldn’t backuo my site due to too much data.
    Was slower on WPEngine than HostGator, by a lot.

    Philip John

    Thanks for sharing this Mason, really interesting.

    When looking at using WP Engine one of my main concerns was whether I could use SSH and also how my custom code would be treated. I often write my own small plugins rather than using .org ones to reduce bloat but felt that doing so wouldn’t fit in with WP Engine. Is that your experience or not?

      Austin W. Gunter

      Hey Philip,

      Great question.

      We don’t allow SSH access for security purposes. Instead, you can SFTP into your site, or use Git-Push to deploy your code (which means you’ve suddenly got full integration of version control with your hosting).

      Your custom code will more than likely be just fine (but I haven’t taken a look at it yet) so long as you understand how our system works and are able to tweak things here and there. The sorts of things we have limited are all related to the speed and scalability or security of your site. If you’re deep under the hood, you’ve probably built with these in mind from the beginning, so, like Mason, you’ll probably get a lot out of developing on our platform.

      But don’t take my word for it, though. Actual mileage may vary, and as long as you’re happy with your setup, may not be any pressing need to begin a great migration (so to speak).

    Mason James

    @Paul Stokes, everybody’s had their own experiences. The point of this review is to show how WP Engine has taken steps to assist developers that I haven’t seen (yet) from other managed WordPress hosting companies.

    @Philip John, they don’t provide SSH access at this time. Custom code is fine. You can technically even install non-WordPress software provided you know what you’re doing ;) Only limitation is that you only have one database to work with on each install with their regular accounts. I have several custom plugins that I use and update myself.

    Hope that helps. Thanks for chiming in guys!

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