WP Engine Review: Managed WordPress Hosting Developers Will Love

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?