For many, the prospect of cloud hosting had, in the past, seemed completely out of reach. But Cloudways has levelled the playing field so it's time to take a closer look.
I'll kick off by saying that it's not entirely fair to compare cloud hosting with shared hosting.
But while Siteground have just undergone price increases, Cloudways has concentrated on bringing cloud hosting within reach of even the most frugal online operators.
And if you're anything like me, you'll be wanting to put your dollars to highest and best use.
Cloudways vs. Siteground -Main Differences
- True cloud hosting provided by multiple virtual servers across the cloud.
- Resources are dedicated.
- Server size scalable (price increase).
- Can handle high traffic (plan dependent).
- Pay as you go costing model. No high renewal costs.
- No contract.
- Shared infrastructure atop Google cloud virtual machines (since ~ 02/2020)
- Resources are shared.
- Scalability by Siteground only.
- Can handle traffic up to certain limits (plan dependent).
- Fixed pricing, discounted for first year but high renewal costs.
- Upfront yearly paid contract.
When signing up for a Cloudways free trial, enter PROMO CODE: WPMM25OFF for 25% OFF your first two months after the free trial.
I ran a number of tests to gauge which hosting provider servers are faster. We'll look at the results shortly.
Speed can be measured in a number of ways. If we break down a GTMetrix speed test, we'll be able to gauge not only the time it takes to fully load a page but also the following important numbers:
- Server Response - the time it takes for the server to send the first byte of information to the user's browser, known as time to first byte (TTFB).
- First Paint - the first item to appear on the screen - it could be anything, even a background color.
- Contentful Paint - the first bit of "above the fold" content. Simply put, this is the content that appears on a page without having to scroll. Contentful paint is indicative of perceived load time and is the most important number as far as I am concerned. However, for the purpose of determining which hosting provider is fastest, I will not be isolating this number.
- Dom Interactive - the first bit of content that a user can interact with.
- 4 tests were performed for each provider.
- The same page was used for testing on both servers.
- No page caching was enabled.
- No domain caching was enabled (e.g. Cloudflare).
- No CDN's were active.
- No code based optimizations were applied, e.g, deferring scripts or CSS.
- Test Location: Vancouver, Canada
- Test date: July 2019.
- Both pages resided on HTTPS and all tests used the same protocol. Therefore no redirects were applicable.
- Nothing was changed on either server stack.
- Summarized times are the average of the data set.
- The test page was not indexed by Google so all tests were performed under zero traffic conditions, ensuring no speed variables.
|Time To First Byte (TTFB)||167ms||450.8ms|
|Fully Loaded Time||900ms||1225ms|
We must remain mindful that:
- Siteground were using bare metal servers when tests were done.
- servers are in different locations;
- the moment traffic is applied, a cloud server will always outperform a shared one.
For the purposes of this particular test though, the fully loaded time is the figure to place emphasis on as this represents the total time that each server takes to fully download and display all resources on the page.
Resources And Scalability
With Cloudways the server size (disk space) can be altered.
If you expect a traffic spike due to an inbound promotion or you simply find that your traffic is increasing and you need more resources other than increased disk space, you will have to clone your server to another one that offers greater resources (unless you are on an AWS or Google Cloud Platform in which case you can scale resources up and down with just a couple of mouse clicks).
Cloudways don’t currently offer automatic scaling. Siteground's cloud hosting does (N.B. Not their shared hosting running atop Google cloud platform).
Because scaling up for traffic increases and down to curtail costs requires a fine balance, automatic scaling is a useful feature to have but it adds cost to the hosting package.
Nevertheles, Cloudways gives you all the tools you need to monitor your resources and make any timely adjustments.
With Siteground, resources are shared across the server (and obviously cross subsidized) and because each site is allocated a maximum of amount of (non-scalable) resources, Siteground constantly monitors their server resources to ensure their integrity and smooth operation for all users.
This is why Siteground places limits on the number of visitors for each plan.
If you use greater resources than your plan can handle, on a regular basis, you’ll be forced to upgrade your plan.
If you are already on their GoGeek plan, you will have to move up to a cloud plan which starts at $80per month . . . way more costly than Cloudways.
Be that as it may, Siteground’s cloud hosting is auto-scalable which means that it automatically scales according to increases and decreases in traffic. This feature can be turned on and off. It’s great for users but as mentioned above, it does come with additional auto-scale costs.
You can also set up automatic scaling for the RAM and the CPU of your cloud. Our unique auto-scale option prevents slowness and downtime in the event of unexpected traffic spikes. If turned on, it will add more resources if your current ones are no longer enough. The added amount is pre-defined by you, so you have full control over auto-scale related charges.
I switched to Cloudways a while ago because I wasn't prepared to pay Siteground's high renewal costs for a shared hosting platform when I could come away quite a bit cheaper and get the benefit of cloud hosting with dedicated resources.
What I'm about to divulge below is based on my personal experience of both Cloudways and Siteground.
Siteground built their business on impeccable support.
Cloudways support has, in the past not always been as good as it could have been. But it's been constantly evolving while Siteground's support has been slowly deteriorating.
They both offer live chat support and will escalate any issues that can't be resolved at that level.
However, Cloudways have an intelligent bot based system which asks pertinent questions designed to try and resolve your issue and point you to knowledgebase articles before routing you to a live chat support person. Initially I found this a bit annoying but I came to realize that simple issues can be quickly resolved by following some short, easy to understand instructions without having to involve a technical expert unnecessarily.
In any event, if there's an article which can easily address your request, the support technician will point you to it accordingly.
Cloudways has always been focused on server support.
First port of call should be Live Chat. Their techies are exceptionally good. Nevertheless, if a problem surfaces that Live Chat can’t handle, they’ll escalate it to level 1, 2 or 3 technical support depending on the complexity of the problem.
If there’s something you can do yourself, say via cPanel, they’ll gladly point you in the right direction.
In addition to server support, their knowledge of WordPress related issues is unquestionable. I’ve never had a problem that they haven’t been able to fix.
Likewise, Cloudways are extremely adept at server side management and their cloud engineers will help you with any server related issues. This extends to some of the more technical things such a domain pointing and DNS, for example.
As with Siteground, advanced server side issues that can’t be handled by live chat are passed on to a higher level of support.
Cloudways’ Live Chat support engineers have become increasingly more knowledgeable with WordPress related issues, especially in recent times.
They take their support a step further with their automated bot which is amazingly intelligent at providing solutions to many known problems and/or questions which reduces unnecessary load on their technicians.
As a matter of fact, all live chats start with bot support but you can transfer to a real person at any time just by typing “person” into the text field. If the bot cannot answer your question, you will be automatically transferred to a human for help.
Interface - cPanel vs Cloudways Control Panel
If you've hosted your site on a shared platform in the past, you'll most certainly be familiar with the graphical interface of cPanel.
Cloud providers don't use cPanel for the simple reason that it's extremely resource intensive and is know to slow down load times. It runs on Apache which is slower than NGINX and that’s why cloud hosts don’t use it. They build their own interfaces instead.
Cloudways have designed their stack in such a way that they achieve the best of both performance and stability. Nginx is renowned for performance while Apache is known for stability. Cloudways combines these and then sandwiches Varnish in between creating a perfect combination whereby the static content is served by Nginx, after which the dynamic content is passed to Apache for caching by Varnish in between. This creates stability from back and speed from front. Friggin’ brilliant!
Now during 2019 Siteground switched over to an interface similar to that which cloud providers build with a view to moving all existing clients away from cPanel and onto their new platform. All new signups were supposed to be put onto the new platform.
I was hosting with Siteground at the time and I was advised that I would be switched over to the new platform within the next few months. It never happened.
I went so far as to sign up for a new plan and then migrate my site but still the old interface was in use. So I cancelled the plan.
To date - October 2020 - Siteground have still been unable to migrate all of their existing clients so there are thousands of clients who are unable to enjoy the purported benefits of Siteground's new interface running atop of Google cloud platform.
That said, let's move on.
I'll admit that cPanel makes certain functionality easy but the Cloudways interface is so easy to navigate and use, it's silly!
I've found that the lack of a file manager is often a stumbling block for potential cloud customers but it really shouldn't be.
File Manager plugins are available from the WordPress repository that offer the same functionality but even better than that is the Filezilla FTP program which is really an advanced file manager that works with both your local machine and your Cloudways server.
And just in case you've been misled about email hosting with Cloudways, you most certainly can host email with Cloudways. I’ll cover this shortly.
The truth is that most of the resistance to cloud interfaces comes from cPanel aficionados who don’t like change.
This is the main screen of the Cloudways application interface. It couldn't be any simpler.
But if you’re still worried about changing what you’re familiar with, my Cloudways review and setup guide goes through everything you could possibly ask for, step by step, including how to migrate your site to Cloudways with just a few mouse clicks.
There’s absolutely nothing you can’t achieve with the Cloudways platform and interface that you can with cPanel. If that were the case, I would never have switched!
NOTE: I am illustrating this because Siteground still uses cPanel for a vast number of existing clients.
With cPanel, setting up your email inbox/es is real easy. You can have as many email addresses as you wish and there's no additional cost.
Choose the Email option in cPanel.
Then choose a preferred email address and the domain.
It's that simple.
That said, it's just as quick and easy with Cloudways.
They've partnered with Rackspace and setting this up is a breeze.
From the main interface, click on the additional features menu.
Select the Rackspace option.
Add the mailbox after choosing a desired email address and password.
Couldn't be easier!
PS. If you're looking for transactional email, e.g. sending out newsletters etc. to your subscribers, Cloudways (or any cloud host) is going to become way too expensive. I would suggest you use Convertkit for that type of email service.
The moment you point your domain name to Siteground (or any shared host), they automatically take over the management of your DNS entries.
With Cloudways, the DNS function remains with your domain host by default. You simply setup an A record at your domain host (I use Namecheap) and point your domain to your server's IP address.
However, if you prefer to keep everything under one roof, your can transfer DNS management to Cloudways by installing the DNS add-on.
Select DNS Made Easy.
Choose how many domains to include (up to 5 domains will cost $2.50 per month).
You will receive a success message and because the process is manual, support will liaise with you via their ticketing system to finalize everything.
One further DNS alternative that's worth mentioning is Cloudflare. Their DNS service is one of the best!
I'm going to dispel another bit of misinformation.
Cloudflare integrates with both Siteground and Cloudways alike.
The only difference is that Siteground provides the integration through their interface.
(The illustration below relates to their cPanel interface. New clients on the new interface have the same functionality).
Siteground simplifies the process (just a tad) by taking care of nameserver changes so you don't have to worry about doing that manually at your domain host.
But honestly, it's just as simple to integrate your Cloudways site with Cloudflare. Follow these instructions. It won't take you much longer than a few minutes.
On the Cloudflare site, sign up for a new account. (Don't worry, all of this is totally free).
Add a Site.
Click on the Free Plan and then the Confirm Plan button.
Cloudflare will query your DNS.
Go back to your domain host and change the nameservers. Here's how I do it with Namecheap.
Cloudflare will complete the nameserver check. You may need to click on Re-check Nameservers.
You will receive an email when Cloudflare is done. Then return to the Cloudflare website, click the Overview button and refresh your page.
Go back to the Cloudways Server Management dashboard > Settings and Packages > Advanced. Select Cloudflare under the WAF module. This will allow your server to see the visitor's real IP address which is great for tracking your traffic.
Simple as that!
Caching And CDN
Both Cloudways and Siteground have built their own caching plugins but they're significantly different.
Cloudways use Varnish for server side caching and Breeze Cache for Page caching.
Breeze Cache is built by Cloudways and is designed to work perfectly with the Cloudways stack.
It integrates seamlessly with their own CDN which is powered by Stackpath (ex MaxCDN). You'll need to install the Cloudways CDN add-on.
Then activate the checkbox within Breeze Cache.
These assets are then distributed across multiple servers in different locations and delivered to users from the data center closest to the user's location. Naturally this has a very positive effect on speed.
The Cloudways CDN will set you back $1 per month.
Siteground's SuperCacher is a server side caching plugin comprising three different levels of caching.
- Dynamic Cache - Dynamic content differs from static assets in that it lives within the database of your application, e.g. your posts. The database is queried each time a visitor requests a post. Obviously there is a time factor involved here. The dynamic cache keeps all of your sites resources in its store (cache) including the dynamic content. In other words, it stores entire pages of your website in memory (RAM). There is no preload (cache warming) mechanism that is used to build the cache. It is built and stored in memory only after the first visitor's request for a specific post. Thereafter, subsequent requests for that post / page will be delivered from RAM which is much quicker than a database query. This mechanism is powered by NGINX and works together with the static cache. The cache is not automatically flushed. It must be manually flushed, meaning that you have to remember to do it at pertinent times.
- Memcached - (pronounced memcache d). Again RAM is used to store data thereby speeding up database queries and API calls. It is most effective for sites that rely on repeated calls to the database, e.g. e-commerce sites where numerous products are sold. Cache flushing must be manually done.
SuperCacher certainly helps with speed but I've personally found that proper page caching is much more effective. As a matter of fact, I always disabled SuperCacher on my Siteground sites (in favor of WP Rocket) because I found it pretty ineffective.
For those who are still on Siteground's cPanel, here's what you need to do to activate and use SuperCacher. Go to cPanel and click on Supercacher.
On the next screen, activate Static Cache.
Switch to Dynamic Cache tab.
Switch over to Level 3 Memcached tab and activate.
NOTE: Those on the new interface can also use SuperCacher but I cannot show this because I no longer host with Siteground.
Siteground don't have an in house CDN. If you want to integrate a CDN I would only recommend Stackpath. It will cost you about $10 per month.
Cloudways works on a Pay-As-You-Go pricing model. You only pay for the resources you use. Due to this, billing is monthly in arrears and there are no contracts.
Numerous plans are available starting from $10 per month hosted on the Digital Ocean cloud infrastructure to $36.51 per month on AWS (Amazon Web Services).
All plans can accommodate as many sites as you wish as long as you have enough resources to support them.
Your plan choice will depend on the amount of memory (RAM) you need, storage space, data transfer capacity, processor capability and you will also have to consider which infrastructure will provide you with the best server location as this may affect the infrastructure you choose and hence costs.
Siteground plans have recently almost doubled in price and now start from $6.99 per month.
** But there's a caveat here. **
- The Startup plan, which is the most basic and can accommodate only one site, starts at $6.99 per month FOR THE FIRST YEAR ONLY. Thereafter, the price goes up to $19.99 per month.
- The GrowBig plan comes in at $9.99 per month for year one and $29.99 per month thereafter.
- The GoGeek plan starts at $14.99 for the first year and $49.99 per month thereafter.
But to put this into perspective, Siteground's GoGeek plan can handle up to 100,000 visits per month.
Cloudways offers 25GB storage space and data transfer of 1TB for $10 per month on Digital Ocean. These resources can easily handle at least 100,000 visits per month.
The Pros Of Cloudways vs Siteground
- Pay As You Use – NO CONTRACTS!
- Plans From $10 Per Month.
- 5 Cloud Providers (Digital Ocean, Google, Amazon, Linode, VULTR).
- Can change cloud infrastructure at any time.
- Fully Dedicated Resources.
- Latest Speed Technology (SSD, HTTP/2).
- Optimized Stack With Caching (Including Memcached, Apache, Varnish, NGINX, Redis).
- FREE Breeze Inhouse Caching Plugin.
- Multiple PHP Versions And PHP 7.X Ready For Ultimate Speed.
- Cloudways CDN (Stackpath Under The Hood).
- 60+ Data Centers For Superior Performance And Global Response Times.
- 1-Click FREE SSL Certificates.
- No clunky and slow cPanel.
- 24/7 Live Chat And Ticketing For Support.
- Comprehensive Knowledgebase.
- 1 Free Managed Migration.
- 1-Click Automated Or On-Demand Backup And Restore – Frequency From 1 Hour to 7days.
- 1-Click Revert (after restore).
- Extend And Scale Storage In A Few Clicks.
- Vertical Scaling – 1-Click Hosting Feature Scales RAM, CPU And Storage.
- Deploy Over 10 Sites In 1-Click.
- Dedicated 1-click Staging with revert option.
- Git Integration.
- 1-Click Cloning Of Entire Server Or Individual Site.
- FREE Cloudways Migrator Plugin Can Move Your Site Seamlessly To Cloudways.
- FREE TRIAL – No Credit Card Required.
- Recommended by WordPress.
- EASY to configure.
- FREE email accounts.
- Latest HTTP/2 and NGINX server technology with SSD storage.
- SuperCacher (static, dynamic and memcached – only static on Startup plan).
- Multiple PHP versions.
- 6 Data centers to choose from (new signups).
- FREE Cloudflare with one-click installation.
- GUARANTEED 99% up-time. I’ve had 100% over last few years.
- Good support and service levels via live chat and ticketing.
- 1-Click staging environment and 1-click push to live.
- FREE SSL Certificates.
- Migration using plugin (not available on Startup plan).
- Daily automated backups.
- On demand backups.
- 30 DAY MONEY BACK GUARANTEE.
- Huge knowledgebase.
- Optional auto-scaling selection on cloud plans is real handy.
- Can set auto-scaling limits in order to curtail costs.
The Cons Of Cloudways vs Siteground
- Down scaling on Digital Ocean, VULTR and Linode involves some downtime.
- Changing cloud infrastructure involves some downtime.
- No auto-scaling.
- On demand backups must be purchased on Startup plan.
- Additional costs for auto-scaling can be considerable.
- Auto-scaling limits may be inadequate at times.
- Technicians no longer perform migrations. Must be done using Siteground's plugin.
When signing up for a Cloudways free trial, enter PROMO CODE: WPMM25OFF for 25% OFF your first two months after the free trial.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I believe I have given you enough to decide which hosting platform is best for your specific needs while clarifying some of the misconceptions out there.
Now it's over to you. Which host is right for you?
Leave me a comment.