jeff hooton

WPEngine vs Flywheel - a comparison of managed Wordpress hosting

posted on feb 23, 2020

hosting

wordpress

At the time of writing this article, Wordpress powers around 35% of the internet, second only to not using a standard CMS. That being said, almost anyone that has had anything to do with the internet has heard of it, or hell maybe even created a website using Wordpress. If you've created a website using Wordpress, or are thinking of creating a website using Wordpress you have probably thought of how you are going to handle hosting your website, or you will soon need to do just that.

Website hosting comes in a wide range of flavors, some better suited to modern website hosting than others. There are hosting solutions that give you the freedom to do absolutely everything yourself, there are some hosting companies that provide you with a cPanel in a shared server environment and then there are managed Wordpress hosting environments, where a lot of the benefits of a DIY solution come pre-packaged, and manged by the host themselves.

What is managed Wordpress hosting?

Managed Wordpress hosting is a great solution for someone that does not have the time, or willingness to handle an entire server on their own, but would like all of the benefits that doing so provides. The host themselves handle a lot of things that can be tricky to do on your own without a lot of experience.

Managed wordpress hosts usually handle most, if not all, of the following for you:

  • Server provisioning
  • Application install
  • Multiple environments (development, staging, production)
  • Backups
  • Database administration
  • Security critical updates
  • Error and Access logging

A lot of these features are super nice to have done for you, as they consume a lot of time and can be a monumental headache at the end of the day if you run into issues. If you have never experienced issues running your own infrastructure for a website, just wait until you have a server crash or a file system corrupt without a backup. Using managed Wordpress hosting is one way to circumvent most/all of these issues as the pain points of running a server are on the hosting company themselves instead of you.

The major players in the managed Wordpress hosting space right now are WPEngine, Flywheel and Kinsta. I have direct experience with two of these hosts (WPEngine and Flywheel), and have used them on multiple projects and feel comfortable giving a review of the experience using and benefits to each of them.

Benefits of using WPEngine for managed Wordpress hosting

WPEngine was my first taste of a managed hosting environment. I have launched and hosted around 30 Wordpress websites on their platform.

They do a lot of things extremely well.

Provisioning environments and new websites with WPEngine is one of the simplest things I've ever had to do since getting involved with web. The only thing that I can think of off the top of my head that is easier when it comes to hosting is using Netlify or Zeit Now for static hosting.

To create a brand new site from scratch, all you need to do is fill out this simple form.

WPEngine Create Site

It really is that simple. You create your site and then WPEngine handles installing Wordpress, setting up the database and configuring ssh, phpmyadmin, etc.

Once it's created you land on a page that looks like this:

WPEngine Environment Panel

This panel provides you with the ability to do the following, which are all things that WPEngine does extremely well:

  • Get DNS information for pointing your domain
  • Check server logs, access and error
  • Setup git push for your theme
  • Provision a development and staging server with push publishing
  • Access your database through phpMyAdmin
  • Setup CDN for your website
  • Clear cache and reset file permissions
  • Create SFTP users and manage those credentials
  • Create, restore and manage backups that are automatically created
  • Push your current environment to any of the other environments that you have created
  • Migrate your site to another WPEngine account, or migrate a website to WPEngine

That is a serious amount of headache and responsibility lifted off of your shoulders as soon as you sign up for a hosting account through WPEngine.

Not just all of that, but the support at WPEngine is 24/7, and they have usually been able to handle my pretty edge-case hosting questions and issues within one session of chat. I have never had to wait more than ~5 minutes to speak with a representative which is super nice as well (probably their best feature imo).

P.S. you can get 3 months of free hosting when you sign up for a yearly plan.

Benefits and experience of using Flywheel

To be totally fair, Flywheel is now owned and run by WPEngine, but I felt they deserved their own solution as its really a totally different product.

Creating a site through Flywheel is pretty much as simple as WPEngine is, you just get a different UI to create it. Select an owner for the website, select a plan, name your site and you're good to go.

Flywheel Create Site

Creating a site with Flywheel does a lot of the same things that are listed above for WPEngine. They install Wordpress, provision the servers, setup the database, setup your site backups and give you a nice clean admin panel to manage your Wordpress site.

Flywheel Admin Panel

From this panel, you can see everything you need to in order to give access to another person (developer, editor, IT person), setup your DNS and custom domain, turn a "privacy mode" on to block traffic to your website from the outside world and so much more.

Once you branch off of the this main page and land on the other tabs, it really opens up what you're able to do for your website. Landing on the stats page will give you running analytics of how much storage and bandwidth you're using, as well as how many visits your website is getting, although you're probably going to want to use Google Analytics or Fathom for real analytics data.

The backups tabs will give you an overview of all the site backups that Flywheel is keeping for you, along with the amount of posts, pages, plugins, and comments that your site had when the backup was created. Hell, it even shows you which version of Wordpress was running on your website when the backup was created.

Local by Flywheel

Now Local is hands down the BEST part of Flywheel in my (dev) opinion. Flywheel has created a tool that makes getting a Wordpress installation up and running on your local machine, complete with pushing code up to the server easier than anything else I've seen. I have a sneaking suspicion that Local is the entire reason that WPEngine purchased Flywheel, but don't hold me to that.

Local comes as a standalone desktop app that you can integrate with your Flywheel, or WPEngine, account for the purposes of pushing code up to your hosting environment.

When you open Local, you're greeted with a super friendly and easy to use UI for creating a local site:

Local Start Screen

When you create a new site, you're walked gently through a set of question in order to set the environment up exactly how you want it. An example page in this process is pictured below:

Local Create Site

Once you have your site created, you have a helpful admin panel to administer your site. This gives you one-click starting and stopping of the server, database administration, pushing code up to your host, ngrok to expose your local site across the web and various other utilities.

Local Admin Panel

If there are any devs reading this, you probably know the frustration of working with either MAMP(OSX), XAMPP(Windows) or Vagrant. Local takes all of that away and makes it super easy to do Wordpress dev. It isn't going to do much for you outside of that, but if Wordpress is your game, Local is where its at.

Plan Customization

The other nice thing that I've found about Flywheel is that they will custom create a plan for you. If you need a server allocated with different resource requirements than their baseline plan, they will work for you.

I remember setting up hosting on Flywheel for an old client of mine who didn't have a ton of bandwidth, but wanted to store a ton of images on this specific server, rather than just using S3 or some other storage-centric solution, and Flywheel worked with me to create a monthly plan that worked for that client.

The limitations of Flywheel

Flywheel is a great solution, but it does have its limitations. It does not give you a lot of room to configure and tweak. When you purchase a Flywheel plan, you're agreeing that the entire database management is going to be handled by Flywheel themselves. You're also accepting that you aren't going to have access to the entire project directory, meaning you have limited access to what is running inside your wp-config.php file.

However, if you just want something where everything is taken care of for you and you don't need anything extra - Flywheel can be a great choice. Their support is fantastic, they handle everything in a super timely fashion and you get most of the bells and whistles, albeit with more limited control, of a hosting by WPEngine.

If you feel like Flywheel fits your needs and you want to try out a managed Wordpress host, you can setup a hosting plan here.

If I were choosing between the two

When it comes to managed hosting, regardless of whether I'm using it for a personal site or if it is for a client of mine, I'm going to lean towards WPEngine. I feel like WPEngine just gives me so much more control over what is happening with my site, and now that they offer push publishing from Flywheel's Local app, it is a no brainer.

There are a few situations where Flywheel would take the cake, and I would suggest that over WPEngine, but they are few and far between, mostly for the inexperienced, less tech-savvy clientele.

If you have any thoughts on these two hosting plans, feel free to drop me a mention on Twitter.

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