WordPress Hosting – The Search
As Setuix Solutions grew, we decided that it was time for us to move from a smaller server that we managed on our own, to a server that was managed by people that are experts on WordPress. Whilst our previous web hosting provider did an excellent job for us in terms of support and suggestions, we were looking to further improve our load time as Setuix Solutions grew. The question was always, how fast is fast enough? You would probably get as many different answers from as many people you asked. Everyone has their own opinion and you know how the saying goes, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. So what we did was we embarked on a journey to find the best WordPress hosting provider available in the market.
WordPress Hosting – Requirements
Well, its no secret which 2 WordPress hosting companies we will be putting on the comparison table, their names are already in the title. But before we go on to the good stuff, let us just be very clear on something, we tried both WP Engine and Synthesis. The numbers and experiences mentioned in this article are based on what we experienced using these 2 very excellent WordPress hosting companies.
The very first question we ask all our customers is, “how serious are you in getting a website”. Many think that creating a website is as easy as paying someone for a design and a place to host it, preferably if they could host it at home at no additional cost. This time around, after getting feedback from our readers and friends, we asked ourselves the very same question. How serious are we to run a website? How serious are we to deliver the content to our readers at the fastest possible time? That was when we knew, what we thought was fast, is not fast enough.
Now, there are many things that you could do to optimize your site, but today we’ll only be discussing WordPress hosting and below were our requirements.
- Fast load times
- Specialized in WordPress hosting
- Awesome support
WP Engine versus Synthesis – Public information
Below are some key information between these two WordPress hosting providers. You can obviously get this from their websites, but we listed them here for your comparison anyway.
Pay yearly and get 2 months free (16.66%)
Personal – $29.00 /Month
- 1 WordPress Install
- 25,000 unique visitors / Month
- Unlimited Data Transfer
- 10 GB Local Storage
- CDN + $19.95 /Month
Professional – $99.00/Month
- 10 WordPress Installs
- 100,000 visits / Month
- Unlimited Data Transfer
- 20 GB Local Storage
- CDN Included
Business – $249.00 /Month
- 25 WordPress Installs
- 400,000 visits / Month
- Unlimited Data Transfer
- 30 GB Local Storage
- CDN Included
Premium – You probably can’t afford it
- Unlimited WordPress Installs
- Millions visits / Month
- CDN Varies by Volume
Pay quarterly and get 10% discount
Starter – $27 /Month
- 1 WordPress Install
- Memory – Shared
- 2,500 page views /Daily
- 50GB Bandwidth /Month
- 3GB Local Storage
Professional – $97 /Month
- 2+ WordPress Install
- Memory – 2GB
- 20,000 visits /Daily
- 650GB Bandwidth /Month
- 40GB Local Storage
Advanced – $147 /Month
- 5+ WordPress Install
- Memory – 4GB
- 85,000 visits /Daily
- 1.5TB Bandwidth /Month
- 80GB Local Storage
Enterprise – $300 /Month
- 5+ WordPress Install
- Memory – 8GB
- 300,000 visits /Daily
- 3.0TB Bandwidth /Month
- 160GB Local Storage
Who are these people?
Before going further into the details, who are these people exactly? If you noticed the prices on the WordPress hosting plans, they aren’t exactly cheap. Before investing a substantial amount of money to host your WordPress website, it’s always good to know who are the people behind the scenes that are going to manage your website for you.
This premium WordPress hosting company is headquartered in downtown Austin, Texas. If you didn’t already know, its the same state WordPress was born. The co-founders of WP-Engine are Jason Cohen (founder of Smart Bear Software) and Ben Metcalfe. Ben has been involved with WordPress so far back that at that time, WordPress wasn’t even known as WordPress yet (B2 was the name given before it was forked and became WordPress).
WP Engine also has an impressive list of customer support associates, technical personnel, and investors ranging from the founder and CEO or Dreamhost (Josh Jones) to the current founder and CTO of Hubspot (Dharmesh Shah).
WP Engine only specializes in WordPress hosting and they guarantee your WordPress site will not get hacked. In the event you do get hacked, they will help you fix it for absolutely free. With security and performance in mind, WP Engine also has a list of curated plugins and themes of what’s good and what’s not.
WP Engine currently hosts tens of thousands of WordPress sites that’s growing on a daily basis. Some of these customers that trust their WordPress website with WP Engine are as follows.
Synthesis is a premium WordPress hosting solution brought to you from the amazing people at Copyblogger Media. Copyblogger Media is also the creator of the exceptional Genesis Framework, the very same framework that powers Setuix Solutions.
After struggling to keep their websites up during traffic spikes, Copyblogger Media found a solution after meeting head of Orangecast, Derick Shaefer in late 2010. By early 2011, Brian migrated Copyblogger Media’s network of sites to Derick’s custom server stack solution.
While Synthesis has been tuned for performance and security for sites built on the Genesis Framework, Synthesis does support other major Frameworks as well such as Thesis and WooThemes. If you are running non Genesis sites, you can contact the guys over at Synthesis for an evaluation of your current site to ensure maximum compatibility.
Some of the customers that host their WordPress sites with Synthesis are below.
WordPress Hosting – Support
Both WP Engine and Synthesis employ WordPress professionals on their support team so you don’t really have to worry about having an issue that cannot be rectified. During our testing phase, we sent all sorts of support questions, ranging from database migration, performance and CSS related questions. The speed of the replies from Synthesis is where Synthesis really stands out. True to their promise, we would get a response within 2 – 4 hours.
During our trial run with WP Engine, we experienced an issue on Friday and the support ticket we created was only replied 2 days later. At that time, we were told that the official support hours are from Monday – Friday 6am – 9pm CST. That being said, they do have emergency staff available outside of those times and the issue we experienced was a minor issue which we figured out before we received a reply from the WP Engine support team.
It wouldn’t be fair to say Synthesis is faultless in their support either. To get support you basically fill up a form and we’re guessing it sends them an email. There is no way to track your support ticket because it’s not powered by a support ticket system. You have no way of adding more information into that support ticket once it has been sent. We did bring this up with Synthesis support and they mentioned that we can and should send another ticket to overcome this. They must really love getting tons of emails.
Setting or migrating your WordPress site
WP Engine – Initial Setup
Registering and getting the acount was pretty straight forward. The creation of our WordPress hosting slot was instantaneous. Nothing worth noting here as the setup was pretty standard. You basically upload your wp-content folder via FTP, make some changes to wp-admin.php and change your DNS.
When we did our setup on WP Engine, we used the Personal plan which did not come with a CDN. As we already have and existing CDN with MAXCDN, we wanted to obviously use it. Whilst WP Engine allowed us to use our own CDN, the process of setting it up is un-necessarily long. We had to send a support ticket to WP Engine with our CDN hostname and they would set it up on their end. What seemed to be a routine 2 hour WordPress hosting migration, took 2 days.
Synthesis – Initial Setup
As with WP Engine, Synthesis was pretty straight forward as well. Account creation was instantaneous. However, Synthesis uses a different sFTP port and not the normal port 22. We experienced some issues here as the network we were on blocked that custom port that was required by Synthesis. A minor setback as we had to setup a socks proxy to tunnel our way out, nothing too major. Within 2 hours we got our site up and running, CDN and all.
WordPress Hosting Backend
WP Engine – Backend
We’re real suckers when it comes to eye candy. WP Engine has a beautiful, clean and function filled back-end. Some of the things that you can actually do via the back-end are as follows.
- Add new WordPress sites
- Add domains and redirects
- Setting up redirect rules
- Creating backup points and restore
- View error logs
- phpMyAdmin link
Creating backup points and restoring is super convenient on WP Engine. With a click of a button, you can backup or restore your entire site. You also have the option to download your backup as a .zip. We thought that this option was especially useful being the paranoid people that we are.
Synthesis – Backend
Nothing much to talk about the back-end of Synthesis. It was a pretty basic back-end with some information such as IP, phpMyAdmin link, sFTP link and login credentials, stuff that we thought could be sent via email. We also found it weird that the system only supported system generated passwords. There are no options to change the passwords to something else. To reset the password(s), a ticket would have to be sent to support.
WP Engine – Caching System
WP Engine uses a custom built EverCache caching system. This also means WP Engine does not allow or rather, there is no need to run any caching plugins such as W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache. If you’ve tried setting up W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache, you would have to wrestle with the various settings and folder/file permissions. Having all the caching set up on WP Engine’s end was a warm welcome.
Synthesis – Caching System
Synthesis uses the W3 Total Cache plugin but without the headache of configuring it. When going through the installation manual, you will be presented with a link to W3 Total Cache’s configuration file. This configuration file is preset with the recommended settings from Synthesis. We found this to be very convenient, as all we had to do was upload the configuration file via W3 Total Cache and we were good to go.
WordPress Custom Admin Plugin
Both WP Engine and Synthesis have their own custom Admin plugin installed and activated in WordPress. It’s set as must use meaning there is no way to disable these plugins. In this section we will cover the functions of these Admin plugins.
WP Engine – Custom Admin Plugin
In WP Engine there are basically 2 functions that’s available to you. Those functions in the admin plugin are as follows.
- Purge cache
There is a button in WP Enine’s admin plugin that will clear the cache. However, do note that purging the cache using the admin plugin will only purge WP Engine’s built in EverCache. Unless you are using the CDN provided by WP Engine, you would have to manually go into your CDN’s control panel and purge the data from there. A real pain in the ass if you ask me. Then again, how often do you purge your cache?
Staging is what really sets WP Engine apart from Synthesis. With a click of a button, your WordPress site will be duplicated and a staging site will be enabled. You can then make changes to your staging site without affecting your live site. Once you are done editing, with another click of a button, you can copy your site from staging to live. How cool is that?
Synthesis – Custom Admin Plugin
Using Synthesis’s admin plugin you can basically take a Database Snapshot. If you mess anything up, you can restore individual database tables or the entire table. That’s basically as much as it can do. Before editing any of your files (css, functions.php etc), its best that you create a copy on your computer using sFTP. There is no “one click” button to restore your site.
You will also find that you can backup your Database and Folders to Amazon S3. To backup your stuff to Amazon S3, you require an Amazon S3 account then you can get the AWS Access Key and AWS Secret Key. However, there are no restore functions here. You can only download the .zip files to your computer and do a manual restore.
WordPress Hosting – Performance
This is perhaps the biggest question on everybody’s mind. Which WordPress hosting solution gives the best performance? Because we have tested both WP Engine and Synthesis, we can give you actual performance numbers.
We tested the load times using http://tools.pingdom.com using the same Dallas, Texas, USA location within minutes of each other and using the same Content Delivery Network powered by MAXCDN.
WP Engine - Performance
Synthesis - Performance
Well, we have some how reached an anti climatic end to the burning question, which is the best WordPress hosting provider, WP Engine or Synthesis? Looking at the load times from both providers, both offer sub-second load times, something which not many WordPress hosting providers can boast about.
In terms of quality and performance, both did amazingly well even though Synthesis edged WP Engine by a mere 150 milliseconds. While both WP Engine and Synthesis are very much different, they are also very much alike.
The final decision has to be made based on individual website requirements. If you need a staging site without interrupting your main site then WP Engine is the obvious choice. If you require a faster support response and more visitors for a lower price, then choose Synthesis. End of the day, you cannot go wrong with either one. For your convenience, we have summed up the key strengths of each WordPress hosting provider.