Such a popular term and yet so confusing, what the heck is “managed hosting” or “managed WordPress hosting”?!
WHERE does it come from and WHAT does it mean? And more specifically for website owners, what part of the hosting is “managed”?
Let’s clear up this ambiguous term once and for all!
The SHORT ANSWER:
- Traditionally, “managed” was a term used for the VPS industry. A “managed VPS” meant that your VPS came preconfigured and had an admin to configure things for you so you never had to deal with that yucky command line. A regular VPS (un-managed VPS) was like renting an empty UHAUL, and a managed VPS was like renting a UHAUL that came with 2 helpers and plenty of packing/lifting tools. For a long time….the word “managed” was thought of as something premium, high performance, and convenient for non-technical users.
- Well very recently (2016?), the SHARED HOSTING industry stole the word “managed” and relabeled their SHARED HOSTING service as “MANAGED HOSTING”. Sure, some companies did improve their shared hosting to make it perform better. But others only changed the label and nothing else. Anyway, “managed hosting” today is basically “premium shared hosting”.
- And today, we now have the unclear distinction of MANAGED VPS (which is a VPS server that comes with pre-configuration and sys-admin support), and MANAGED HOSTING (which is higher performance shared hosting).
- Cynics say the term “managed” is just a gimmicky industry term. And there’s truth to it…as many “managed hosting” providers are hardly any better than typical crappy shared hosting. And even some “managed VPS server” providers are hardly any better than even un-managed VPS, heck some managed VPS aren’t much better than even shared hosting!
Want to learn all the nitty gritty? Read on!
The origin of the term “MANAGED HOSTING”
Back in the days, we had mainly 2 kinds of webhosting:
- Shared hosting – hosting multiple clients on the same physical server.
- Dedicated server – hosting only one client on a physical server.
If you didn’t already know. Shared hosting was super cheap ($5-10/month) but really poor performance, reliability, and security. Dedicated server hosting ($200-$5000, or more) was high performance but really expensive and over kill for many people.
Many serious businesses were stuck needing a solution in the middle. They wanted a super fast and reliable server, but they didn’t have enough traffic or make enough money to justify a dedicated server.
Then came the (virtual private server) VPS revolution!
Sometime around the early 2000’s, virtualization technology was rapidly innovated and improved upon to the point of mass adoption across various use cases. Virtualization allowed for two main functions, which in themselves allowed for dozens of other use cases.
FUNCTION #1 – Simulating different computing environments:
- Running different operating systems on top of each other (Windows on Linux, Windows on OS X, etc).
- Running different software off other operating systems. For example, creating a virtual “fake” Windows environment on your OS X so that you can run a program/game made only for Windows.
- Testing/using different environments without requiring another physical machine for them.
FUNCTION #2 – Simulating multiple computing environments:
- Having one physical machine acting as multiple machines.
- Allowing multiple users to log into their own “virtual space” off the same server.
- Allowing multiple “computers” or “servers” while only having one physical machine.
As you can see. This virtualization was the very thing we needed in the webhosting industry! Thanks to virtualization technology, we can now have “virtual dedicated servers” or more commonly known as “virtual private servers” (VPS). This was incredible since we now had a perfect middleground solution for webhosting that was still high-performance (much better than shared hosting) but not as expensive as dedicated hosting. Except only there was one problem…
The problem with VPS hosting
The “problem” with VPS hosting at the time was that it wasn’t user friendly. VPS hosting wasn’t a beefed-up shared hosting account, with all the user-friendly software and control panels.
It was more like a poor-man’s dedicated server, and worked EXACTLY like a dedicated server. You had to do everything from the command line, using SSH and root logins, pick your Linux distro and compiling modules. EWWW, what’s that?!
It seemed the incredible solution we finally had wasn’t so incredible after all because it was still too technical for most people. It also required skills that most people and even web developers and programmers didn’t have…SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATION SKILLS (aka “sys admin”). Only the Linux guys knew how to manage all this server stuff and put software on it to make it as user-friendly as your typical shared hosting.
The reason for this was because you were buying your server from datacenter companies and not necessarily webhosting companies. It’s like buying ingredients from the supermarket vs ordering food from a restaurant. The restaurant (webhosting companies) put everything together for you, but the supermarkets (datacenters) only give you the ingredient.
When you order a VPS from the datacenter, they only give access to an empty server. They don’t set any software up on it. They don’t answer any questions over the phone on how to do anything. They also don’t have tech support. The term for this kind of naked “hosting service” is UNMANAGED. And by nature, all VPS hosting is “unmanaged” by default. It is up to you to decide which software and configurations to put on it according to your needs. Lots of freedom but also lots of knowledge required.
The birth of MANAGED VPS hosting
When VPS hosting (aka “unmanaged VPS hosting”) first came out, there seemed to be 2 kinds of buyers. There were true sys-admin guys who knew what they were doing…they knew where to get a quality VPS and install all their special configurations just as they normally would on a dedicated server without paying the high price a dedicated server. It was lots of fun for them to use and very cheap in comparison. They could set up several VPS, in different locations in the world, for different uses, and with the settings they liked.
The other kind of VPS buyer was a tech-savvy website owner just trying to get better webhosting performance but never knew how to set up a server. They were pulling their hair out trying to follow online guides that never seemed to fit the very latest software…web-server software updates VERY QUICKLY, mind you…it’s the only way to stay ahead of new technology and new hacks coming out every week. Even if they managed to get their server running, they were still completely helpless if anything ever broke or they never knew how to really fine-tune their server settings to fit their application needs. At best their servers were running and their websites were loading faster but not as well as they could be.
This market situation paved way for growth in 2 services:
- Managed VPS hosting (server + support) – you buy your server from one place and it also comes with server setup and support.
- Server management plans (support only) – you pay someone X amount every month to manage your server. They set it up (to be functional, fast, and secure), make changes as needed, and take care of any issues that arise.
Managed VPS hosting is kind of like buying a service warranty with your new car, where the manufacturer is both the dealership and also car mechanic. Getting a VPS plan and server management plan separately is like buying your car from one place and then going to an independent 3rd-party auto mechanic for service.
So why would anyone want to go with anything other than managed VPS hosting? Isn’t that way more convenient than getting a VPS and then server management separately? Hehe…it’s a matter of specialization and customization. It’s the same reason why some of us prefer to cook rather than to eat restaurant food. It’s because you don’t trust the restaurant to use the best ingredients, or maybe because you don’t like how they put everything together.
It’s a common occurrence when buying a combined solution that the seller doesn’t specialize in one of more parts of the solution. To be exact, it might be the physical server that isn’t very good or the service is not to the degree of your needs; or even both.
Datacenter expertise vs Server Management expertise
It’s important to distinguish these 2 separate specializations:
- Datacenter expertise – the ability to run thousands of physical machines in a properly powered, cooled, and secured environment. It’s a matter of physics, chemistry, and science. Lots of physical-world stuff working with live machines and then also network administration (both in physical and digital world).
- Server management expertise – the ability set up and configure server software to run specific applications. Choosing modules, tweaking settings to give best performance, securing software against cyber-attacks.
In general, datacenters simply want to manage physical machines and then lease them out individually (dedicated servers) or in portions (VPS). They don’t want to deal with software stuff or tech support. That stuff is a nuisance to them. They don’t care to keep up with the many types of software and software configurations out there. They just want to host and resell physical servers and that’s it! Their only job is making sure your physical server is running (and also that you’re not abusing their network bandwidth).
Server-management guys only want to deal with software stuff, they don’t want to deal with the physical aspect of running a server and hosting it in their basement/host or rackspace in a datacenter. They don’t want to manage the server in person, putting parts together or having to replace failed hard drives, etc. They’d rather just be dealing with the software part. And if there’s any issue, they complain or trust their datacenter to take care of it in a timely manner.
So that’s fantastic…we now have guys who want to handle the PHYSICAL aspects of the server…and then we also have guys who want to handle the DIGITAL aspects of the server… but who handles the HUMAN aspects of the server??!!!
“Managed VPS hosting”, whether you get it from one place or two different places, seems almost like the perfect solution…butttttttt…WHO THE HECK deals with the customers???
Finally…we arrived at “MANAGED HOSTING”!
There’s an amusing realization that webhosting service is more than just having a powerful reliable physical machine and perfectly configured software. It’s that most people will still need the typical webhosting support! They need to know how to do basic things like make changes to their website configuration, or database, or emails, or URL rewrites and a million other basic website-related questions that they don’t know who else to ask!
Well there’s a joke we have in the webhosting industry that some webhosting companies are “server companies” and others are “support companies”. And it’s true! The server companies focus on putting together really powerful servers and reselling them for profit. The support companies only focus on having great marketing and great service, but use subpar servers (for profit).
Well the “support companies” have once again triumphed with their incredible marketing skills. They took the “managed VPS hosting” label from the datacenter industry and shortened it to “managed hosting”, then used that new label in place of their “shared hosting” service. As always, consumers pretty much fall for any new thing promising to be the cure to all their troubles.
WHAT?! Yes, you read that right. “Managed hosting” is actually still “shared hosting”.
OK OK OK! Let’s be fair. Managed hosting, is technically still “shared hosting”, but not exactly the same as typical shared hosting. The even harder part to understand is that there are varying levels of “managed hosting”.
- BEST “managed hosting” – placed on VPS (which themselves resides on powerful physical servers), using performance-optimized configurations, with generous dedicated resource limits, and comes with quality great tech support. (Kinsta, and then to a much lesser degree, WPengine/Flywheel.)
- MEDIOCRE “managed hosting” – usually placed on VPS or mediocre physical servers, using efficiency-optimized configurations, restrictive resource limits, and average tech support. (SiteGround, A2.)
- WORST “managed hosting” – placed on crap servers, horrible restrictive configurations, only weak shared resources, and awful tech support. Basically, it’s just regular “shared hosting” in disguise as supposedly better “managed hosting.
I know what you’re think. Holy cow! DAMN, that’s confusing! How are we supposed to know who’s good and who’s bad? How do we know who’s decent managed hosting and who’s bad? Every webhost promises to be the best and that’s why this world is so frustrating for many people, even the tech-savvy ones!
But wait!…some “Managed hosting” providers are actually “Managed PANEL Hosts”
WHAT?! Another group?!
Yes…we have “Managed VPS hosting”, “Managed hosting”, and “Managed panel hosting”. That last term is one that I made up just now, there isn’t a universally coined label for them yet and they’re kind of operating under the “managed hosting” label because it’s so popular.
These guys are basically selling you a control panel that you install on top of whatever [unmanaged] VPS plan you purchase. The control panel software automatically sets everything up and already pre-configured. Everything is ready to go and comes with user-friendly control panels. The idea is their automated software is quite cheap and you save a lot of money not having to get a sys-admin or server management plan. They don’t have to run as much staff, and that means profits for them and cost-savings for you. If you’re tech savvy enough that the control panel does everything you need without having to speak to a live human, it’s a very cost-effective solution.
MANAGED VPS Hosting vs MANAGED Hosting vs MANAGED Panel Hosting
Wait a second, which is better?
In 99% of cases, managed VPS hosting is almost always better than managed hosting. And depending how things are setup, managed panel hosting is very similar to managed VPS hosting in performance but much cheaper.
But you have to know how to compare correctly! I’ll list some examples in order of (best to worst) so you know what details to look for.
- VERY GOOD – Kinsta managed hosting – good performance, good physical servers, good settings, great support and features.
- GOOD – Gridpane/RunCloud managed panel hosting – good performance, good physical servers, great pricing and features, limited support.
- OK – WPengine managed hosting – OK performance and physical servers, OK settings, good support and features, some annoying restrictions.
- OK – Siteground managed VPS – OK performance (weak for VPS), average physical servers, good support, but over-priced.
- OK – Cloudways managed panel hosting – OK performance (not robust for heavy sites) due to mediocre settings, good features and support. Cheap pricing for starter plans but overpriced for bigger plans.
- OK – ServerPilot managed panel hosting – OK performance, good features, limited support.
- WEAK – Siteground managed hosting – weak performance, limited server resources, good support, slightly over-priced.
- TERRIBLE – InMotion managed VPS hosting – terrible performance and servers, horrible support. The worst VPS (even weaker than decent shared hosting).
- TERRIBLE – InMotion shared hosting – terrible performance and reliability, poor support. Their solution to everything is to upsell you to the next bigger plan.
- WORST – Godaddy managed hosting – horrible, it’s just their shared hosting but re-labelled.
Where to get decent MANAGED HOSTING?
Get MANAGED hosting if:
- You have only 1 to 5 sites.
- Not more than 100k monthly visitors
- Need or like having tech support.
- Your sites aren’t that big. (Under 10GB.)
Get MANAGED VPS hosting if:
- You have many sites.
- Lots of traffic, over 100k monthly visitors.
- Need or like having tech support.
- Need or like having lots of space. (80GB or more.)
- Like having more control of your server stack. (Like for installing custom modules.)
Get MANAGED panel hosting if:
- You have many sites.
- Lots of traffic.
- Don’t need tech support.
- Need or like having lots of space. (80GB or more.)
- Like super cheap pricing.
Check out my helpful hosting comparison guide: BEST WordPress Hosting Reviews or even our inhouse webhosting service: JohnnyVPS webhosting.
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