Most of the time, when we talk about hosting large WordPress sites, the conversation starts at VIP. If you don’t know, VIP is the Automattic solution for enterprise WordPress hosting. It’s claim to fame is all of the well-known news, blog and media sites it hosts (like CNN, Times, and TED).
But hosting with VIP can bring some constraints because the infrastructure that powers VIP is the same as that which powers all of WordPress.com – and that means you can’t just throw any kind of code onto the platform. Every bit of code you want to deploy must be evaluated to make sure it won’t do harm to the overall platform – and to make sure that support won’t be overwhelmed with one specific site. After all, they’re also managing millions of other sites.
Beyond that, the reality is that these days people are using WordPress for more than blogs, magazine and news sites. Complex applications are being built on WordPress and alternative hosting solutions may be what you’re looking for.
Wait, what kind of site requires enterprise WordPress hosting?
When I hear the question, I often have to start by making a distinction. A site and an application are not the same thing.
A site has a lot of pages, with a lot of images, and can have tons of traffic. The problem you’re solving there is scale and caching to make sure that millions of people can browse and read the site’s content without crashing the whole thing. That’s a big deal.
Thankfully WordPress and several hosts have worked on a lot of solutions to manage cache so that database calls can be limited. When you add a CDN like MaxCDN, you can make your site even more scalable.
An application is a bit different. It needs to manage the state of the system, and your engagement, even when something goes wrong. The easiest explanation I give people goes like this.
Imagine you’re at Fortune and you’re reading an article. You click to see the next article. It doesn’t load. So you refresh and it loads. No problem. If it doesn’t load, you refresh to the home page and find the article again. No issue.
Now imagine you’re in the middle of booking an airline ticket to see your parents at Thanksgiving and you’re at the part where you’re picking a seat. But the seat you picked just got taken by someone else. If the site routes you back to the home page to start again, you’re going to be pretty frustrated, right? It can’t do that.
So sites and applications are different. And while you can use Cloudflare, MaxCDN, and/or a cache plugin to help you scale a site, you’re likely going to need something a little different to scale an application that’s running on WordPress.
At the company where I work, we build both sites & applications. Most of them need enterprise WordPress hosting. And many of them aren’t a perfect fit for VIP, which is why I’ve been digging into the players that my customers will need.
So what other choices do you have for enterprise WordPress hosting?
I believe that today there really are three enterprise WordPress hosts that deliver the value, support, security, and scale that are needed for large WordPress sites and applications.
Let me start with the one that will make you scratch your head.
Yes, I said Microsoft. I know that to some people, that’s like me saying that MySpace is a serious player today in the social networks. But hear me out. Over the last several months, we’ve been digging into the infrastructure for Azure Apps. They’re doing some interesting things, for sure. And by stepping up to the plate later than everyone else, they’ve been able to take the best of what players like Amazon are doing and make it better.
They’re not known for their marketing, so it’s no surprise that they’ve named everything Azure. Finding and figuring out what you’re buying takes a second. But it’s faster than trying to spin up a highly scalable solution on Amazon directly (EC2, S3, etc). And while it’s hard to believe that Microsoft is a strong player in the open source and WordPress world, there’s another reality to consider.
More than almost anyone, Microsoft has been working with enterprise clients, doing enterprise things, with enterprise solutions, and under enterprise contracts. Know what I mean? They get it. They understand how the contracts work. They understand how the pricing works. They understand the kinds of conversations, meetings, and customizations are needed by enterprise customers.
So while they may surprise you, and their offering may surprise you, you shouldn’t skip past them.
I mentioned how hard it is to create your own scalable solution on Amazon a few minutes ago. Thankfully you don’t have to do that because Pagely exists. If you don’t know, Pagely sits on top of Amazon, as one of their premiere partners. They offer WordPress hosting for small and large companies alike.
At Crowd Favorite, we recommend Pagely, particularly when an enterprise is doing more than just WordPress and have other parts of their system already hosting on Amazon. It makes perfect sense since it means both parts of their system will be there, in the same place.
When you want the scale that Amazon brings, but also want WordPress expertise, you don’t want to talk to Amazon people about your infrastructure. That’s when you want to talk to Josh – the other Josh – at Pagely. Joshua Strebel is the CEO. But the Josh that you want to talk to about your infrastructure is their CTO, Josh Eichorn – the former director of engineering at StumbleUpon. The dude knows his stuff.
When it comes to support, neither Microsoft nor Pagely have currently matched the team size (hundreds of staff) dedicated to helping clients manage their sites.
This past weekend a client of ours – doing a massive amount of transactions on WooCommerce monthly – started having an issue. The number of WP Engine staff on that ticket went into the double digits as time went on and the issue was handed to other staff as shifts ended. We’re talking about a highly complex issue that was passed between multiple senior people, at all hours of the night and day. This is the kind of support that is required by enterprise clients.
Of course, support isn’t just a technical matter. Sales support is critical as well if you’re looking for help to articulate the benefits of WordPress in the enterprise. What I can tell you is that the dedicated enterprise sales team at WP Engine is larger and more experienced than any we’ve seen in the WordPress ecosystem.
You have options
If you already have a Microsoft agreement for Windows or Office 365, chances are, you may be able to get a great deal on Azure. Either way, their platform supports more than just WordPress, if your project goes beyond a standard site and needs to integrate with other hosted solutions. Check them out.
If you need scaling, or already have an agreement with Amazon for infrastructure, or if you expect your project to grow and want all that Amazon can offer but you don’t want to turn the work into a DIY project, Pagely will likely be the best fit for you.
And if you want round-the-clock support from a large and dedicated team, or need sales or account infrastructure that doesn’t exist elsewhere, the WP Engine folks are likely your best bet.
The good news? You have options.