As evidenced by this blog, I switch hosting providers often. Last year I switched from a managed VPS solution to a self-managed VPS for my WordPress sites. This solution was better than the one before it, however it had its own issues, and the bigger the site, the slower it got.
Running your own VPS comes with a lot of challenges, and I used to love chasing rabbits like performance issues, security hardening, and backups. These days I would rather not do that and spend more time developing or other things. That’s why static sites are so appealing to me, I no longer have to worry about the hosting.
I realized I wanted a more managed solution where the server is maintained for me and I don’t have to worry about security and stability.
I spent some time looking at the following options, all of which are similarly priced. They bill by “views” and site installs. Views are counted as unique visitors in a day, so page views do not count towards your allowance (side note: all of these services would benefit by being more clear what a “view” is on the pricing page).
I first looked at Flywheel as I use their local WordPress development app. The dashboard looked slick.
Reviews pointed out that Flywheel had recently been acquired by WP Engine. Support and performance had apparently gone downhill since the acquisition.
They use Google Cloud Compute (GCP) for their platform.
WP Engine #
The initial feeling was positive, as I used to walk by their office in downtown Austin every day on my way to work and I knew a couple people who worked there. They’ve been in business for a long time. Their solution looked solid and they use Amazon Web Services (AWS). Their dashboard was outdated yet functional.
Kinsta has done an insane job at search engine gaming (some call that SEO). They have written tons of articles about WordPress and have frequently been in the top five results for my queries. I’ve emailed with Brian Li who works at Kinsta about his CloudFlare Workers setup for his blog in past.
My initial feeling towards Kinsta was very positive as a result, however when I got down to the details and compared them to WP Engine, they came out on top just on offering alone in my opinion. They offer similarly-priced services and performance from benchmarks was really good.
After reading this performance review, and comparing overage pricing, I decided to go with Kinsta.
For overage pricing, Kinsta and Flywheel charge $1 per 1000 unique visits over the plan allowance, and WP Engine charges double the price, at $2.
In addition, Kinsta has its own local development solution called DevKinsta, and I like it better than LocalWP because it uses Docker and doesn’t have upsells like LocalWP has been plagued with lately.
Kinsta offers paid migration as well as a helpful do-it-yourself guide, however I decided to use ManageWP’s cloning tool. This made migration a lot easier, and Kinsta gives you all the SSH and database details right from the admin panel.
ManageWP funnily enough would complete migration saying “Cloning failed” on one part of the page and then I’d get a notification saying “Cloning successful”. The latter was more accurate.
Pointing domains was the one hiccup I encountered with migration to Kinsta. I use CloudFlare on all my domains, and Kinsta relies on a CNAME method which appears to take forever to propagate. They do have a notice saying up to 24hrs, however I suspect there was another issue at play, as I’ve used the same method with other services with much faster propagation.
I said no to long DNS propagations, this is 2021 and I’m spoiled by CloudFlare’s relatively fast propagation time. I waited 2hrs before I decided to go the A record route with the site IP address, which propagated within 2 minutes.
I checked with Kinsta support on the matter and apparently there is no advantage between the two methods.
Results and conclusion #
I am beyond impressed with Kinsta’s server performance. Even on a good day for my VPS, loading WordPress’s backend would sometimes hitch and take a couple seconds, especially on the pages or posts list.
Front-end performance is similar to my VPS, except it’s consistently faster on uncached pages. Loading a post from years ago that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day loads just as fast as the homepage, which is a big difference.
Big queries are much faster too. I cleared out a site’s contact form spam messages (200) within 2-3s, while my VPS would have hung for 30s and MySQL probably would have crashed.
With WordPress, it’s always best to use the least amount of plugins as possible, to improve performance and minimize your attack surface. Since Kinsta takes care of the security and has a “hack fix guarantee”, I was able to remove a really heavy security plugin, as well as a SMTP mail fix plugin.
I am happy to pay the increased hosting costs compared to running a VPS. With a VPS, you pay less financially and pay more with your time. With a managed solution like Kinsta, you pay more financially and pay much less with your time.
These time savings can potentially earn you more money as well, because of all the time saved with Kinsta from not having to mess with VPS issues.
A few years ago, I would have scoffed at using Kinsta, WP Engine, or Flywheel, simply because of the financial price. I really think the peace of mind and the performance is worth it though, especially when client sites are involved.