Managed VPS or WordPress Specific Hosting?

Hi!

I'm trying to decide between a Managed VPS or a WordPress Specific Hosting service, specifically WiredTree Managed VPS or Synthesis "Professional" - which is also a managed VPS from what I can tell.

We are taking over a WordPress blog that gets about 100,000 unique visitors a month, and we're hoping to grow that number.

I have a limited tech background, that is super out of date at this point, and I'm hoping to mostly focus on content, so I thought the added support of a WordPress specific host might be worthwhile, but I also don't want to shoot myself in the foot with limited server side access, so I thought I would come here and ask people with more experience if that lack of flexibility will an issue.

Any advice would be helpful!
Thanks,
Joline
JolineZAsked:
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Jason C. LevineDon't talk to me.Commented:
specifically WiredTree Managed VPS or Synthesis "Professional" - which is also a managed VPS from what I can tell.

Correct.  WordPress-specific hosting is still shared (or VPS) hosting with the key difference being that the server has a number of optimizations in place that really help WordPress speed and security.  The usual suspect in these is installing Varnish caching and configuring all WordPress installs to use it automatically. There will be other tweaks to the MySQL servers, base WordPress config, and PHP to provide an optimal-for-WordPress environment.  

The better WordPress-specific hosting plans will also manage all updates of the Core (and sometimes themes and plugins), provide automatic backups of your site, and some form of security hardening and recovery.  The best-in-class WordPress ISPs (WP Engine, my opinion) also should provide a testing instance so you can break your site in a safe and private manner before killing your production site and also will disallow certain plugins for speed or security reasons.

General VPS hosting does not typically provide any of the above but you might be able to add it yourself...depends on the exact host and what they allow/don't allow.  Accordingly, you tend to pay more for WordPress specific hosting.

added support of a WordPress specific host might be worthwhile, but I also don't want to shoot myself in the foot with limited server side access,

That's not usually a problem.  I host several sites with WP Engine and I can get shell access (though not root) just fine.  The big limitation is not being able to use most of the locally based Related Posts plugins (think YARPP) because of the thrashing that those plugins give the database.  But for every plugin denied, they provide an alternative that does work so I don't really miss things.  

We are taking over a WordPress blog that gets about 100,000 unique visitors a month, and we're hoping to grow that number.

It's not the number of people you get per month but more:

1) How many page views (e.g. database requests) are you serving up?

2) How interactive is the site?  Do you 100,000 anonymous users that just consume content and go or 100,000 users logging in each month and messing about.  The latter is significantly more strenuous on your server...

3) How much $$$ is budgeting for hosting?

To give you a counter-example, I run a WordPress site that gets ~ 250,000 users/month of which 240,000 access precisely ONE page and leave.  The other 10,000 users are more engaged but the load generated by both groups combined is not that bad. I'm hosted on a VPS and simply use W3 Total Cache to serve up a cached version of the super-popular content to anonymous users whilst logged in users see their stuff uncached and dynamic.

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JolineZAuthor Commented:
Thanks so much Jason - what a huge help.

I actually had enough money set aside for a dedicated server ($150 was my estimated budget!) so either of these options is cheaper. Wired Tree is appx $60 per month, while Synthesis is $97 but with higher memory and bandwidth, so it's not quite apples to oranges.

The visitors tend to go to other pages on the site, reading related articles, but they won't be logging in - the most interactivity we would have is commenting, which I believe we're doing through disqus.

Given your advice, I'm going to recommend we use a WordPress specific host and compare WordPress Engine with Synthesis. The in-built optimization is worth the extra money and I got the sense from your answers that (outside of costs) there isn't really a downside.

Thanks so much for the detailed response - it really clarified my thoughts.
Joline
Jason C. LevineDon't talk to me.Commented:
The in-built optimization is worth the extra money and I got the sense from your answers that (outside of costs) there isn't really a downside.

Yes, it is worth it and no, outside of cost there is no real downside.  Just make sure you compare two or three different plans to make sure you get the best bang for your buck.

Synthesis is run by Copyblogger (the folks who make the Genesis framework) and while I don't host with them, I do know them to be serious, professional, and very customer-service oriented.  My guess is they may be the most expensive plan you look at.

I've already professed my love for WP Engine above.  You're looking at one of their first two plan tiers which should be well under $100/month.

If you want to run a little bit of a lower-cost operation while you get your growth underway, consider DreamPress from Dreamhost.  It's their version of WP Engine/Synthesis and probably the cheapest plan you will find but more than good enough to handle your expected loads. You could go with them to start and plan on transitioning to higher cost services as you grow if money is a little tight.

Some other things you should know about WordPress specific hosting:

1) Domain email typically is not included.  The servers can send mail using the PHP functions (WordPress password notifs, form submissions, etc) but if you need an ISP that also provides POP/IMAP/SMTP services, that's not usually available with these plans.  

2) Building off #1, strongly consider signing for a service like Mandrill (http://www.mandrill.com/) and adding a SMTP plugin (https://wordpress.org/plugins/wp-mail-smtp/) to WordPress to offload all site-generated email to Mandrill.  This will a) reduce the load on the server even further; b) increase delivery rates into the high 90% ranges; and c) prevent your site from being IP blacklisted because a spammer somehow got loose in your WordPress.  Mandrill is free if you send less than 12,000 emails per month so it's a great start.

3) One other thing that may set WP Engine apart from Synthesis is that you can add a CDN to WP Engine hosting fairly quickly and without any tech knowledge (it's just a paid add-on from them).  If you really want to see a boost in speed, a CDN is the way to go.
JolineZAuthor Commented:
Thanks so much - I will look into Mandrill - that's great advice.

I host with Dreamhost now, so I will look into them specifically - they've been great and very supportive of my little websites. I'll also go ahead and look at a couple of the Wordpress specific hosts - I'm far more confident now that I've narrowed it down.

Thanks also for the tip about CDN - I'd never thought of that and I wouldn't have even known to look.
Jason C. LevineDon't talk to me.Commented:
If you are on Dreamhost now (I am too with a VPS and two Dedicated boxes) then definitely look at DreamPress if for no other reason than the migration is the simplest possible...they just Handle It :)
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