Case Study: WP Engine Managed Hosting vs Linode $5 VPS + Cloudflare

Post written by Dan Dulaney
On Thursday, June 8th, 2017

Overview

Premise: Compare and contrast one of the top of the line managed WordPress hosting offerings with self-managed, fully optimized VPS offering + a free CDN.

Methodology: To ensure that this comparison was as accurate as possible, we chose to use an actual production site that was currently hosted with WP Engine. This site was then mirrored onto a subdomain on alin optimized Linode VPS with Cloudflare. No intrinsic changes or optimizations were made to the site assets or site itself other than the server and Cloudflare, to keep the tests equitable.

To ensure that we tested actual use cases, we considered the audience (global), and then tested loading speed using several tools targeting both setups from across the globe.

Technology Stacks

WP Engine

  • Storage: 20 GB
  • Pricing: $99 / mo
  • Stack: Proprietary
  • SSL: Free
  • Support: Included, excellent
  • Panel: Proprietary Panel
  • CDN: Included


Linode + Cloudflare

  • Storage: 20 GB
  • Pricing: $5 / mo ($7.50 / mo with VPS snapshots, suggested)
  • Stack: Nginx, FastCGI Caching, Memcached, PHP7 on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS
  • SSL: Free (self-signed cert + Cloudflare Full cert)
  • Support: Self-run
  • Panel: None, unless you choose to install one.
  • CDN: Cloudflare CDN (free)


 

The Tests

Category 1: Ease of Use

Hands down, this one goes to WP Engine. With a well designed panel, and click to install options as well as 24/7 phone support, WP Engine has staff on hand to guide you through any question or issue.

Linode, on the other hand, is something you’ll be setting up by yourself, with no support beyond having the VPS there. The lack of panel can also throw new users for a loop. You’ll be doing it all yourself, often through terminal, from the OS installation to the server installation to the security. This is not for the feint of heart! With that being said, there are many well-written guides out there for setting this up and configuring it, if you have a little familiarity with Linux terminal, or want to hire someone to set it up for you.

Winner: WP Engine

Category 2: Monthly Cost

With WP Engine ringing in at $99 per month, and Linode coming in at $5 per month, or just 1 / 20th of the cost, Linode has a clear advantage here.

However, if you aren’t well versed in Linux server management, be sure to set aside part of your budget for the server setup, and any updates / maintenance that might be needed.

Winner: Linode + Cloudflare

Category 3: Support

WP Engine again takes this category with its 24/7 phone support offering. With your Linode VPS, YOU are the support, unless you hire someone to manage it for you.

Winner: WP Engine

Final Category: Performance

This is the one we’ve all been waiting for! How well can a $5 VPS perform against a top of the line managed WordPress host offering? The answer is surprisingly well.

Let’s start with local testing, from within the North American continent, using GTMetrix fully loaded time (all local AND external assets have finished loading):

First we have the Linode VPS, followed by the WPEngine results:

That’s a 37% reduction in page load time for the $5 Linode VPS over WP Engine.

Since this site has a global audience, let’s try something a bit further from home, and run our tests from Stockholm, Sweden. To avoid any site bias for testing, let’s see what we can do with Pingdom’s speed testing tools, and what they say.

Linode $5 VPS:

WP Engine $99 Plan:

Again, we see a 35% reduction in load time by using the Linode VPS over WP Engine’s plan, even on a more global scale.

Winner: Linode + Cloudflare

Other Considerations

One of the main considerations when considering hosting is not just load speed, but how much traffic it can handle. The WP Engine plan supports up to 100,000 visits per month, as shown on their plans page.

Since there is no built in limit for the Linode VPS, we’ll have to get a little creative, and do some load testing of our own using https://loader.io. To get an about comparability, one way to approach load testing is an equal dispersal. 100,000 visitors per month is a lowly 2.3 visitors per minute. Not only is that low enough to not be worth testing, it is not likely to be accurate at all, since often times you’ll see more traffic during peak hours.

Let’s start off with a low-medium traffic estimate, at ~100 visitors per minute. With 99 visitors (https://loader.io has some variation in the actual number of hits tested), we have a zero percent error rate, with an average server response time of only 27ms.

Most likely, though, you’re either getting more traffic than that, or would like your site to be able to handle traffic spikes. Let’s try ~1000 visitors in one minute. Again, we have 100% success rate, and 28ms average response time. It’s holding strong.

Let’s really push it now: 5,000 visitors over 1 minute, or around 90 visitors per second! We start to see a little bit of push here, with a slightly higher average response time at 34 ms, and a 0.1% error rate, or 3 out of 4999 that timed out. With 5,000 visitors in a second, this is fantastic for a low cost solution. With this sort of rate of visits, we would have completely burned through our entire month’s allotment in 20 minutes using WP Engine.

Another consideration will be the plugins that you use on your site. Some plugins use .htaccess files to control pieces of plugin behavior. While .htaccess files work on Apache based servers, servers running just nginx as we have on this Linode will need any applicable rules rewritten and added to the site’s nginx configuration block. If this is the case for any of your plugins, it may be worth getting a developer to look at your plugins and setup to help you configure the rules.

Conclusion

Which host you choose will depend on your technical comfort level, and what you value most. If you want something that’s easier to set up, with support on hand 24/7, WP Engine may be for you. If you want blazing fast speeds at budget costs, and have either the technical know-how or are willing to find a developer to manage it for you, a $5 Linode VPS + Cloudflare is the way to go!

About the Author:
Dan Dulaney is a high school math teacher and a freelance web developer. He specializes in Gravity Forms, site optimization, and enjoys contributing plugins to the WordPress.org repository.

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