Web Hosting & Control Panel

Finding the Right Host

Currently I am using Hostgator as a hoster for my websites.
But I am very disappointed with them, the main drawback is the constant downtimes my sites get due to their shaky servers.

I used shared hosting, then upgraded to reseller hosting, the downtimes happen every now and then, the latest one was for more than 12 hours!

I must move my sites from that hosting.

I want to move my sites to a robust hosting service, one which won't fall, and if it did, it will have a good internal load balancer.



Searching for a good web hosting is difficult as the web is spammed with advertised ones, due to the large number of affiliates out there.

Anyway, my search, did give me some results.

I considered the following:
Amazon EC2
Amazon Lightsail
Google Cloud Computing
Vultr
Digital Ocean
Linode


Amazon EC2 and Google's cloud computing, which looked like my uneducated best guesses, fell from the race due to the complexity of their pricing model.
They have a nice price model, where I pay only for what I use, but that makes it very difficult to understand how much I will pay at the end of the month
Another risk they throw at my way is the fear that some spike (due to a hacker or a bad bot for example) will throw my resources out the roof and I will get charged thousands of dollars.


Which leaves me with simpler solutions, where I pay for predefined VMs, with a known amount of CPU, memory and bandwidth.


I like the option of Amazon lightsail, as I feel safe using Amazon
On the other hand I had a good experience in the past with Vultr and Digital Ocean

I chose working with Amazon's LightSail

Controlling the Web Server

After choosing my host, I will get a clean and nice linux server, which I can't really do much without a good web host control panel.

Choosing the right one is a very important decision, as with it I will control my sites, thus I need one which is secured, sophisticated but clear and understandable and the price is another consideration which highly affects my decision.

Before choosing a good web server controller, I need to map my requirements, so without further ado, these are my expectations:
  • Highly maintained control panel
  • Simple SSL integration (with let's encrypt probably)
  • Reseller functionality (As I want my different domains to be separated as different user accounts)
  • Functionality that I need (File explorer, FTP, mail, DB management, app installation like wordpress)
  • Clear and understandable interface

I created a table with the requirements and the candidates, those which didn't pass the minimum requirements I have striked through

NameResellerMaintainedFreeOpensourceSSLGUIFTPWebMailFile ExplorerDB ManagementApp InstallerOther
FroxlorYesYesYesYesYesYesYesNoNoYesNo Alpha/Beta stage
VirtualMinYesYesReseller CostsYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYes 
ISP ConfigYesYesYesYesYesYesYesYesNoYesYes 
VestaCP           Hacked, Bad code
AjentiNo           
zPanel Dead          
Sentora 2015          
TinyCPNo For NowNo        
aaPanelNoYesYesYes        
OpenPanel Dead          
Kloxo-MR           No Official Website
AlternC 2017         No Official Website

As you can see from the table above most of the candidates were strikedthrough as they don't have one of the essential features I need in my web control panel, like the option to have a reseller account (as I have several domains and I want them to be fully separated from each other) or because they are just not maintained anymore which is a really important factor!

So only three candidates got to the finals:
ISPConfig
Froxlor
VirtualMin

Although Foxlor seems like the worst of the three, I do have a good hunch about it, I really love its simplicity and clean UI, but that comes with a price of not having advanced functionality like a file manager, webmail and a DB browser (PHPMyAdmin?) to mention the big ones, but it is not only these features, there are a lot of small features missing, like choosing between several versions of PHP packages or having a simple gui to make the server compress all of its resources when sending them to the user (I got spoiled by CPanel...), and there is the huge problem that it is work-in-progress, the official version is 0.10.15 which doesn't add to the good feeling of using it (Beta/Alpha stage).

VirtualMin which sits upon WebMin (as a plugin) with the Authentic theme is a very good candidate as it does have all of the needed features, but it is complicated to learn, and there is that matter of paying to get the reseller feature (as well as premium support which I probably won't use much), which is 9$ per month, it is also worth mentioning that webmin/usermin/virtual seems like a complicated suite which doesn't help me feel comfortable, another downside is the site without a demo version which doesn't let me see it in action before I install it, which is a shame as virtualMin might work for me with regular admin/users roles, so I am shlving this one for now but I might come back to it.

I thought about starting with Froxlor without the advanced features, which might be a blessing in disguise as I really believe in the "Less is more" agenda, and it will make my sites much more secure, not having all of those potential risks, I guess I can manage without a file explorer using the FTP, and I can manage without a PHPMyAdmin using Adminer which is a one file php util (While deleting it after each use to remove security risks), for webmail, I might install roundcube or just use an offline application as a mail client and for the APP installer, I actually only will need to install wordpress, so I can find a simple script for that or just install it manually. - So not having all of this functionality in the server control panel is not such a downside, and on the other hand it will make the management much simpler and much more secure, but I scrapped that idea as finally it sunk into me that using an alpha/beta product is not robust enough for my sites.

In the meantime, I found two additional interesting control panels: Hestia & KeyHelp
Hestia doesn't have a Reseller role yet, but it is in their roadmap, I actually find Hestia really refreshing, nicely done and highly maintained, which means that I will keep tabs on it.

KeyHelp looks surprisingly promising, and although it doesn't offer a reseller role, it does offer two basic roles of admin and user, which allows for managing the server using the admin and separating between sites as different users which in practice enables me to have the needed functionality of the reseller role.

So after this long tangent, there are two panels which got to the finals:
KeyHelp & ISPConfig

Both seem to have all required functionality.
Keyhelp has a better and more modern GUI which will be my first choice.

As a drawer plan, I am remembering Virtual which might work for me as well. 


Conclusion

I chose to abandon Hostgator reseller plan due to bad server maintenance in their side.
I searched for a robust and secure server instead, I found my solid VPS in Amazon Lightsail, it uses the amazing Amazon infrastructure while presenting me with an understandable and predictable monthly price.

I still needed to manage my now brand new VPS linux (Ubuntu) server, so instead of hostgator's whm & cPanel, I needed a well maintained fully featured but with a nice UI web control panel, another major requirement was having an admin with separate users where each user will be able to manage his own site without seeing other users (something like a reseller).

The only candidates which got to the finals were KeyHelp & ISPConfig (while having VirtualMin/WebMin/UserMin with the Authentic UI in a standby as an option)_from these two I chose the more modern and UI simple though beautiful KeyHelp.

So KeyHelp Over Amazon's Lightsail it is!

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