Cloudways review – VPS made easy!

Cloudways offers a unique service: you pick from one of five VPS providers, and Cloudways spins up the server and manages it for you, allowing easy one-click installs of WordPress, SSL certificates, etc. All without once touching the command line!

It’s not as straightforward as using a shared hosting account, and there are some drawbacks, but this service is worth a look. In this review, I’m going to go through the steps to spin up a server, install WordPress with SSL, and point a domain at the new server.

Getting started with Cloudways

Cloudways lets you set up an initial VPS for testing for three days at no cost, and does not even ask for a credit card.

When you go to the Cloudways site, click on the ‘Start Free’ button in the upper right, and you will see a sign-up form:

cloudways

When you fill in the minimal information, you will get an email with a link to sign in to the console. When you first sign in, you will be prompted to set up a managed server:

When you click on the Launch button, you are presented with choices: first, which VPS provider do you want to select, then which datacenter and how large a VPS do you need.

If you want to try the free trial for three days, you cannot select AWS or Google as providers – you can go with the default of Digital Ocean, or chose Linode or Vultr. Also, you can only pick a small VPS for your trial, but you can choose an appropriate data center.

The free trial allows you to set up one server, and if you make a mistake you cannot delete it and try again without upgrading to a paid account, so spend a moment making sure you choose an appropriate provider and data center.

The application to install on the VPS can be selected at the top left, and it defaults to the latest WordPress (although as we will see, not the latest PHP).

You can choose to install WooCommerce or scroll down for other options, including Drupal or Joomla.

Cloudways VPS Server Management menu

After filling in the three required fields and pressing ‘Launch Now’, you will have a few minutes to wait. Once the server is active, you can click on it to access the Server Management menu, as shown below.

There is lots of useful functionality on the Server Management menu, including the credentials to log in to SSH and SFTP.

The application you installed (e.g. WordPress) is now installed and running, but to see those details you need to look at the application menu.

Switching between the Server and Application menu

Cloudways offers a number of ways to switch between the server and application menus:

  • You can click between ‘Servers’ and ‘Applications’ on the top blue menu:
  • You can click the servers/applications toggle switch:
  • Or you can click on the ‘www’ in the upper right on the server menu, and click on the application that drops down:

Cloudways VPS Application menu

The application menu gives you access to the information you need to sign on to the WordPress admin panel:

Pointing your domain at your Cloudways VPS

If you are used to shared hosting plans, you probably expect your hosting provider to support DNS, so you can register a new domain, or point a domain at the provider’s name servers and then handle DNS settings using the provider’s screens. Cloudways does not currently support DNS.

So if you have a domain registered with a domain registration service such as Namecheap or GoDaddy, you need to leave the nameservers set to the registrar’s basic DNS, and then change the ‘A’ record to point at the IP address of your new Cloudways VPS.

For testing the VPS, you could set up a subdomain or buy a new disposable domain. For example, Namecheap currently sells .fun and .xyz domains for less than three dollars for the first year.

The Cloudways documentation is good on this subject, so you can check out this knowledgebase post for more details on pointing your domain at your VPS.

However, this does lead to a problem with email (see below under issues).

Setting up SSL on your Cloudways VPS

Once you have pointed a domain at your Cloudways VPS, you can use the application menu to set the domain name and install an SSL certificate:

Once the SSL is set up, Cloudways will set up redirection to force users onto an https connection, which is exactly what you want.

Cloudways VPS Pricing

When you pick between the five VPS providers supported by Cloudways, you can see that Digital Ocean, Linode and Vultr are very close in price, and are all cheaper than AWS and Google GCP. Here’s the pricing as of August 2020 for all five options. Note that the default selection for the first three is for 4 GB/2 cores. For AWS and GCP, the default selection is 3.75 GB / 1 core.





Cloudways Breeze WordPress plugin

The default WordPress install on a new VPS includes a custom plugin called Breeze. This does the usual caching to speed up your WordPress site. This is similar to the ‘SG Optimizer’ plugin that is installed on SiteGround sites in that it also supports minification and zipping of files, caching database results, etc.

The default settings will speed up your site nicely, but there are many setting you can tweak – here’s the first couple of pages:

Performance

With Breeze enabled with default setting, my test site performed very well on the Cloudways VPS.

  • Google PageSpeed Insights Speed Index was 2.5
  • GTMetrix fully loaded time, tested from the same city as the data center, averaged 0.85s

I did not perform any load-testing, but the performance is as good as you would expect from a VPS.

Cloudways VPS Issues

Cloudways does not provide email

This is related to the fact that Cloudways does not support DNS as discussed above, and there are actually two issues here:

  1. If your site is currently hosted on a shared hosting account that you are planning to discontinue, you are probably using that hosting provider’s email to support [email protected] Since Cloudways does not support this, you will have to use another email service, such as Google GSuite or Zoho Mail. The email provider docs will explain how to set the MX records in your domain, and also copy over all your old emails.
  2. When your website needs to send you a message, it will use the SMTP server of the hosting provider. Cloudways supports using a non-Cloudways SMTP server for this, but you need to set up your email service first:

Cloudways defaults to PHP 7.1

This is a minor point, since it is quite easy to switch to 7.4, and I expect Cloudways to fix this soon, but currently, Cloudways installs WordPress 5.4, which wants PHP 7.4, so when you first sign on to WordPress you are greeted with this message:

The quick fix is to go to the Cloudways Server menu, and on the ‘Settings & Packages’ page, click the pencil icon beside the PHP version:

On the dropdown list, it looks like 7.3 is the highest version available, but if you scroll the list, you will find 7.4.

Now WordPress will be happy!

Summary

If you are looking for an upgrade from a shared hosting service, such as SiteGround GrowBig, you find yourself looking at various VPS options:

  1. Get a VPS where the provider installs Linux, but very little else, and you have to manually install a LAMP stack, etc.
  2. Get a managed VPS, where the provider hides most of the complexity of running a VPS.
  3. Get a VPS-as-service account, where the VPS is treated just like a shared hosting account, and the provider looks after everything. See my review of the SiteGround VPS.

Cloudways is aimed at the second option, where they also add the unique choice between type-1 providers, such as Digital Ocean, Linode, etc.

Cloudways does an excellent job of hiding the complexities of spinning up a new VPS and installing software of your choice, such as WordPress or WooCommerce. They also make it easy to tweak system configuration without using the command line.

Where Cloudways falls short is by not providing DNS and email. This makes it more difficult for a non-technical web site owner to migrate from a shared hosting plan to Cloudways. However, their tech support is easy to reach and responsive, and will help you make the move.

All in all, Cloudways is an innovative approach to get a managed VPS, and they are worth a look.

Click this link to sign up for a free three-day trial.