- Does such a service exist that caters for those needs?
- If so, would it be any good?
Does such a service exist?
To help me answer that question, Cloudways offered to sponsor this impartial review of their Magento 2 Managed Hosting.
As an existing customer of DigitalOcean (a cloud server provider), I couldn’t work out what value Cloudways offered - Especially as they also use DigitalOcean to run their services. Why would I pay a premium when I can sign up with DigitalOcean directly?
And then it occured to me. Their service isn’t specifically aimed at me, a very hands-on tech nerd. It’s aimed at the very people who simply have better things to do than setup a Web Server and install Magento 2 themselves. As soon as I realised this I was excited to record this video, especially knowing there was such a large demand for this type of service.
So what Cloudways do is take an existing service that doesn’t provide any on-demand technical support (aka Unmanaged Hosting), and they wrap that service with 24/7 technical support (aka Managed Hosting) - All at a fraction of the cost of hiring your own IT staff to do that for you.
Will it be any good?
So, yes - Such as service does exist. But in order to answer the second question the best way I could, it meant throwing away most of my technical expertise and become an undercover customer of Cloudways for the next 30 days.
This would allow me to experience first hand what it would be like to use Cloudways from the perspective of someone who wouldn’t or couldn’t setup a Web Server and install Magento 2 themselves.
30 Days as a Cloudways Customer
It was a nice touch having the option to Sign Up using an existing Social Media account to save time. However, I’m not entirely sure what the purpose was to describe both myself and my budget. I’d like to think that the answers I gave were used to customise my Cloudways Account - But it was probably just for market research. By-the-way, if you do decide to sign up to this service, you can enter the code showing in the corner of the screen to save yourself a few quid.
Anyway, I wasn’t immediately able to use the Launch Now button after registering. At first I thought I missed something whilst setting up the server, but it turned out that I had an email waiting for me to verify my address before I could do anything. I totally didn’t see this message popup which was my mistake - But I thought I’d mention it here in case you do the same.
One thing that I didn’t realise before starting (and is a huge win in my book) is that Magento gets installed with Varnish. The reason this is a big deal is that installing Varnish can be a really complicated task - even for me. And the fact that it gets installed like it’s no big deal is uncanny.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a big fan of DigitalOcean so that’s who I chose to build my server on top of. I’ll also never go with anything less than 2GB RAM because of Magento 2s system requirements. And obviously, I went with the closest Data Center which was London.
After hitting the Launch Now button, I was asked to wait 7 minutes whilst everything was setup. To put this into perspective, I can quickly build a web server and install Magento 2 in less than 30 minutes. Less experienced users can take anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days whilst they get their head around everything. So, to be able to be up and running in 7 minutes is both impressive and hugely time-saving. So, whilst I waited I figured I’d complete my billing information…
After the time was up, the page auto-refreshed to display a box containing some basic information (including the IP address of my new server). It appeared that the more servers I had running, the more boxes would be listed here. Clicking on the box allowed me to look and change some of the key settings of the server I’d just created.
So, rather than having direct access to my DigitalOcean account, everything had been replaced with the Cloudways Portal and its inbuilt options and services.
Moving on, the Applications page is where I found my Magento details. Just like the Servers page, any other applications such as Wordpress would be listed here to.
Clicking on the box provided me with all the logins I needed to access Magento as well as a temporary URL. The panel also allowed me to make changes to Magento that would normally require me to change from within the Database or the Command Line Interface - Thus saving me ever more time.
On top of the Quality of Life features, it was also nice to see a Tooltip on every setting that linked me to helpful documentation in their Knowledge Base. One cool feature I would like to have seen is some sort of checklist. As someone who isn’t experienced with something like this, I imagine it could be quite overwhelming seeing all of the options, not knowing if a setting needs changing or in what order to do them in. Take for example IP whitelisting. It’s often a task that people overlook but is useful to setup early on for security purposes.
Anyway, you can see both the Magento Frontend and Backend worked just fine. I should point out that after installing Magento and loading the pages for the first time, it’s typical for them to load slowly. Once you revisit the pages you’ve been on, they load much faster.
As expected, the Magento installation was a blank slate. The option to install Sample Data somewhere from the Cloudways Portal would be nice, but would be a good reason to contact their support team later on.
Before wrapping things up for the day, I took the IP address of my new server and used it to update my Domain DNS that I setup earlier in the day - Which was the first step of many to get my domain name to point to my Magento store.
With the DNS settings up-to-date with my Domain Provider, I was now ready to replace the temporary Domain that Cloudways had assigned me. This turned out to be a super-simple process by entering my Domain and hitting “Save Changes”- Which was far quicker than logging into Magento to do it myself. Entering my domain name into my browser confirmed that everything was working perfectly.
Next, I figured I’d setup the SSL Certificate as it felt like the next logical step. After entering my email address and domain name into the corresponding boxes, this is where I ran into my first technical issue. When I tried to reload my site to see if everything was working correctly, instead of seeing my website, I got a warning that my Certificate was invalid.
Any other time, I’d fix the issue myself. But this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try their Live Chat service. So, I hit the “Need a hand” button and started a chat. It took less than 15 minutes for me to explain my situation and have their engineer fix the issue. The Agent was showed true professionalism by listening to my issue and not making me feel like I was saying anything too stupid or waisting their time.
The third task I wanted to accomplish was setting up the Cloudways CDN. If you’re not familiar with CDNs, they distribute your Static Content (like images) across multiple servers. This service takes some of the load off your own web server and provides customers with quicker page loading times.
Normally, I’d have to create an account with a 3rd party service (such as StackPath or Cloudflare) and then setup Magento, which might take me around 20 minutes. However, in the Cloudways Portal it was a simple 3-step process; Enter my URL, Press Create to setup the CDN account and finally hit Apply to configure Magento.
This is where I ran into my second issue of the day… The Frontend seemed to work fine, but the backend failed to load correctly. Rather than look at this like a setback, I saw it as another opportunity to use their support service. This time I figured I’d create a Support Ticket, attach a screenshot of the issue and come back the next day…
The next day, there was a reply waiting for me delivering good news that everything had been fixed. So, now I had my Magento setup to use a Domain, SSL Certificate and CDN.
Since starting my Web Server, I’d been receiving a small trickle of Alert Emails from Cloudways…
The first was to highlight that I hadn’t configured my Varnish Cache yet and included both a link to an article on how I can do this myself, plus an invitation to contact the support team for any questions or comments. Normally, when building a site, Caching is the last thing I setup because it hinders the development process. So, I flagged the email to deal with at a later date.
The second email was to inform me that I didn’t have the latest version of Magento installed (which was ironic seeing that the version I chose was the latest I had the option of installing). It included a link on how to setup a Staging Environment for testing… And a second link on how to Apply Magento Patches. However, this link sent me to an article over 2 years old that only referred to Magento 1 (which wasn’t useful at all).
The final email was informing me that I hadn’t setup the ability for my web server to send out emails from Magento yet. It contained a link explaining how to enable SMTP - And another link how to integrate an SMTP service from Elastic Email. Normally, I’d integrate a different service but for the purpose of this review I followed all of the relatively simple instructions and everything went well. The whole process took less than 5 minutes.
Before doing anything to my new site, I wanted to make sure that no one (including search engines) were able to stumble across my site. There’s a few ways to do this, but I chose to restrict access via HTTP to only my IP address.
I searched through the settings and the Knowledge Base for a few minutes before giving up and asking via Live Chat. However, I get stuck in a loop using the Bot. It was clearly trying to be clever by guessing my needs but was failing miserably. In order to try and speak to an actual Agent I ended up typing “Speak to an agent” which seems to have triggered the response I was after.
I asked the agent how I could achieve what I wanted and was given the appropriate instructions - which meant editing files on my server via SSH or FTP. When I asked if there was a way to do this directly in the Cloudways Portal, I was told it wasn’t a feature they currently offer - Which was a shame. So, I benched that task for a later date.
Magento 2 allows you to install Sample Data to help you get an understanding of how to set everything up and what it should look like. This is something that can easily be achieved via the Command Line Interface… But once again for the purpose of this review, I created a ticket asking Cloudways to do this for me. I’d check back the next day for a response.
The final thing I wanted to achieve was create an on-demand backup of my site. I remember seeing an option for this in the Servers Section, so I hit “Take Backup Now”. I was a little confused afterwards because I didn’t notice a prompt to confirm that it was done or how to restore it.
I checked through the tabs and couldn’t see anything relevant. On the off-chance, I checked the Applications sections under Restore and when I clicked the dropdown, I found the backup that I’d just created. So, it’s great that I can create on-demand backups and restore them so easily… But as I’d never used this system before, it wasn’t obvious where to find what I was after.
The next day, I opened my ticket for a response to my request about installing the Sample Data. Rather than Cloudways installing the Sample Data as I’d hoped, they left me step by step instructions on how to do this via the Command Line Interface.
The instructions were clear and simple so I didn’t mind doing it myself. Plus, it was a good excuse to try their Command Line Interface tool that’s built into the Cloudways Portal.
However, having followed the instructions I ran into an issue - One that I don’t recall ever seeing before. So, I replied back to the ticket with an attached screenshot explaining my problem.
The following day, I checked the reply to my support ticket. And to my delight, Cloudways had not only fixed the issue but also installed the Sample Data for me. This meant that Cloudways could in-fact carry out reasonable tasks, rather than just send me instructions. Which alleviated my concerns after originally receiving the step-by-step instructions in reply to my ticket.
This was the day that I decided to tackle the Magento 2 update. It was only a small update, so the steps should be pretty simple. If you recall earlier in the month, I’d received an email explaining how to update Magento but they were the wrong instructions.
Rather than contact Cloudways, I wanted to check their Knowledge Base by searching for “Upgrade Magento 2” and see how good their documentation was.
The instructions worked great and I followed them exactly, but I felt they could have been explained and presented a little easier.
Take for example the commands, which were a little bit fiddly to copy and paste. And depending what Mode your Magento 2 store was in, a couple of the commands wouldn’t be relevant. Plus, it’s missing an instruction to restart Varnish (which you should do after an update).
And for anyone not familiar with using the Command Line Interface, it isn’t clear that each of the lines in the 3rd box needed to be entered separately.
But despite that, the instructions worked and I was safe in the knowledge that Cloudways could support me if something went wrong.
It actually occurred to me after I’d completed the update, that I could have also just done it from the Web Setup Wizard inside of Magento - Which probably would have made more sense and likely the way in which anyone else would do it.
The next day I really wanted to see how easy or difficult it would be to setup a Staging Environment. Typically, it’s a multi-step process that takes a bit of concentration and maybe 30 minutes of my time. I followed the instructions that were sent to me earlier in the month - When I had the reminder about updating Magento.
The whole process was really easy and self-explanatory. The creation of my Staging Environment took about 10 minutes. However, after it had finished, I wasn’t about to access my Staging copy of Magento. Having spoken to a Live Chat Engineer, I was told that it was an issue during the automation process that affected file Permissions and proceeded to fix the issue.
For me, the Staging Tool had 3 excellent features:
- It automatically updates the URL to a temporary URL
- It automatically password protects the URL
- It allows you to sync your changes between Live and Staging (and vice-versa)
These are incredibly time-saving features that anyone would benefit from, including myself.
The next day, I was eager to see how easy it would be to setup Elasticsearch - Which is a supported tool that helps Magento 2 cope with more powerful search results. The task to do this myself would probably take me a few hours to research and complete as I’d never done this before. However, according to the Cloudways Knowledge Base it should be really easy to do using the one-click setup from their Portal.
So, I went ahead and enabled Elasticsearch 6 (which is supported by Magento) and waited a few minutes for the service to be installed. About 5 minutes later I confirmed that Elasticsearch was now running. I then went into Magento to enable the new service and when I pressed the “Test” button, it confirmed that everything was setup successfully. Which is one of the most painless things I’ve ever managed to do. This saved me hours of research and headaches.
I decided to spend the next few days installing a Magento theme and tweaking the layout and appearance to my liking. And as you can see, that time was well invested in taking my store to the next level of professionalism.
With everything pretty much ready to start selling, I figured I’d activate and configure the Varnish cache. If you recall, I was previously sent an email with instructions how to do this.
However, when I went to follow the instructions it turns out that the steps I needed to take had automatically been all setup for me - Which left me a little confused but grateful. So, with all of the caching enabled on my store, I figured that I’d run some external Page Speed tests to get an idea of performance rating.
And as you can see from the results, it’s looking pretty good. There will always be room for improvement with tweaks and tests, but considering that I haven’t had to do anything technical to get these impressive results with both the Server Response and Page Speed times is fantastic.
Day 30 (Today)
So, today is my 30th day as an undercover Cloudways Customer. As I mentioned at the beginning of this video, I started this review with two impressions of Cloudways:
- As a tech nerd, I wouldn’t personally get much out of it
- The service was aimed more towards people who wouldn’t or couldn’t do this themselves
However, it quickly became evident that there were some really useful Quality of Life features in place that actually ticked the right boxes for both. There were quite a few options available in the Cloudways Portal that automated tasks in a fraction of the time it would take me to do myself.
If you’re the type of customer who can’t or won’t get too involved with some of the technical tasks, I think you’re in for a treat. As you saw through my journey, there were times when I had to step outside of my comfort zone, but Cloudways Tech Support were always available via Live Chat or Ticket to help me out.
If you’re someone like me, who is a bit of a tech nerd and likes to get their hands dirty then I think you should consider the service, if only for the large time-saving features provided by the Cloudways Portal.
If you’re someone who doesn’t have time to build and run a Web Server and Magento 2 store (or simply finds the whole process overwhelming), then I would highly recommend Cloudways for your Magento 2 Managed Hosting.
Knowing that you have someone there to help whenever you run into a problem will definitely help you sleep at night. And when you consider the Price to Service ratio then I truly believe it’s great value for money.
Don’t forget, there’s a link to the Cloudways Service in the Video Description below - And don’t forget to use that Discount Code to save yourself a few quid.
If you found this video useful, you’ll also be interested in this playlist of other Magento 2 related reviews. And until next time, take care.