OpenShift vs cPanel – Is it time to adopt a new web hosting technology?
A modern control panel such as cPanel/WHM includes hundreds of features useful for webmasters. But no webmaster uses all of those tools, and it is safe to say no web host uses all of the features in the panel.
Also, it is known that cPanel does not offer many software that’s in demand (such as HHVM, Percona, etc.). It begets the question, “Is main stream control panels the only hosting option out there?” Let’s explore this point by comparison cPanel with an open source PaaS tool called OpenShift.
The pros and cons of cPanel
cPanel evolved to meet almost all web hosting needs of an average website owner. It offers an intuitive interface to manage DNS, add databases, manage website files, setup email accounts, and even build new websites with one-touch installers. For web hosts, WHM gives an easy interface to manage customers, upgrade packages, take backups, and many other common business operations.
However, the biggest disadvantage of cPanel is that it is limited in its ability to support multiple software frameworks. For eg. cPanel does not support a popular Python framework called Django. As of this writing, it is still a feature request that needs to be tested by cPanel developers and integrated in a future release – by which time a web host would have lost several sales queries.
New web application stacks such as MEAN (MongoDB, ExpressJS, AngularJS, Node.JS) and LEMP (Linux, Nginx, MariaDB, PHP/Python) come out all the time, and web hosts can ill afford to miss business opportunities that require the latest technology. This is where a solution based on virtualization can help. OpenShift Origin is one such viable alternative.
What is OpenShift Origin, and how can it help?
OpenShift Origin in an open source PaaS (Platform as a Service) solution from RedHat. It is built on Docker virtualization and Kubernetes service management technology. What this means is, OpenShift enables creation of fully isolated web hosting accounts, that can run any technology stack, and easily scale up to multiple servers as the traffic grows.
Each webmaster in an OpenShift server is isolated from others in a secure container called a “gear”. The webmaster can choose which applications should run in those containers, by installing something called “cartridges”. For eg., a customer can buy a “small gear” of size 1 GB disk + 1 GB RAM, and install a Django + Nginx + MariaDB “cartridge” in it.
Now, the interesting thing is, many such cartridges are available as open source add-ons to OpenShift, and it is possible to build a custom cartridge. Building a new cartridge is not straightforward, but a sufficiently experienced OpenShift administrator can build a new technology cartridge such as HHVM in as little as 6 hours.
So, with an OpenShift based hosting solution, you can offer any technology stack with a customer density better than traditional VPS servers.
How Openshift & cPanel fare for different kinds of hosting
OpenShift is not a silver bullet for all hosting challenges. In some cases, control panels such as cPanel is better than OpenShift, and in some others OpenShift can make a difference. Here’s how:
Shared hosting is probably the most popular hosting plan, and is especially suited for small websites, and those who just want a minimal web presence. It is also the kind of hosting preferred by beginner webmasters. Shared hosting customers need simplicity, and a wide range of features such as one-click SSL, spam filtering, and mail forwarders. These customers are usually not particular about the latest technology, and would be happy with a basic WordPress site.
For such customers, modern control panels such as cPanel is still the best option. It gives them a easy to understand interface to take care of their day-to-day business operations without much hassle.
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Dedicated server hosting
Companies that order dedicated hosting look for greater computing power, better isolation, and greater control over their hosting environment. A big challenge for such customers is the ability to upgrade resources and operating system as they grow.
OpenShift helps resolve these challenges by delivering fool-proof SELinux based isolation, and total control over the apps they deploy. OpenShift installs only the basic minimum services needed for the apps, and negates the need for complex server management. Upgrading the underlying packages can be done by installing a new cartridge and copying the site files to the new cartridge.
However, it should be noted that it is the service provider who should ensure that new cartridges are compatible with the base operating system, and a migrations will go through without a glitch.