31 May 2017
Guide to choosing a Control Panel

We are going to review control panels available at HostZealot and point out their key differences in this article. But first, let us check some common facts about control panels.

Web hosting control panels provide a user interface to manage hosting services through a web-browser. Working with a control panel makes installation, deployment and administration processes much easier, helps you to automate some processes and saves your time.

In general, most panels share a similar set of features, however only a few will include them all. Also, there might be a significant difference in design approach, implementation and system requirements.

The most common, basic control panel features are:

  • Web server management (web server settings, deploying sites and domains, SSL-certificates)
  • Domain name system management (ns-servers, domain zones, DNS records)
  • Database management (MySQL, PostgreSQL, phpmyadmin, etc)
  • Email system management (email accounts, webmail login, spam filters)
  • FTP management (ftp accounts, folder permissions and quotas)
  • Web-based file-manager (file access directly in browser, text-editor, file permissions)
  • Backup management automation (local/remote backups, migration between servers)
  • General system and network settings, logfile access, statistics and graphs

Some panels may also provide more complex enterprise features like:

  • Addons/scripts for automated services deployment
  • Managing multiple servers from one control panel interface
  • Reseller accounts and features
  • Billing system implementation
  • Ticketing system for customers
  • API/plugin for integration with other services

Obviously, supported OSs and system requirements will also differ depending on the features range. Let’s take a closer look at the control panels available when ordering a dedicated server or VPS with Hostzealot:

  OS Support Monthly cost Minimum
RAM
Recommended
RAM
Features and
Customizations
Ease of Use Stability
Vesta CP CentOS/RHEL 5, 6, 7
Debian 6, 7, 8
Ubuntu 12.04-16.10
free 256mb >512mb *** ***** ****
VirtualMin CentOS/RHEL 5, 6, 7
Debian 6, 7, 8
Ubuntu 12.04, 14.04, 16.04
free 256mb >512mb **** ** ***
ISPmanager CentOS/RHEL 6, 7
Debian 7, 8
Ubuntu 14.04, 16.04 LTS
$5 lite
$14 pro
512mb >768mb *** **** ****
DirectAdmin CentOS/RHEL 5, 6, 7
Debian 6, 7, 8
FreeBSD 8, 9
$7.5 vps
$17 dedi
1Gb >2Gb ** *** **
WHM\cPanel CentOS/RHEL 6, 7 $18 vps
$38 dedi
1Gb >2Gb ***** **** *****

 

Vesta CP
Features
Documentation
Demo

VestaCP is a free open-source control panel, which represents a simple and clear user-friendly design and basic control panel management. It does not provide enterprise-like features or in-depth control, but focuses on a simple minimalistic usability of all the essential web-panel features.

By default, VestaCP installs a “LNAMP stack”. It means Nginx is used as a front-end (proxy) caching web server, which speeds up your server’s response by serving static content, while dynamic content is handled by Apache. A noticeable feature for admins is the ability to maintain most tasks with command line scripts.
The panel has a great support forum and a growing community around it. As long as the panel is open-sourced - there are some 3rd party plugins and integrations available, for example, letsencrypt, CSF GUI.

Vesta comes with a clear and user-friendly intuitive interface, looking rather like eye candy. It can be easily managed even if you lack technical skills. The panel itself is extremely lightweight, which makes it possible to deploy it even on a low-memory VPS.
It features all the basic necessities you would expect from a web panel and does that for free.
The only drawback you might be disappointed with is that web File Manager is not available for free. However, you can still use FTP client for that purpose.

In short, VestaCP is great in its simplicity. If you need a free, user-friendly web-panel for essential management tasks, then VestaCP is the right choice for you.

Virtualmin
Features
Virtualmin documentation
Webmin documentation

Virtualmin is a control panel that comes as a part of Webmin/Virtualmin/Usermin suite. It has a GPL(free) and a Professional edition with additional features. However, even the GPL version is one of the most configurable control panels with tons of options available through web-interface. It is divided into three parts by design:

    • Webmin is a web-based system administration and configuration panel. It provides a GUI access to networking, process manager, cron jobs, services configuration and almost any server system settings available through command-line. It’s also possible to extend the functionality even more due to the support of external modules.
    • Virtualmin is a hosting control panel. Here you can create hosting accounts called “Virtual servers” to handle users and mailboxes, domains, dns zones etc. As in webmin, it has tons of options available.
    • Usermin is a simple webmail interface per se.

Webmin/Virtualmin approach gives you full control over server settings, which allows setting the system the way you prefer. The panel can be run on low-memory systems after applying some configuration tweaks and disabling unnecessary services. The panel is well-documented and has a nice support forum.

On the other hand, the huge range of features makes Webmin/Virtualmin difficult to use. Although it sounds easier to set some options through GUI than using command-line, sometimes their location is not so obvious. A newbie will be able to create a new user and host some websites with default options, but soon enough he may find himself stuck even in small things that need manual configuration.
It still requires some knowledge of Linux and even experienced users will have to learn how to use this panel.

So, if you feel confident about your tech skills and looking for a free panel to control every inch of your server settings, you should try Virtualmin.

ISPmanager
Features
Documentation
Demo

ISPmanager is a commercial control panel, however, it comes at a considerably low price and covers a decent range of features. This panel has become one of the most popular hosting panels in Russia and Eastern European countries.

Along with all basic panel features, ISPmanager provides you with some additional functions such as:

      • Nginx as a caching web server proxy
      • php, perl and python configuration interface allowing to install and manage the variety of available extensions
      • about 200 web-scripts allowing to automate the installation of popular CMSs
      • spam-preventing blacklists with DNSBL support
      • performance and usage graphs, awstats plugin
      • Softaculous, Site Builder and OneClickSSL integration modules
      • login with facebook, vk.com and google+ social networks

There is also a PRO version of ISPmanager featuring clustering capabilities such as a centralized location management, multiple servers setup with different server roles.

This control panel has moderate system requirements depending on installed features. It is recommended to disable spamassasin and clamav on low-memory VPS profiles. ISPmanager has a rather user-friendly interface displaying help tips on each page and there is a fine documentation too.
However, some users report issues when importing users from other servers, restoring backups or updating the panel. Most of those seem to be fixed in the latest versions, though.

Summing up, ISPmanager is a fine choice representing a balanced combination of a features range and intuitive usability for a low price.

DirectAdmin
Features
Documentation
Demo

DirectAdmin was first released in 2003 and it still keeps its positions amongst hosting panels.
DirectAdmin includes all the basic control panel features with quite detailed configuration. It is divided into 3 access levels by design:

  • Admin
  • Reseller
  • User

Higher-privileged users may switch their view and acquire the lower levels of management.
DA also features an integrated ticket system allowing Users to contact their Resellers directly through the control panel.

Each access level represents specific features divided into three groups at the main page. Such approach feels rather convenient, but sometimes causes difficulties, as some options may not be where you expect them to be. For instance, user’s MySQL management is listed under “Your Account” category, while phpMyAdmin is listed under “Advanced Features”.

The panel is known for being solid and stable. However, it is built from sources, so it may cause you some issues while upgrading OS/panel/server. The UI design looks somewhat old-fashioned, but it is lightweight and quite easy to navigate with a high response speed.

DirectAdmin is recommended for advanced users, and it is a good choice for managing individual projects with some enterprise features included. Keep in mind that it is built from sources and it looks a bit outdated. So, it is not the best candidate to become your first control panel.

WHM/cPanel
Features
Documentation
Demo

WHM/cPanel is also a well-known panel that has been developed since 1997 and it is definitely the most popular enterprise-level web panel worldwide nowadays. Hostzealot and hundreds of other hosting providers are using it as their shared hosting platforms, so you probably have some experience using it already. But even if you are not familiar with cPanel, it still has quite a user-friendly interface, great documentation, community and support.

It is split into two interfaces by design:

        • WHM - an admin/reseller interface responsible for system-wide settings. Here you create cPanel accounts for further services deployment.
        • cPanel - an end-user panel with access to features granted to your account by a server administrator.

WHM/cPanel may be considered as the most full-featured system of all. Besides a full range of basic hosting panel options, it also provides a set of convenient tools for detailed web-server configuration, PHP extensions, Perl modules, Ruby gems and various usage statistics & graphs. As an enterprise-level panel, it supports clustering, advanced security, quotas and backup plans.
Alongside with built-in wide range of configurations/options available, it also provides integration with lots of third-party plugins and applications.
Keep in mind, that due to its wide range of features cPanel is quite resource-heavy and requires minimum 20GB free disk space.

WHM/cPanel is an excellent choice for hosting providers and enterprise projects. The price and system requirements are relatively high, but the features range, stability and support are absolutely worth it.

Final Note

Putting all the things together, we’ll try to give few brief recommendations on how to choose the best control panel for your purposes.

First of all, a control panel is all about your comfort and convenience. It will be always easier to use the panel that you and your customers have experience with. It does not mean that you should not try anything new, but get prepared to learn how to use a new interface and features.

Secondly, keep in mind that it is quite easy to migrate between the same panels, meanwhile transferring accounts from, let’s say ISPmanager to cPanel may be tricky when it comes to email accounts and specific settings/quotes. Also, panels usually require a fresh clean system for installation, so changing a panel in most cases means reinstalling the whole server.

Last but not the least, always choose an appropriate instrument which matches your needs. It is great to choose an all-in-one feature-rich solution (like cPanel) if you are going to use at least half of those. However, if your goal is simply to host some websites using a simple solution (like VestaCP) within a minimal VPS package will give you much better results and save your time and money. Check the table in the top of the article for our brief functions and usability rating.