It is difficult to test all the panels offered by the provider before starting to work on them, so here are all the three most popular in a short review. Difficulties arise when the client moves from OS administration to hosting-related tasks. One has to manage many sites with different CMSes and numerous user accounts. To reduce labor costs, it is worth installing a control panel that allows you to configure the corresponding services through a convenient web interface. It might also be handy for partners of the provider selling their services to clients. This article is a comparison of the three most popular products available when ordering VPS and VDS on Linux.
Plesk, cPanel and ISPmanager panels are commercial software distributed under commercial licenses. To begin with, let's compare their basic capabilities in one simple table:
One of the most versatile options, suitable for all types of tasks. The panel works not only with popular deb-based and rpm-based Linux distributions, but also with Windows. Although VPS/VDS on Windows customers rarely need third-party administration tools, they can be installed if desired. Plesk also differs from competitors in the large number of supported software, incl. rarely used on traditional web servers (Docker, NodeJS, Git, Ruby, etc.).
The developers offer different editions of the product, including a light version with a minimum set of features. Plesk allows you to choose the PHP version for each website supports PHP-fpm, has a built-in installer for popular CMS, as well as a huge number of extensions that complement the functionality of the panel. Depending on the edition, Plesk may include a billing panel, as well as the ability to create different tariff plans and resellers - first of all, the product is intended for hosting companies and web studios, and for some VPS/VDS its functionality seems redundant. The main drawback of Plesk that was revealed at this stage is the high cost of licenses and the need to purchase extensions.
This panel is designed to work with RedHat Enterprise Linux and some derivative distributions. Its interface is easy to use, yet quite functional: cPanel allows you to manage web servers and databases, flexibly configure restrictions for hosting users, set up tariff plans, create resellers, as well as manage mail services with filters and mailings. As with Plesk, there are many additional features here, and cPanel's functionality is extended with commercial and free plugins. In addition, the tool allows you to select different operating modes and different PHP versions. Among the serious shortcomings, one can note the rather high cost of the license and the lack of support for popular deb-based distributions.
The last panel reviewed in this article differs from others in its price. Plus, it works not only on CentOS (RHEL clone), but also on Debian/Ubuntu. The panel is optimized for hosting tasks and is updated automatically. ISPmanager has the ability to set the PHP version for each site and simultaneously install several versions of the databases inside Docker containers. PHP-fpm is supported, there is a built-in installer for popular scripts and CMS, as well as a number of integration modules that extend the functionality.
Customers will not have any problems with installing and launching the panels, since most times when customers buy servers from different companies they have options to choose from and the support already takes care of this.
The initial setup and creation of sites will not cause any particular difficulties, however, the features of each specific panel are important here. Let's try to highlight their strengths and weaknesses.
Plesk's user interface is similar to the WordPress admin panel. The menu (navigation bar) is located on the left, and the work area is in the center. The menu is organized quite logically, all settings are at hand. The similarity of the interface with the WordPress admin area is not accidental: users really like the close integration of Plesk with this popular CMS. It is quite convenient to install other third-party scripts - this is a big plus.
On the right side of the window, you can find additional interface elements that simplify the work with the panel. They contain a variety of information, allow you to quickly navigate to various sections of the settings, and also suggest installing additional software. The main advantage of Plesk is the huge number of extensions and compatibility with many operating systems for web hosting.
Finally: only basic functions are available in the Plesk web admin edition, in more expensive editions their list is much wider.
Here, the best advantage is the division of accounts into two types: users and administrators/resellers. In fact, the product consists of two different panels: cPanel itself and WebHost Manager (WHM). The first one is intended for ordinary hosting users and it is quite convenient to work with it.
Features for administrators and resellers that include the ability to create tariff plans are available through a dedicated WHM panel. The interface of this panel as a whole is organized logically: in the left part there is traditionally a hidden hierarchical menu with a search line, and in the right - the work area. It has a lot of settings and this is good. On the other hand, the WHM menu could be considered as not convenient. If in Plesk we practically did not have to use search, here in each section there are so many options that the search bar becomes the main administrator's tool.
An important difference between this control panel and the previous ones is the most simplified and intuitive interface. On the left is the navigation menu, and on the right is the work area. You can open various menu options individually or simultaneously in the workspace tabs - this is very convenient, because administrators often need different panel functions in parallel. In addition to those directly related to hosting, administrators have access to some additional functions such as antivirus scan, file manager, scheduler or firewall. The list of bundled add-ons includes Roundcube Webmail and phpMyAdmin.
Simplicity of the initial setup and the ability to automatically update the software is an advantage here. On the other hand, the simplified interface does not always have the required flexibility of settings, and the number of available additional modules for ISPmanager is vanishingly small compared to the collections for Plesk and cPanel. In addition, in the cheapest Lite edition, you cannot create resellers and cluster configurations.
The control panel gives administrators broad powers in the operating system installed on the server, and therefore the potential presence of vulnerabilities in it can be dangerous. By default, the encrypted HTTPS protocol with a self-signed certificate is used to access the functions of all listed panels. At the same time, no one forbids the user to install a purchased certificate. Two-factor authentication for administrators/resellers and customers is configured in cPanel and ISPmanager. In addition, cPanel provides additional protection for administration tools: it, for example, does not provide phpMyAdmin access via a direct link. Also, all three panels are regularly updated, allow you to install SSL certificates for sites (including self-signed ones) and you can add various security-related modules to them.
Plesk supports full and incremental backups to its own storage or to an external resource. In this case, you can create both a complete copy of the entire server, and a copy of the data of individual user accounts. cPanel creates compressed, uncompressed, and incremental backups, by default they are saved locally. It should be noted that there is a possibility to start the backup procedure on a schedule and use its own cPanel interface for data recovery.
The backup settings in ISPmanager are of limited flexibility, but this panel also has all the main features: data is saved in a local directory or on an external resource and can be password protected. By default, all user data is copied, although this can be changed in the settings. In addition, the settings indicate the number of full and daily backups.
All three panels reviewed are at the top of the lists of the most popular and are highly functional. Plesk supports a wide variety of software and allows you to solve the widest range of tasks. More than 200,000 different Docker images are available to users, and a huge number of extensions make Plesk a universal tool, suitable not only for hosting.
cPanel is designed to solve hosting-related tasks, while the developers have divided access to various functions into two levels: separate panels have been made for ordinary users and administrators. It is also worth noting the high demand for computing resources - cPanel should not be installed on low-power VPS.
ISPmanager panel is also intended for hosting management only. It is easy to use, undemanding on resources and cheap. Perhaps the best option for entry-level VPS or for novice administrators and hosting companies.