Choosing the right web hosting solution is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when creating a website. The hosting provider you go with will have a major impact on your site’s performance, security, and scalability. Two of the main options to consider are managed and unmanaged hosting. But what’s the difference, and which is better for your needs?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare managed versus unmanaged hosting in depth so you can make an informed decision. We’ll cover the key differences, pros and cons, and help you determine which type of hosting is the best fit for your website and business. Let’s dive in!
What is Managed Hosting?
Managed hosting refers to a web hosting service where the provider takes care of managing and maintaining the servers your website runs on. With managed hosting, the hosting provider takes full responsibility for server administration, security, software updates, and uptime monitoring.
Some key features of managed hosting include:
- Server, network, and website monitoring 24/7 by the hosting provider’s IT team. Issues are resolved proactively before they cause downtime.
- Software patches, security updates, and OS upgrades are applied automatically by the hosting provider.
- Malware scanning and removal is handled by the hosting provider.
- Technical support is provided by the hosting company to help with issues like website errors, speed optimization, security, and more.
- Regular server backups are performed in case your site needs to be restored.
- DDoS protection and mitigation shields your site from malicious attacks.
- Scaling ability allows seamless upgrading or downgrading of resources to match site traffic.
- Guaranteed uptime is common, with financially-backed SLA guarantees around 99.9% uptime.
In short, with managed WordPress hosting the hosting provider handles all the backend technical responsibilities so you can focus on your site and business.
What is Unmanaged Hosting?
Unmanaged hosting is a self-service web hosting option where the hosting provider supplies the servers and basic infrastructure, but the customer is responsible for server administration and management. With unmanaged hosting, you have full control over the server environment.
Here are some key things to know about unmanaged web hosting:
- The hosting provider only maintains the core physical server hardware. You are responsible for software, updates, security, backups, etc.
- Complete server access allows you to configure the stack as needed. But you’ll need strong technical expertise.
- You have to install software, apply security patches, optimize performance, monitor uptime, and handle troubleshooting.
- Scaling server resources up or down requires manual work on your part.
- No guaranteed uptime or technical support is included.
- Very affordable pricing since you provide all the labor for server management.
Unmanaged hosting gives developers and sites with in-house IT staff full control over a server. But it does require significant technical expertise and time investment for administration.
Key Differences Between Managed and Unmanaged Hosting
Now that we’ve defined each type of hosting, let’s look at some of the major differences:
- With managed hosting, the provider handles all server management, updates, monitoring, backups, security, etc. The customer has no server access or responsibilities.
- Unmanaged hosting means the customer is 100% responsible for managing all software, updates, security, backups, server monitoring, and troubleshooting.
Technical Expertise Required
- Managed hosting requires zero technical skills on the customer’s part since the hosting provider does all the technical work.
- Unmanaged hosting requires substantial technical expertise related to servers, security, network management, monitoring tools, scripting, etc.
Support and Uptime
- Managed hosting includes 24/7 monitoring and support from the hosting provider’s team. Guaranteed high uptime around 99.9% is common.
- Unmanaged hosting comes with no support and no guaranteed uptime. You are responsible for ensuring your server stays online.
Control Over Server Environment
- With managed hosting, you have no access or control over the servers. The hosting provider makes all decisions about software, security, etc.
- Unmanaged hosting gives you complete control over everything software and configuration-related. You decide what’s installed and how it’s set up.
- Managed hosting providers implement security patches, malware scanning, DDoS mitigation, firewalls, and other protections.
- For unmanaged hosting, server security is entirely the responsibility of the customer. You need to implement and manage security measures yourself.
- Managed hosting typically costs more since you are paying for the provider’s labor and expertise. But it may be worth it for the benefits.
- Unmanaged hosting is very affordable since you handle the labor. But lack of expertise can lead to issues that end up costing more down the line.
Pros of Managed WordPress Hosting
Now that we’ve directly compared the two hosting types, let’s take an in-depth look at the major advantages of choosing managed WordPress hosting for your site:
No Technical Expertise Required
The biggest benefit of managed hosting is that it requires zero technical skill or server administration experience on your end. The hosting provider handles everything behind the scenes related to managing, securing, and optimizing your servers. So you can focus 100% of your energy on creating site content, growing traffic, and furthering your online business.
Better Performance and Uptime
Experienced hosting providers are experts at correctly configuring servers for optimal security and performance. By leveraging their technical knowledge, managed hosting can offer increased website speed and reliability versus trying to do it yourself. Hosting companies also monitor uptime around the clock and use redundancies to guarantee high availability.
One of the biggest perks of managed WordPress hosting is the enhanced security it provides. Your hosting provider actively monitors for threats, applies patches, hardens servers, and implements firewalls and malware scanning. Their team of IT security experts provides a level of website protection far beyond what you could implement on your own as a non-technical site owner.
Faster Issue Resolution
With unmanaged hosting, you’re on your own when it comes to troubleshooting website errors, outages, slowdowns, or other technical problems. But managed hosting includes unlimited 24/7 support from the hosting provider’s team. If issues arise, they have the expertise to quickly diagnose and fix them to minimize downtime.
The hosting provider will automatically apply software updates, security patches, and other upgrades to keep your site running on the latest, most secure versions. With unmanaged hosting, you have to manually track and install updates which leaves you more vulnerable to overlooked updates.
Backups and Disaster Recovery
Data loss can be catastrophic for a business. Managed hosting providers run frequent automated backups to ensure your site can be restored following data loss, malware, natural disasters, or other crises that could cause data destruction or corruption.
As your site grows, managed hosting makes it easy to scale up your server resources like storage space, memory, CPUs, and bandwidth. Just contact support and they’ll provision larger resources for you often within minutes. No need to manually migrate sites or configure new servers.
Cons of Managed WordPress Hosting
While managed WordPress hosting has some clear benefits, there are also a few potential downsides to consider:
The convenience, security, speed, and support of managed hosting comes at a price. Managed hosting costs more than unmanaged on average since you are essentially paying the hosting provider to become your server admin and IT department. However, the benefits are often worth the extra cost for many site owners.
With full server access, unmanaged hosting allows you to configure your stack and apps however you want. Managed hosting means handing the reins over to the hosting provider’s engineering team. You’ll have less control over certain software or infrastructure decisions.
Migrating an unmanaged hosting site to a new provider just requires moving your files. With managed hosting, often proprietary technologies or configurations are used that make switching hosts challenging. This can introduce some vendor lock-in.
Over-Reliance on Provider
While it simplifies things greatly, relying fully on your managed hosting provider’s team does mean you accumulate less first-hand experience with key tasks like server security, troubleshooting,WordPress optimization, etc. This can make it harder to switch from managed hosting down the line.
Pros of Unmanaged WordPress Hosting
Next let’s look at some of the key upsides to choosing unmanaged self-hosted WordPress hosting:
Full Server Control
Experienced developers that want to customize their software stack and infrastructure prefer unmanaged hosting. It offers full root access to the servers so you can install whatever software you want and fine-tune the environment. This level of control is restricted with managed hosting.
If you have specific needs or preferences around programming languages, databases, web servers, caching, security tools, etc unmanaged hosting provides more flexibility. You can create a fully custom hosting architecture tailored to your site versus relying on the standard stacks of managed hosting.
One of the biggest appeals of unmanaged hosting is the reduced cost. You avoid paying the overhead for the hosting provider to manage and maintain your servers when you take on those responsibilities yourself. Budget-conscious sites may be willing to trade some convenience for lower hosting bills.
Managing your own servers requires developing substantial technical expertise around tasks like server security, database administration, network management, website optimization and troubleshooting. These skills allow your team to become less reliant on any single hosting provider.
No Vendor Lock-In
Since you build your own hosting stack with unmanaged servers, you retain full ownership of configurations and can replicate them anywhere. If you decide to switch hosting providers down the line, you can migrate sites with relative ease. You don’t have to worry about proprietary technologies restricting migrations.
Cons of Unmanaged WordPress Hosting
Unmanaged hosting isn’t the right choice for everyone though. Here are some of the biggest downsides to weigh:
Requires Significant Technical Expertise
Maintaining servers requires experience in areas like Linux, Apache, server security, load balancing, database administration, DNS management, networking, scripting, and more. If you don’t have trained IT staff, unmanaged hosting may quickly become overwhelming.
Time Consuming Administration
Server management is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. Time must be invested in ongoing tasks like:
- Installing software updates, OS patches, WordPress plugins/themes
- Configuring firewalls, SSL certificates, and security tools
- Tuning server settings for performance optimization
- Monitoring disk space, memory usage, site traffic
- Performing data backups and restores
- Troubleshooting outages or performance problems
No Guaranteed Uptime
You are solely responsible for ensuring your servers and websites remain online 24/7 with unmanaged hosting. Lacking specialized tools and dedicated staff can make it harder to match the uptime guarantees of managed hosting providers.
When your resource needs outgrow your current unmanaged servers, migrating to larger servers means manually migrating, testing, and validating your sites on the new infrastructure. The migration process is generally more complex than with managed hosting.
Missed patches, overlooked malware, or improperly configured firewalls can quickly compromise unmanaged servers. Keeping up with constantly evolving security threats on your own requires substantial vigilance to protect your sites from attacks.
Managed vs Unmanaged Hosting: Which is Best for Small Business Sites?
For many small businesses building their first website, managed WordPress hosting clearly emerges as the better option compared to unmanaged hosting. Here are some of the key reasons managed hosting works well for small business sites:
- You likely lack robust in-house technical expertise to manage servers well, so managed services fill that gap.
- Guaranteed uptime helps ensure your site remains online to serve customers. Downtime directly impacts revenue.
- Managed providers empower you to focus time on your core business vs. struggling with server management.
- The price premium is reasonable for the benefits like security, speed, support, and reliability managed hosting provides.
- WordPress sites benefit from hosts optimized specifically for WordPress with features like auto updates, caching, CDNs, and page speed tuning.
- Quick and easy scalability let you upgrade hosting plans as your traffic grows without migrations.
Ultimately, while unmanaged hosting can save money upfront, the benefits of managed hosting usually make it the better choice for non-technical small business owners. The convenience and reliability allow you to focus on business growth with peace of mind that your hosting needs are covered.
When Does Unmanaged Hosting Make Sense?
While managed hosting works well for many, unmanaged hosting can be preferable in certain scenarios:
- For advanced developers wanting maximum control and customization of their technology stacks.
- Startups with in-house IT resources skilled at managing servers.
- Sites with complex infrastructure needs unable to be met by standard managed hosting plans.
- Large enterprises with their own IT and hosting infrastructure/data centers.
- Nonprofits and cash-strapped businesses unable to afford premium managed hosting.
Unmanaged hosting appeals more to technical experts comfortable diving into the server admin and security. If you have specialized hosting needs and the skills to support yourself, unmanaged can be an efficient, flexible option.
Migrating Between Managed and Unmanaged
The decision between managed versus unmanaged hosting doesn’t have to be permanent. Many hosts offer hybrid solutions allowing you to migrate between the two as your needs change. Some common scenarios are:
- Moving from managed WordPress hosting to unmanaged VPS hosting once your in-house team gains more technical expertise.
- Transitioning from unmanaged hosting to managed hosting to offload server responsibilities and focus more on business operations.
- Utilizing a hybrid approach with a managed host supplemented by unmanaged cloud servers for specific applications.
So don’t feel like you are locked in one way or another. As your business evolves, having the flexibility to switch between managed and unmanaged hosting gives you more options.
Choosing managed or unmanaged WordPress hosting has significant implications for your website’s security, performance, uptime, and ultimately your business operations. Managed hosting streamlines operations by letting the provider handle infrastructure, while unmanaged puts you fully in control.
Carefully weigh the pros and cons outlined here based on your business needs, budget, growth goals, and technical expertise. Managed hosting works well for most small business websites starting out. Unmanaged appeals more to technical teams wanting custom infrastructures.
Hopefully this guide provides a helpful high-level overview of how managed and unmanaged hosting compare. Your specific needs will determine which option is the best fit. As your needs change over time, remember both paths are available to you.