Blog

What’s a server control panel? Comparing the popular ones

What’s a server control panel? Comparing the popular ones
Nastya Kuznetsova
Content manager

In order to create a website, configure it and support, webmasters use several tools, sometimes even dozens of them: these are FTP clients, HTML editors, and CMS. But there is one universal tool — a server control panel. It combines most of the necessary features.

What a server control panel does

Hosting or server is required to publish a website. A control panel helps to create this website and support it: upload files, assign a domain, configure email.

Usually, providers sell hosting along with a panel but sometimes without. When there is no panel, you have to manage the server through the console, only experienced admins are capable of that.

Сonsole, just a black background and white letters, no buttons, no entry fields
Just a black background and white letters, no buttons, no entry fields. In order to do something, you need to know a special language

It is much more fun if you have a hosting control panel: it has a «human-readable» interface — with buttons, captions, and entry fields. Anyone can figure it out.

The interface of one of the popular hosting control panels — ISPmanagerThe interface of one of the popular hosting control panels — ISPmanager. Much more understandable that the console

A server control panel helps to:

  • upload to a server your website or CMS — it’s a content management system, you can create websites with it;
  • connect a website with a domain;
  • install an SSL-certificate for the secure data transfer;
  • create an email inbox, configure corporate mail;
  • check your website for viruses and cure them if there are any.

And these are only basic features. A professional with the help of a panel can configure PHP, fix a configuration file template, and much more.

If you don’t know what hosting, CMS, and SSL are, read about it in our manual

Paid and free server control panels. Comparing the popular ones

Like everything in this world, panels can be paid and free. The free ones are often insecure and their developers don’t owe your anything — they may not fix bugs or stop supporting their panel at any time. Sometimes, free panels include only the most basic features and you need to pay for something more.

We’ll compare popular hosting control panels: paid ISPmanager, cPanel, Plesk, DirectAdmin, Vepp and free Vesta.

Vesta is more than 6 years old, ISPmanager, Plesk and DirectAdmin are more than 15 years old, and cPanel is already more than 20 years old. And only Vepp is young but still trustworthy as a creation of ISPmanager developers.

We will look at the panels in terms of simplicity — whether they will help a newbie with basic features or just confuse him/her even more. We will install the panel itself, a free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate and a CMS for website creation — we’ll take WordPress, it’s the most popular one.

How many admins are required to handle these panels?

We’ll go from complicated panels to the simple ones. The simplest one is at the end, you can just take our word for it and scroll down. Or you may read our proofs why other panels are difficult.

cPanel — 3 admins will handle it

Panel installation
complicated
WordPress installation
simple
SSL installation
complicated
Interface
complicated

You’ll require some system administration knowledge during the installation of the panel in order to work with an SSH client. It’s the admin way to connect to a server, after that you can work through the console: no menus or buttons for you, just a black field and a command line like we’ve shown at the beginning of the article.

However, WordPress installation is easy — all you need to do is specify a domain and choose a template. There are very few templates and the new ones aren’t added — a small selection.

In order to install a free SSL, you are going to require an SSH client again. And then to configure your website, you’ll have to sort out a bunch of features. The interface shows them all at the same time which makes it even harder to figure out where to start.

cPanel interfaceThat bunch of features in cPanel we’ve talked about. Get lost among them — easy

DirectAdmin — 3 admins will handle it

Panel installation
complicated
WordPress installation
complicated
SSL installation
simple
Interface
complicated

In order to install this server control panel, you’ll need to configure an SSH client and work in the console — like a real admin.

In order to install WordPress, you need to take a lot of action. For starters, download it at the official website, upload it by the FTP and edit the configuration. The FTP is the File Transfer Protocol, you don’t require any admin knowledge to use but you need separate software and time to figure out how it works.

The SSL installation is automatic but it is important to tick all the important items and find out which ones are important, to begin with.

The interface is minimalistic but hardly simple for a beginner — lots of complex admin settings like Apache Handlers or Cron Jobs.

DirectAdmin interfaceThe DirectAdmin interface. Minimalism in INaction — for a beginner, an admin will feel at home

Vesta — 3 admins will handle it

Panel installation
complicated
WordPress installation
complicated
SSL installation
simple
Interface
complicated

Maybe free Vesta is simpler than other hosting control panels? No way.

In order to install the panel, you’ll need the admin console yet again. You’ll have to connect to the server, install software for working with the console (cURL) and then run two commands: to download the installer and to start the installation.

In order to install WordPress, you’ll need some admin magic once more: create a user and a database, configure FTP connection and upload CMS files. If you haven’t graduated Hogwarts, the Softaculous auto-installer will help but not for free. Although Vesta itself is free, the auto-installer costs $12 a year or $1,5 a month.

The free SSL installation is simple. You can do it while assigning a domain — just tick two items. It’s easy to miss them but you’ll still be able to enable SSL in settings: the panel will request it and install it automatically.

The interface is not simple. There are website cards, i.e. you can drop down under a particular one and look at its settings. Cool but not quite. There is the division into websites but it is not intuitive enough — for instance, not all the SSL certificate related settings are in one section. There are also no tips whatsoever: if you don’t know what item means what, only Google will help you.

The website card in VestaThe website card in Vesta. It’s convenient that you can look up the information on every website separately. It’s not convenient that there are many fields and no hints

Plesk — 1 admin will handle it

Panel installation
simple
WordPress installation
complicated
SSL installation
simple
Interface
simple

In order to install this hosting control panel, all you have to do is specify the server IP address and the password. Now that’s quite simple.

The WordPress installation will happen automatically, you only need to specify a domain and choose a template. But there are some moments that are not quite obvious and nothing is going to work without them: you need to separately select the installed template as the main one and configure the PHP version. You won’t require any admin skills but the understanding of PHP version will certainly come in handy.

SSL is installed automatically during the domain assignment or manually later and it’s also quite simple: you need to install a module, order a certificate and assign it to a domain.

The Plesk interface also has website cards and they really make life easier. There you can see all the main statuses: the WordPress version, the SSL condition, available modules, and plugins. There are detailed explanations for every item.

The Plesk website cardThe Plesk website card: all the important info is in sight, there are explanations for every item

ISPmanager — 2 admins will handle it

Panel installation
complicated
WordPress installation
simple
SSL installation
simple
Interface
complicated

ISPmanager is installed through SSH but this hosting control panel is still simpler than the first three challengers. A beginner will be able to install WordPress and SSL without administrative skills but with the documentation.

In order to install WordPress, you’ll need to enable PHP for the website — it’ll take a few clicks. Then a couple more clicks and the CMS is yours.

A free SSL can be installed in one click on the self-explanatory «install» button. And then enable in the website settings. That’s all.

However, there are no website cards in the ISPmanager interface. You’ll have to fish out the info on every website from different sections and sometimes seek it out in big and scary tables.

ISPmanager interfaceThe www-domains section in ISPmanager — instead of the website card. There is little information about every website, you need to look for more in other sections

Vepp — a beginner with no admin skills will handle it

Panel installation
super simple
WordPress installation
super simple
SSL installation
super simple
Interface
super simple

In order to start working with Vepp, all you need to do is specify the IP address and the server password — just like in Plesk. But there is one important difference: Vepp won’t install to the server and take up space, it will just connect.

The WordPress installation is fully automated: Vepp creates a database and a directory on the server by itself, signs you up for WordPress by itself, and installs the CMS to the server. In contrast to all the panels above, there are 500 free WordPress templates in Vepp, they are even categorized — just choose.

A free SSL certificate, just like anywhere else, is installed automatically if you create a website on an assigned domain. If you assign a domain later, you will be able to install an SSL in 3 clicks.

The user-friendly interface is the main difference from the other server control panels. There are also cards for each website in Vepp, just like in Plesk and Vesta. They also reflect all the important information but more clearly. Vepp cards have widgets with statuses: if everything is ok, they are green, otherwise — red. If a widget glows red, the problems can be fixed directly from the card — click on the widget and you won’t have to look for the required section in settings.

The Vepp website cardThe Vepp website card. Widgets show that there is an SSL certificate but there is no backup — you can make one directly from the card

Choosing a server control panel

  Panel installation WordPress installation SSL installation Interface Tech Support Price for a month,
restrictions
cPanel Complicated Simple Complicated Complicated 65$ for an incident 20$,
up to 5 users
DirectAdmin Complicated Complicated Simple Complicated If you pay for a year, it costs 24$ 15$,
up to 10 users
Vesta Complicated Complicated Simple Complicated From 60$ an hour Free,
no restrictions for users
Plesk Simple Complicated Simple Simple Free 10$,
up to 10 domains
ISPmanager Complicated Simple Simple Complicated 2 incidents for free, 33$ for the others 5$,
no restrictions for users
Vepp Super simple Simple
+ many free templates
Super simple Super simple Free 11$,
up to 5 website

Most of the popular panels were developed when website creation didn’t have such a large scale. Websites were created by professional developers and supported by professional administrators. Panels for them were also created by developers and administrators — and we’ve seen it.

Comic headlines «how many admins will handle these panels» have a fair amount of truth to them — even admins may have a hard time with classic panels. It takes time to figure everything out and get used to it. But Vepp is really straightforward.

Vepp was developed specifically for those who have no administrative skills and don’t want to acquire them. For marketers, bloggers, masters, designers, small web studios, and electricians — for everyone who needs a website and wants to rule it independently.

If you want to find out more about Vepp and other popular panels, read the comparisons:

Nastya Kuznetsova
Content manager