WordPress for Enterprise: WordPress VIP vs WP Engine

Enterprise Showdown

Enterprise Showdown

While WordPress may have its origins in blogging software, it is currently used on over 73,134,610 websites (as of 12-6-2013) in the world and has a thriving community. Because of this, it is no surprise that WordPress now powers enterprise level websites such as:

  • TED
  • TechCrunch
  • CNN
  • The Harvard Gazette
  • The University of Florida
  • and NASA

But, running WordPress at scale requires a large investment in both infrastructure and human capital to set up and run that infrastructure.

For a more detailed overview of the infrastructure required, WP Engine gives a good description of their infrastructure for different plan levels.

Thankfully, there are a couple of hosts that specialize in WordPress for enterprise, namely WP Engine and WordPress VIP. The rest of this article will focus on helping you choose the right option for your needs on the basis of 4 categories:

  1. Time to market
  2. Uptime
  3. Cost
  4. Customer Support

Agility is the Ability to Be Quick to Market

In a high speed market, businesses need technology that moves at the speed of their message or they risk losing any opportunity for the first-mover advantage.

Enterprise level websites need the ability to add and test new features as quickly as possible. Ideally, this means businesses should be able to easily test new plugins and push custom code to the server as much as needed.

WordPress Vip

In an effort to ensure that all websites are performant and secure as possible, WordPress VIP does not allow this and has a very strict policy on what code they do allow into their system.

WordPress VIP requires that all themes and plugins must go through mandatory code reviews to ensure that they are secure and performant and contain the proper VIP attribution. There is however a list of about 90 plugins that have already been through VIP’s code review and are whitelisted for use on VIP sites.

Also, WordPress VIP requires that all plugins and themes be fully GPL compatible or custom coded.

While the code review process at WordPress VIP does ensure that your website is as fast and secure as possible, they state that a full theme code review typically takes 10-15 business days.

Being forced to wait up to 3 weeks to test out new ideas, such as a comment voting system or viral sweepstakes campaign, inhibits a business’s ability to remain current and relevant.

More information about WordPress VIPs’ core review process can be found in the VIP documentation.

WP Engine

WP Engine, on the other hand, does not have a review process, does not require GPL themes and plugins, and provides several features that allow businesses to quickly iterate and bring new features to market. These include access to SFTP and PhpMyAdmin, the ability to use Git to version control and push code live, and a staging area.

The staging area allows user to clone their entire website, database included, into a test environment with the click of one button. From there, users can test out themes, plugins, and/or custom code without the fear of bringing down the live site. Once done, users can click a button to merge the changes back into the live site.

Uptime: Because Your Reputation is on the Line

Before talking about uptime, realistic expectations must be set. Jason Cohen, founder of WP Engine, wrote a surprisingly detailed article in the first part of 2013 where he debunks the myth of 100% uptime.

In this article, Cohen points out how, in a period of 10 days, 4 of the most well-known WordPress specific hosting companies (WordPress VIP and WP Engine included) and even sites such as Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter have all had down time.

Cohen goes on to explain:

Every “9” you add to uptime (e.g. 99%, 99.9%, 99.99%) is not only an order of magnitude more uptime, it’s often a multiple more complex and expensive. At some point, trying to eliminate a few minutes of downtime now and then means doubling or tripling the cost of the service.

With all of this in mind, let’s look at WordPress VIP and WP Engine’s uptime (using public data from Pingdom).

Both offer excellent uptime with WordPress VIP averaging 99.998% and WP Engine averaging 99.902% over a 10-month period from March 2013 to December 2013.

Month WP Engine WordPress VIP
March 2013 99.99% 99.98%
April 2013 100% 100%
May 2013 99.61% 100%
June 2013 99.55% 100%
July 2013 100% 100%
August 2013 100% 100%
September 2013 100% 100%
October 2013 99.89% 100%
November 2013 99.98% 100%
December 2013 100% 100%

But a percentage of downtime over a year can be hard to understand. So, to extrapolate that, here is how much downtime each host experiences on a yearly basis.

WordPress VIP WP Engine
10.512 minutes 8.58 hours

In this category, WordPress VIP wins hands-down. But, as Cohen said in article, more uptime comes with a higher-price tag. So, before you make your mind up, let’s talk numbers.

*Note: These statistics measure the uptime for the home page of each hosting provider, WordPress.com and www.wpengine.com respectively. This assumes each hosting provider uses their own infrastructure to host their website.

Customer Support

Let’s face it. Stuff happens. And when it does, you need to be able to get it fixed as quickly as possible.

WordPress VIP and WP Engine both have a great support staff that specializes in WordPress. And while WP Engine claims to have the highest ratio of WordPress experts on staff to customers, I was not able to find hard numbers on this.

That being said, each company does have their own pricing structure for support. Let’s break it down.

WP Engine’s enterprise hosting plans start at $3200 per month. This includes:

  • Dedicated account manager
  • 24 hour phone support
  • 4-hour response time
  • Unlimited escalations

WordPress VIP’s enterprise hosting starts out at $3,750 with their lowest level of support, which includes a 1 business day response time.

From there, there are several levels that include faster response times. But, to get close to the level of support of WP Engine, you would need to pay $23,350 to get:

  • Dedicated account manager
  • 4-hour response time
  • One escalation with 1-hour response time

While I can not fairly comment on the quality of WordPress VIP’s support, I believe it is fair to say that it is much more expensive than WP Engine’s.

Cost, Because Your Website Still Needs to Profit

After looking at the uptime statistics above, it’s not hard to guess which enterprise WordPress host is going to cost more. Let’s break down the costs.

WordPress VIP

WordPress VIP’s pricing structure is actually very simple. They charge a one-time setup fee of $15,000 and then $2,500 per month for

  • Up to 5 sites
  • Unlimited traffic
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unlimited storage

From there, you must choose a support package with pricing from $1,250 to $20,850.

WP Engine

WP Engine has several different levels for pricing with the main differences being the number of installations and page views allowed. Here’s a high-level breakdown of WP Engine’s pricing.

Business Plan Premium 1 Premium 2 Enterprise 1 Enterprise 2
Page Visits 400K 1 Million 2 Million 5 Million 10 Million
Storage 30 GB 100 GB 100 GB 100 GB 100 GB
# of Installations 25 400 400 400 400
Bare Metal 3 Web Servers and 2 DB Servers 3 Web Servers and 2 DB Servers
Dedicated Account Manager
Cost (monthly) $249 $600 $2,000 $3,400 $7,200

Bottom Line

WP Engine, by far, provides a much more flexible and agile solution that is essential for companies trying to compete at today’s pace. And while at first glance it looks like WP Engine’s pricing is more expensive. But keep in mind that WordPress VIP has a significantly higher cost for customer support.

The fact is that WordPress VIP and WP Engine price their service based on two different concepts. WordPress VIP prices based on service level and WP Engine prices based on traffic.

Because of this, when considering support, agility, and other features, WP Engine is almost always the right choice for enterprise hosting unless you are pushing upwards of 10,000+ visits per month. WordPress VIP is a great choice for sites that push more than 10,000+ visits per month and are willing to give a little on agility for VIP’s unlimited traffic, storage, and bandwidth at a flat price.

From the Horse’s Mouth

In an effort to get as much detailed information as possible for WordPress VIP’s and WP Engine’s (grammar?) enterprise service, I sent emails to both companies requesting information with a list of questions.

One of the questions I asked was (paraphrased), “Why choose you over [WP Engine or WordPress VIP]”.

WordPress VIP responded with:

It’s a fair question. I’ll be the first to say our Platform as a Service isn’t intended to be all things to all WordPress users. I do believe a University would want to use our platform if they’re planning a strong investment WordPress as a content management platform for their university. Our service will give your university:

  • Access to the best of the best developers in the WordPress community
  • Predictable infrastructure costs as we don’t charge for any “overages.” The price we state is the price you pay each month.
  • A fully managed platform that allows the university to solve business challenges while our team manages the infrastructure challenges.
  • The benefit of sharing editorial tools with the biggest publishers in the world. That list of VIP Plugins is constantly evolving and is available to all of our VIPs.

Our platform is built for use at scale and that’s truly when it is at its best. We need clients who are demanding when it comes to stability and security and we provide the support and infrastructure to back that up.

We’re here to truly make the biggest and best uses of WordPress successful. There are plenty of great hosts out there that can support WordPress applications at a smaller scale for much less cost, so I wouldn’t pretend to say that VIP is a great solution if you were looking to launch a blog for the university’s intramural bowling team schedule. However, WordPress.com absolutely would be! 🙂

WP Engine responded with:

I would recommend our service for basically anyone looking to not have the restrictions that the VIP platform has. Anyone looking to be able to deploy quickly and be agile is an ideal fit.

Furthermore, there are various other code restrictions VIP has that we do not:

  • All plugins must be Open Source GPL or written in-house. Further more, VIP may disallow the choice of a given plugin if a similar plugin by a different author is already running on their system. This is because plugins must be available to all clients simultaneously due to the grid nature of their platform. WP Engine has no such restrictions.
  • All WordPress sites running on VIP must include code that inserts a WordPress-branded toolbar at the top of the side, visible for any visitors that are logged into WordPress.com. WP Engine does not require this.
  • All pages running on VIP must contain in the footer a “Powered by WordPress.com VIP” attribution and link. While we are happy to have our clients include something similar, it will be up to the client and not a requirement.

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