No company can do without a decent website nowadays – no matter if it is an SME or a large corporation. This has long been clear even in Germany, so a decent homepage is an absolute standard in modern communication work.
So it is no wonder that more and more classical communication service providers like agencies, freelancers and web designers also offer professional web services around corporate online presences. Cloud services, virtual servers and individual customer webspaces have thus entered the agency's everyday life with a bang.
These "modern" marketing and communication service providers usually do not only implement their offers quite well and skilfully. Especially with regard to design, text and content, the web projects of these service providers often have the edge – after all, PR and advertising professionals can shine here with their long-standing core competencies.
Old-school" communications service providers, on the other hand, often have a hard time with the particularly technical aspects of modern Web projects – such as professional server setup and administration.
However, this is no wonder, as not only the selection of potential administration tools and the associated application possibilities have increased enormously in recent years. The same applies to the demands of customers. Today, successful communications work is not only highly transparent, but also increasingly takes place on a professional level.
One noticeable effect of this development is that the days of the typical agency server in the "quiet closet", where all client projects are managed equally – and usually without the possibility of direct control or influence by the client – are over in many places. Instead, many new and major customers want more rights, more influence and more control in connection with their own web projects.
This means that communication service providers who have so far shone with strategy, text or design – but not necessarily with technical hosting and administration expertise – must (urgently) expand their own range of competencies. This is because there is an increasing demand for creative web service providers who know their way around the maze of different hosting offers, web servers and administration tools in order to be able to provide optimal advice in this area as well.
In order to make web hosting customer management (even) more successful for you as a web service provider, we have taken a closer look at the various tools, functions and options for practical and simple administration of different business hosting packages – and compared them in detail.
Plesk: The current market leader among admin tools
In Germany, many agencies, web service providers or freelancers are mostly familiar with Plesk as the "ubiquitous" tool for server and web space management. No wonder, since the powerful professional administration tool enjoys a similar market power in Germany as Google in the area of web search – at least according to (first) appearances.
A glance at Asia and the USA shows that the competition is catching up: The competition is catching up. Internationally, Plesk also leads the rankings. However, the situation is far from being as clear-cut as it is in Germany!
For example, cPanel (also known as "Control Panel") as a Plesk alternative with an aggregated market share of just under 20 percent of all systems is clearly behind the top dog in second place among the most popular web admin tools. If, on the other hand, you only look at the totality of web hosting packages operated worldwide, a completely different picture emerges. Because here, cPanel, the Admintool veteran developed back in 1996, has a surprising 50 percent market share – and is even leading the pack.
Expressed in figures, this means that every six seconds, another domain is added to a web hosting system worldwide. In addition, four new web hosting accounts are created with cPanel every minute. The balance of power between the admin tools used, especially in the booming business hosting market, is not as clear-cut as one might think at first glance. This is especially true if you take off your German glasses.
Because, as is so often the case, the admin tool clocks in Germany once again run a little differently – at least until now. The international Plesk competitor is comparatively unknown in Germany. German webadmins rely instead (so far) on solutions such as ISPConfig, Froxlor or DirectAdmin. But these, in turn, have hardly any international market share and are virtually insignificant.
This begs the question: Where do these shifts come from, what are the Plesk alternatives capable of in the first place – and why do people in significantly more digitalized markets such as Asia and the USA rely on a proprietary industry solution that is still almost unknown in Germany??
Comparison of Plesk alternatives: cPanel, Froxlor, DirectAdmin and ISPConfig
That some web service providers are looking for an alternative to Plesk is legitimate. The sheer range of functions offered by Plesk can be too much for inexperienced users and is therefore aimed more at professional web administrators. Freelancers, agency administrators or web designers, on the other hand, usually have other, somewhat "weakened" intentions for the implementation of their customer tasks.
If you are a webworker who creates individual internet presences for customers and therefore has to set up and run individual webhostings, you do not necessarily have in-depth knowledge of administration and programming of web servers and packages. He (or she) also does not need.
Because: Some of the common Plesk alternatives are literally predestined for this task and knowledge situation. With their focused, rudimentary concentration of functions, they make life and daily work noticeably easier for creative web service providers in agencies or on the free market.
Server environment and operating system
Besides cPanel, the most suitable Plesk alternatives for this are ISPConfig, Froxlor and DirectAdmin. The most important difference to Plesk is that the four management solutions usually only run on Linux or Windows operating systems. Unix operating systems like CentOS or for example also FreeBSD can be used – and not on a Windows system. Above all with cPanel this restriction does not damage the international popularity, as the current growth figures show.
One-click installation of web applications
The four Plesk competitors do not only follow similar paths in terms of the operating system. Cpanel and ISPConfig have in common with Plesk, for example, that many applications can be installed with a mouse click using a practical auto-installer. Thus, the setup of entire content management systems such as WordPress, Typo3, Joomla, etc. Is possible!, Drupal or Magento quasi in the twinkling of an eye. With DirectAdmin this is not possible, with Froxlor it is only script-based. As with Plesk, however, all four alternative solutions also provide convenient domain administration and a comprehensive, secure configuration of the desired e-mail accounts.
Even when it comes to integrating different PHP versions, some of the alternatives don't have to hide behind the "almighty" Plesk: Froxlor and cPanel are basically on par with the market leader here. With DirectAdmin as well as ISPConfig (for older versions than 3.0.5), however, webadmins have to make concessions – there are restrictions here for parallel use.
Individual design of the user interface
With appropriate themes you can also reconfigure fonts and colors of the basic design on the user interface with ISPConfig, cPanel and Froxlor – as with Plesk. A nice gadget, which is unfortunately only possible to a very limited extent with the Plesk alternative DirectAdmin, for example.
Larger differences, however, and this is one of the most important criteria when choosing the right configuration tool alternative, can be found in the number of available, functional and secure plugins. Because there are no extensions available for Froxlor – and this can of course severely limit the customer-oriented manageability in case of doubt. Even DirectAdmin cannot necessarily score with helpful extensions. Here I would describe the amount of practical additional programs and functions only as medium, with ISPConfig only as small. Thus, only cPanel operates at a similarly high level as Plesk – which knows numerous, previously centrally reviewed and approved program extensions.
Cpanel wins the comparison
If you add up the features around function and application diversity, cPanel objectively cuts the best figure next to Plesk. And not only in German or English: The web-based administration interface is extremely multilingual on the way, "speaks" 20 languages fluently. Twice as many as Plesk, 19 more than DirectAdmin.
Since cPanel is not only easy to use due to its visually and functionally reduced interface, but also allows for the broadest implementation, I will now take the liberty of discussing this Plesk alternative in more detail. Because of the listed features, cPanel seems to be suitable for those administrators who are entrusted with creating, planning or building websites – but want to keep the associated server-side administration effort as low (and above all as non-technical) as possible. In concrete terms, this means that professional web space management for projects can be achieved here with only a little practice – and almost without having to enter a single line of code yourself.
Simple operating structure provides clarity
The structure of cPanel can be described without under- or overstatement as simple, lean and functional. A "restriction" which, curiously enough, is particularly appreciated by many users from creative agencies, freelancers and the private sector.
So it only takes a few clicks to get new customer projects and the CMS they need installed. The same goes for setting up FTP access and file management. Moreover, the integrated file manager doesn't even require additional installation effort and is immediately available even to inexperienced users.
It is also practical that you as an admin can perform recurring tasks such as backups and updates not only manually, but also automatically with cronjobs. However, this is an advantage that ISPConfig, Froxlor and DirectAdmin also offer.
By the way, the use of cronjobs is always particularly worthwhile when certain tasks are to be completed on time and without further external action. For the professional management of one (or even several) web presence(s), you don't need a single text command line on the system level. That means: Programming and administration skills are helpful, but by no means necessary. The administration of own as well as customer projects succeeds not only professionally, but also comprehensively and without great effort (or external help).
Cpanel and WHM: A little less design freedom – but much more security!
Adequate Internet security is probably one of the biggest pain points for many creative web service providers. From my point of view, however, cPanel can score particularly well here for people from the sphere of administrative laypersons. Because server security is to a large extent the responsibility of the hoster and not of the end customer or the agency as web service provider. This is part of the multi-layered security concept of cPanel, where server and web space administration are clearly separated from each other and controlled via different user interfaces. Thus, the hosting provider can use the special server admin interface WHM (Web Hosting Manager) to make many basic, highly technical and sophisticated basic settings in advance for all hosting packages involved. This not only ensures less effort and necessary expertise on the agency and customer side. Also important security settings and security measures can be provided by the trained and experienced technical personnel of the hosting provider optimally configured.
So the basic protection comes with "delivery", anti-virus security is part of the hoster-side factory settings. Thus, no own intervention by the web or agency service provider is required. And so fewer individual security settings provide more server security. In addition, this significantly reduces the effort for setup and installation on the agency side, hosting customers can only make additional settings and create additional (agency customer) user accounts with special permissions. SSL certificates can of course also be set up and managed relatively easily.
An approach that is in clear contrast to Plesk and other solutions: Here, mostly the server admin (hoster) and the webmaster as user of the hosting package access the same interface. Only the functionality and access varies. Security settings are more the responsibility of the user – or even the end customer.
With cPanel, a built-in IP blocker is also available. This makes excluding unwanted IP addresses a bit more comfortable than with Froxlor, ISPConfig and DirectAdmin. For these, the "classic" way of manual exclusion must be used instead .Htaccess; Plesk also requires security extensions, some of which are subject to a fee.
No resource hog despite large performance
Although with the help of cPanel, as shown in advance, you have extensive possibilities for configuration and the ease of use is also in comparison to the other Plesk alternatives to be rated as high, the performance values of the management software can be quite respectable. Convenience does not come at the expense of performance – as the system is designed to be efficient and draw minimal resources in all popular web browsers.
Clear dashboard provides clarity
Service providers also appreciate the clarity of the cPanel graphical user interface. Because the modular structure is intuitively understandable. The appealing user interface helps with clear icons to find your way effectively and quickly in the menu.
This is especially important for administrative laymen, because they also have a comprehensive overview right from the start. By the way also about the central performance values of the webspace. Because they are right in the top right corner of cPanel's view.
Plugins and extensions make (almost) everything possible
Among the available alternatives to Plesk, cPanel stands out especially because of the high extensibility of the basic system. No wonder, since cPanel has gathered a large community of motivated, professional web developers and administrators over the past decades, who are constantly expanding the already wide range of plugins and add-ons as certified third-party providers.
If one draws a conclusion, it can be recognized therefore after consideration of the most relevant factors quite: If you want to design web projects on commission with little technical effort and manageable technical expertise, you should at least know about the Plesk alternative cPanel.
If you want to learn more about the admin tool, you can therefore also take a look at my cPanel workpaper. Here I explain everything about the most important functions and application possibilities – from the installation of new customer projects to user management. In other words, everything that makes daily work easier. I'm happy to provide it free of charge – you don't need to enter an e-mail address to download it.