Hosting Control Panels – The Definitive Guide
If you’re involved in managing servers for web hosting then you’ll appreciate the importance of having a simple, yet highly effective method of monitoring and looking after your hosting infrastructure. The most effective way of managing all the processes related to routine tasks of hosting infrastructure is to use a web hosting control panel.
Fortunately, this issue has been addressed by many hosting companies as they include their own hosting control panel or Graphical User Interface (GUI).
The web hosting control panel approach will allow you to monitor and adjust your server services from virtually anywhere with a stable internet connection. We’ve made this detailed guide to help you understand the most popular options available on the market and decide which one’s the best choice for you.
Common Hosting Control Panel Features
Most server control panels provide you with a massive set of tools. The overall list of features may vary slightly from product to product. However, here we’re going to focus our attention on the most typical categories of tools:
- Domain Name System (DNS) management.
- Control over DBMS. The most typical options are MySQL and PostgreSQL.
- Server account management (user accounts setup/configuration, quotas, access rights).
- Backups (full server backup, backups of separate accounts, backup automation/ scheduling).
- Mailing infrastructure management (Exim/Dovecot/Postfix mail servers management, DKIM/SPF/DMARC configuration, IMAP/POP3/SMTP protocols support, e-mail accounts management, mail queue supervision).
- SSL certificates management and automation.
- Log files access and reporting.
- Ongoing monitoring of all system services via a web-based interface.
- Ability to install additional services and apps.
As any other software on the market, hosting control panels have regular updates and various add-on packages. Top control panels have special enterprise versions with specific features:
- Multiple servers management via one interface
- Multiple VPS management
- Support of IPv6 protocol
- Firewall and security policies management
Comparing Hosting Control Panels
Although each panel should, in theory, ensure a similar level of control, the actual situation may vary from panel to panel. Take a look at what each hosting control panel has to offer and how they compare to each other.
Plesk hosting platform
Plesk is a leading commercial hosting platform which dominates in the European market and is one of the major industry players in the United States. The platform comes in several editions and supports Linux (including Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, Red Hat Linux, Cloud Linux) and Windows operating systems.
Plesk offers simplified and automated workflows for hosters and agencies, as well as provides its own ecosystem with more than 100 third-party extensions. The latest version of Plesk is integrated with Github and Docker. It has multi-server management features and is able to obtain or update SSL certificates automatically using the Let’s Encrypt service.
This commercial control panel gives you framework ready environment for Node.js, PHP, Python and Ruby On Rails. If your favourite content management system is WordPress – Plesk’s WordPress Toolkit is the ultimate solution to automate cloning/staging, ensure high-security standards and utilize mass-management features.
As an advanced hosting platform with a huge set of extensions, Plesk gives you everything you may need to manage any Linux/Windows hosting infrastructure efficiently.
cPanel control panel
This is one of the most commonly used web hosting panels in the United States. The product has two different “faces” – a user-level interface called cPanel and a server management part (WHM). This combination of interfaces unifies user-friendly site management to end-users and server management tools for hosting service providers.
cPanel is a Linux based system and currently supports CentOS, CloudLinux OS and Red Hat Enterprise. Apart from GUI, cPanel provides CLI and API. Both features allow hosters and third-party software developers to automate system administration processes.
Among cPanel’s strong points, you’ll find: high general system performance, command line utilities, AutoSSL and SNI integration, interface to CSF/LFD, EasyApache 4 and PHP-FPM plus the availability and support of DNSSEC and PowerDNS.
The cPanel and WHM combination can be considered a good alternative to Plesk, though still not an option for Windows-based servers.
DirectAdmin is a web hosting control panel created for Linux servers. It currently supports CloudLinux, Red Hat, Fedora Core, CentOS, FreeBSD, Ubuntu and Debian.
Just some of the features included in this hosting control panel are administration tools related to DNS and email management, backups, system processes supervision, access to logs, built-in file management and multi-server setup, plus the possibility for custom web server configuration.
DirectAdmin offers a list of all the basic tools you’d expect from this type of hosting platform. And it can be considered a really good choice for new users on a budget.
This is another commercial Linux-based hosting control panel which originated in Russia. ISPManager supports a wide range of third-party software and can be purchased in two different versions, both able to handle multiple domains and users. You can choose between Lite – for individual use, or Business – to share and resell your hosting services.
Although ISPManager does not offer the full range of options that Plesk does, it is still very competitively priced and can be an option when you are not able to afford Plesk or cPanel.
Core-Admin was initially designed as a centralized solution to manage multiple servers using one single web interface. This hosting platform offers you lots of built-in apps (example: real-time log analysis, IP blocking system, cron tasks management, etc.), sophisticated permission system and integrated real-time file-system monitor.
Core-Admin Web Edition and Free Web Edition were developed to meet the needs of hosting providers. Various features dedicated to handling mail servers, web servers and DNS servers make Web Edition a great choice if your main intention is to provide reliable hosting services or just manage your own network of sites.
Zpanel is an open-source web-based control panel that runs on a LAMP environment and supports an unlimited number of resellers. It’s compatible with Microsoft Windows and some POSIX family operating systems.
The web interface is highly functional and minimalistic. Administration panel consists of simple modules focused on certain tasks (example: Apache config, DNS manager, FTP accounts, and so on). Unfortunately, this software has not been updated since 2014 and might not be maintained anymore.
Another open-source version of hosting control panel is offered by Webmin. This panel consists of a web server and a number of CGI programs which update different system files directly (like /etc/inetd.conf and /etc/psswd). Webmin lets users manage accounts, configure web servers and DNS plus work on other typical system tasks. Its Cloudmin tool is capable of managing virtual systems including KVM, OpenVZ and Xen.
ISPconfig is a rather popular open-source hosting platform with efficient enterprise support. According to ISPconfig, it has reached 40,000 downloads per month. The product supports IPv6, OpenVZ and multiple servers deployment.
VirtualMin is an open-source control panel which comes in 3 different versions – GPL, Professional and Cloudmin.
The GPL version has the core part of features and offers 4 types of server management – via web-interface, mobile app, command line and API. The VirtualMin Professional gives you the power to set up or update many third-party applications, including the most popular content management systems like WordPress, Joomla and Magento. The multi-server control panel in the Cloudmin version is made to set up cloud services for enterprise clients. Another topic worth mentioning here is compatibility with Xen and Amazon EC2.
Professional and Cloudmin versions both come with commercial support.