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Sunday, October 2nd
Pantheon is a hosting company that not a lot of people know about, but that still has a lot to contribute in the industry. Founded in 2012, Pantheon was built on the idea of reinventing, from the ground up, how websites are hosted by prioritizing performance and security. While they have certainly succeeded in making a reputation for hosting the fastest, most secure and optimized WordPress and Drupal websites, it came at the cost of higher prices and more difficulty for the average user.
Opinionated Workflow with DevOps and WebOps
Pantheon's unique approach to following an opinionated workflow for publishing a website's code, database, and content is one of its major strengths. For one, it allows developers and designers to work independently of each other, as well as independently of the marketing organization that commissions their work. In contrast, with traditional hosting, marketers have to wait until developers and designers have a "maintenance window" in which they can make changes before rolling out new content and campaigns.
With the "WebOps" and "DevOps" approach of Pantheon, however, content and design changes can happen much more quickly. While marketers update the live site content (not code) to their hearts' content, developers can write their code on a "Dev" instance of the site, deploy it to a live-like "Test" instance for testing in a real-world environment, and then deploy those changes live instantly without downtime. Dev teams can even create different versions of the website in a "Multidev" instance where multiple developers can have their own "feature branch" of the main website that later gets combined or "merged" with the "Dev" instance to all go live together.
Another huge strength of Pantheon comes from the fact that the live site's files are "locked" as read only. This means that the majority of hacking attempts that most other sites have problems with just aren't possible on Pantheon-hosted sites. For this reason alone, if you have a website that is frequently the target of content defacement attempts, you would do well to move to Pantheon. Many developers report that on Pantheon, none of their sites have ever been hacked.
Nearly Instant Page Loads
Along with the above advantages of an opinionated but flexible workflow, plus a huge investment in Varnish, the Fastly CDN, and edge caching, comes the added advantage of performance. Pantheon's speed for loading its own home page is blazing fast. In fact, at 31 milliseconds to load the first byte from the server, it's the fastest time, by far, of all the hosting companies we reviewed. In practice, it is very possible for any website, even on the Basic plan, to get the same speed for the first byte if they follow Pantheon's configuration and coding instructions closely.
A Weakness That Can Also Be a Strength
That brings us to the Achilles Heel of Pantheon. With the great power of the locked-down and optimized WordPress environment comes the trade-off of many WordPress plugins and themes not being able to operate with their default assumptions about WordPress. But even this is a core strength from the perspective that those assumptions are often indicators that the plugins and themes themselves are not secure or stable according to best practices. There are workarounds for the vast majority of popular plugins that make them work on the platform. Pantheon can still be a winning proposition here if your team understands the tradeoffs and benefits and is willing to learn about and accommodate them.
If the Pantheon workflow and constraints sound confusing compared to the relatively simple WordPress world you're used to, that's understandable. But it's not meant to be. It's meant to provide a ton of flexibility and agility of content publishing to any organization that has a lot of work going on with their website at once.
Pantheon hosting costs
Pantheon offers the following web hosting plans:
Let's Talk About Price
If you noticed, like we did, that Pantheon's pricing puts it into a league of its own compared to competitors, you are correct. They've invested a lot of time, tools, hardware, development, and money to achieve the high availability and strong security and performance that is their core offering.
The list price for the Basic plan is $41 per month paid annually or $50 per month paid monthly. With that, and other higher plans, you get free SSL, free heightened security for WordPress or Drupal, a free Fastly CDN, Varnish caching, and plenty of space for your site's media files. Performance plans are $160-$916 per month paid annually or $175-$1000 per month paid monthly.
If you sign up through a Pantheon Partner Agency, the price comes down to $29 per month paid annually or $35 per month paid monthly for Basic and $114-$687 per month paid annually or $125-$750 per month paid monthly.
What the Users Say
Reviews from users who love Pantheon laud its opinionated and powerful workflow, the ease-of-use of the hosting dashboard interface, the emphasis on security and performance, the extras like the built-in CDN and advanced caching, and the helpfulness of the support team. Reviewers who don't like Pantheon complain about the price and that the workflow is too complicated or rigid and out of the norm for most WordPress and Drupal users. They also don't like the fact that they have to do workarounds for some common themes and plugins that need write access to the file system. Others state that they have had problems working with the customer support team.
Not Ideal for Beginners But Amazing Otherwise
If you're looking for a fast and secure WordPress or Drupal hosting system that lets your development, design, and marketing teams produce content faster and more efficiently, Pantheon is a sure bet. Just know that it is not traditional hosting, is more expensive, and has a steep learning curve to invest in at the outset. If Pantheon had a better balance of those factors for beginners, we would have given it a higher rating.
Having a website is a necessity for anyone who wants to communicate with a regional, national, or global audience. Whether it's a website for brand awareness, eCommerce, media, services, writing, or a hobby, every site needs to be hosted somewhere. Since the web began, thousands of hosting companies have arisen, flourished, and disappeared. How do you know which companies available today will be around as long as you plan to have your website online? And, how do you know what features to look for?
For starters, be aware of your budget and what hosting companies charge. Don't be lured in by apparently low-priced plans without first reading the fine print. Many companies attract website owners with seemingly impossibly low fees only to jack up the rate at the time the hosting plan is renewed. Some offer a single rate regardless of the billing period. Others offer discounts based on whether you pay monthly, yearly or multiple years in advance. Yet others offer more advanced capabilities depending on the size and needs of your website and audience.
When considering features, make a list of what you really need, what would be good to have, and what isn't very necessary. For example, do you need a plethora of themes to choose from in a do-it-yourself direction, or would you rather have a web designer create a custom design for you? Do you need a high-availability, supercharged dedicated server or just a bit of space on a shared server? Do you plan to develop your own code or do you need a professional developer for that? If you don't have a domain, will the host sell you one? If you do have a domain, how hard is it for the host to transfer it and also migrate your existing site? If you need email, eCommerce, advertising, and search engine optimization (SEO), be sure to list those as well.
Something people almost never think about is security and performance. Most like to assume that all hosts are secure and provide fast page load speeds. But that isn't always the case! This is especially a problem when a host charges very low prices for marginally capable plans. Those services are not likely to be secure or fast. Beware of shared hosting, which means your site is among hundreds or even thousands of others housed on the same server. In a shared server, when someone else's site is compromised or has a problem, it puts your site at risk.
Finally, look at a hosting company's reputation. This is not just about how many years they have in business. It's a combination of longevity, how they treat customers, how many complaints are logged, and how many of those complaints are directly answered by a representative of the company. Ask other website owners, web designers, and developers if they like or dislike a hosting company you're considering. Most of them will be able to share good and bad stories about any hosting company.
When evaluating your list and narrowing down your choices, consider these factors:
TopConsumerReviews.com has created a list of the most popular or prominent website hosting providers to guide you in your research. We hope this information makes it easier for you to choose the best web host for your business that will make your website engaging, performant, affordable, and secure.
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