This blog runs WordPress on Cloudways. Setting up a blog isn’t too difficult, but there are a few ways to do it wrong. If you do you can fall down a rabbit hole and spend more time working on your blog, fixing problems, and troubleshooting than actually writing posts. Through various experiments over the years I have learned some tricks that can save you some time and energy, all shared below.
Incidentally, this is part two of a little series I am writing about blogging. Part 1 was a post about why I built the blog and the benefits of blogging.
How I Built My Blog
This isn’t my first blog, but it is the first blog I have setup solely for myself. I have gone through the setup process a few times and learned some tricks along the way. I’m writing this for anybody who wants to follow in my footsteps. If you do it right, setting up a self hosted WordPress blog is really simple. In fact, most of the problems are outside of WordPress with your host and environment.
Budget Hosts and Budget Problems
Your first step is choosing your host (server). You can go free, cheap and everywhere up from there. There are pros and cons to each approach.
Free Blogging Platforms
There are plenty of places where you can set up a free blog, including wordpress.com. If you go with the free wordpress.com hosting you are up and running in less than a minute but you give up some things like running your own domain name, customizing themes and plugins, monetizing your blog, and full editorial control over content.
There is also a saying that “If you aren’t paying for the product you are the product.” Facebook, Tumblr and Medium are all free platforms that you can use to express thoughts and ideas, but on their platforms you are also giving up privacy and control.
If you self host your own blog, you get control over all aspects of your site.
The Perils of Super Low Budget Hosts
So if you aren’t running on a free platform you are going to need a little bit of a budget. A lot of people will tell you just go with the lowest cost thing – get yourself a hostgator or bluehost for three bucks a month and that’s all you need to do. I’m actually not an advocate of that.
I’ve tested out a lot of those low cost server operations, shared hosting environments and things like that. There’s a little bit of a learning curve and it’s not that bad, but in every case I have run into annoying little problems. These problems come in the form of either capability or access and control. The result is that I can’t do something that my project requires and I end up wasting time trying to find work around solutions.
Bottom line, you get what you pay for. If budget is a hard constraint, low budget hosts will get you up an running but there are other options.
Run a Cloud Server
I really like the idea of owning the whole server. You can do this cost effectively by using a cloud host provider like Digital Ocean or Amazon Web Services. With these services, the server is your machine and you can do whatever you want with it.
So this is cool but then the problem becomes server management and all of the associated responsibilities of updating software. One wrong move, a missed update, or a wrong configuration and suddenly your server becomes a part of some kids botnet and he is spamming the world with your stuff.
So, in my opinion, the perfect hosting environment is a fully managed, low cost cloud server that let’s you do what you want but allows you to safely do the minimum maintenance and upkeep. This is where Cloudways comes in.
Running WordPress on Cloudways
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In trying to solve the problem of maximum flexibility and minimum upkeep I discovered Cloudways. Right now I’m running WordPress on Cloudways with a couple of other helpful applications. Cloudways is a “Platform as a Service” provider. They will take your instance of Amazon Web Services, Digital Ocean or some other high capacity provider, provision the server for you, and then they will manage maintenance, upkeep, and some more complex functions like SSL and caching.
You still have full access to every function on the server, but if you want you can just use their interface to launch and monitor your system. And that’s what I’m doing right now.
For about $10 a month you can fire up a server and then one-click load an instance of wordpress as an application on that server. You can also run whatever other exotic software you choose without the barriers that you may find in a shared hosting environment. You can customize wordpress, the plugins, or the server… you can do whatever you want and it doesn’t cost that much more than the low budget providers.
So, that’s what I am doing for hosting and I really like it. In addition to running WordPress on Cloudways, I am also running other applications on the server. One of these is OwnCloud.
Adding An OwnCloud Fileserver
On Cloudways, your WordPress instance is considered an “application” and you can run as many applications as you like.
As an additional application, I set up an instance of OwnCloud. OwnCloud is an open source file server, it runs just the like Dropbox or Google drive. OwnCloud allows me to save photos and documents across multiple devices.
Adding A Rackspace Email Address
The last thing you need is an email address. With Cloudways can run your own email server if you want. But email servers are the Achilles heel of your entire system and there are some very good reasons why you may not want to run your own mail server.
You can spend an enormous amount of time setting up an email server, protecting it and keeping it updated. What I have found is that doing that is a big pain in the butt. I’ve had my email hacked and lost data before. It’s no fun.
Right now I’m paying a dollar a month for a rackspace email that Cloudways will set up as an add-on feature. This keeps my applications running on the server without the risk of running a mail server side by side. It works, it’s simple, and Rackspace knows what they’re doing – well worth a buck.
My Blog Rig
Ok, to bring it all together here at the end, this is a visual depiction of how this all works:
My Cloudways virtual server is running WordPress as an application side by side with OwnCloud. Cloudways manages all of the SSL, caching, monitoring, backup, etc. In my opinion this is the best balance between power and simplicity that you can find.