When it comes time to choose a new web hosting provider, most consumers are presented with a few basic choices. The first choice allows them to pick between a Windows Server web hosting package and one based an open-source Linux installation behind the scenes. The second choice, and perhaps more pertinent to usability, is the choice between the cPanel control panel and its chief competitor, Plesk.
While both of these backend administration systems perform the same basic tasks, there are some key differences between them that might make each option more suitable for different kinds of users. Whether it’s the interface, the typical operating environment, or even associated costs with each panel, prospective web hosting consumers should educate themselves on exactly what Plesk Panel does and what makes it a unique system for the backend administration of one or more websites.
Plesk Panel Represents a Cross-Platform Administration Solution
Generally speaking, the popular cPanel control panel software is available only for Linux-based web hosting accounts around the Internet. That’s perfectly fine, of course, as the vast majority of customers do prefer a Linux hosting plan compared to one hosted by the Windows Server operating system. However, this limitation severely restricts the market for cPanel, especially in reseller environments and more advanced server management scenarios. For this reason, more advanced customers — and those using Windows hosting services — will probably want to opt for the Plesk Panel environment.
Developed by Parallels, the same company that manages to place Windows applications and installations side-by-side with the Mac OS X operating system on Apple Computers, is also committed to a cross-platform solution with its backend administration software. The company has made Plesk available both for Windows-based servers and those that are based on virtually any version of the open source Linux operating system architecture. That means customers won’t have to compromise when they switch hosts, as they’ll be able to maintain the same administration software even if they switch between Linux and Windows environments. Especially for corporate users, this is a big deal. As companies grow, they typically wish to spend more on a highly scalable Windows Server environment, especially due to the collaboration tools and proprietary Microsoft protocols involved. Without Plesk, those customers would have to learn an entirely new solution.
So, one of the first things to know about the Plesk Panel environment is that it’s interoperable between the major technologies for powering a web hosting plan. That’s only the beginning, however, for many consumers.
A Backend Environment That is Highly Scalable to All Kinds of Environments
One of the things that really characterize Plesk Panel is its ability to easily adapt to a number of server and account environments. The software is probably associated most often with shared hosting accounts, allowing web hosting customers to do things like create databases and manage add-on domains, but that’s not where the functionality of this solution stops. Unlike cPanel, which typically requires an add-on control panel from a third-party vendor, Plesk Panel can actually manage a reseller account with its own built-in tools. Using Plesk Panel, reseller account holders can distribute space, bandwidth, and even file permissions, using the same login and control panel interface that they would use to manage their own website’s files, databases, and domains.
Plesk Panels can also be easily upgraded to handle virtual servers or more powerful dedicated servers. In this instance, the backend software can be used to monitor or install new appellations, libraries, or capabilities to those servers without extensive knowledge of command-line functions and features. That makes it an easy choice for customers new to such products.
Plesk Panel and Virtuozzo: Going Virtual, or to the Cloud, with Plesk
The rise of cloud hosting solutions has been pretty dramatic over the past several years, as the technology has recently gone mainstream at the tech industry’s largest corporations. That has produced demand for an all-new kind of virtual server, with constant connectivity and unique cloud-style applications. This is something that the cPanel software is still adjusting to, in many environments, but the Plesk Panel backend environment has made the leap relatively effectively.
Though cloud-based hosting solutions are not accommodated for in the basic installation of Plesk Panel to a server, they can be easily managed with the Virtuozzo add-on package. The term “Virtuozzo” is one that probably already sounds familiar to those with cloud hosting, or in the market for such a product; it’s park of the Plesk Panel environment and shares the same interface as the Plesk Panel for virtually every operation.
Using Virtuozzo, web hosting providers are actually able to deploy so-called “application containers” that allow cloud servers to deploy advanced applications and contain them within the server’s limits. Typically, cloud hosting is not given a dedicated server for each customer, but is instead virtualized with multiple hosting packages on the same server. Being able to contain cloud data and applications, while still enabling advanced functionality and server management, is a key part of using cloud hosting effectively. Virtuozzo is currently the leading way to accomplish this, and it has even become pretty popular on cPanel-based servers as a standalone application.
If You Know Microsoft Windows, You Know Plesk Panel
Both Plesk Panel and its chief competitor, cPanel, can be themed and skinned in a number of different ways by web hosting providers. Typically, however, Plesk Panel employs a skin that is most similar to Microsoft Windows XP or Microsoft Windows Vista. This is a pretty dramatic shift from the single-column, function-grouped interface of major cPanel installations, and it promotes a degree of usability that might be best suited for novice web hosting customers.
Plesk Panel comes standard with a two-pane interface. On the lefthand side, a sidebar is presented that allows users to navigate between several different categories of functionality. This might include navigating between a reseller environment and a shared hosting plan, or navigating between the included site builder and more advanced tools like the database manager. The sidebar is also highly contextual, and it will adapt as users navigate throughout each administration open presented in Plesk. That means a user managing a database, for example, will see a database-infused sidebar full of tools for managing users, database names, and the contend of the database; it’s a far more fluid work environment than many other backend solutions permit.
On the righthand side, upon login, users will notice a large number of function-grouped categories that most resembles the typical cPanel environment. In this area, they’ll be able to install applications to the web hosting account (or to the server itself, if relevant). They’ll also be able to manage databases, add new domains, specify subdomains, and interact with any third-party applications or tools. Perhaps the best comparison for this operating environment would be the Windows Vista control panel interface, where the contextual sidebar is paired with a list of functions in a much larger righthand pane. Anyone familiar with that interface will feel right at home in Plesk Panel.
The Parallels Plesk Sitebuilder: Getting Online with a Few Clicks
Almost every Plesk Panel installation for shared hosting, virtual servers, or dedicated servers, will come with the popular Parallels Plesk Sitebuilder software for easy deployment of new website. The software is much like a standard, desktop-based WYSIWYG development tool for robust, XHTML and CSS websites. It comes with a large number of standard templates for website content and, after a user selects that template, they’ll immediately be transferred to a page where they can edit the content and play around with the default design elements.
This WYSIWYG website creation software is perhaps one of the real highlights of Plesk, as it’s easily the most advanced and most usable solution on the market for those new to web design and development. Templates exist for all kinds of websites, including typical blogs, photo albums or galleries, and portfolios. And, because everything can be dragged or dropped into place, templates can be customized to the extent that they don’t even look pre-made at all. That’s an important thing to note, as many more basic website builder applications force their users to stick with a generic, unmodified design, and that can bring down a website’s perceived quality.
Novice web hosting customers who have little or no experience creating websites will absolutely want to make sure this software is included with their web hosting package. It’s far more affordable than purchasing a desktop software license, and it’s easily as advanced as any more expensive application by major application developers like Adobe. Since it’s essentially free with a web hosting package, there’s no reason not to seek it out and put it to good use.
The Plesk Panel Application Vault Makes Installing Web Apps Easy
For those web hosting customers who are familiar with the cPanel backend environment, the word “Fantastico” probably comes to mind when considering how to install any number of major web applications. That open source add-on can install everything from WordPress to phpBB and beyond, and it’s one of the easiest ways to get a new hosting account up and running in the least amount of time. It’s certainly easier than manually uploading all of the necessary files via an FTP application upon switching hosts.
This option is not available for Plesk Panel in the form of Fantastic. Instead, Parallels has developed its own application installation solution known as the Plesk Panel Application Vault. Depending on which operating system is currently powering the Plesk Panel backend environment, it can feature anything from WordPress to MovableType, Invision Power Board to phpBB. Just like its open source counterpart, the Application Vault merely requires a username and password, and some other basic settings; with a single click, it installs the software and creates a new database (either MySQL or MS SQL, in most cases). With that, the new application is ready to be customized to the user’s liking, and no advanced setup knowledge is needed on behalf of the web hosting customer.
Transitioning to Plesk: Something to Keep in Mind
One thing worth noting is that going from a cPanel environment (or any other control panel software) to a Plesk Panels setup can present some big hurdles. Most notably, cPanel and Plesk Panel produce database and file backups in slightly different ways that might make it a bit complex to restore files. Customers should plan for this before choosing Plesk, and they should prepare themselves for a more manual file restoration process, likely using an FTP client to get the job done. This isn’t an ideal situation, of course, but it’s often a necessary inconvenience for many people who prefer the more advanced functionality and scalability of the Plesk Panel environment.
Overall, an Advanced Solution with a Simple Interface
The key thing to remember about the Plesk Panel software is that it’s inherently a more advanced and scalable solution than the cPanel alternative that is most commonly offered to customers of Linux hosting. While it’s sometimes used with shared web hosting accounts, its real strength lies in the management and deployment of virtual, dedicated, and cloud server operating environments. With advanced features like the Virtuozzo application container, and easy administration of dedicated server applications and libraries, Plesk Panel is the perfect way for dedicated server customers to get online and start managing either their own account, or any reseller accounts they’ve setup on that server.
Shared hosting customers will probably find Plesk a little bit confusing at first, and they might even want to stay away from the software in most cases. This is because Plesk Panel tends to favor its advanced features and routines over the simple administration of databases and files, whereas cPanel tends to prefer its basic functions over more advanced features. When it comes to ease of use, even the Plesk Panel interface can’t save it from being essentially a complex and advanced way to manage websites. That’s great for some, troubling for other, and it reinforces that picking a website control panel solution should done with a good amount of research and due diligence to avoid any problems after the purchase of a new hosting plan.
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