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So, during this exercise in rediscovering WordPress I’ve been determined to try and make the setup & management side as simple and robust as possible.  As part of this, I’ve been exploring tools for managing servers & streamlining WordPress installations along with the new breed of tools aimed at managing multiple WordPress sites from a single dashboard.

It used to be really simple… you either downloaded WordPress from wordpress.org and installed it on your own, hand-crafted server; or signed up at WordPress.com and let someone else worry about all the details & mechanics involved in running a website. If that was too challenging, other tools readily filled the gap ranging from ultra-simple micro blogging services such as Tumbler through to emerging options like hosted Ghost.  Now, you can kind of get the best of both worlds – gaining the flexibility of running your own server & website while taking advantage of some amazing management tools to streamline getting started along with automating some of the management overheads; especially if you want to run multiple websites.

I’ve experimented with solving this problem through WordPress Multisite before, which if you’ve not encountered it, is a pretty good way for managing a load of websites from one installation. You end up with one set of plugins & themes, along with one core set of WordPress code – which can be monitored & updated from a single WordPress dashboard.

However, Multisite can cause a number of problems with plugins as not all plugins (and themes) are written to run properly in a Multisite environment. You also end up with a system in which all sites running on your Multisite install are essentially tied together – if something breaks with the install, all the sites break. Finally, it can be a nightmare to get up and running properly – and isn’t really recommended unless you know your way around PHP & mySQL!

Leaving multisite out of the picture, if you need to run multiple WordPress websites (and want to do so on your own servers) you’re basically left with maintaining a collection of separate WordPress installations – each with its own Dashboard, plugins, themes & content. The advantages of this are that a problem with one site cannot affect another, and that each website can have its own unique set of plugins and themes along with any necessary tweaks to optimise them for the site in question. However, what’s not so good is that each site then needs to be updated and maintained separately – which can produce quite an overhead as a regular maintenance task!

Unless you opt for a managed hosting provider, decide to use shared web hosting or go with a specialised WordPress host such as http://wpengine.com then you will probably also need to build a web server on some form of VPS, and maintain it.

It is however possible to now streamline the entire process – and harness the benefits of a whole new breed of management services.  Assuming you use a good hosting provider such as DigitalOcean to create a shiny new virtual server, it’s possible to use a server management platform such as ServerPilot.io to install everything you need to run PHP / mySQL websites in about 10 minutes flat. ServerPilot.io offers a simple dashboard from which you can add and build a new server by running a single setup script. Once finished, you have a fully configured and ready-for-production machine running Linux, mySQL, PHP, Apache & NGINX – all setup ready for you to install your websites & databases.

It’s brilliant! 

I cannot see myself going back to manually building servers for simple web hosting unless I need something more specialised – why waste valuable time on hand-crafting the installation when you can use ServerPilot to build, configure, manage AND update it… all for free!?

Once ready, you simply create an “App” and database using ServerPilot and upload your website files. If you’re migrating an existing website, then there’s a fantastic WordPress plugin available called Duplicator which can package up an existing website, resulting in a simple installation script & zip archive of everything needed to run your website. Copy across the two files, set any permissions necessary, and run… Your website is then simply unpacked and deployed complete with any associated data, files or plugins.

Once up and running, another whole new breed of services are then able to streamline managing and maintaining WordPress. Gone are the days of managing individual WordPress installations if you have more than one of them. Tools such as ManageWP and even WordPress.com‘s own suite of services (delivered via the awesome Jetpack plugin) gather together your sites into one cohesive dashboard – resulting in a single way of updating sites, managing plugins and posting content! Simple!!

So at the moment, I’m trying the following configuration:

This seems to work pretty well, and every time I set something else up I end up more impressed by DigitalOcean & ServerPilot; think this combination will be my platform of choice for a while. Fantastic value, even better performance and rock-solid reliability!!

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