Most of the time, when we talk about hosting large WordPress sites, the conversation starts at VIP. If you don't know, VIP is the Automattic solution for enterprise WordPress hosting. It's claim to fame is all of the well-known news, blog and media sites it hosts (like CNN, Times, and TED).
But hosting with VIP can bring some constraints because the infrastructure that powers VIP is the same as that which powers all of WordPress.com – and that means you can't just throw any kind of code onto the platform. Every bit of code you want to deploy must be evaluated to make sure it won't do harm to the overall platform – and to make sure that support won't be overwhelmed with one specific site. After all, they're also managing millions of other sites.
Beyond that, the reality is that these days people are using WordPress for more than blogs, magazine and news sites. Complex applications are being built on WordPress and alternative hosting solutions may be what you're looking for.
Wait, what kind of site requires enterprise WordPress hosting?
When I hear the question, I often have to start by making a distinction. A site and an application are not the same thing.
A site has a lot of pages, with a lot of images, and can have tons of traffic. The problem you're solving there is scale and caching to make sure that millions of people can browse and read the site's content without crashing the whole thing. That's a big deal.
Thankfully WordPress and several hosts have worked on a lot of solutions to manage cache so that database calls can be limited. When you add a CDN like MaxCDN, you can make your site even more scalable.
An application is a bit different. It needs to manage the state of the system, and your engagement, even when something goes wrong. The easiest explanation I give people goes like this.
Imagine you're at Fortune and you're reading an article. You click to see the next article. It doesn't load. So you refresh and it loads. No problem. If it doesn't load, you refresh to the home page and find the article again. No issue.
Now imagine you're in the middle of booking an airline ticket to see your parents at Thanksgiving and you're at the part where you're picking a seat. But the seat you picked just got taken by someone else. If the site routes you back to the home page to start again, you're going to be pretty frustrated, right? It can't do that.
So sites and applications are different. And while you can use Cloudflare and/or a cache plugin to help you scale a site, you're likely going to need something a little different to scale an application that's running on WordPress.
When I worked at Crowd Favorite, we built both sites & applications. Most of them needed enterprise WordPress hosting. And many of them weren't a perfect fit for VIP, which is why I began digging into the players that our customers would need.
So what other choices do you have for enterprise WordPress hosting?
I believe that today there really are two enterprise WordPress hosts that deliver the value, support, security, and scale that are needed for large WordPress sites and applications.
I mentioned how hard it is to create your own scalable solution on Amazon a few minutes ago. Thankfully you don't have to do that because Pagely exists. If you don't know, Pagely sits on top of Amazon, as one of their premiere partners. They offer WordPress hosting for small and large companies alike.
Back when I was at Crowd Favorite, we recommended Pagely, particularly when an enterprise was doing more than just WordPress and had other parts of their system already hosted on Amazon. It made perfect sense since it meant both parts of their system would be there, in the same place.
When you want the scale that Amazon brings, but also want WordPress expertise, you don't want to talk to Amazon people about your infrastructure. That's when you want to talk to Josh – the other Josh – at Pagely. Joshua Strebel is the CEO. But the Josh that you want to talk to about your infrastructure is their CTO, Josh Eichorn – the former director of engineering at StumbleUpon. The dude knows his stuff.
Liquid Web / Nexcess
When it comes to support, it's the team size dedicated to helping clients manage their sites that really counts.
If you're looking for a team that is counted in the hundreds, then the folks powering the Managed WordPress and Managed WooCommerce products at Liquid Web (now Nexcess) can't be beat. I've seen tickets opened that have five different agents working on it. This past week I watched a friend reach out to them because of a particularly complicated Multisite issue. But it's for a site that gets millions of hits a month and had tons of sites on the network. Four days, eight engineers, support folks, and product people later, the issue was resolved.
No one wants a ticket to last four days. But no one wants tough problems to begin with. The issue is whether you are working with a partner who can and will hold on and never let go until the issue is resolved.
The good news? You have options.