If you have a website, you have a web host. And if you have a web host, you have a control panel. A web host control panel is simply the interface provided by your hosting service which allows you to access your services and manage your servers.
Your web hosting control panel gives you access to your server’s file manager, database, and mail server, allows you to adjust your firewall and spam filter and shows you your site’s traffic logs. Without these tools, you cannot properly manage your site.
Usually, if you purchase shared or virtual hosting, this type of hosting service comes with a control panel interface. If you need to switch over to a dedicated server, though, you’ll need to set up your own interface. Having the interface already set up for you is easier to manage, but being able to put your interface on the server yourself allows you more control.
There are a number of the popular web hosting control panel options. Two of the most popular include cPanel and Plesk. They both provide access to the tools and menus you’ll need to properly manage your hosted site.
Most users seem to prefer cPanel over Plesk. However, this is often because cPanel is offered by many hosting companies by default, leaving other interface options out of the picture. Since hosting that offers an interface built-in is usually a business owner’s first experience with a web host control panel, it becomes the one they are comfortable with. When they move to a self-hosted service where they need to provide their own control panel interface, it makes sense to continue with the familiar option.
cPanel has been around for a long time. It was first released in 1996. But don’t think that this early first release makes cPanel outdated. The latest stable release was in June of 2020, with regular updates during the intervening years. cPanel has been kept up to date with regular overhauls of the visuals of the interface, as well as to the back-end programming of the tools.
One major drawback of cPanel is that it needs to be installed on a clean, formatted system with a fresh install of the operating system, with minor configuration done before installation. In addition, once installed, cPanel is nearly impossible to remove. Their own guides recommend reformatting the server instead of attempting to uninstall the program.
cPanel is priced on an account-based structure. It combines factors on a per-account and per-server basis. Depending on your server needs, this could result in an expensive software license. Some users also complain that this pricing structure is difficult to implement, which makes it harder for them to budget the cost ahead of time.
The cPanel interface may look a bit intimidating at first glance, as there are many features linked directly from the home screen. Instead of a traditional menu layout, all of the links are shown at once. However, once you have used the interface for a bit, most users say that this layout makes accessing features faster and easier.
The interface is customizable. The order of the module links can be changed, as can the categories of links. Individual buttons and even whole categories can be hidden if you won’t use them. This further simplifies the process of finding the features you need.
Compared to cPanel, Plesk is a newcomer to the control panel market. Plesk is a Linux-based interface that originally went live in 2001. More than 350,000 servers use Plesk as their control panel interface. It can be used on both Linux-based and Windows-based servers.
Plesk is especially popular for database use. It is often shipped in combination with popular database management tools and supports nearly all database engines.
There are three editions of Plesk, which serve different purposes. The Web Admin Edition is right if you just need to manage a simple website and one or a handful of domains. This version doesn’t come with a lot of features, but for these purposes, you probably won’t need them.
Web Pro Edition comes with more flexibility and security, as well as more features. The tools in this version allow for automation and mass-management of multiple projects. Finally, there is the Web Host Edition. This is the most complex version of the interface and is designed for businesses that themselves host web servers. This is the only version which provides access to domain management tools.
Pricing for Plesk is simpler than pricing for cPanel. Licenses are sold for each of the three editions in either a monthly or annual format. It is up to the customer to determine which version of the software will work for them.
Plesk looks completely different from cPanel, and from most other web hosting control panels. Instead, it more resembles a content management system, like the WordPress interface. All of the features are instead menus in the left-hand panel, making for a more modern design. The home page of the interface is much more streamlined and modern looking. On simple aesthetics, Plesk is the clear winner.
Like cPanel, the Plesk interface is customizable. Modules that you use frequently can be put onto a “quick view” bar on the home page of the interface, letting you access them without having to go through layers of menus.
Since most modern computer users are familiar with the concept of menus, it’s an easier learning curve to find what you need in Plesk. However, since all of the features are hidden inside various menu titles, there might be unused options that are hard to find or easily forgotten.
Most of the features between the two web hosting control panels are the same. At the end of the day, it really comes down to personal preference. It’s just about which interface you find easier to use, and which pricing structure works better for your business.
Based on some small differences between the two, Plesk is probably the best option for single proprietors and small businesses. cPanel is probably better for larger enterprises, resellers, and software developers.