This post’s title definitely covers a lot what I’m doing, but to get into any detail I’ll need to break it out into separate follow up posts. Suffice to say that I started a new blog, to compliment the posts on my company’s site FifthCup.com. But before doing so I had to consider two things, where to host it, and what theme for WordPress I was going to use.
The move to DigitalOcean
FifthCup.com has been hosted at BlueHost for some time now and BlueHost has been a great host. I still have a number of sites hosted there, and I’ve recommended BlueHost to a number of clients. For the price point and stability it’s a great shared hosting provider. But I’ve come to want a little more than that.
For a basic business brochure website, their performance is fine. But lately I’ve seen more and more lags in the performance of my sites, especially in the administrative dashboard for the websites. For a blog that I intend to post on frequently, lags will drive me nuts.
Using my website monitoring tool of choice Pingdom, I looked at the overall average page load time over the past 6 months across a number of sites I have, some on BlueHost, some on Site5, and some on GoDaddy. I even looked at a website we (my day job) host on a Rackspace virtual server. Rackspace was the fastest, of course, at around 350ms. But we’re also talking a $700+/month multiple server environment. Site5 was next at around 950ms. And then the surprise…
GoDaddy, the hosting provider everyone laughs at, was BETTER than BlueHost! GoDaddy came in at 2000ms while BlueHost came in at 3000ms. WTH!
(Ok, Ok. This was NOT a scientific study using the exact same site across all providers, and I took liberties at rounding the values. I get it. But they were all relatively basic business sites without a lot of images on the home page. Close enough for me.)
Since I’ve been reading about VPSs (Virtual Private Server) for some time, and we’re using them at my day job, I figured I’d pony up some cash and give one a try for a year. Looking at online reviews, and recommendations from the WordPress community, I narrowed my search to VPS.NET, Linode and DigitalOcean. My budget was set at $20/month, so I knew I’d be looking at unmanaged servers. All of those providers had great reviews and loyal followings.
Long story short, DigitalOcean got me the most for my money, and had some of the easiest to follow tutorials. (It’s been 25 years since I was a Unix system administrator, so having good tutorials was important to me as I get back up to speed on command line Linux.)
I’ve been playing around and I’m on my 3rd Droplet rebuild (more on that in the next post). The average page load speed over the past few days has been between 375ms and 500ms, depending on the operating system. (The CentOS Droplet seems to have been faster than the Ubuntu Droplet image.) Even at the average 500ms I am thrilled to have a such a responsive site. We’ll see how things go in the coming months as I add additional websites to the server.
Another thing I’d like to experiment on with this blog is different themes and frameworks. Over the last 6+ years developing WordPress websites I’ve gone from handcrafting the entire theme, to using off the shelf themes, to starter themes. Currently when we build themes at FifthCup.com we use the Underscores starter theme. I love the Underscores starter theme. It makes sense to me. No child theme. No overriding parent theme functions. Just basic core WordPress functionality. If you want to change the header you just open up header.php and edit the code.
Enter the Genesis Framework by the very talented Studiopress. Some of the big names in the WordPress community, like Bill Erickson, have successful businesses based on building child themes on top of the Genesis Framework. And a number of blogs I follow, such as Chris Lema’s and Chris Brogan’s, are all built on Genesis. I am obviously missing out on something.
Honestly, I’ve been playing around with Genesis for over a week now and I just haven’t “gotten it”. Instead of jumping into header.php to modify the header, I find myself googling for code to insert into functions.php. Since I’m not used to using child themes, maybe this is how things work, but it sure seems more complicated than Underscores. Yes, it’s nice you get a number of pre-built features, but there’s nothing I see that I couldn’t already get from a number of well known plugins.
I’ll keep giving this a try for the next couple of months. I’m definitely missing something as people swear by Genesis. Hopefully I’ll “get” it. Then I’ll be off to another framework, probably Builder by iThemes. What do you think?