If you have a server (for example one of our VPS, Virtual Dedicated Servers or a Dedicated Server) you might ask yourself “Do I need a control panel like Plesk or cPanel, or not?”.
As the answer is not as easy as “YES” or “NO”, we are going to elaborate on why we think using a control panel is beneficial.
If you order a server with Linux or Windows pre-installed, you will have to configure all tools by yourself. You need to install for example Apache, maybe add and configure nginx on top of it. Then install and set up the mail server. If you want to run databases, you have to install mySQL or MariaDB as well. For easy management, you might want to install phpMyAdmin on top. And of course, you want to be able to upload files as well, so an FTP server is needed, too.
If you do this on a daily basis, you should be able to have it up and running within some hours. But if you only do it every other year or have never done it before, it might take some days until you have everything installed and configured.
In addition to installing everything manually, your setup might also change from installation to installation. With most control panels, the setup is tested accordingly to a quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) process with all components, and the recommended, standard installation will always be based on best practices. Also, the setup process includes all needed components and configures them automatically.
Less interaction per SSH or RDP
After the first steps, you might have to change some configurations or you have to install new components. For this, you have to connect to the server directly (on Linux normally per SSH and on Windows with RDP). While this is for some people the daily business, other people might struggle with it and might fear doing something wrong.
As we all know, keeping your server updated is very important, for both security and feature availability reasons. You could either do it yourself, or rely on a control panel to take care of updating the operating system.
Even though your system is up2date, it could still face security issues due to misconfiguration. For example, the mail server might allow anyone to relay mails through it. Or you have a weak password and someone might be able to hack it via brute force. Many control panels come with secure pre-configured services and pre-installed tools to prevent brute-force attacks (e.g. with fail2ban).
It’s not only about Security but also about Backups. You could choose to run your own backup scripts, or you can use the built-in Backup routines of a control panel.
Monitoring and Logfiles
It’s always important to monitor your server. Are all services up and running? Is there enough space left on your hard disk? You might also have to check logfiles for debugging reasons. Both tasks (monitoring and checking logfiles) could either be done manually by you, or you could simply use a control panel, which offers internal monitoring of the services (and maybe automatically restarts the services). For logfiles, an integrated logfile-browser is a great way to debug any kind of problem you might face.
The installation of an SSL Certificate is another example where a control panel saves a lot of your time. Without a control panel, you will need to install openssl. Then you need to generate a private key and a Certificate Signing Request (CSR). With this CSR you could go to your hosting provider and order a valid SSL Certificate. Based on the type of SSL Certificate, you need to confirm an email or hand in other documents.
Another alternative is Let’s Encrypt. Let’s Encrypt offers free certificates which are valid for 3 months. For this, you need to install Let’s Encrypt and configure it with your existing webserver. In addition, you need to set up a renewal process, so that all certificates get renewed automatically.
With many control panels, you can directly receive free SSL certificates which will be automatically renewed as well. If you want a different kind of SSL certificate (e.g. one which turns your browser bar green), you can generate all the needed files directly from the control panel.
Manage yourself and your customers
Adding new customers and managing them; configuring new mailboxes, changing passwords, creating mySQL users and databases – without a control panel, all these tasks must be done manually.
With a control panel, your customers can handle such tasks themselves. They can easily change things on their own, which saves time and resources for both you and your customers.
In addition, with service templates, you could ensure that the setup of new customers is always completed with the same rights and resources.
Based on w3techs.com, PHP is used by 79% of all the websites they scan. One of the most important topics with PHP is to stay always up2date and to be able to change the version per website. Without a control panel, you will have to do this always manually with the webserver configuration, which is way more time consuming and error-prone.
Applications and Add-ons
Applications like WordPress, Typo3, and Magento often have a long installation and configuration process: Getting the sources, setting up the database, installing it, configuring it, and so on. Many tasks need to be done even before you can start doing what you want to do. In addition, most applications have to be secured, which will take additional time as well. Most control panels have a convenient one-click installer for all common applications.
As you can see there are many reasons to use a Control panel, depending on your own use case.
At Contabo, we offer you 3 different control panels: cPanel, Plesk and Webmin. While Webmin is free of charge, it is at the same time less comfortable to manage you and your accounts. Eventually, your choice of a certain panel also depends on your operating system: cPanel can only be combined with CentOS, whereas Plesk can also be used with Ubuntu, Debian, and Windows Server.
What is more, at Contabo you can exclusively test Plesk one month for free and see for yourself if it fits your needs and meets your expectations!