Introduction: Server Management Panel
A server management panel provides a graphical or command line based interface for managing your server. Some common server control panel features include:
a. Installation of database server such as MySQL,
b. Web servers like Nginx and Apache,
c. Setting up firewall and SSL certificate,
d. Creating user accounts and websites using content management systems such as WordPress.
Server Management using a Control Panel
Majority of the readers who have used shared web hosting will familiar with using a web browser based panel for managing the servers. Most providers offer CPanel, Plesk, or DirectAdmin based web hosting control panels. Thus, the concept or idea of a web based control panel may not be new to many of us. However, the installation, configuration and management may not be familiar to most. In many online forums, Facebook groups, and sites such as Quora and Reddit, users ask questions like “Which is the best server management panel?”
Many blogs are written with similar titles, such as this one.
My trigger for writing this post
There was a similar discussion on LowEndTalk a few months ago. The discussion yielded a good list of panels for servers, in the free, freemium, and paid only pricing range. In the next section, have listed some of the panels that I have read about or come across in many of the discussions.
The fallacy of “Best” Server Management Panel
This question “Which is the best server management panel?”, itself is rather pointless. After all, different people may have different requirements and constraints. Some of these are :
- Familiarity with Linux and or command line,
- Ability to manage a server,
- Trust in a third party service (convenience versus delegation),
- Budget (free or open source versus premium panels)
The more relevant question in my opinion, should be,
Or “How do I select a Web Hosting Panel?”
But that is a discussion for a separate topic.
Below is a list of panels I have come across in different discussions. This list is in no particular order. I have installed and played around with a few of them, and will share my thoughts on them in subsequent posts.
|Free/ Open Source||Freemium||Paid|
|CentOS Web Panel||Gridpane|
(Open source, BSD License)
When I started looking at the world of servers and server panels, I noticed that different hosts used different web panels. For example, my first web host, GoDaddy, used a different panel whose name I do not recall. (I know, but you have to start somewhere!)
Later, I signed up for a WordPress hosting Plan by Hostgator. I learned they used a crippled version of CPanel. In 2017, I came across one of my hosts, and domain registrars, Rorarii. They use a custom form of cPanel, that might slightly resemble Interworks.
Majority of web hosting services offer hosting based on cPanel, DirectAdmin, Plex, or similar commercially available web hosting control panel.
Open source alternatives include Froxlor, as well as some new ones which are under development. Github is a good starting point to look up some of them. Several blog posts have lists of cloud control panel or open source control panels to manage Linux servers. And of course, Wikipedia has an entire dedicated page on web hosting control panels.
Features of Server Management Panels
When we look at server panels such as Runcloud, Serverpilot, and Server Avatar, we begin to notice some commonalities.
The common features in these web based cloud or server management panels include:
- They have control panel with a graphical interface. A command line tool, may be optional in some of them.
- Most of the panels require the use of Linux (or BSD). Some even require or recommend Ubuntu 18.04 20.04. Others like Centminmod or CentOsWeb Panel require of course CentOs. HestiaCP or VestaCP recommend Ubuntu or Debian 10.
- Almost all panels require a KVM based Virtual Private Server.
- The setup for every server control panel is quite similar: a. You need a VPS with a clean installation of Linus of operating system recommended by the Panel provider.
- Some may or may not offer the option of setting up a mail server.
- A web hosting control panel, through which you can install content management systems, such as WordPress. There are tools to add your domain name. You can add virtual hosts as well.
b. You have to run a script, either as a sudo or a root, which will connect your VPS to the server management panel
c. You can access the control panel through a web based interface on a predefined port.
d.Majority of the scripts for panels will install a database such as MySQL, web servers such as Apache or Nginx. And they would install other system administration tools and file management tools.
e.Adding users, changing permissions, setting up cron jobs, etc. can be done via web interface. You can assign roles to different users, set up a system user, add or modify ssh keys, and so on.
Reviews of Server Management Panels (to follow separately):
Cloudpanel, VPSNoobs, Runcloud, Server Avatar, HestiaCP, Cleaver, and Gridpane.
- 21 Open Source/Commercial Control Panels to Manage Linux Servers (tecmint.com)
- 10 Best Cloud-based Control Panel to Manage Servers & Websites – Geekflare (geekflare.com)
- Comparison of Top 11 Open Source Hosting Panels in 2020 (znetlive.com)
- Let’s Compare: RunCloud vs Forge vs ServerPilot – SitePoint (sitepoint.com)
- Capterra and ProductHunt have some more reviews for web hosting server control panels
My notes from testing server panels
Almos all of the panels require PHP; there are panels for Python and other languages, such as APISCP
- Cloudpanel –> I found it to be an impressive panel with a simple and clean interface. Works quite well with a good set of VHosts and content management systems such as WordPress, Drupal, and many more.
- Cloudron <– During installation and configuration, getting errors, need to install this panel again on a VPS and test further.
- HestiaCP –> I found it to be lightweight and easy to install. It works well with Debian 10 on a 1 GB OVZ.
- VPSNoobs –> This panel is based on Cipi, I experienced issues with the dashboard, possibly a browser issue otherwise okay
- Cleaver –> Good, fast in testing. Learnt about it from Betalist, tried it while it was still as a free trial.
- Server Avatar –> lots of issues initially with connecting VPS initially, had to reach out to customer support to set up the VPS. In testing around August 2020, configuration was easy!
- Runcloud –> Had considered their LT deal as alternate to GP
- Gridpane –> Pick of the lot. Mature, robust stack. Premium product, justifies the premium.
- Centminmod –> Did not try, so cannot comment.
- Webuzo –> I tried installing Webuzo through Virtualizer, but got configuration errors. Need to try again at a later time. The installation at the click of a button is convenient. However, I miss the opportunity to peek under the hood and learn what is going on.
- CentOS Web Panel –> I first experienced this panel while using the shared hosting plan by Illy Hosting. From a user’s perspective, it was a breeze to configure. I was able to do the basics- add a domain configure DNS, create a WordPress site. I haven’t used CentOS Web Panel as an admin, therefore cannot comment on this option for server management panel form that angle.
- Openlitespeed –> Installation worked well, configuration was quite easy, though I experienced some SSL issues during configuration, which is user error.
- Cyberpanel : I did not spend enough time with Cyberpanel to comment on its efficacy.