Whether you are just looking for a hosting control panel for shared hosting or whether you are looking for a control panel for your VPS or Dedicated Server the chances are that you will be considering one of the two main options; cPanel or Plesk.
The Control Panel will allow you to manage all aspects of your server without having to resort to command lines or any other utilities. You will be able to add and delete new users, databases, view the error logs for your server, install popular software, configure email, and perform hundreds of other day-to-day maintenance activities on the server including backup and restoration. A control panel for a Web server can do so much today that it’s almost unimaginable to think of going without one — even though it’s technically possible.
When choosing a control panel, one of the main difficulties lies in the fact that migration between them is difficult. To save yourself much trouble and expense in the future because you change your mind, or you want to move to a host that uses a different control panel it is important to get it right first time.
This article looks at some of the main differences between the various control panels, and goes into a little more detail than you would need if you are only looking for shared hosting and wanting to know the differences in control panel. That being said, if you are looking for a reseller, VPS or dedicated where you often get access to the full functionality the differences are more relevant.
A look at the Interface
Probably the main thing that may influence your choice is the look and design of the control panel interface. Certainly, it doesn’t feel good to get lumbered with an antiquated looking interface, but equally you will want to know that you have easy access to all the common things that you might expect to manage your hosting account, or indeed manage different users and plans for reseller accounts.
cPanel has two main sections. The front end for Users (cPanel) and the Adminitration Area (WHM).
Take a look at the demos, you can obtain access to the two demos here.
Operating System Compatibility
It’s important to choose a product that plays well with the operating system you’re familiar with. Even though each of these provides a GUI that abstracts the underlying workings of the server, it still helps a great deal to be comfortable with whatever OS the server runs on. Say for example you wish to install a few add-ons from some vendors, you need to make sure that they are compatible with your environment. So your needs and experience will play a huge role in determining which web hosting control panel you want to go with.
|Plesk||Windows Server (2012, 2016), Linux (CentOS/CloudLinux/RedHat/Ubuntu/Debian, openSUSE)|
For all its market share, cPanel runs exclusively on Linux systems and it officially supports three versions — CentOS, CloudLinux, and RedHat. Despite this limitation, it’s been able to get by because of the prevalence of Linux in the server marketplace. So if your experience tilts more toward a Windows server, cPanel is probably not the right control panel for your needs unless you wish to obtain some experience with the workings of a Linux environment.
Several years ago, cPanel had released a product that still in the development stage called Enkompass, which was meant to be a Windows rendition of cPanel. Unfortunately, the product never received the attention necessary to make it a success and as it was later offered for free, it stopped generating revenue and therefore wasn’t updated. Finally, the product reached its End-Of-Life stage in early 2014.
Bottom line: if you want a Windows server, you can’t use cPanel.
Unlike cPanel, Plesk offers support for a much wider variety of operating systems including variations within Linux itself. In addition to the three Linux OSs supported by cPanel, Plesk can also run on Ubuntu, Debian, and openSUSE.
But where it really pulls ahead of its primary competitor is in its support for Windows. As of now, Plesk recommends Windows Server 2012 R2 whereas the older versions of Windows have reached their End-Of-Life as new versions get released. Out of the three, Plesk is the only one that provides Windows support. Which means that your choice among these three is pretty much a given if that’s the platform you want to use.
Backend/Frontend and Functionality
If you’ve used cPanel from a client’s perspective as opposed to someone who runs their own server, you may never even have heard of WHM. WHM is the “backend” of cPanel and is a software used by server administrators to perform all the functions that cPanel users can’t. It ranges from setting up DNS clusters, comprehensive security rules, creating and assigning packages, server level configuration, and a host of other functions unavailable through cPanel.
If you are a client who has just purchased a shared hosting plan, however, you would never even see WHM. Your username/password combination would be used to log directly into cPanel either as a regular user or a reseller. The options available in WHM are so comprehensive and detailed that it’s impossible even to know where to start.
Plesk — has no such split personalities. What you can and cannot do depends entirely on the permissions assigned to you. The interface will look pretty much the same with certain options enabled and disabled.
|Configurable reseller hosting packages||YES||YES|
|CSS-brandable reseller experience||NO||YES|
|CSS-based theme system||NO||YES|
|Multiple language packs||YES||YES|
|Manage all daemons from one screen||NO||NO|
|One screen shows full system health||NO||NO|
|Fast, RPM-based installation||~35 MIN||~20 MIN|
|Full API Coverage (SOAP, XMLRPC, and CLI interfaces)||NO||XML AND CLI|
|Advanced IPv6 Management via IPv6 Pools||NO||NO|
|Multiple IPs (v4 and v6) per domain||NO||YES|
|IPv6 diagnostic tools||NO||NO|
|Manage MySQL databases, users, & permissions||YES||YES|
|View & terminate running queries||NO||NO|
|Configurable mailboxes, forwarders, quotas||YES||YES|
|Configurable spam filtering||YES||YES|
|E-mail virus protection||YES||YES|
|Domainkeys (DKIM) & SPF records||YES||LIMITED|
|Global white & black lists||YES||YES|
|Secure Remote Assistance Feature||YES||YES|
|Problem Detection/Notification/Repair System||NO||YES|
|Graphical Real Time Usage Statistics||LIMITED||LIMITED|
|High availability load balancing||NO||NO|
|External MySQL servers (one or multiple)||NO||YES|
|External file servers||NO||YES|
|External DNS syncronization||YES||YES|
|Real-time graphs of clustered servers||NO||NO|
|DNS||BIND||MSDNS OR BIND|
As an extension of the above discussion, the security models for cPanel, Plesk, and DirectAdmin is quite different in the way they handle permissions for the different accounts or sub-accounts.
|Avg. days to acknowledge an exploit||9||1|
|Avg. days to resolve an exploit||28||9|
|Website owners can create sub-users||NO||NO|
|Server admin. & reseller-level sub-users||NO||YES|
|Permission settings for all sub-users||NO||YES|
With cPanel/WHM, you have someone who can access WHM and create individual cPanel accounts for each user. The capabilities of each account, as well as the resources it can use, depend on what packages are assigned to it.
Plesk, on the other hand, has the concept of “subscriptions”. Each subscription is linked to a specific service plan that lays out the necessary resources that a user can access.