Using Amazon’s Lightsail VPS service for WordPress Hosting

Let’s talk about using Amazon’s Lightsail VPS (Virtual Private Server) service for WordPress hosting.

It starts pretty cheap – but does it have the performance we need?

NOTE: This article is a work in progress. Please check back in the near future and we’ll have results – but for now – have a read and see if you can understand what we’re trying to prove.

Amazon's Lightsail is their easy to use VPS service (Virtual Private Servers)

Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides Lightsail – it’s an easy to use VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting service.

Is there going to be a lot of management overhead?

After all this is not a managed VPS service, but rather an un-managed one.

That’s what we’ll discuss in this review of AWS Lightsail.

Why use a VPS (Virtual Private Server)?

First of all, why would we use a VPS rather than shared hosting for our small business WordPress site?

Shared hosting is great – it’s economical and there are many providers to choose from (we like Ionos and A2 Hosting in particular.)

The other big benefit of shared hosting is how easy it is to get started – even as a total beginner. The CPanel and other services provided by the shared hosting company make it really easy to run multiple WordPress sites, manage email, and more.

But the downside of shared hosting – it’s shared.

That means your WordPress site is one of hundreds (or thousands) all living on the same server.

And this is probably fine – for a smaller site.

As your site grows and receives substantial page views (50,000 page views per month or more) you may find that the shared hosting performance is simply too slow, or too fluctuating.

It’s also possible to have large scale security breaches on these shared hosting services – which means many sites are compromised at once.

That brings us to the next step up in WordPress hosting – the VPS or Virtual Private Server.

This is a full virtual machine hosted for you.

Typically this is a linux host (but there are Windows VPS hosts too.)

How is this better than shared hosting?

There is less variability in the resources (CPU, RAM, I/O, Network) available for your site.

Performance is more predictable, and you can typically scale your site up much, much larger than a shared hosting option will support.

And you get precise control over what software is installed – which is something you CANNOT do in shared hosting.

What’s the downside to this?

First of all managing a VPS takes a lot more Linux and Internet knowledge.

Secondly, there’s usually more cost to the VPS option, because you are utilizing more resources.

How do we decide? When is the right time to look at VPS hosting instead of Shared Hosting?

How to Know You’ve Outgrown Shared Hosting

How do you know when you’ve outgrown shared hosting?

Here’s some things to look for.

The site is too slow – because simply too many people are visiting it.

The site is too slow – for reasons unknown – remember you are on a shared host – there’s no telling where the load is coming from.

You want to utilize software options that your shared host doesn’t support.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was this:

Clicking around in the admin pages to do anything was becoming unbearably slow.

Adding posts, updating posts, navigating existing posts. All slow.

My site heavily leverages CloudFlare, W3TC cache, and other best practices for optimal performance.

But it was still dog slow when editing – and that’s wasted time for me.

So, here we go.

Why use AWS Lightsail VPS?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a huge cloud provider.

They are far, far bigger than any of the smalltime VPS and shared hosting shops.

They have tons of geographical hosting options.

They have advanced features.

Sounds great – but historically AWS has been an option targeted torwards big enterprises.

It’s quite expensive. Hosting your website on EC2 (“Elastic Cloud” which is their general purpose cloud server service) is usually not a financially sound option for a medium size WordPress site.

Secondly EC2 setup and maintenance is fairly involved.

What I’m saying is that EC2 hosting for a medium size WordPress site doesn’t really make sense.

That’s where Lightsail comes in.

Lightsail is both simpler (to get up and running) and cheaper (to run on an ongoing basis) as compared to EC2.

Why is it cheaper than EC2? Because Lightsail is engineered for “bursty” type traffic that a medium size WordPress site might have. It’s not meant for the more intense needs of an Enterprise IT application.

And that leads us to the holy grail of WordPress site hosting – can we get the performance of VPS at a price in the ballpark of shared hosting?

That’s what we’ll be trying to prove.

Testing Lightsail VPS for WordPress Hosting

Here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m migrating a medium size WordPress site (160 indexed posts, 60K page views per month) from a Shared Hosting provider to an Lightsail VPS.

We’ll compare before and after performance stats (via Cloudflare and GTMetrix).

And we’ll also compare anecdotal performance – how snappy is performance when editing and managing posts, etc.

Below you’ll find notes I’m keeping on the Lightsail VPS setup.

Check back and we’ll have more info soon.

How Easy Is It To Get Up and Running in Lightsail?

It’s super easy. Create an AWS account, and go to Lightsail.

Then follow these rough steps (more detail coming later.)

AWS Lightsail - Home page

The AWS Lightsail home page is a very simplified experience, as compared to the rest of the AWS management pages.

AWS Lightsail Blueprint Selection Page

After clicking “Create Instance” you can select a blueprint – which means pre-installed apps. We want the WordPress option.

AWS Lightsail -VPS Sizing page

Then choose a size – we’re going to use the $20/mo 2 vCPU size as a starting point. You can always upgrade later if needed.

AWS Lightsail - naming your instance

Then you give your VPS instance a name, which makes it easy to manage multiple VPS hosts.

AWS Lightsail

Now we can see the Lightsail VPS instance and the IP we can use to access it. This is a public IP, but it’s temporary not a static IP.

AWS Lightsail Menu Options

What can we do now? We can Connect to our instance using nothing more than the web browser

AWS Lightsail - SSH in the web option

And now we’re at the Linux shell prompt… from start to finish in about 5 minutes.

AWS Lightsail - WordPress Bitnami default instance

You’ll also see this VPS already has WordPress installed and functional (The MySQL database is running on the VPS as well.)

AWS Lightsail - WordPress Admin

We can login too, and see all the admin options for this WordPress instance.

AWS Lightsail - connecting via SSH on Mac

Using SSH via the web is all well and good, but for better performance you can easily connect directly from a Mac (or windows)

So, at this point we have a default instance of WordPress up and running and we have administrator access.

But, there’s many important things still to do.

For one, we need to migrate our existing WordPress site, load a valid SSL certificate, etc.

We’ll cover that in the next article in this series.

For now, here’s some random notes on the process that will follow.

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