Since a control panel will you interface for managing things on your web host, picking a good one is important, particularly if you are in the market for a VPS or Dedicated server which give you the option to install the control panel you want. In this article, I’ll try to help you make a decision as to what control panel you want.
cPanel is perhaps the most recognized name in control panels, and for good reason. It combines a wide feature set with an easy to learn interface. Most commercial Linux web hosts tend to use this control panel. In addition, it’s massive popularity means that there plenty of how-to articles and videos available to teach you how to use cPanel. And there is even a feature called Fantastico that installs common free software packages like WordPress with a single click. So if you don’t want to spend days learning a complex control panel, cPanel is a great choice.
cPanel even comes with a feature called Web Host Manager (WHM). It’s gives you complete control over your server and allows you to create user accounts and perform basic web host and control panel maintenance. While cPanel is more for the end user, WHM is for the server administrator.
There is one caveat, however. cPanel is mostly a Linux/Unix control panel. There is a beta build for the 64 bit version of Windows Server 2008, but it is quite unstable.
DirectAdmin is another Linux control panel that has a bit of a cult following. This control panel has nowhere near the market penetration of cPanel, but many network admins swear by it.
DirectAdmin is a significantly lighter control panel than cPanel, meaning that if your server has limited resources, it is often a better choice. It is also not tied into the operating system like cPanel is, meaning that a DirectAdmin crash will not take down your server. Admins also seem to like how it handles subdomains, where it gives each it’s own filesystem rather than having it as a subdirectory.
Being a lightweight control panel, DirectAdmin will never be able to compete with cPanel on features. cPanel has a more robust plugin system and far more plugins. cPanel also can manage your server in addition to the data on it.
But if you want a lightweight interface and don’t mind having a limited selection of hosts to choose from, DirectAdmin could be for you.
cPanel and DirectAdmin are great, but they only work on Linux servers. Plesk has no such restrictions.
Next to cPanel, Plesk is probably the most common control panel running on various web hosts. It’s a robust cross-platform alternative to cPanel that has many features that cPanel could only dream of. One of the biggest is cluster support. If you have multiple servers, you can control all of them from a single control panel. While there has been some success hacking cPanel into a clustered configuration, Plesk easily trumps it’s competition on this front. Another nifty feature is tight integration into the Windows Services architecture, making control of SQL servers and the like simple.
Plesk is not without it’s own problems, however. The biggest is performance. Particularly on Linux, Plesk can run like molasses in the winter. Of course not many admins use it on Linux because of how difficult it is to integrate Linux software packages, so perhaps that doesn’t matter too much.
This is actually far more than just a control panel, but it does provide one.
Virtuozzo is a software package often used to virtualize servers. It provided its own minimal control panel to control the server, but it is fairly simple. If you are planning on doing anything complex, you should install one of the control panels listed above on top of Virtuozzo.
So, which is best? It really depends. cPanel is the most popular, and you will find more support and plugins for it than any other Linux control panel. But DirectAdmin performs better, for the simple reason that it doesn’t do as much as cPanel. It’s a bit like a truck vs a Prius: a truck can haul more, but it needs more fuel. The Prius, meanwhile, will get light jobs done.
On Windows, Plesk is your best option. It’s popularity and deep integration with Windows means that it will make managing your windows servers easy. The cluster control panel is just icing on the cake. Don’t use it on your Linux server though, where cPanel is a much better option.