Let me start by asking if any of you have experience with Plesk? Plesk from SWsoft is a Web-based control panel for Windows and Linux servers that has been adopted by a number of hosting providers.
I was told by the support guys at my hosting company, Easy CGI, that providers favor Plesk because it makes remote administration easier for naive users. That raises the interesting question of who would try to run a remote Windows server if using a tool such as Remote Desktop is too challenging for them?
Anyway, I had some limited experience with Plesk but when I opened a Windows 2003-based Virtual Private Server (VPS) account with Easy CGI I got an in-depth look.
To provision VPSs, Easy CGI -- like many other hosting providers -- uses Plesk along with Virtuozzo, an immensely powerful operating system virtualization system (also from SWsoft).
Allow me to digress for a moment: Unlike virtual machine technology, Virtuozzo doesn't create complete virtual machines (essentially emulations of complete hardware systems), but rather implements what are called virtual environments. In other words, the OS kernel is replicated, not the hardware. Thus each virtual environment shares the kernel but each has its own private system libraries, applications and configuration.
The advantage of the virtual environment technique is that it is less resource intensive than a virtual machine system. The consequence is that, where a virtual machine system might support tens of virtual machines, a virtual environment system on the same hardware can support hundreds of virtual environments. The downside is that a virtual environment system can only run multiple environments that are copies of the underlying operating system, whereas a virtual machine solution can simultaneously run different operating systems.
Virtuozzo is without doubt an amazing solution. But it appears that the same can't be said of Plesk.
At Easy CGI Plesk is configured to be responsible for service features, such as the installation of PHP. PHP was, in fact, the reason I opened the VPS account in the first place.
The shared hosting account I currently have with Easy CGI only supports PHP 4.3.1. I wanted to test a really cool program called Simple Groupware that might work great for my wife's company, but that software requires PHP 4.3.2 or higher!
I still don't exactly know what went wrong, but somehow the PHP installation on my VPS was screwed up from square one. I tried reinstalling PHP but no luck, and the tech blamed Plesk. Then the server hosting my VPS had some mysterious fault that caused problems including serious performance drop offs. The tech said he would rebuild my VPS without Plesk (I was happy to work without it) and that he would move my VPS to a new server.
PHP got wiped out when my VPS was reinitialized so I had to reinstall it on the new VPS. Then the performance fell off a cliff again and it turned out my VPS was still on the original server. This time they moved my VPS, but when I went to install Simple Groupware I found that PHP had stopped working -- somehow the OS configuration of my VPS had been damaged.
That is actually the short version of the story and it is now 16 days since I opened the VPS account and I have achieved nothing! Needless to say, I am closing the VPS account and I'm going to move that project to another hosting provider. Any suggestions?