cPanel Alternatives: Finding a Control Panel That Can Replace cPanel
Last updated on Jan 15, 2022
Following the recent cPanel price hike, the web hosting community has been abuzz with talks of alternatives to cPanel and WHM. Many web hosting providers had built their entire business around cPanel and WHM, so the change of pricing structure is likely to hit them the worst. As such, looking for a reliable alternative to cPanel is definitely a logical conclusion for some web hosts.
With that said, do we even have a control panel that is capable of replacing cPanel and WHM in the long run? The primary reason why cPanel has enjoyed an unsaid monopoly in the industry is because of its reliable and robust feature-set. Can an alternative control panel beat that?
In this article, we will be taking a look at some cPanel alternatives.
The first name on our list, Plesk, has been around for quite a while and is possibly the closest control panel the hosting world has, when it comes to matching cPanel in terms of popularity.
In fact, Plesk has carved a niche market of its own and is used by a wide audience. Especially popular for Windows servers, Plesk can do an equally good job at managing Linux servers. As such, if a web host were to ever move away from cPanel and WHM, Plesk seems like a good choice.
Unfortunately, the choice is not so simple. Plesk is owned by the same company as cPanel. As such, migrating away from cPanel owing to its new pricing structure and moving to Plesk is pretty much like moving from one EIG web hosting provider to another. At the end of the day, Plesk pricing structure too is likely to be revised to match that of cPanel. This is why not many web hosting providers are keen to move to Plesk.
However, speaking purely in terms of features and functionality, Plesk does not seem to lag behind cPanel and WHM at all. Read our detailed comparison here.
Floxlor is a hosting server management solution that claims to have been developed by server admins themselves. It is fully open source — this is a big advantage as chances of steep price hike are nil when it comes to open source software.
Furthermore, the fact that Floxlor has been built by folks who have had a background in server administration is another positive aspect of this admin panel. Unlike other tools, Floxlor is maintained by server admins who know what they are doing and how web hosting servers actually work. As such, the feature set and interface is likely to be powerful and robust.
On the downside though, cPanel is not something that only server admins use. For shared hosting clients, cPanel offers the right blend of robustness and user-friendliness. Floxlor is something a server admin might find useful, but for end users and shared/reseller hosting clients, Floxlor is definitely likely to be confusing and intimidating.
The set of features and offerings is modest. However, for the most part, Sentora can do the job just fine for server administrators and likewise.
Sadly, it is somewhat difficult to assess if either ZPanel or Sentora are in active development, or if both the projects have been abandoned. The ZPanel GitHub repository does show some odd activity every now and then, but their domain zpnaelcp.com redirects to HostWinds. On the other hand, Sentora main site as well as all download links are active, but their forum has had registrations disabled for almost a year now.
As a result, it is probably not a wise choice to build your web hosting business around Sentora and/or ZPanel, unless you are sure of either of these tools being actively developed and maintained.
If nothing else, it is safe to conclude that Webmin is, indeed, under active development and is being maintained and patched regularly. The latest release was out sometime in July 2019 itself.
The feature set is acceptable, and users can create accounts, set up file sharing and DNS records, and do a lot more using Webmin. This control panel is specifically meant for Linux servers as the download options pertain mostly to Linux operating systems, along with Solaris.
One key download of Webmin is that the Webmin main site design still belongs somewhere in the 1990s. The website is severely outdated in terms of appearance (not content) and this might be a turnoff for many web hosting providers. Looking at the UI of their homepage, it might be somewhat far-fetched but tempting nevertheless to assume that the control panel itself is not going to be eye-candy.
But for what it’s worth, Webmin does promise a good set of features and functionality and is being actively updated.
It might just be me, but Vesta CP seemed familiar when I tried their demo recently. And then it occurred to me — Vesta CP was being used by some of the “free unlimited hosting” providers out there. So yes, this control panel has been tested and run on oversold servers, just in case this is a criterion that you consider.
Vesta is a free and open source control panel, with all of its source code available on GitHub. They do have a business model though — web hosts can pay for support credits, and also buy premium extensions/scripts (such as the ability to block SSH access on shared plans, etc). Not a bad pricing model, to be honest.
Sadly, Vesta have tried to reinvent a lot in their admin panel. This is not a bad thing, and the interface itself is minimal and moderately understandable. But with most of our eyes and minds already accustomed to the cPanel interface, getting around in Vesta takes a bit of time.
DirectAdmin can be, arguably, the biggest beneficiary if web hosting providers ever decide to migrate away from cPanel and WHM. When the cPanel price hike was announced, forums such as WebHostingTalk were abuzz with discussions around DirectAdmin.
In fact, some web hosting providers are already giving DirectAdmin a spin. It is a versatile, easy to use and minimal web hosting admin panel that just gets the job done. More importantly, DirectAdmin do seem to have a business model (albeit the pricing structure is not the world’s cheapest), and have specialized plans for CloudLinux users. As such, DirectAdmin seems to be a sustainable piece of software that is likely to stay in the game for the long run.
The only negative side is that DirectAdmin does not seem to be open source. So if they were to go the cPanel route in the future…. :)
It has been nearly a year since ISPConfig’s last stable version was released. This update frequency is not the world’s most impressive one out there — that’s the first thing we need to know about this admin panel.
The next noteworthy thing about ISPConfig is that it can play well with a wide number of server structures, is fully open source, and can support multiple Linux distros for the server-side (CloudLinux is not in the official list, by the way).
As such, ISPConfig is unlikely to be anyone’s first pick when they are ditching cPanel. However, with its open source roots and a wide range of features (including multiple access roles, mail daemons, shell services, and more), ISPConfig does not leave a lot to complain about. The biggest downside is that the admin panel’s interface is severely below par.
Few years back, InterWorx came to the web hosting scene with much fanfare. It was touted by several web hosting providers as the admin panel of the future. However, with cPanel and Plesk ever on the rise, there was very little room for a third admin panel to carve a niche of its own.
Now that cPanel is not being loved by many web hosting providers, and the hunt for an alternative has just started, can InterWorx finally fill the void and fulfill its destiny?
Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done. InterWorx of today seems to be a shell of its yesterday’s image. The interface is not bad, but it’s still stuck somewhere in the early 2010s. The feature set is impressive, but with several open source admin panels also bringing a similar set of functionality to the table, there is not a lot to brag about.
The pricing structure is fairly comparable to that of DirectAdmin, and you also have the option to buy via an existing web hosting provider — JaguarPC is one such host that can provide InterWorx on their servers.
Nonetheless, InterWorx is well worth a look, albeit it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
By and large, cPanel has held the apex position for so long that it is at times difficult to imagine using a different admin panel for server management.
However, should a web host decide to move away from cPanel, DirectAdmin might be the most plausible and budget-friendly choice. With that said, proprietary software never remains the same forever, and an open source alternative is surely well worth a look!
If you are a web hosting provider, how have you reacted to the cPanel price hike? Are you considering shifting to a different admin panel? If yes, which one? Share your views and thoughts in the comments below!
Sufyan is a contributor to a variety of websites and blogs about technology, Linux, open source, web design, content management systems and web development. Learn more about his works on sufyanism.com