When you buy a good Web site hosting plan, it will include cPanel, or equivalent, and may include WHM. What are they? When do you need them? Read on...
One small Web site
You start experimenting with one small Web site. All you need is shared hosting, a cheap hosting plan that will cost US$4.95 per month. Your Web site shares a server with a lot of other sites and may get very little service if all the other sites are busy. Your options will be limited to whatever the hosting company switches on.
One small Web site with flexibility
Now buy some more flexibility. Select Hostmonster hosting. For just a couple of extra dollars per month you gain better service and the flexibility to make a whole lot of changes yourself whenever you like.
Hostmonster and similar services give you cPanel to control your Web site. cPanel can control multiple Web sites within one
account. All the Web sites run within one Web server and share the one set of characteristics inherited from the Web server.
If you want to use multiple Web server configurations, you have to upgrade to a VPS, Virtual Private Server, with WHM to provides multiple
Multiple Web sites, one Web server
Your Web server software, usually Apache, can run multiple Web sites from one application. Each of those Web sites is called a virtual Web site. cPanel, and equivalents, can create, maintain, and delete virtual web sites from a nice graphical user interface without you having to know anything about the configuration parameters and files generated by cPanel. cPanel can also manage databases, mail boxes, and a whole lot more. cPanel can manage almost everything that your hosting service makes available to you.
In a shared hosting service, the hosting company will not make everything available to you because the server is also used by others. If the hosting company decides to provide PHP 4 instead of PHP 5, you are stuck with it and have to ask the hosting company to move you to a new server or move to a different hosting company.
A VPS gives you more control because your share of the physical server is isolated in a virtual machine. Your virtual machine can run different software and settings to the other virtual machines on the same physical server. Usually every VPS on a physical server uses the same operating system and starts with the same software and the same settings. You generally cannot change the operating system. You can change almost everything else. You could choose to use lighttpd instead of Apache or PostgreSQL along side of MySQL.
The power to change everything creates great complications. WHM, the WebHost Manager from the people who make cPanel, simplifies the task by giveing you control over everything Web related. WHM lets you create accounts. Each account can have different settings. Within an account, you use cPanel to create, maintain, and delete Web sites. WHM is often used by Web hosting resellers to set up an account for each customer. A customer can then use cPanel to set up their own sites and email.
One Web site, multiple servers
Setting up multiple servers within one Web site is complicated. WHM and cPanel can change the settings on one server. You then have to replicate the change to the other servers using other software or manually apply the same change on each server using the WHM and cPanel on each server.
WHM and cPanel cost money. Your hosting service will be slightly more expensive when cPanel and WHM are included. Individual shared hosting plans are not usually affected because the cost is trivial when shared over many customers. VPS accounts usually have a noticeable difference in price for WHM and cPanel. A dedicated server is typically US$40 per month dearer with cPanel. If you have a VPS that uses 10 percent of the full server, you will pay $4 or $5 per month extra to cover your share of the cPanel cost.
Example of use
Read 5 minute multisite using Cpanel to see an example of using cPanel instead of painful primitive command line commands.
There are open source alternatives including WebMin. The WebMin group of applications includes UserMin, VirtualMin, and CloudMin. WebMin and UserMin cover similar areas to cPanel. The free VirtualMin GPL replaces part of WHM. You pay an annual license fee to get VirtualMin Pro with a bunch of extra features that make VirtualMin Pro the equivalent of WHM.
The Pro version will cost you from $139 up to $499 per year depending on the number of accounts. I use around 20 accounts to group and manage two hundred sites. I could buy a Virtualmin 50 account annual license for $199 or invest $999 in a Virtualmin lifetime license for an unlimited number of accounts. If I was using a dedicated server and paying $40 per month for WHM/cPanel, the $199 license would be an excellent investment.
The WebMin style open source alternatives require longer learning curves and, counting the increased learning time plus the installation time, will not save you money until the second or third year of use unless you set up many servers to reuse what you learn on the first few servers.
There are only a few areas where something is easier in cPanel than WebMin and WebMin is rapidly catching up. If your hosting service provider does the installation work for the WebMin applications and supports the WebMin applications by default, use them and start saving money in the first year.
WHM and cPanel can save you more time in one day than their trivial cost across a whole year. Their small cost is a great investment for anyone with more than one Web site. WebMin becomes a good alternative for someone with several servers.