I finally decided to bite the bullet today and update one of our live web servers to Parallels Plesk 12 (12.0.18) – despite having evaluated it and now being a “Parallels Plesk System Administrator” I still had my reservations as the update from Plesk 10 to Plesk 11 wasn’t exactly a smooth one (‘pandemonium’ I think is the word). Nonetheless, today is independence day in the U.S and it’s a Friday so if there was a catastrophe I have the weekend to rebuild the server from the backups – good timing.
While not a requirement, I rebooted the server before running the update to free up as many resources as possible. I logged in to Plesk and ran the update – one thing I really like about Plesk’s self update is that it reports on every individual item so you are reassured. It actually went without a hitch or a single error warning (a first). Again while not a requirement, I rebooted the server post-installation too to make sure everything was ‘bedded in’. So far so good.
So I began my initial testing and unfortunately it became clear that somethings had gone very wrong. Panel was not working, websites were down and a deluge of emails from unhappy clients were on their way. Needless to say I got the problems fixed and I have detailed the various problems I had upgrading from Plesk 11.5 to Plesk 12 in a separate article here to keep this review clear.
While I’ve read the release notes for Plesk 12, it was still nice to see that Parallels have labelled the areas that have new features within the panel itself. The labelled areas were Customers, Tools & Settings, WordPress and Extensions. The only actual new item on the main menu is the ‘WordPress’ option. Parallels have promised much better management and control of WordPress natively now (which was sorely needed), see below for my assessment of the WordPress Management Toolkit
The release notes for Plesk 12.0 make a brief mention of performance improvements for IIS servers although it doesn’t detail whether or not this is overall performance or performance of the panel – the example given is of Panel tasks so I suspect the latter. I did however notice that the panel seemed much more responsive.
WordPress Management Toolkit
Clicking the Server Management > WordPress main menu item presents us with a screen which will list all of our WordPress installations. Initially there were ‘No Items Found’ but there is a scan button to locate installations, this wasn’t working for me due to the upgrade problems mentioned above but as soon as it was fixed, I was indeed able to see all of the WordPress installs on this server, the plugins used and the themes used, all in one place.
Outstanding WordPress Updates
The first thing that jumped out at me was the number of plugins and themes that needed updating, which I suppose really is the point. A warning message at the top of the page tells me that there are 2 installations, 20 plugins and 8 themes in need of updating – this dire assessment of the situation isn’t as bad as it sounds as many of these plugins and themes aren’t active but still – Parallels are to be congratulated for this. The only thing I would like to see is more granular control of the updates on a per-site basis. WordPress updating is a hairy and scary business at the best of times and I don’t know a developer/hosting provider in the world that is going to do sweeping blanket updates across multiple sites. One of my websites shows 5 plugin updates and a link: Clicking on ‘Update’ however doesn’t take you to this five updates for this site as you would expect however, it simply takes you to the Plugins tab of the WordPress Management section showing all the plugin updates available. Clicking the 5 Total link does show you only the plugins for this particular site but doesn’t give an option to update them, only to active, deactivate or delete them (very frustrating!).
WordPress Security Checker
A wonderful feature of the WordPress Installations manager is the ‘Check Security’ option which I decided to let loose on a development website to see how well it performed. I selected the website and clicked the Check Security button and after a brief pause, I was presented with a nice succinct breakdown of the sites security: I decided to apply the updates in phases to isolate any problems, doing the defaults first, followed by the database prefix update and finally the security of the wp-content folder and wp-includes folder. Unexpectedly, I had no problems with the website or the WordPress admin section at all and happily now have ‘all green’ ticks for the security audit. Nice work Parallels!
Disappointments / Areas for Improvement
Website Interface / GUI
The Plesk Interface unfortunately still has a very very very long way to go. I was stunned to see that it still uses framesets, a technique relegated to the archives by most web developers well over a decade ago.
Parallels have taken a big step in the right direction by acknowledging the importance and prominence of WordPress by giving it its own section and the security audit and update management features are superb but there is one thing not covered that is the bane of every WordPress site owner out there: backups. I really feel Parallels are missing a trick here as they could sell a service to backup WordPress sites to storage provided by them or build it in so Plesk customers could do this for their own customers. I’ve tried a multitude of WordPress backup plugins and have yet to find one that made it really easy to backup and restore large scale sites (the ones you really worry about).
I was really hoping to see the option for either an upgrade of MySQL completely or the addition of a second MySQL engine (say the four year old version 5.5) along side the current version 5.1. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened and while there is detailed information out there for updating it on Linux servers, there is very little for Windows users and doing it on a live server using the command line only would be a nail biting experience.
If you seen my post about the problems I had upgrading to WordPress 12, you see how important directory permissions are to web hosting. They can break easily break a WordPress installation and cause issues for plenty of other sites that generate files on the server For some reason despite this being on of the most oft-used tools in my Plesk subscription hosting options, there’s no direct icon for it. In fact to get to it you have to click ‘Virtual Directories’ and from there you see the Directory Access Permissions option. A re-think of which options are most often used is needed by Parallels I think (or I’m just a freak statistic in terms of my usage). No matter what I do I also seem to permanently have an error saying “Error: There are virtual directories linked to non-existent physical folders.” under Virtual Directory (always have) which I have learned to ignore.