Serverpilot Changes

A service that I absolutely love is changing their business model. Serverpilot, an automation, and management front end for simple VPS1 deployments, that takes a minimalist droplet from Digital Ocean and abstracts the drudgery and risk of managing that installation from the user.

Pricing was based per “server” or VPS that you managed with it, and it had the ability to host multiple “Apps” on it (an “App” is an installation like WordPress, or another web application.) THe beauty of this was the crisp delineation of App and Server. Serverpilot had really slick automation on the back end that would:

Configure the VPS, with Apache, nginx, mysql, and all the dependencies. It would manage the handling of multiple domains (the instance I have has 4 apps on one droplet, tralfaz.com, tralfaz.org, wordsbybarbara.com, and my fun site for my hounds – greytbros.

Even better, if you were just going to use WordPress based sites, it had automated the installation and initial configuration, removing all risk from new, or inexperienced users. True, bonehead simple automated setup and maintenance.

It has had three tiers on offer:

  • Free”: Attach a “server” to it, and create as many apps as you want in it $0. Of course, you only got one SSH or SFTP user (serverpilot) user, and no logging or performance graphing.
  • coach”: $10 per month per server, all the goodness of the Free plan, but adding the configuration, and deployment of SSL certs (via Let’s Encrypt!), ability to have additional SSH/SFTP users (so you can segment apps to a customer and give them safe access to their app) and server health stats. Still no limit on the number of apps allowed.
  • Business”: $49 per month per server. All the Coach plan but with priority support, resource usage stats, app performance monitoring, notifications for slow scripts, and access to logs.

Server Pilot legacy offersNote that these all were a cost per connected server. In my case, it is a $10/month single vCPU, 2GB memory, 50GB disk droplet. The 4 apps that I run (all WordPress) are a minor toll on the system resources. Not a strain whatsoever.

But, the fact that they didn’t have any limitations on the number of apps per server has an unintended consequence.

Digital Ocean has a variety of droplets that can be ordered up. While my minimal install is the second from the bottom (the $5 month droplet is a bit memory constrained), at the top end, you can get a 192GB ram, 32 vCPU, and 3.75 TB disk droplet for $960 per month. That seems like a lot, but add the $50 per month charge for the Business tier of Server Pilot, and you can become a mini hosting provider, servicing thousands of “clients” for < $1.00 per month of cost. Assume you create and manage a small mom and pop operation website for $50/month, that is a lot of potential profit.

And clearly some people were (ab)using their service this way.

So, they are changing their model to better reflect their value.

Starting July 10, 2018, they will have three “new” offers. Gone will be the “Free” tier. That is somewhat of a shame, but I completely understand. Hell, I lived with it for almost 2 years before the lure of SSL easy deployment caused me to open my wallet.

Still, I was an “in the noise” user. Simple use case, low requirements, and it just worked.

The new plans are:

  • Economy-”: $5 per server and $0.50 per App per month. This gives you most of what Coach offered (not the graphs). If you have less than 10 apps per server, it is cheaper though.
  • Business”: $10 per server, and $1 per app per month. This is the Coach, and most of the Business tier today. A pretty good deal, and it will be less expensive than toda’s Business class if you host less than 39 apps per server.
  • First Class”: $20 per server, and $2 per app per month. This is the current business class with some perks.

Of course if you are satisfied with your current plan, you can keep it, but after July 10, you can’t add new free servers. You can move to the new plan if you desire (and if it will save you money, something that the majority of the paid users will experience.)

For me, I will keep my current “Coach” plan. The saving of $3 per month isn’t a huge deal. The value of Serverpilot is enormous, and these changes seem to be reasonable to help fund their development and growth. They truly provide significant value, even at the base level (and phenomenal value at the free tier).

I hope this transition goes well. As a product manager, I know that huge business model transitions like this are fraught with risk. But I also know that if there is an agle to exploit, some small fraction of customers will take that and run with it. Managing this is crucial.


1 – VPS is Virtual Private Server. There are many types, from provisioned with cpanel access, to a bare server. This post is in reference to the latter, and in particular, I use Digital Ocean as my hosting, and their Droplets

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