The Future of WordPress Is In Containers

WordPress has a deployment problem

The current state of VPS WordPress hosting

Most web hosts use virtual servers such as what you see above. They’re slow, resource intensive, barely scalable, and have so many layers it is easy for something to go wrong. If anything goes wrong in just one of those tech layers your website goes down.

With the current price of web hosting, you’re looking at a minimum of $83.88 per year for just one WordPress install at Go Daddy (based on the regular price without discounts). Meanwhile, other WordPress hosting companies charge up to $29 per install per month ($348 per year). Think about that for a second, a single WordPress website now costs at least 1–4 Netflix subscriptions per month.

Meanwhile, all that money goes to hosting companies, and the developers whose themes and plugins actually power those websites only receive 1-off purchases, if they are getting paid at all.

We need to build a better system.

We Must Democratize Web Hosting

The current economic model of WordPress has peaked. If WordPress wants to double market share and continue to democratize publishing, and eCommerce we must democratize web hosting first. It is the only way that developers can easily deploy more websites and build a sustainable business. Without web hosting there is no server to put your blog or eCommerce website on, and without developers there is no one to build the software that powers a website, let alone future REST API based JavaScript apps. Hosting companies and developers need to work together and share the burdens of support in exchange for a part of the spoils.

The famous 5-minute WordPress install is now an eternity in 2016 compared to other content management systems, and eCommerce platforms.

While I commend Matt Mullenweg for his efforts to modernize WordPress, and push the community towards JavaScript, moving WordPress to JavaScript is only part of the equation. How WordPress and those apps are deployed, scaled, hosted, and monetized is equally as important.

What WordPress needs to grow again is affordable compartmentalized scalable instantly deployable automated hosting that can turn both WordPress Core and JavaScript apps like Calypso into Software as a Service (SaaS). Which ultimately requires a decentralized approach that doesn’t rely on yesterdays multitenancy ideology.

The Future of WordPress Is Containers In the Cloud

Docker replaces at least 3 different software layers compared to the current approach to hosting WordPress.

So what are Docker containers? Docker containers are a piece of software that wraps around code, system tools, system libraries, and anything else you can install on a server. Using docker containers you can essentially run WordPress like an operating system, and deploy it like an application.

Like an application, you can now automate WordPress deployments, save snapshots of existing installs, and clone them for other projects. Imagine being able to clone a WordPress instance with all your favorite plugins and themes already installed.

That’s the power and magic of containers.

Instead of selling development services, with containers a developer can now sell an entire WordPress website in a box direct to customers in a single click, and even offer them a free trial before the user enters payment info.

Better yet, containers make WordPress more scalable, and more efficient bringing down the economies of scale per install. What this effectively means is we can host more WordPress installs with less server and management resources bringing down the cost per install, while also improving performance. We can then pass the extra revenue this generates to developers to provide them with recurring revenue, and more customers with less support for the hosting companies.

Better yet, someone can even move Docker containers between servers, or even their local computer, so if they want to change hosts they can just take their entire WordPress container with them as is, and never go through a WordPress migration ever again. Now that’s freedom.

WordPress as an Operation System

Right now if you want to launch a WordPress install you have to purchase hosting before you even get access to WP-Admin, and if you want to buy a theme or plugin you already need to have hosting and WordPress. It’s pretty much one of the worst onboarding experiences of any modern platform. Even Joomla, and Drupal have figured this out.

WordPress can do better.

This problem can easily be solved with containers and an automation platform. Lets take WordPress.org for example, you could add a “Free Trial” button next the download button to launch a user into a WordPress container in under 10 seconds (fully enabling users to launch into a WordPress install from a mobile device), and let them actually try a self hosted WordPress install. From there, when the trial ends the user can then select a provider, move their container over with a click, and pay monthly with the provider of their choice. This simply wasn’t possible two years ago, but it is today, and this is just one of many exciting use cases of containers matched with an automation SaaS platform to turn WordPress into its own web OS.

The WordPress API In Containers

Containers + SaaS = WordPress as a service.

So this is where things get interesting. Containers open up a whole new world for apps like Calypso, because now you can deploy Calypso in a container, and deploy a full WordPress install with API in its own separate container.

For those who don’t know, WordPress.com is now powered by the WordPress.com API, and Calypso, a React based JavaScript application. With containers, you can take both WordPress with the REST API and deploy it in one container, then deploy multiple instances of Calypso each in their own containers. Essentially turning a WordPress API powered install into a hub that can power multiple instances of Calypso (or future admin interfaces and apps), and giving you the opportunity to deploy Calypso instances as a software as a service model on a whole new level that I’m fairly certain Automattic has never considered before (I asked).

A Letter to Matt and Automattic

At the end of the day, the company behind WordPress.com is a software as a service hosting company. While that isn’t entirely what defines Automattic, it is where they make their money.

With Automattic’s purchase of WooCommerce it is even more critical that they solve the problem of deployment and scalability with self hosted WordPress. No matter what happens with future JavaScript apps, core PHP/MySQL WordPress is required to be running on a server somewhere, and multi-site won't cut it for most eCommerce stores. The multitenancy approach just simply isn’t going to work for eCommerce, and ultimately it isn’t necessary in 2016 with container technology.

The fact of the matter is there are a lot more WordPress developers in the world than there are skilled DevOps, and if there is any hope for self hosted WordPress installs powering an additional 25% of the Internet we have to bring down the cost of hosting, democratize monthly hosting revenue, and share it with developers to build a more sustainable economy.

They say sometimes to change the world you have to invent it, and everything I mentioned in this article is possible today. I know, because we already built it over at WPdocker.com.

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