There is a growing trend in the hosting industry, where providers advertise software versions as features. It’s not uncommon to find hosting plans with MariaDB 10.4 or PHP 7.4 listed as the components. While it is great to have access to the latest and the greatest, these listings worry me for a different reason.

Imagine you are shopping for a new car. You want something nicer, faster, and comfier. You go to the dealership, and there are several options with the latest developments in engine technology.

The car you like only has bucket seats and a harness instead of a regular seatbelt. You ask the salesperson if the same car is available with better seats. Salesperson insists that these seats are optimized for the best possible lap time on Nurburgring. But what about the seatbelts? Salesperson says you’ll get used to the harness eventually.

Since you don’t plan on only driving your car at Nurburgring, you’ll probably go with a different option. Plus, you shouldn’t need to retrain your muscle memory when buying a high-end car.

Shopping for enterprise hosting is similar to this. More often than not, when a host advertises MariaDB as one of the components, you won’t be able to get MySQL instead. When asked, you’ll get a response that says MariaDB is a lot faster.

As your WordPress site grows, these restrictions start to become bottlenecks. Maintaining excellent performance on a high traffic website requires the development and ops teams to work in sync. If the ops team is unable to change software versions or service configurations, development teams can’t move faster.

If you are shopping for a new hosting platform, ask your shortlisted providers these questions:

  1. Can you replace server components with different alternatives?
  2. Can you provide an older version of server software if needed by the dev team?
  3. Can you install and support something not listed on your hosting plans?
  4. Can you secure a legacy package that’s essential to the site but can’t be updated?

If the provider has deep expertise with hosting high traffic websites, they walk you through the pros and cons of your requests and find a way to make them work. If you get a canned response that says their way is better, you probably need to keep searching.

After all, maintaining a high traffic website is a team sport. You can’t win unless all team members are on the same page.