It’s an ecommerce powerhouse, and one of the most popular solutions for running an online shop. Around 245,000 websites run on Magento, selling a huge variety of products over the internet. If you’re thinking about launching your own online store, it could be the ideal platform.

What is Magento?

The first release of Magento came in 2008, before the company was acquired by ecommerce giant eBay in 2011, becoming independent again in 2015.

At its core, Magento is open-source ecommerce software written in PHP. It uses elements of Zend Framework, along with MySQL or MariaDB for database management.

Is Magento a CMS? Technically, yes, it allows the creation and management of web content, just like other solutions such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. But Magento is more than just a CMS in that it also provides comprehensive ecommerce features out of the box.

Magento is designed from the ground up as an ecommerce platform, unlike WordPress which requires specialised plugins such as WooCommerce to make it viable for an online store.

Even with its complexity in comparison to standard content management systems, Magento does give the user a CMS-like experience. This can be seen in its modular-based approach to content and features, making it relatively easy to use for such a sophisticated system.

Just some of the ecommerce functionality Magento provides:

  • Management of multiple online shops from one control panel
  • Product categories, search filters, autocomplete, reviews/comments, stock info
  • Vouchers and promo codes, recommended items, recently viewed items, wish lists
  • Checkout, online payment, security with SSL support, currency and tax options, address info for various countries/regions
  • Stock management, order processing, email messages and invoices
  • Language options
  • Automatic generation of search engine-friendly URLs and sitemaps
  • Support for native apps on Android and iOS
  • HTML5 support for responsive display on mobile devices
  • Detailed reporting: visits, conversions, turnover, reviews, most viewed/sold products, etc.

Magento Open Source vs Magento Commerce

It might not be obvious at first glance, but Magento isn’t actually a single platform. There are two separate solutions under the Magento banner: Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce. While the two share a lot of features and functionality, there are significant differences that set them apart.

Magento Open Source (formerly Community Edition) is the free version of Magento. Users can download and implement the software, with access to the core files allowing the addition and creation of extensions that can provide custom functionality.

While it can be tough for inexperienced users to get to grips with, Magento Open Source is a fully featured product offering very powerful functionality.

A major strength of Magento is its large and dedicated support community. It’s this that provides a huge variety of customisation options for Magento Open Source, not just in terms of design and layout, but also when it comes to shop functionality.

Thousands of pre-built themes and extensions are available via Magento Marketplace, offering everything from enhanced product review and search features to live chat functionality.

While many of these are free, the more advanced and/or specialised offerings usually come with a price tag. Alternatively, if you’ve got the skills or you find the right developer, you can create your own.

Magento Commerce (previously Enterprise Edition) is the paid version. It offers an improved feature set and tools not found in Magento Open Source, plus a more user-friendly interface and 24/7 technical support. Magento Commerce is designed for larger enterprises that expect to rapidly expand and require complex, tailored functionality.

So which form of Magento is right for you? It’s worth noting that Magento Open Source and Magento Commerce are each built on a fairly distinct code base, making it tricky to migrate from one to the other. The right choice now could save a lot of time and effort later.

Many developers, agencies and businesses find that Magento Open Source offers more than enough to satisfy their needs, assuming they put in the time and effort to implement it properly.

The considerable cost of Magento Commerce (from around £18,000 per year) also pushes it beyond the reach of many smaller organisations. That said, while Magento Open Source might technically cost nothing to download, the reality is that there’s no such thing as free when it comes to professional ecommerce.

Whether you pay a Magento developer to build your site, buy custom themes and extensions, or just take time off from other work to do it all yourself, there’s always an underlying cost involved. But even then, Magento Open Source is by far the more affordable choice for smaller organisations.

Hosting your Magento website

To run Magento, you’ll need a hosting platform with a Linux operating system, and an Apache or NGINX web server. Because Magento is built on commonly used technology (PHP), its requirements are fairly modest in terms of software – a standard LAMP stack will do the job. But when it comes to hardware, Magento is famously power-hungry.

This isn’t a slight against its performance or optimisation, but just the inherent nature of an ecommerce platform. A busy shop is a successful shop, and most online store owners want as many customers on their site as possible. Accommodating all those users, while also maintaining the relatively complex Magento software, demands a fairly beefy hosting setup.

For this reason, it’s generally not advisable to run Magento on a shared hosting platform. While it might be technically possible, the lack of guaranteed resources can seriously harm the performance of your shop, and ultimately your sales. Online shoppers aren’t known for their patience, so fast load times are crucial.

Obviously, the actual level of performance you need will vary by your website and the number of visitors you expect to receive. But having dependable, guaranteed resources is highly recommended for your Magento site – only then can you be certain of a smooth experience for every customer. In this regard, a dedicated server offers an excellent solution.

With many online retailers experiencing seasonal business and peak hours, you also need to think about fluctuating demand. For example, will you receive more visitors over the Christmas period? That’s not to mention long-term expansion of your business – after all, who doesn’t want to attract more customers and sell more products?

The Magento software offers excellent scalability for online retail operations, but remember that your hosting needs to match it. A cloud hosting platform like CloudNX offers a highly flexible option for scaling dedicated server resources up and down on demand. This way, you can match your server performance to the needs of your Magento shop, whether in response to short-term traffic spikes, or to support the continuing growth of the business.

For details of Magento’s installation requirements, have a read of this article in our help section. If you’re still unsure about the best way to host your Magento project, get in touch with Fasthosts by phone, live chat or email. Our experts will be happy to advise you.