Elasicsearch as a Service

Getting started with Elasticsearch involved me determining running it on my own was a bad idea.

Search is hard. Searching when you have custom meta data in post is harder. By default, WordPress does not search your custom meta data. And my LezWatchTV site is 75% custom meta data.

I’d been using Google Search, but that has a lot of issues of it’s own like privacy, ads, accuracy, and most importantly, no way to tune it. I decided to try out ElasticSearch since I knew that was what WordPress.org’s internal search engine was going towards. After I added custom post meta to my search content, this post was going to be about how to install Elasticsearch on an ELK stack on DreamCompute, which turned out to be rather easy if time consuming and messy. And getting WordPress to work with it was as easy as installing the ElasticPress plugin (thank you 10up).

What was complicated was making Elasticsearch work remotely. By default, it wants to only be accessible locally for your own security. But adding in Shield and still having all the logs and pretty things to understand what was happening and how to manage it when it was all new escalated quickly. It was simply too much all at once for me. Instead I decided to look into Elasticsearch as a service.

There are a lot of options here,

Self Managed

I know I said ‘as a service’ but you really can use DigitalOcean or DreamCompute to do this. And there’s all sorts of documentation about how to do it available (like DigitalOcean’s ‘How to install the ELK Stack on Ubuntu 14.04’ which works on DreamCompute too). And Amazon Elasticsearch is also an option here.

But… they’re all very self-managed. They require you to jump into servers, run a lot of commands, and they’re not new user friendly. Look, I get that this is complicated stuff, but people aren’t going to know if they want to learn all this if you make it monumental to get into.


You can break these down into two main types.

Enterprise Level:

Free ‘Trials’:

I wanted to use something ‘free’ to get started so I could figure out what I wanted to do and how to properly use Elasticsearch before deciding if I wanted to pay. But also I wanted to figure out exactly to do with search. Therefore I needed something ‘free’ to test with, something with logs, that would help me understand it all. I ended up trying both Bonsai and Searchly. While Bonsai gave me more room, Searchly had more information to the interface, but neither had a ‘Hey, here’s how you tune Elasticsearch!’ page.

Neither had Kibana 4 though, which is a little sad.

So when you don’t know how to do ‘anything’ with Elasticsearch, what can you test? The same search. I checked which was faster, which was more accurate, and which had the results I wanted. Bonsai was the winner here, so that’s what I went with.

Integrating WordPress

Thankfully this is the easy part.

Install the ElasticPress plugin. Go to Settings -> ElasticPress and add in the URL from your Bonsai panel as your Host. It should look like https://username:password@yourcluster.us-west-2.bonsai.io (with some variation based on location). Save, press the ‘Run Index’ button, and you’re done.

The nice thing about the plugin is if it breaks (like the service goes down), the plugin reverts to WordPress search! Which isn’t great, but … well.

Next? How do I tune Elasticsearch?!

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