Breaking Up With DreamHost

I joked with my friends: I had finally ended an abusive relationship, with my web hosting company. I had enough with all the lying, cheating, abuse, and neglect. My story is quite common and undoubtedly describes many other people's experiences, by my rough estimations.

It started out like a bad relationship: there's the lure of cheap, easy, fun, with the promise of stability – don't worry, they told me; we will take care of setting everything up for you! Everything is unlimited! It all sounds good especially if you are just getting started and you don't need anything too fancy.

The honeymoon period is short but good. You've finally got yourself set up on the net to have a presence. You put your domain name on your business cards.

But the neglect starts to seep in...your server is down for a few minutes one day, but you don't worry too much about it, then it happens again and you figure they will get it fixed. But they don't. It happens again, and again. You start to feel like your goodwill is being abused.

After about 6 months, somewhere deep down you know the honeymoon is now over. But you put up with it, because breaking up, and moving out, is more time and effort than just staying – or so you think. Things continue like this for a while, and in my case, years. This is where most people are in their relationship with their web-host.

Then something big happens; there is a major outage. And this time, thousands of customers are affected. "Hey," you think, "this isn't right. What is going on; are these employees all idiots?" Your thoughts are validated by hundreds of other customers on the status page. For the first time, you realize, there is a larger group consensus that your hosting company might be indolent at best and duplicitous at worst. Other people are voicing your concerns, and their own history of problems, much more angrily. By now you know that "100% uptime" was a barefaced lie.

You do a little research, or maybe even get too many visitors one time, and realize that the unlimited claims are really more like: "We'll cut you off when we think you've used too much. It will probably be right at a peak exposure/visitor moment when you need your website the most." You realize that the marketing of "unlimited bandwidth" and "unlimited storage" are outright lies. Like any bad relationship, you start to feel that you have to walk on eggshells. "How much traffic is too much? How much disk space is too much?" you ask yourself.

One day, out of the blue, they decide it's time for an upgrade! Great. Newer is better, right? Except when it breaks pear db, and your custom php code, and you are left scrambling to figure out how to fix your sites, all of which no longer work. You get frustrated at the lack of control you have over the server environment and realize that maybe shared hosting is no longer meeting your needs.

But you get it fixed, and forget about it, for a while.

Eventually, your dream host can't afford to rent that fancy downtown loft anymore and so you get moved to a different server…an Internet ghetto, where the load averages consistently look like this:

10:44:37 up 54 days, 16:43, 1 user, load average: 9.24, 8.71, 10.05

So you do a little digging to figure out how many new neighbors you have. You check out /etc/passwd, and exclude all the local system users, do a final count, and discover that you've got 1,946 neighbors on your shared machine. It's looking a bit more cramped than that nice server you were on before...

Random people start complaining to you via email. Your simple lead form and submission scripts consistently receive 500 timeout errors. Relatively simple SQL queries, that should take mere seconds, take minutes to complete. "Maybe the load will go down," you think, not knowing that DreamHost is banking on your ceaseless optimism and probably even has meetings about how much egregiousness they can get away with before a customer gets mad enough to take real world action.

You feel like it's time to break up, but you just don't want to think about it. Who does? So you put it off a few more months. You try to work it out. There is a new Virtual Private Server service that, like couples therapy, will fix all your problems, they tell you. Just try it out, you'll see. You have a morsel of hope again. Maybe it will work out. So you sign up for a trial; they move all your stuff over to your new private virtual McMansion. Easy see? No more slums for you.

But then you wonder: "why don't I move my databases over too?" That way you don't have to pay for your old shared server account. No point paying rent somewhere you no longer reside, right? So you start to get that all set up, to make the move permanent, but you hit a snag, and contact support.

They tell you that you can't actually do that – run a MySQL server on your own VPS. It just won't work. You have to pay more to have a separate MySQL VPS they tell you. But after a bit more tinkering you finally get it working. You realize that they lied, again. And this time, they did it right to your (electronic) face!

Then you read the fine print: that if you exceed your limits they will shut your server down, shut your processes down, and may even simply ignore notifying you. You also realize that they lied about the amount of RAM you get too; total memory is not the same as actual physical RAM.

The closer you look at your virtual McMansion the more you see the black mold creeping up from underneath the floorboards and the slightly stained corners of the walls peeling amongst the boxes of all your semi-unpacked stuff. All the little details you overlooked in the initial, glitzy, walkthrough are now quite blaringly clear. And at this point you actually get mad. Not frustrated, not annoyed, but mad. Not for very long, just a few seconds, but long enough to finally take action after all the perceived abuse and lies have reached their natural culmination. "Fuck it," you say. It is at that moment in which the decision is made to switch hosts.

So you review your options and decide what you want: honesty, control, scalability, flexibility, and affordability. Now that you've decided you will never go back to shared hosting you have a few options. You know you'll never use a service with the word "gator" or "monster" in it, or any abbreviation of terms, like "1&1," because they are inherently beneath your marketing purview; so that's a start. You know a VPS is ideal for you. Amazon AWS is too annoyingly complicated, DigitalOcean looks alright, Linode looks great. You read the fine print first, and see that they will credit you for downtime. You do deserve to be treated with respect, you tell yourself.

You read some reviews and comparisons; overall the stats look good. You check out their forums: there are some scattered complaints here and there from demanding people who don't seem to speak English very well, but much more praise from long-term customers. So you decide to start a new relationship.

You finally pack your bags, again, and rsync all your files over to your new server; you've got many gigs of data, but it's quick; transfer times are upwards of 20 megabytes a second. "Wow that was easy," you think. It takes about a day to make the move and set up everything for 17 different sites. You realize that you were not as locked into DreamHost as you thought you were.

You set up Ubuntu and the email, dns, ftp, virtual websites/apache, php, and mysql service. You're surprised at how smooth the whole setup goes; everything is guided easily via simple documentation. You realize that it's not 1999 anymore, and there's no need to compile things manually.

A new honeymoon starts and things look good again. Your new host's platform has got some sexy charts set up that actually monitor your server's memory, traffic, cpu usage, and disk usage.

"Visibility and accountability," you think. You feel like you're finally on a path to new growth.

Will the honeymoon with Linode last?

"Yes," you hope.

"It will," you tell yourself.



This circa 2015 project was a fun public data discovery & analysis of DreamHost and its users. How might the comparative stats for your industry and customers look like?


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