MediaTemple vs. DreamHost

Four days ago, my webhost (who will remain nameless for the time being) noticed that its aging servers (all hosted by third-party enterprise hosting services) were dying. So they decided to upgrade all of the servers, and switch to a different hosting location at the same time. The result: my sites hosted by them were down or unusable for (well, actually, I cannot give an accurate number because at the time of writing, the sites are still down, and the server on which they were hosted is only “27% migrated”). I had been thinking of switching webhosts for some time, but foolishly did not take any action on these impulses, since “everything seems to be working ok for now”. Luckily, with month old backups of my different wordpress databases, plus cached feedburner feeds, I have all of the content I will need to recreate my sites on a new host (and then add back some missing items when my old host finally gets their act together).

For me, it came down to MediaTemple and DreamHost. I have used DreamHost for a client site in the past, and found that they are a company that is very concientous of their customer’s well-being. They go out of their way to give easy access to different server features on their (somewhat bizzare looking but very useful) control panel, and overall are very open about different issues that are occuring with their servers (and are not afraid to take responsibility when things get messed up and it is their fault). Overall, I have been pretty impressed with their hosting, as well as customer service. (And am reassured that if problems occurred on a server, that they would take care of it ASAP, unlike my current webhosts). Continue reading

Items of Interest: 2006.05.08

Things that I found interesting on May 8, 2006:

  • Web Hosting’s Dirty Laundry – Record of conversation between Dreamhost (affiliate link) and, a supposedly “unbiased” review site. Here Dave from said review site spends every email trying to get as much money as possible from Dreamhost in exchange for a spot on their top-10 list. (My review of Dreamhost)
  • How to be an Awesome Client – Must read for anyone who outsources their programming (outside their department or company), from James Archer
  • 3 (Controversial) Techniques to Improve Usability – From Johnnie Manzari. I think that the title on this post is not so accurate. My version: 3 Techniques to Save Time and Money Developing Your Product in Its Early Stages.
  • Why a Great Programmer is Worth Fifty Good Ones – Tom Evslin explains what should be obvious
  • Spring 2006 CSS Reboot Trends – What CSS trends are in with the in-crowd? Christian Montoya gives an overview
  • Building a Web App? Don’t Forget the Premium Plan – 37Signals released a premium version of DropSend and revenue went up 30% in two weeks (!)
  • Report Spam on Google – About time
  • Low Hanging Fruit – Craig Fregas says that when involved in a large programming project, you should do the easier things first. Craig – I would have posted a comment on your page, but you don’t allow anonymous comments, and I don’t want to register with your site just to post a comment. So I will post here: I think that doing the easy stuff makes sense only if this is what you need to do in this step of the project. If the easy stuff is related to things that need to be done later, than it should be held off until later. For example, if the easy stuff pertains to some UI activity, but the UI really shouldn’t be done until the Data Access and Business Logic layers are complete, than don’t do the UI. By doing the easy UI stuff early on, you may end up trying to fit the more complicated sections to match this already completed easy stuff. This could result in wating even more time and in having to rewrite the easy stuff in the end any way. I know that this might not always be the case, but I just don’t see how doing an easy task early when it should really be saved until the end is a good thing to do (even if it makes you feel good)
  • Mapping Website Visitors in Real Time – using Google Maps, AJAX, mySQL, and PHP, from Vegard Larsen

The Dangers of an Irresponsible Webhost

Throughout the life of this domain, it has been hosted by at least half a dozen webhosts. Most offered good deals, had good track records (I always researched them before going with a specific host) and not too many complaints. Initially, the service was almost always good.

Yet for each and every one of them, something ended up going wrong. One of them just totally messed up the DNS of my subdomains and couldn’t fix it. One of them had a three-day service outage and wouldn’t offer a refund (they had a 99.9% uptime “guarantee”). One of them kept having these annoying 3-4 hour outages for no apparent reason. Etc, etc, etc.

So it was with my last webhost, ServerDivision. Apparently I am still on their mailing list – last night I received an alarming email. Its text is also featured on their homepage:

I am writing to regretfully inform you that the ServerDivision servers will be taken from us and most likely shut down permanently effective April 1, 2006. This is out of our control and is a decision by The Planet datacenter due to problems perpetrated by the previous owners of ServerDivision regarding services that ThePlanet issued during October and November of 2005. We were notified of this at approximately 3:00PM EST on March 30, 2006. Unfortunately, this is beyond my control and I am unable to prevent the shutdown. Please transfer all content you wish to retain off of the servers before April 1, 2006. No invoices have been generated or will be generated for March, 2006 as a good-will gesture on our part. I sincerely wish there was more that I could do. We are petitioning ThePlanet to leave the servers running longer to allow you time to remove your files but please do not count on it.

We have tried our best… and we wish that you the customers and we the current owners had not been defrauded in this way.

ServerDivision CEO

Note: A number of you have contacted us asking if this is an April Fool’s joke. We only wish it was – unfortunately we have been defrauded and the repercussions of that fraud happen to fall on April 1. This is not a joke.

Ouch! Their servers are going to be “shut down permanently…due to problems perpetrated by the previous owners”. They must have done some seriously bad stuff to upset The Planet (a very large datacenter) so much that they punished the “new owners”. Now all of their paying customers have one day to remove all of their data from the servers. If someone is away from their email and doesn’t check it before April 1, tough luck.

What lessons can be learned from this?

  1. If ServerDivision is your host (or more importantly, if you host your client’s site on ServerDivision), stop reading this right now and get your data!
  2. Always keep up-to-date backups of your material
  3. No matter what guarantees a webhost tells you, you might one day receive an email like the one above. Always know what your next step is, where will you move your site, how will you do it, etc. (I have had a good experience so far with Dreamhost)
  4. If you are planning on buying a webhost, make sure you thoroughly research everything the previous owners have ever done, otherwise the same thing that just happened to ServerDivision’s new owners could happen to you

(I wonder what it is that they did? It must have been pretty bad and illegal, since the new owners are being punished for the since of their predecessors.)

Dreamhost Experience Good So Far

I just set up a website for one of my clients on Dreamhost. So far, I have to say that I am impressed with the service. I am still hosting my personal site (ie: the site you are reading) on a different host, and would consider moving over to Dreamhost in the future (assuming that performance stays good).

Before this move, I did some reading up on them – like all other hosts, they have had some disgruntled customers in the past (usually the guy who put up a forum that is using 1 hour of CPU time per day, who wants to do this on a $10/month plan and mess up everyone else on that server). In general though, reviews were good.

The things that have impressed me most so far are the small things that tell me that show that they have put an effort into providing a good service:

  • They do not use the normal cPanel install that everyone else uses. Instead, they have their own homegrown management panel. Although this can spell disaster if they authors don’t know what they are doing, in this case, it seems to work pretty well. The menu sections are well laid out, documentation is provided, and support is available when needed
  • When I have needed support, the representative that contacted me answered quickly, politely and with a good response. They also have a pretty good wiki that has already answered a few of my questions
  • They have a sense of humor. The copy on the site was obviously not written by someone in corporate (this is a good thing). For example:
    • On their homemade auto-install page, it starts off “Fantastico, shmantastico.. DreamHost now has its very own one-click software installation!”
    • On the bug submission page, instead of severities like “high”, “low” and “medium”, they have “I can’t get things done until I hear back from you, please reply asap” and “OMG! EXTREME CRITICAL EMERGENCY!! EVERYTHING’S BROKEN! People are DYING!
    • Also on the support request submission page, they have a selection for your expertise, with options like “Overall I know my stuff, but I’m a little shaky in this area” and “Not to be rude, but I probably know more about this than you!“. I personally appreciate stuff like this – I do not what I am talking about (most of the time) – just because I am contacting tech support doesn’t mean that I need someone to tell me how to click on the Start menu
  • They seem to offer options for free that others either don’t offer at all, or offer at a price. Things like Subversion, Jabber support, Auto-installed software (that you can auto-update when a new version is released), unlimited domains, lots of space, etc

They also have a pretty good referral program – you can get up to $97 or 10% (“forever”) per referral, plus secondary rewards as well. On that note, I have been authorized to offer a special discount for anyone who would like to sign up for a new account at Dreamhost. Here is the deal:

  • Sign up for a new Shared Hosting account
  • When prompted for a promotion code, enter ELLISWEB30
  • You will receive $30 off any plan that you sign up for. No catch

Disclaimer: Links to Dreamhost in this post are affiliate links (meaning that I get some money if you sign up). If you don’t want to use an affiliate link, click here.