Over the last few months this site has been inaccessible a number of times, but the last weekend has been horrendous, and it’s prompted me to review why I do business with Dreamhost.
Dreamhost good points
My initial attraction to using Dreamhost as my web service provider is obvious when you look at the packages they offer. The package I signed up with even grows the longer you use it. Right now I can transfer 1237Gb of data each month and still be within my limit. I have 24.5Gb of web storage space too. Throw in PHP5, MySQL5 and a few other standard but nice toys and options and it’s a very attractive package. Especially as I’m only paying about £90 annually for it.
I’ve also had a few nice experiences with the Dreamhost customer service, where they’ve been helpful and pleasent. If they were not as prompt as I’d like I only need remember the 8hr time difference between me and them, and that ‘lag’ is forgiven.
Dreamhost bad points
With a package this cheap and this flexible it’s only natural to expect downtime, the hosting company have to make their package profitable, and I’d suspected that would mean a little unreliability compared to what I was used to. But not this much unreliability. Perhaps it’s just the server I’m on, because Phil doesn’t seem to get anywhere near as much downtime, but whether that’s the case or not, it’s just not acceptable. I would be willing to bet that on average I have to report the site as inaccessible at least once a week via the control panel. Usually the site is back up and running within an hour or two, which is great when you think about it, but these drops in service are simply too regular.
This weekend a number of servers, including the one hosting my site, were inaccessible for the vast majority of four days. Network file server errors were reported July 15, at 2:09 am PST. By July 19 at 1:08 am, after numerous ‘updates’ (I use the term loosley) via dreamhoststatus.com the main cause of all the problems was still reported as having knock-on effects, and sites were still down. That’s four days of almost solid inaccessibility, interspersed with brief moments of accessibility. It’s all well and good that the Dreamhost team had guys out trying to fix issues even at 4am, but given the fact that it took so many days to finally sort out I begin to wonder if the Dreamhost services are stretched beyond their breaking point. Surely there should be some redundancy and spare capacity to cope with this sort of issue?
My bad experiences don’t stop there, and this one is a customer service complaint, which is very unusual for Dreamhost in my experience. A week or so ago I had an odd problem whereby images were not loading correctly. It turned out the permissions on the folder and files had got screwed somehow. In the process of trying to fix it one of the Dreamhost guys effectively removed my .htaccess file to see if that was the cause. That file is absolutely essential for my site to work, without it there’s only the homepage that will so much as load. Every other page (of which there are about 1,500) become 404 errors. And the 404 itself is a 404. My site was broken, massively, for hours because the tech guy did not bother to check that removing an obviously critical file didn’t break the site (.htaccess files are there because someone who’s at least mostly nerdy has put one there. They do nerdy techy things with the server configuration.). To rub salt into the wound, he thought that had fixed the image load issue. Which was not the case.
OK, so this is likely an oversight, and something that would be easy to remedy in the future simply by having a little tighter and more thorough methodologies for dealing with how support test their changes. But even so, it was a f*** up that shouldn’t have happened.
During the four day downtime extravaganza the support forums were completely broken. It strikes me as rather odd that Dreamhost realise the need for a status updates page on a separate network, but then don’t feel the need for the support forums to also be redundant from the main Dreamhost infrastructure. The problem was accentuated by the fact that the ‘updates’ (again, loosely used terminology) that made it onto dreamhoststatus.com were infrequent, confused, vague and mostly redundant because a ‘fix’ would be reported only to be followed a few hours later by an ‘ok, that didn’t fix it’ post.
Dreamhost is flawed in its ability to communicate well with its customers. I am grateful that steps are taken to try and keep us ‘in the loop’, but it just doesn’t work as it stands. I don’t doubt that the team were working hard to get things fixed again, but if it takes four to five days it’s indicative of some larger problems with how Dreamhost is run at the moment.
I’m not happy, even though I’m trying to make allowances for the price/performance ratio. The price is hell-a-low, but that performance can be too flaky. I’m thinking of switching provider, but I want to give it some time and see how it pans out. Dreamhost have treated me well in the past, but for the present I couldn’t recommend Dreamhost to my friends and retain a clear concious. The hassle involved with switching provider is also a factor that’s making me wait and see if the service can reclaim it’s place in my good books. I hope so.