Dreamhost issues: looking for a new host

As you may or may not have noticed, this site has been having some issues lately. I have been plagued by extreme slowness, and loading issues. In the last few days this has escalated to a point where the site never actually fully loads. Even as you are reading it now, you will probably notice missing images, or if you were particularly lucky missing CSS styleshet or two. Half the requests sent to my server end in a “Service Temporarily Unavailable” error or some other time out.

I tried contacting my host (Dreamhost) about this issue, foolishly thinking that since I pay them for service they would actually help me out. You know, it is a fairly common custom to actually try to accommodate your customer, least her takes his money and goes elsewhere. Apparently this is an absolutely foreign concept to the Dreamhost staff. You see, I was expecting them to blame this on poor infrastructure, traffic and sun spots, then apologize and make some empty promises to placate me. But no. The tech support team proudly announced that the loading problems and “Service Temporarily Unavailable” errors are entirely their doing, and that it is by design.

You see, I’m on shared hosting. This means that I share disk space, bandwidth and CPU cycles with bunch of other people whose sites live on the same linux box. To make things fair for everyone, Dreamhost is running a watchdog script that constantly monitors CPU and memory usage, and kills processes that exceed certain limits. This makes sense, until you realize that you are the guy whose scripts are getting killed.

Apparently the watchdog script decided that Terminally Incoherent is a resource hog, and now it kills just about every single PHP process spawned by my user before the page is fully served. As a result, you see half-way loaded pages, missing images and weird error messages. Oh, and my WordPress dashboard looks like this 90% of time now:

My blog is basically unusable now.

So what have I done to offend the mighty watchdog script? No clue. You can probably see quite well that my site has not changed in months. I have not installed any new WordPress plugins, I have not tinkered with the theme, and I have not touched any of the PHP scripts here. The only thing I do around here is blog, and update WordPress whenever a new release comes out. And a new version of WordPress should not balloon up my resource usage, should it? And if it does, what the hell can I do about it?

I asked Dreamhost support staff the same question, and they had a very helpful answer: “You should switch to our more expensive VPS service which is better in every single way, and also it makes us more money”.

It’s always great when your genuine tech support request is met with a shameless up-sale pitch. They did give me a few tips on “optimizing” my WordPress installation. Namely: disabling all the pluggins, switching back to the default WordPress theme, enabling caching, etc.. I tried all of it, and none of it helped, but they don’t have any new suggestions beyond this.

Note that this is not my traffic that is causing these issues. I wish it was traffic, because then there would we ways to deal with it, and a hope that after a few days things will get back to normal. That’s not it though. The problem is that a single hit against my current WordPress installation consumes so much resources that it gets killed by the watchdog script. And no matter how I tweak it, no matter how many plugins I disable, I can’t make it stop. If you visited this site yesterday evening you might have noticed my tinkering (that is if the site even managed to load then). But it was all for nothing.

Note that this was not happening two weeks ago, and nothing has changed since then. The slowness and occasional errors have been around for a while, but I sort of ignored them. Now, the site is barely usable and the support team just shrugs and tells me it’s my own fault.

So I think that it is time for me to end my long, troubled relationship with Dreamhost and look for a new host. Any suggestions? What do you guys use for hosting? I currently pay around $10/mo for my shared hosting account, but I’m perfectly willing to pay more if it means better service, stability and, well being able to run my site without dealing with this kind of shit.

My requirements are:

  • PHP + MySQL – preferably preinstalled for me so I can just drop in my site and forget about it
  • Shell access. Preferably a VPS server with root, but this is not crucial
  • Decent bandwidth (I get around 2,000 hits per month) and storage (this site, along with all the picture attachments takes up around 200MB).

I know that some of you gave me tips in the past, but things change, good services go bad and etc… So let’s try this again. Where do you host your site? What do they offer? How is the pricing? How is their service?

And if you are an unfortunate Dreamhost user, let’s commiserate and talk about how much they suck.

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15 Responses to Dreamhost issues: looking for a new host

  1. Ron NEW ZEALAND Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Ive had good experience’s with Linode (VPS), probably cost a bit more.

    Both times ive open support tickets (one changing billing to annual (10% discount), and one to get an IPV6 address), were responded to in minutes.

    If you choose them, ill give you my referel key if you dont mind.

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  2. Ron NEW ZEALAND Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    The plan im on btw, (the lowest spec)
    512Mb ram
    200Gb transfer
    Shell (with root)
    Distro choice (you can use an image of theirs, or build your own and upload it)
    Choice of data center
    20Gb storage
    Out of light shell access (ssh access if you do something to break the network connectivity, akin to using a serial port to recover)
    $20 a month

    They recently upgraded storage by 25% (free), for their birthday, I really cant fault them.

    Regardless of what you do, I hope it gets restored I enjoy your blog, and google reader has been making most things fine for me.

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  3. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m currently in the process of moving my stuff over to an Amazon EC2 micro instance using their custom Amazon Linux distro as it’s free for a year. My hosting currently only allows for PHP and MySQL, but I wanted to experiment a bit more.

    You would probably benefit more from a small instance though, as micro instances throttle the CPU.

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  4. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Well, I have a small forum (tudamonte.com) with a few thousand page requests per month (webalizer tells me 1M hits), and I’m paying 35 Euros/year at LDHosting.

    Just 5GB of storage, but 20GB of transfer, PHP5/Perl/Ruby and what sold me: 99.98% uptime garantueed or a free month.
    I’ve been with them for two years, and they only had one month in which they broke that uptime (it was 99.7% ;), and yes, they gave me the free month.

    Really happy with them.

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  5. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @Mart: yeah, I have a microinstance running Debian and I’m thinking about building something with Lift (Scala). But a decent shared host is probably cheaper.

    There’s also BuyVM, but I’ve never used them.

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  6. k00pa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Mac OS Terminalist says:

    I would recommend Linode VPS. I have one Linode running for second month and it have been very stable.

    VPS has the down side that you have to update/configure it yourself, not that big of a deal if you know what you do :P I actually like to configure it and get everything up and running. Atm I host my personal git repos there and TF2 server with HLStatsX:CE.

    If VPS is not the option, I would consider something like Mediatemple. I have not tried it but it looks pretty good.

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  7. fundamental UNITED STATES ELinks Linux says:

    Another recommendation for Linode, no problems with support and it gives you plenty of control.
    As k00pa said, you do need to do some of the management yourself, but it does give oneself a lot of flexibility (hooray root access).
    Good luck in resolving the issue.
    (hopefully this is not a double post as firefox failed to get the message to your server)

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  8. Gui13 FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    If you can decypher a bit of French (or click the links on the second part of the article, for that matter), you can take a look here: http://www.bortzmeyer.org/apres-slicehost.html

    This guy participated in pretty much every RFCs since the 2000’s, and has quite the same needs as you: USA provider, root access, VPS.

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  9. Justyn UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    I used linode for a few months about a year ago, and loved it. They’re pretty cheap compared to other xen vps services. Like some of the other people here said, you can go with some sort of cloud service too.

    Or if you’re interested, I can spin up a vps for you on a server I have colocated for 15-20/mo. I don’t sell hosting or anything, so it’s basically a really beefy server that I have a bunch of my personal low trafficked sites on.

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  10. rev UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    i use hostgator.com; pretty happy, they fully support wordpress and have a pretty nice admin interface.

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  11. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    You should seriously go with a VPS. Then, you don’t have to deal with BS like “clever killscripts”. As long as the company is serious enough to keep their boxes alive and connected to the Internet, the rest is up to you.

    I was on VpsLink for a while, they were stable enough for me. Their cheapest plan is $7.95/mo, but that is a very memory starved config, so it may not work well with wordpress. (http/php is fine with lighttpd, but mysql may have it tough.)

    If you want to find something cheaper than Linode’s $20/month you can check for offers at ‘Low end box’ or the digitalpoint web hosting forum.

    But, if you like to play with things (and I know you do), I would seriously recommend looking for a Xen HVM VPS. This means that you can boot your own kernel. (Normally in XEN you have to go with a set of kernels provided by the hosting company, which means you cannot upgrade/change your distro however you want. And don’t even get me started on OpenVZ.)

    I’m currently on a HVM with NordicVPS which I am reasonably happy with. However, I don’t see their HVM offers on the webpage any longer, so maybe they have stopped with them.

    [Links redacted due to stupid spam filter, just google the company names to find them.]

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  12. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    Thanks to everyone who recommended Linode here and on twitter. That’s what I ended up going with. :) There should be a post about it going up in a few minutes.

    @ Ron:

    That’s actually the setup I picked. Hopefully it will be enough. If not, I might need to buy more bandwidth.

    @ Mart:

    Ack, no throttling! I don’t want to deal with that anymore. Also, isn’t reddit down as much as it is because they are running on Amazon services? :P

    I’m always scared of the per-usage billing schemes – they look reasonable, but I can’t help imagining them balooning out of control.

    @ IceBrain:

    Oh wow, nice. I wish Dreamhost had uptime guarantees like this. My hosting would be virtually free then. I went with Linode which I believe doesn’t have uptime guarantees but their support team seem very responsive.

    @ k00pa:

    Yep… My only concern is that I’m so used to just slapping wordpress instances on pre-configured shared hosting setups I am probably forgetting some crucial optimizations and/or security gotchas. Still, I got the site running in under a few hours. :)

    I went with Ubuntu which is probably not the best choice in terms of memory footprint but… Well, I’ve been living in Debian/Ubuntu world since college, and I just did not feel like tying to deal with unfamiliar distro issues now that maintenance is on my head.

    @ fundamental:

    Yep, I’m loving the root access. Though it’s bizarre that their default Ubuntu image lets you ssh in as root. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I was root on Ubuntu – the magic of sudo usually is enough.

    @ Gui13:

    Heh, I don’t comprehend even a lick of French. I like how it sounds though.

    To tell you the truth I’m fluent in Polish and English only. I studied Russian and German but since I have not used either since high school they are pretty much gone. I remember how to say horse in German – that’s about it. I used to be able to read Cyrylic alphabet (well, at least sound it out) but now that’s gone too. Can’t wait till we have non-volatile in-silico memory where we can permanently store shit like that.

    But, when I opened the article Chrome helpfully suggested to translate it into English for me. I fucking love that feature. Also, their translation is getting better – almost everything made sense. Well, except the fact that the translation kept saying “hotel” when he meant location (as in physical data center) – but it was easy to figure out from context.

    @ Justyn:

    Oh wow, thanks for the offer! Seeing how this site get quite a bit of hits, I’d hate to hammer your server into the ground. Plus it’s nice to have a professional support team I can yell at if my stuff breaks or servers go down. Part of my problem with Dreamhost was shoddy support. I appreciate the offer though. Thanks!

    @ rev:

    I used them once for one of my freelancing web design gigs. It seemed fairly stable. I wasn’t a big fan of their panel. I mean it was perfectly functional, just had like a million things there that I could not care less about. Plus I don’t think they gave you SSH access which is pretty much a deal breaker for me (or maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough, and my client was to clueless to figure it out).

    @ Tino:

    I do like to play with things, but for stuff like this site I prefer stuff that works. I went with a standard Ubuntu image on Linode. Believe it or not, I am not a big fan of compiling my own kernel. I think I only did it like twice in my life (both times to get shitty wifi drivers to work) long time ago, and I have been perfectly happy running out of the box distros ever since. :)

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  13. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    I’m glad to see that the blog is up and running again! (you have changed server now, right?, at least yesterday’s errors are gone.)

    @ Luke Maciak:
    Actually, it was eons ago since I compiled a kernel. However, I am a big fan of being able to install my ubuntu kernel updates, and keep the distribution the latest one. That said, I’m sure Linode are serious enough to keep their kernels somewhat current, this is a bigger problem with cheaper hosts.

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  14. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Tino:

    Heh, I specifically picked the LTS distro so that I wouldn’t have to upgrade it until 2015. :P

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  15. Same Story DENMARK Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The so called problems reported by Dreamhost are exactly the same as those I’ve seen from other hosts, who several times stopped my websites for alleged “ressource hogging”. I always told them I would look at the problem, but could never find any, an then just went on as before. Without complaints now. Most of these webhosts have so few real experts who can diagnose problems, that they just make a wild guess and name you as the culprit. I have experienced this at least six times with two different sites and two different hosts. Who should have the ability to diagnose an eventuel problem, if not the webhost with all their logs and unlimited access. But of course it takes an experienced technician to make sense of it.

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