Call me crazy about DreamHost

“I would run away from DreamHost as far and as fast as you can – to a smaller more responsive company,” said Twitter buddy Stephen Kelly yesterday.

Stephen’s comment was typical of many I received during the past few days following the disappearance on Thursday morning of all the sites I host at DreamHost.

‘Disappeared’ probably is the most accurate word. My own site (this blog) had indeed disappeared; what you found instead at this URL was this site:

nhcomgone1

I don’t know Scott Berkun and, when I discovered the situation, my first thought was that my domains had been hijacked as not only had all sites disappeared but neither could I log in to my domain email.

Other sites I host at DreamHost – including my tech blog and the podcasting book blog – had totally vanished; if you tried to go to any, you’d get a 404 error.

You can probably imagine my sense of alarm at that time. A ‘Wtf?’ expletive I twittered at 8.22am on Thursday morning was my mildest reaction.

Ten minutes later, I filed a support ticket with DreamHost, the first one I’ve filed with the request for a response set at the absolute highest priority.

And I waited. And waited. And still waited to hear from DreamHost.

While I waited, I kept up a steady stream of tweets as I dumped thoughts and opinion on what was happening, about DreamHost and anything else I thought of that was related.

Two hours later, with still no response from DreamHost, I filed another support ticket.

A bit after that, I recorded this seesmic video and posted a link to it on the DreamHost status blog:

Hijacked

(RSS and email subscribers: if the video embed isn’t showing, go to the seesmic site).

While I didn’t hear from DreamHost until nearly 11 hours later (more on that in a minute), I received some outstanding advice from Matthew Brazil, the CEO of 6consulting, the UK partner of Radian6.

Matthew selflessly, and with distinct authority, held my hand through some tech troubleshooting to try and figure out what the issue was and whether it was a DreamHost issue – and it became clear quite quickly that it was a DreamHost issue.

Matthew even offered to set up a temporary redirect to a temporary subdomain he would set up on his servers so that visitors to my URL could see a statement or something to alert them of the situation.

We got as far as getting ready to temporarily redirect name servers when the site suddenly re-appeared again.

Matthew, thanks again for your time and trouble. I won’t forget it.

So, what next for me and DreamHost? I’ve been a (relatively) happy customer for well over two years and often recommend DreamHost to anyone who asks for recommendations on good hosting services.

Well, let’s see what the responses from tech support were.

First, this from Craig:

I’m terribly sorry for the problems you’ve been experiencing with your sites. We have recently moved some of our customers across server clusters for greater long term stability, but unfortunately this move did not go as smoothly as planned (it was supposed to be entirely seamless). The weird behavior you have seen with your site is not a malicious activity. It was a misconfiguration on the web server, but we have corrected this for you and your sites are loading correctly now. Please clear your browser’s cache and cookies and try visiting your site again.

I have also run some email updates for your nevillehobson.com domain, and that has fixed up your email troubles according to my tests.

If you continue to have any troubles with your account please let me know!

My reply:

I appreciate the apology but I would like to know exactly what happened and what steps you took to resolve this situation. What assurance do I have that this won’t happen again? How did an old copy of scottberkun.com – an old copy, not his actual website – get to be at my domain address? Please be as technical as you wish.

Equally importantly to me is this – please let me have your comments on why it took nearly 12 hours from when I filed the first support ticket before I received any response from DreamHost support.

Which produced this reply from Ralph:

Sorry about the various problems you are having with your account. We have been performing moves this week to spread out our service that have unfortunately left you with various problems. The problems range from mysql database connection errors, downtime, missing files, and some other issues as well. The moves unfortunately did not go smoothly and our administration team is working on fixing these issues. Your tickets will be left open as we will use them to determine which accounts have problems so we can get these issues corrected for you.

Sorry about the frustration this has caused. Please hang in there and we will get this sorted out for you. In some cases you may notice that your account is already fixed. We hope to have these issues resolved over the weekend.

One the major problems with this issue is that it seems our support personnel have been able to help to some extent, only to have some of the problems come back again. Please hang in there as we work through this.

Note that neither commented on why it took 11 hours for me to get a response from support.

Ralph’s reply is rather interesting, perhaps indicating larger issues with DreamHost that would very likely alarm any customer. And I don’t see any post or commentary directly addressing this on DreamHost’s status blog.

As for what others think about DreamHost, Rob Brown has a great post in which he describes the power of a tool like Twitter to influence opinion about a company or brand, saying:

[…] By tea time the site was back up but I wonder at what cost to Dreamhost, who according to the tweets still hadn’t contacted Mr H.

So should I hang in there, as Craig and Ralph request, or should I run away from DreamHost as fast as I can, as Stephen Kelly recommends?

DreamHost do offer outstanding value for money. But at what price, when the chips are really down? As I noted in one tweet on Thursday morning, this experience shook my trust in DreamHost to the core.

Call me a masochist if you like – crazy, even – but oddly enough, in spite of the 11-hour wait for support response (at least an important an issue as the domain disappearance), I’m still willing to hang in there, although I’m entirely open to alternative ideas now.