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:


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:


(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 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 – 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.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. nicholas butler

    The school of thought for the Brits is never let someone make a mistake and have it go unpaid for. The school of thought for the Americans is that mistakes are unscheduled learning opportunities.

    I would stick with Dreamhost because , providing they dont fire the staff responsible , they have just learnt an awful lot of new and valuable lessons. Further youve gained an experience in understanding the technical and continuity issues in utilising a single source for hosting.

    I wouldnt run a mile from Dreamhost but I might walk my content over to a small company and use them as a secondary hosting company which would give me the peace of mind about my content and uptime. Keep Dreamhost for primary serving and the secondary hosting company for backup serving.

    Currently the weakest link for many ( many ) companies is a lack of planning for their DNS hosting and Authoritative name services. Without which much of the desired fall back on fail planning will all still be a moot point in the event the authoritative name servers fail.

  2. Andy C

    I was on Dreamhost’s entry level package and left for similar reasons. Excessive load on my shared server that repeatedly went undetected leaving my site down.

    I voted with my feet and went to Bluehost (same money) and the service is much, much better.

    However, you run a popular, high traffic blog so I presume you pay a little more than $6 per month. In which case, I would be even more incensed about the quality of technical support and lack of communications.

    As an aside, I can’t believe how calm and measured you were in the midst of this crisis.

    Moving hosting provider is a pain and yes, no-one’s perfect but I would. Simply as a point of principle.

  3. Goldie G

    I’ve been following your tweets with interest. I’m full of admiration at your patience throughout.

    A large group of us had a co-op webhost for some years. Being free, (we paid a small amount whenever someone remembered to do the billing) I got into a bad habit of buying domain names and setting up websites whenever I had an original idea, for surprise birthday websites, or on a whim.

    When the co-op folded four year ago, a generous co-op member took eight of my websites and hosted them at DreamHost alongside his, not charging me for the privilege (!).

    Problems arose a couple of years ago, when I tried to make particular changes on some of the websites (probably my fault). After a few unsuccessful attempts, I got lazy and gave up.

    I can pay for hosting and because of the interest shown in one of those websites (it needs to go commercial asap), I am watching to see what you decide to do. (Ha! Just realised how I’m shelving the problem again)

  4. Alex Nesbitt

    You get what you pay for. Dreamhost is really inexpensive. Support is one of the biggest cost for a hosting company. DH runs really lean and that means slow response time. If you need better support or uptime, go elsewhere because you will experience something like this again at Dh most likely. If $ matter more then stay with DH.

    I use DH for low volume sites that don’t need five nine uptime. I use Amazon where I need better uptime, but even there I provide my own support because I can’t afford the support program.

    You know what you’re going to get. You know the prices. Decide you’re priorities.

  5. Pat Williams

    HI Neville! I was following your twitters closely last Thursday. My site is hosted by Dreamhost and went unscathed. At the same time I had ordered additional services for myself and was in the process of setting up new hosting with them for a client. Their response rate to my questions was immediate and VERY helpful. So in light of your issues, I decided to stay with them as well. I agree that they have hopefully learned something here and will work hard to have it not happen in the future. Every host I’ve been with has had growing pains at one time or another and I am of the mindset that we should wait and see. If the problems continue, then jump ship. On a first offence, there is no guarantee that the new host isn’t going to experience something similar in the future.
    I hope their biggest lesson is that they need to communicate with their clients during a crisis…. even if it’s just to say, “we realize there is a problem, we’re working to resolve it and will provide you with information as it becomes available.”

    PS – I get your updates on feedburner and enjoy reading your blog.

    Pat Williams
    CyberCletch LLC
    Twitter: cletch

  6. Andy C

    @Alex: I pay Bluehost $6 per month. I can use Instant Chat to talk to a BH support person.

    That’s not to say he will resolve complex problems immediately but at least I have that option.

    Do Dreamhost offer IM support ?

  7. Stefan Didak

    I suggest running away from Dreamhost because clearly they don’t have their act together and it ends up being the customers who look foolish when sites are unreachable, disabled, or simply messed up like it was in your case.

    Another good reason to avoid Dreamhost is something I discovered a few weeks ago when they DISABLED my entire site because it was getting too many visitors (click here for the full story)

    It’s not worth the $36/month (codemonster) cost if my site just gets its IP address yanked for a whole day. Especially now that Virtual Dedicated Hosting is starting in the price ranges of $50/month and upwward.

  8. David Matusiak

    Hey Neville,

    Sorry about your DreamHost problems! It sounds like you got the big end of the stick on this one… I’ve been with DH since January 2005 and have experienced lots of issues. I have also worked at ISPs and data hosting centers before and know the endless variety of things that can go wrong. This is a primary reason I don’t leave DH, as I know that anyone else in the business is susceptible to similar problems. (No one is perfect!)

    Moving to a new host (esp. with multiple domains) is a major pain and I could experience the same (or more) troubles somewhere else. Thankfully, my website(s) are only for fun and I’m not relying on them for income. If that were the case, then I’d probably pay a lot more than $16/month for my web hosting. Anyway, I feel your pain and I salute you for sticking with DH in light of what happened.

    I hope you have a fantastic week! Hang in there.
    David M.

  9. neville

    Thanks, everyone, I appreciate your comments; thinking about and digesting what you’ve had to say.

    Nick, the primary/secondary hosting mix sounds like a good idea. Thinking about that.

    Andy, I’m on DreamHost’s $8.95/month plan, the discounted rate you get for paying 2 years’ hosting in advance. What I get for that money is 7,240 gigs a month of bandwidth and 358 gigs of disk space, both of which increment weekly. The bandwidth allowance especially is very generous for the price. The account also gives me unlimited domains to host, MySQL databases, FTP accounts, and more.

    Thanks, Goldie, for watching and waiting. Good reminder, Alex, re getting what you pay for. I agree: deciding the priorities, that’s the thing. Pat, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Andy again, interesting re text chat support. DreamHost doesn’t offer that. They do offer phone-back support for US-based customers only. So for me, my only option is email and the control panel. I’ve been quite happy with that in all the time I’ve been with DreamHost: very responsive, and quick. Until this week.

    Stefan, I read your experience when you posted about it in August. Pretty severe reaction from DreamHost, I must say. I don’t know of anyone else with that experience (not to say there isn’t anyone else, just no one I know).

    David, that’s what’s been in my mind quite a bit: no hosting service is perfect. Say I do move: could something like this happen with another provider? I don’t believe anyone can say it can’t.

    But I also recognize the risks of a shared-server hosting service, which is what I have and which is the majority on services like DreamHost, one reason why it’s so low cost.

    So I have been thinking about DreamHost’s new virtual private servers service. Quite a bit more expensive and still shared but it does come with a few service guarantees that are credible. And coincidentally, I received a promotional email today from DreamHost offering some good discounts on that service for existing customers.

    Seriously thinking about that.

  10. neville

    Scott, thanks for stopping by. Incidentally, I tried to email you when I found your site occupying my space! Email wouldn’t go through, though, producing error messages about relay not allowed. I think the reason is we are both on DreamHost and that must have been one of the consequences of the problems on Thursday.

    Anyway, thanks for the link to the hosting recommendations.

  11. BL Ochman

    Dream Host is a nightmare for business. i used them until the time their servers crashed and they admitted they had no backup servers set up. Email and my sites and client sites would go down, and you couldn’t get a human on the phone.

    Switched to Media Temple and have been happy as a clam ever since. There’s great tech support (live) and the servers have yet to overload in 3 years.

    Don’t hang in with Dream Host. They won’t return the favor!

  12. neville

    Thanks, BL. I’ve heard a bit about Media Temple but, as with just about any hosting service, mixed good/bad opinion.

    But your suggestion added to my ‘think about this’ list for when a decision comes.

  13. John Galpin

    Hi Neville,
    Sorry to hear about your troubles. If you are looking for a company based in the UK that provides good support at reasonable prices you could try United Hosting ( We’ve been using them for 5 years and their support team has always been really responsive, which we’re grateful for.
    If you go for a dedicated server be careful regarding management of it e.g. upgrades, patches etc as you may end up becoming responsible for this. Regards, John

  14. Parker


    What happened to your site is indeed unfortunate. It is your online home, the hub of your web presence and I’m sure it was frustrating to have that taken away and replaced with someone else’s website.

    However, I think your response was over-the-top and the equivalent of an online temper tantrum.

    “I waited. And waited. And still waited to hear from DreamHost….Two hours later, with still no response from DreamHost, I filed another support ticket.”

    Really? Only two hours later? I think it speaks highly of Dreamhost that you think they can turn around a major technical issue AND personally respond to you in two hours.

    You know what, Neville? The good people at Dreamhost were probably busting their asses off to get your site back up. Would you rather they spent their time doing that, or holding your hand and telling you that everything was going to be alright?

    For a while, I think Twitter demanded the type of nitpicking about their service that you showed here. Their service was consistently unreliable, and was down more often than not. As you can read from some of the comments on your site and Twitter, Dreamhost seems to have much more reliable service.

    I also question what you do with your time when you say that when Dreamhost went down, you sent out Twitter messages, made a video and even wrote a blog post.

    When I’m suffering from technical problems with my site or my internet, I go outside or spend time with real people. Or I do something productive.

    While the squeakly wheel may indeed get the grease, I, for one, would rather see the organizations that I deal with spend their time fixing their problems rather than appeasing influentials.

    As you’ve noted, this seems to be the first time you’ve had a problem with Dreamhost after using it for a couple of years. Do you expect 100% reliability and uptime from every service and/or product that you’ve ever bought or used? Have you never taken a day off of blogging due to fatigue or illness?

  15. Danny Whatmough

    Sorry to hear about the problems with DH Neville. I wonder what the knock-on damage to their brand will be as a result of your social media activities around this. The power of web democracy! Small consolation, I know!

  16. Stefan Didak

    Parker, I don’t think it is fair to presume that Neville might have thought that Dreamhost could “turn around a major technical issue” given the fact that during the two hours between the support tickets Neville would not have had any clue as to what, if any, “major technical issue” was causing the problem.

    There wasn’t any mention of “major technical issues” relating to this on the Dreamhost Status blog. How should Neville have known this? :-)

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