Why Dreamhost PS is a Pathetic Server – 5 Reasons

dreamhost-sucks-1More than a month ago, I received a warning from Dreamhost about high CPU usage for our service OrkutFeeds. That complain had a suggestion about moving to Dreamhost PS(Private Server).

We pulled down Orkutfeeds for more than a week and brought it back with caching support which reduced load by more than 80%.

Still, as we were planning to move to VPS hosting anyways, we decided to give a try to Dreamhost PS. I was very sure since a  long time that Mediatemple would be the best choice for VPS, but I decided to try Dreamhost PS keeping in mind 2 years of happy hosting experience with them. And that’s where I made a big mistake.

I still like and recommend Dreamhost’s shared hosting plan and will continue to use it for some of our sites. But just don’t ever think of going for Dreamhost PS.

Why Dreamhost PS is Pathetic Server

1. Why no root access?

They say, “no root access means no breaking of things”. But with root access, there are many tasks which an experienced webmaster can do on his own, saving his time as well as the time of support staff of the webhosting company.

I seriously think a customer must have an option to enable root access. Who gave them right to make a choice for us?

2. Why separate PS servers for Apache and mysql?

I honestly doubt if Dreamhost is truly offering a VPS i.e. virtual private server. They want you to buy separate servers to run apache (web server) and mysql (database server).

In an ideal VPS environment, you will be allocated a virtual dedicated server, where you run apache, mysql and everything on same server. Why can’t Apache, mysql and other program share same memory? They are running together on Mediatemple and on almost every other VPS hosting available out there.

3. Too many technical problems. FTP was always down.

This might have happened specifically to us. FTP was down for almost all the time since we moved to Dreamhost. Surprisingly, SSH/SFTP are working for same user names and passwords. I know FTP and SFTP uses different ports but why kill FTP only, all the time!

Personally, I use SCP/SFTP commands to transfer files form my machine to/from server so I could live with it. But it was quite embarrassing to have friends/clients calling me all over the week complaining about FTP downtime. It really hurts to face wrath of your clients specially when its not your fault at all. By the way, FTP is still down for us.

4. WordPress Super Caching plugins doesn’t work

On Dreamhost PS, even time to load your site significantly improves, it is good idea to use caching plugins wp-super cache. This plugin can help your blog survive traffic spikes caused by Digg, slashdot, etc. upto some extent.

But if you enable such plugin, your blog’s load time will go from few seconds to a minutes or two! Surprisingly this fact is documented in Dreamhost wiki as well. A very bad news for WordPress bloggers.

5. PS for Pathetic Support

One thing I have always loved about Dreamhost since day 1 is their support. Quite contrary to our expectations, PS customer, who pay much more, get pathetic support. My support tickets marked with highest priority went unanswered for more than 24 hours.

Although once my query were answered, replies used to contain relevant and decent amount of information, much like the old days. But it wasn’t good enough to compensate for delay in answering support tickets.

Leaving Dreamhost PS is another nightmare

I initially signed up for both, apache and mysql PS. As number of problems I was facing continuously rising up, I decided to cancel both of them.

At that point they said my memory usage and CPU usage were too high for apaches server to move it back to shared hosting environment and they can cancel only mysql PS. I said OK and made another mistake.

Here is what they did…

  • Goal was to move all databases from private mysql server to shared mysql server.
  • On shared mysql server, they found a database by another user having same name as one of our database. In short there was a conflict.
  • They irresponsibly renamed our database to resolve conflict. They didn’t informed us about this at all.

This smart move by them, brought our entire blog-network down for hours as all blogs in blog-network uses one database which they renamed. We were scratching our heads, crossing-checking database config options on all sites, opening highest priority tickets but all went into vein. Just by luck, I noticed in phpMyAdmin that database name all blogs were trying to connect was changed and fixed it myself. Otherwise with their approach Devils Workshop and few more sites would have remained down for straight 36 hours!

Here is what they should have done to resolve name-conflict…

  • First no one can be held responsible for creating that conflict.
  • Now if renaming database is the only solution, this must be done by website owner/administrator.
  • They (Dreamhost) should have emailed me asking me to rename database which can avoid breaking my websites.

This is not all. The worst is yet to come…

  • On lines of database, they renamed some tables also. Now this seems highly absurd. Because table names can not conflict practically.
  • Also while doing export-import from one of their server to another server, they messed up big time corrupting important mysql tables. I don’t know what exactly they did, but first solution which worked was restoring some tables form old database backup. This used to work for sometime and then needed to repeat again in few hours! This is where we lost few draft posts and comments.

There are many other issues like the way Dreamhost calculates websites memory requirement is suspicious. Our heavy trafic sites hosted on MediaTemple is consuming around 40% of allocated 256MB physical + 400MB swap memory. While on Dreamhost sites demanding 400MB physical memory to server less than 2K pageviews daily. FYI, sites on Mediatemple serves more than 10K pageviews daily.

So where to go…

Dreamhost PS is insanely wrong choice but Dreamhost shared hosting still rocks. Few things I can still say for Dreamhost are,

  • They are not after your money. As an example, when they found they could not moved us back from PS to shared hosting, they gave us flat $15/month discount which is minimum charge for Dreamhost PS.
  • They really have intelligent support staff. I think support team is more trained for shard hosting environment. Also, they might have reduced size of support team in tough time of recession. What I expected is a dedicated team for PS customers. They are paying more so they deserve more attention.
  • One thing I miss at MediaTemple and I will always miss is simple and light-weight control panel Dreamhost provides. Most other companies use off the shelf free cPanel or commercial Plesk. Neither of them comes even close to Dreamhost’s self-developed control panel.

There are many good reasons because of which I still recommend Dreamhost shared hosting. If  you are a new guy, you can safely start with Dreamhost shared hosting and when you site grows you can move to a true VPS solution like Mediatemple.

I will write another guide on moving from Dreamhost to MediaTemple with zero downtime soon. In our case, apart from Dreamhost PS’s own downtime, migration carried out with practically zero downtime, including DNS updates.

That’s all for the day. If you any question about web-hosting, please ask via comments.

(image credit: Slang A Beat)

[Disclaimer: Views expressed in this post are based on my own experience. If you search over Internet, you will see posts talking about good and bad sides of almost every webhosting. So be careful while choosing a webhost. One wrong choice can cost you lots of time & money.]

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  • http://www.solidblogger.com Bapun

    Oh my God. Dreamhost PS full of craps *surprised*

    Thank God you are on Media Temple now :)

    @ Rahul : Is the excess CPU usages thing happens with DreamHost only? I am with Hostgator, will they ever ask me for some extra CPU usages?

    Btw what about the CPU usages? Is this the CPU usages while performing some task on your site?

  • http://www.technology-area.com/ Gautam

    Lol.. koi naya admi aya hoga dreamhost ps ki naukri par :P
    ———————————————————–
    Lol.. a new person might have come for the job of dreamhost ps :P

  • http://www.technology-area.com/ Gautam

    I think.. that I would never even think of buying a Dreamhost PS

  • http://www.adityavyas.com Aditya

    I would advice you to go for Justhost or Hosgator. I dont know why you are stuck up with dreamhost. Some research on top hosting provider will help you to get a better host.

  • Mike

    For smart shared hosting you should try WebFaction ( http://www.webfaction.com ). Everywhere I read that they’re actually faster than MediaTemple. And with MT’s latest problems I’d say they’re probably more stable too.

  • http://www.hacktrix.com Mayur Somani

    Thanks for the information.

  • Mandeep Singh bhangu

    One thing you forgot to mention here is that, while using Dreamhost PS, you also pay for the memory used by apache server and some other processes. So there is extra add of around 100MB to your usage.

    Quite clearly when you try to move away from PS they say lower your memory usage below 200MB when you are not using that much anyways.

    It’s quite a trick and really difficult to move away from PS.

    They are after your money, Never ever move to Dreamhost PS.

  • http://www.orkutplus.net/ Gautam

    @Aditya
    But then also, DreamHost Shared Hosting is a good one.
    Its clean and simple and has its own developed control panel.

  • http://www.whoisabhi.com Abhishek

    it is really surprising that dreamhost PS is so poor !!
    i don’t host any site consuming that much high usage but i though catching could help at some extent !!

  • http://www.extremetrix.blog.co.in Ankit

    1st I was thinking to host my blog at dreamshost but now i will go for hostgator or media temple!

  • kay

    Hi,

    My Drupal websites are hosted with Dreamhost PS but it seems that MySql servers are super slow, do you know where I could move my databases only to get faster websites ?

    If I can find a fast MySql server will it be better even when websites and databases are not hosted on the same servers/hosting company ?

    Thanks for reply.

  • http://www.orkutplus.net/ Gautam

    @Rahul
    Strange to see that you still have Dreamhost ads :P
    I don’t think after reading this post, anyone would go for Dreamhost so theres no use of putting DH ads anymore.

    But
    @People
    He is talking of PS, but shared hosting is very good.

  • http://info.scrapur.com Scrapur

    DreamsHost is Best for Bloggers but not for those who provide some service to users like Orkutfeeds

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  • http://www.techpavan.com Pavan Kumar

    That’s a vast set of information put forward by you. Now, I am not in a state to say anything, but glad to see DW back fast and furious…

  • anon

    sounds like you had a fair number of issues that were all correctable.

    most specifically, there are plenty of cache plugins for WP that do work on DH PS. maybe if you had taken a few minutes to do a little research instead of wasting time with this blog post, you would have had a better time of it.

    i’m just sayin’!

    • Rahul Bansal

      @Bapun
      CPU usage can happen on any webhost. I see it more frequently on hostgator.
      CPU usage go high when some script “hangs” or have logical error like infinite loops, bad allocation of resources, etc.

      @Aditya
      Dreamhost shared hosting is really great and for some internal reason we need to have 2 hosting plans.
      One VPS and another shared hosting! ;-)

      @Mike
      Downtime is something happen with all webhosts once in a while. I am aware of recent MT downtime but still I find it is quite amazing.

      @Mandeep
      I really suspect if Dreamhost is making sure to keep me on PS. There recent mail sort of suggesting that if I need FTP access to my files, I must increase memory allocation.

      @Abhishek
      Caching is always good! :-)

      @Ankit
      I can still bet on Dreamhost’s shared hosting plan.

      @Kay
      First its always good idea to have mysql on different server.
      Now are you using Dreamhost PS for mysql. They have different PS package for webserver and mysql.
      Also I really recommend you to turn-off caching mods, if you are using any of them on Drupal.
      My sites performance was drastically improved on Dreamhost PS after turning of caching plugins. I know its hard to believe! ;-)
      @Gautam
      Its my job to tell about both sides of Dreamhost and leave it on people to make a choice.
      I am running Dreamhost ads because I really think their shared hosting plan is worth it.

      @Scrapur
      Your statement is technically incorrect.
      Blogs are just bunch of php scripts (talking about wordpress mainly)
      How your scripts perform is mainly depend on how do you code them.
      Orkufeeds after caching is much better than any badly coded wordpress plugins!

      @Pavan
      Thanks Pavan. :-)

      @anon
      About… “fair number of issues that were all correctable”
      If you really think like that, then please give me solution to them.
      Please tell me one amazing wordpress caching plugin which is really good and works on Dreamhost PS.
      Also give me link-to article to enable root access on my Dreamhost PS, also tell me how to run apache n mysql in shared memory.
      And hey FTP is still down here. I have allocated memory like 400MB for apache and Dreamhost wants me to buy few more hundreds of MB to enable FTP.
      Can you run FTP is less memory? I never knew 400MB can be insufficient for FTP! :P

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  • http://njjewishnews.com Aaron

    Hi Rahul, thanks for the informative article. While some of your complaints are still valid, they have added root access, and I can recommend Hyper Cache and DB Cache Reloaded for WordPress caching on the PS. As for support, I’ve found it no better or worse than their shared support, although I agree that customers paying a premium should get priority.

    We’ve only been on a private server for a while, and so far we’re happy. I’ll give it a few more months before I make a final judgment, though :-)

  • Dan

    I agree with this post.

    I started a forum in 2007 on Dreamhost shared. Their custom webpanel is incredibly easy, being able to just open an instant messaging window to talk to support was great, and I paid a whole $70 for my first year with Dreamhost.

    The day I moved to Dreamhost PS, my users and I noticed a sudden drop in performance. My server load averages went above 3.0 3.0 3.0 even for no reason and I had downtime at 12am and noon sharp PST every day. Fast forward three years later to last week and my forum now has 2,000,000 posts and over 200 users online at any given time. Strangely, the performance problems I have are the same issues I had back in early 2008 when I moved my then-not-so-active forum to the PS.

    I since moved to WiredTree and have an incredibly different experience. I thought that Dreamhost’s support staff within instant-message reach would spoil me, but my support tickets at WiredTree are resolved within 10 minutes, even for the lowest priority ticket. My performance is infinitely better, which makes sense since I did upgrade, but I can send WiredTree a support ticket with nothing but “Hey, my forum went down about 25 minutes ago. Any ideas?” and it gets answered with some detectivework and maybe a “Hey Dan, I saw X, Y, and Z were acting up so I changed the settings of A, B, C. Lemme know it helps.”

    Even when I went out of my way trying to explain to Dreamhost support the downtime my PS forum was receiving, trying to articulate any possible variable that could allude to the problem, I’d get linked to this Dreamhost wiki article without fail: http://wiki.dreamhost.com/Finding_Causes_of_Heavy_Usage.

    All in all, after three years with Dreamhost, I still recommend them to newbies, most people with static websites, and people looking for cheap shared hosting with good value. Looks like you and I agree. Dreamhost PS certainly isn’t the best environment for a forum, at least.

  • http://xerocreative.com Mike

    You may want to update this blog as some things have changed.

    1. You get root access with sudo commmands as an “admin user”.
    2. Your MySQL instance is on a seperate server even on shared hosting. This actually saves you money. If you had both your apache and MySQL on the same machine you would actually be paying more. (Of course you are always free to setup your own mysqld on the web ps)

    3. Judging by your usage issues you mention in other parts of your post, its likely your FTP threads were getting killed due to RAM usage at the same time the rest of your site was. Fixing the RAM usage of your main site would likely fix the FTP issues as well. They all run under the same user.

    4. This is a non issue, all new PSes were moved to local storage several years ago.

    5. That one I cant help you with :(

  • AJ

    @Dan,

    I am surprised how the issues I am facing so closely resemble yours.

    Since the time I have moved one of my sites on PS, I noticed a peculiar issue with site getting down at the exact hour every day. Tried contacting DH folks but the best they could help you is with this article http://wiki.dreamhost.com/Finding_Causes_of_Heavy_Usage.

    I have tried various points mentioned on this article numerous times but it never helped me pinpointing issues.

    Server side management of PS is not that easy even if you’re a geek. I offered them to charge me money and help me with issues but answer was always a flat NO. .

    @Rahul: if you ever come up with an article on debugging dreamhost PS issues do let me know.

    Moving and choosing hosts is a big pain. For now, I “ll still stay with them and see how my PS behaves.

  • Lisa

    im right there with you AJ, got PS and thought my shared hosting problems would be gone.. but instead i have new problems. I’m looking for a new host when i can afford it

  • darrell

    Whenever our PS goes out of control or is down for a few hours over the night, I contact dreamhost with a highest level ticket. Eventually me or someone else gets tired of waiting and reboots the server. Then later we get a support reply “well it looks like your server is running fine now”. Same response every time. Was told when we reboot the server that there is no history of what happened, which is why we try to wait for a response that never comes in time.

  • http://blog.wanjie.info wanjie

    Thanks for the information. I can’t accept without root privileges.

  • http://sitesbyjoe.com Joe Taylor

    I use both the Apache and MySQL PS services. I’ve been happy so far (over a year now). I run a good 50 sites on this set up – some high traffic too and all dynamic. Sorry to hear you had trouble.

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  • Allan

    For the record, you can now create a root user for a PS and get full control. You can also now turn off all Dreamhost management of the box and completely run your own services.

  • http://ramenramenramen.net ed

    Hi, did you ever post about the Dreamhost to MediaTemple migration? I’m also having a lot of CPU overage problems with Dreamhost PS with a pretty low-traffic blog and I’m frustrated enough to want to move.

  • http://brysdesignstudio.com Bryant Arrington

    I have 16 or so (without counting) websites on dreamhost. Last night I discovered a site had just vanished. I couldn’t restore – they had no backups. I have backups but I had no directory to access FTP. Just now, after 20 hours, I set up a Cloudflare account to get a directory up quickly and then uploaded the website again. But they can’t tell me how it just vanished, or what user name did it or when. They were no help.

    I am addicted to their control panel. I hate the C panel. Does anyone know of a different hosting company that has a similar panel???

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  • Milind Patil

    I totally agree with whatever is written herein, as i am burning in the same hell…. I am literally trying to do every possible thing to bring the mem usage down to 300 MB to shift back to dreamhost shared hosting. ONE strong advice, never ever click on try VPS of dreamhost, you will be rotting in hell for next week trying to balance things and reverting back to shared hosting. If you are not technically sound enough you will be dead using VPS of dreamhost.
    All the support staff are crap, no use in getting support for Dreamhost VPS, they only reply check your sites. after practically removing all site from vps of dreamhost, still the RAM never comes down below 1600MB, there are only plain html sites with practically 200 visits in a month. On demanding the reason, the pathetic staff of Dreamhost VPS gives no replies no stats details nothing at all.
    Again to remind DONT EVERY TRY TO MIGRATE TO DREAMHOST VPS, it will be sincerely waste of time and clients.

  • bernard dufresne

    The Dreamhost web server:
    They give you 300 mb ($15/ month) because then, they will ask you really more money if you extend your memory. +300mb (a total memory of 600mb) is $30 / month for that price you don’t have mysql as you said.
    Then, you have to subscribe to an additional mysql server. That should also start at $15 per month for 300mb/ month. In my case, the mysql configuration was over-configured in terms of memory so that the mysql server required 950 mb in total. Dreamhost sent me an email saying that due to my mysql consumption i required 1000mb (to include the 950mb) for $50 /month. Total damage: $15 / month for a web server with 300mb Php 5.4 CGI + Mysql 5 $50 / month with 1000mb ram = $65 / month for 10 websites that receive 100 visitors per day. huh Bottom line: the mysql server is fully managed, you can’t change the configuration yourself.