I have been hosting with (mt) Media Temple
for six months now and would like to provide my independent review of their service.
My Background/Potential Biases
- Six years hosting experience with other various companies
- Ten years working in the computer industry
- Former employee of the world's sixth-largest hosting company, The Planet (source: Netcraft)
- hackmysql.com, of which a few people have heard
Therefore, I have been on both sides of hosting, as an engineer and a customer. My review is written as a customer, but I have certain sympathies for the engineers at Media Temple.
Services I use at Media Temple
Overall, I am very pleased with the service at Media Temple. From reading other threads here on WHT, I know that (mt) had a rough start with their Grid-Service. These problems, however, were before my time with (mt).
One Major Problem
Since I began hosting with them, I have had only one major problem, which I helped caused.
In October there were "storage issues
", which is the nice way of saying, "the hard drive ran out of free space." The partition where my home directory resides had about 2G of free space before I began working with some 2G log files. Thus I helped create those storage issues.
I don't know (mt)'s storage policy and practices, but I suspect that they were not expecting those free 2G to disappear so suddenly. Therefore, I take a little of the fault, because my sudden burst of disk usage did cause problems for everyone else on that partition.
Otherwise, my six months with Media Temple have been without problem. Since I have a technical background, I am not inclined to create support tickets often, but I have created three.
The first was for a mail/DNS issue. Before an (mt) Grid-Service (gs) server will handle mail for a domain, the server must see that the domain's MX record resolves to itself. This is a sensible precaution. Problem for me was: the server hosting my domains was lagging behind every other server in DNS resolution. (mt)'s primary DNS servers were correct, as were all other outside DNS servers, but my particular (gs) server was not resolving properly and therefore would not enable mail for one of my domains. The response I received to my inquiry about this "problem" was a stock response that said, basically, "Wait; DNS takes time." Of course I already knew this but I was hoping that the tech would maybe refresh the DNS daemon on my (gs) server to move the DNS propagation process along more quickly.
Second support ticket was due to the store issues mentioned previously. Their response was quick and apologetic, even though I helped to create the very problem I was inquiring about.
Third ticket was a request for a Perl module. The ticket was escalated to a higher level of support which installed the module. Engineers are cautious about doing things that effect the entire server. Even though a Perl module is very small and harmless, I'm glad that this request was done quickly and without question.
I am a heavy shell and vi user. I won't host at a place that doesn't have excellent shell access. Media Temple's shell access is excellent and has no silly restrictions. Certain commands are blocked for the security/privacy of others (or perhaps due to how they implement their grid), but I have not yet encountered a problem with the shell.
Most importantly, I demand super-low latency because even a little latency creates a terrible lag when typing quickly in a shell. Although my (gs) server is somewhere in California and I live in Europe, I very rarely experience any lag due to latency, and that's pretty impressive for a transatlantic, 7,000+ mile link.
My (gs) server runs Debian so the shell is nothing crazy and (mt) has not made any modifications to it that I can see. Therefore, the shell feels proper and like "home".
Media Temple has developed its own web control panel, called the AccountCenter, for (gs) accounts. (The dedicated-virtual service uses Plesk.) Overall, it's a good control panel, easy to use and understand, with a simple layout. It should be noted that I'm not the kind of person who does everything through the control panel. Regardless, I have never had a functional problem with it--that means it has always done what I expected it to, without weird or unexpected results.
It lacks only one feature as far as my needs are concerned: domain aliases. How to add domain aliases through the AccountCenter confused me a little. If I have domain.com and I want all traffic at foo.com to transparently access domain.com then accomplishing that in the AccountCenter is less than intuitive in my opinion. When I had this problem, I discovered that I had to create both as two separate domains, then remove the foo.com directory and create a symbolic link from foo.com -> domain.com. I could have left the foo.com directory and then added some HTTP redirects or mod rewrites, but the symbolic link is much more elegant. They do have an article in the knowledge base about how to do this, but for people who manage their account entirely through the control panel and FTP, it's not pleasant to SSH, vi .htaccess, rm -rf, and ln -s, etc.
A further criticism about the AccountCenter is that it seems to run slowly from time to time. Even when the shell is quick (therefore, I know it's not a matter of transatlantic lag), the AccountCenter responds and moves slowly. Perhaps my little laptop is too slow to quickly render the pretty, graphical, dynamic windows and such. This is a superficial problem though because it doesn't affect the service of websites or database or anything else.
As hackmysql.com suggests, MySQL and database connectivity is very important to me. I am skeptical of shared MySQL servers because of the "bad neighbor effect." This, however, is what (mt) intended its MySQL GridContainer service to overcome.
Secondly, I am skeptical of remote MySQL servers in massively shared hosting environments. Yes, it is good to have the database servers separate from the web servers, but in massively shared hosting environments there is a risk of web server to database server lag due to the internal network being saturated with other traffic (web, mail, ftp, streaming audio/video, ddos attacks, etc.). A few milliseconds of network lag means a few milliseconds longer that the query appears to take.
Therefore, I was skeptical of (mt)'s MySQL GridContainer at first for these two reasons (bad neighbor and network lag), but I have been pleasantly surprised by its performance. I don't know how they have built their grid, but my MySQL server performs as if it were local, and I have never experienced the bad neighbor effect. Perhaps I got lucky and I'm on a MySQL server with few other users, or perhaps their MySQL GridContainer really is doing its job well and keeping my database activity isolated from everyone else. I'm not really interested in the implementation, just the result, and the result has been excellent for the last six months.
My only criticism in this respect is: why is only MySQL 4.1 available (and PostgreSQL)? That version is no longer developed and 5.0 is a well established GA release. There is a knowledge base article that says they are planning to offer other versions of MySQL but there is no planned date for this "feature." My suggestion: make it a priority. Unless there is a very deep technical obstacle, there is no excuse to not be offering 5.0.
Two Random Criticisms
Webmail: I wish they offered more choices. I like SquirrelMail, but if I had an easier, better choice, I'd use it. They do offer a nice, advanced knowledge base article on redirecting webmail to a 3rd part app. I could do this but, I'm lazy
, I just want to click a button inside the AccountCenter to choose a diffrent webmail app. Furthermore, like the AccountCenter, SquirrelMail runs slowly from time to time. I would really like this to be improved. Perhaps SquirrelMail is just a slow app; again, I don't care about implementation, I just want a faster, nicer webmail.
Raw Apache/httpd logs: Every host handles these differently. Since I don't like any of the normal webstat programs (including Urchin which comes free with (gs) accounts), I wrote and use my own, therefore, I need access to the httpd logs. Problem with (mt) in this respect: all domains are in one log. My understanding is that this is due to some technical limitation. It's not a huge problem, because I can parse and separate each of my domain's traffic myself, but it would be nice if (mt) would do this already for me.
Despite the "grid chaos" in the past, I think Media Temple today is a solid, reliable solution. I waited half a year to write this review because I wanted to acquire a good average of experience. As the review has shown, the average of my experience with Media Temple is overwhelmingly positive.
In six months, the only one major problem I've had was partly caused by myself. Although I have criticized certain parts of the service, like running MySQL 4.1 and slow SquirrelMail, these criticisms are mostly superficial. What matters most is that my service with Media Temple--my websites, databases, and shell access--has been rapid and reliable.