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  1. #1

    Dreamhost...a 5-year review

    Wow, has it been 5 years since I signed up with Dreamhost?

    Yep, March 2006.

    In that time I've hosted a couple dozen web sites. Honestly, nothing very major. I'm sure I've been a profit to them. I have one site that runs a nonprofit and serves about 30GB a month. The rest are no more than 1-2GB a month - mostly blogs, photo galleries for friends/families, little web projects I spin up, etc. I only use their shared hosting. Their current plan is $8.95/month.

    I should state that I'm a former senior unix admin and work as an Oracle/MySQL DBA, with a background in PHP, so I am probably more educated on running a web site than the typical customer.

    Pro: Nice Web Panel

    DH's web panel is their own creation and I've found it pleasant to work with. Generally things are very fast. Adding a MySQL database or something like that is generally instant. They have a variety of one-click installs (MediaWiki, phpBB, etc.) and those take 5-10 minutes at most.

    I find managing things with DH really easy. Register a domain, host it, add a MySQL DB or install something, manage DNS, etc. I think this is one of the things I like about DH the best - it really is easy to manage things.

    For example, you can use webmail with any of your domains, though DH encourages you to host on GMail. One click and they set up all the appropriate MX records for you, they have links on how to setup, etc. This isn't rocket science but it just makes getting things done quick.

    I like the one-click installs for setting up things, particularly because you can set it to update the software automatically. The only con is that new installs get backed up when a big release of a popular package (e.g., WP) comes out. I had to wait 24 hours once for a one-click deployment when WP 3.0 came out because their boxes were busy do mass updates. That was one time in five years, though.

    Pro: Add-Ons

    They offer 50GB of space (completely separate from your shared hosting) for personal backup. It's available via rsync or ftp. I find it a handy way to backup my VPSes elsewhere, though I prefer something like CrashPlan for my home PC backups because it handles all of the "what needs to be backed up" management.

    DH has a "files forever" service where they will store something forever for $.01/4MB. You upload it and they give you a URL to it. Serving this file is then free forever (no bandwidth cost). I haven't personally used this feature but it suggests some interesting options.

    Semi-Con: Support

    I've generally had good results with support. Keep in mind I'm not hosting a business where time lost is money lost. They offer premium phone/chat support but I've only used their web-based tickets.

    In general, if you are reporting something anomalous or misconfigured, they resolve it quickly. Their SAs generally know the stuff they support pretty well and with basic questions or requests they're good.

    On the other hand, once you step out of their comfort zone, I find their support is a bit weak. For example, I was never able to get Ruby on Rails working. The wiki documentation is broken and no one replied in forums. A ticket to support simply said "RoR is working for all other domains on that server". I ultimately moved it off to a VPS. I think RoR is generally a weak spot in shared hosting (unless the provider specializes in it) but that's an example of where DH is very good in what they know and support but not so good if you stray out of their core competency.

    Semi-Con: Documentation

    DH has a nice wiki but I sometimes find stuff on it is out of date. There is a forum, but it's hit or miss whether your question is answered. Still, I find the wiki really valuable for howtos, though at this point I'm looking more for DH-specific things. For someone who has no background in HTML, PHP, etc. it might be more valuable.

    Con: Unclear Backups

    DH does back things up, but they're vague about it. They have a Domain Restore feature, but it's not clear what it backs up and restores - presumably everything, but they explicitly don't make any guarantees. When I first started, they had some kind of snapshotting on their SAN frame that allowed me to go into a special folder and retrieve old copies of things - this no longer exists.

    Their wiki entry on Backups is vague - which I find distressing. I never completely rely on a hosting provider's backups anyway.

    Pro: They Blog

    I like to see/hear the people behind the service. Makes them feel less like a corporate machine.

    Con: Never Seen Them on WHT

    Yeah, none of the big boys show up here.

    And the big negative: UNLIMITED!

    When I signed up for DH, I had so much disk space and so much bandwidth a month. Every week it grew, which was a great loyalty program. Eventually I think I had about 75% more than what I started with and that was very attractive compared to other hosting providers.

    Then suddenly everything became unlimited.

    Of course, it's not really unlimited. I have nearly 100GB of stuff on my account and they've never peeped. I don't hit their bandwidth hard, but I'm sure if I did they'd be letting me know. I think I started with 2 or 3TB/month BW back in 2006 and the limit grew. Now of course I have no idea what the limit is - I should hope it's at least that much.

    I'd just prefer they stated it.

    Summary

    On the whole, DH has provided exactly what I expected. For light use, I find them good. In five years, I only remember a couple minor outages, but again, I'm not running a business so YMMV. They get high marks in ease of use, but negatives for the unlimited nonsense.

  2. #2
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  3. #3
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    Interesting and well done review.
    Thanks

  4. #4
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    Thank you for the detailed review, but 100GB of disk-space being used on a shared account?? My goodness, I must say you are very lucky they have not suspended your account. My guess is they probably haven't noticed you are taking up that much disk-space.
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by FernGullyGraphics View Post
    Thank you for the detailed review, but 100GB of disk-space being used on a shared account?? My goodness, I must say you are very lucky they have not suspended your account. My guess is they probably haven't noticed you are taking up that much disk-space.
    I just looked and I have about 80GB used (that's adding up du -sk in my home directory), so I slightly exaggerated but not by much. There's another few hundred megs that are in my home directory as tarballs and stuff I use in domains.

    At one point I probably had twice this but I've retired some domains.

    They've never said a word.

    I forget what my original starting quota was, before their "unlimited" plan. I think it was 100GB. It may have been 200GB. I remember it grew by 2GB per week, and yes, after a year I had 100GB more quota.

    I assume they're either playing the law of averages (lost of people don't use much space and they have 800,000+ sites hosted), enforce some kind of quota and I've been near it but never over, or they use some sort of data deduplication technology on their SAN. Maybe they overbought on SAN - hence their personal backup offering and their "files forever" service.

    I work for a Fortune 500 company and beyond a certain point, the marginal cost of adding another terabyte is very cheap. That first TB is expensive, but once you have 100TB, the 101st TB is really cheap. e.g., including all management and labor/personnel costs, frame infrastructure, backup, licenses, etc., for top-end SAN disk (EMC, Hitachi, etc's top offerings), I think we calculate less than $75 a TB. That's in my employer, who probably has less than 500TB on the floor. DH probably has a much bigger farm.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by raindog308 View Post
    DH probably has a much bigger farm.
    Yup
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by DHHumphrey View Post
    Yup
    See, we are here.

    And we don't really care how much disk space you're using, so long as the data on the webserver is being used for your site content. We have another free 50gb of storage for you on another server specifically for personal storage/backups if you need!

  8. #8
    That's a nice long term review, thanks for sharing!

    They are one of the first companies to start doing the large amounts of disk space/bandwidth offerings as far as I remember and one of the first ones to go unlimited as well.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by DreamHost-Sean View Post
    See, we are here.
    I stand (well, sit) corrected!

  10. #10
    Never been with dreamhost but I've heard some bad things about them which put me off. Nice review though, I may have to check them out one day.

  11. #11
    Thank's for sharing your review about dreamhost.

  12. #12
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    Refreshing to see positive reviews, most people don't take the time to put up the good things about those they do business with.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by raindog308 View Post

    I work for a Fortune 500 company and beyond a certain point, the marginal cost of adding another terabyte is very cheap. That first TB is expensive, but once you have 100TB, the 101st TB is really cheap. e.g., including all management and labor/personnel costs, frame infrastructure, backup, licenses, etc., for top-end SAN disk (EMC, Hitachi, etc's top offerings), I think we calculate less than $75 a TB. That's in my employer, who probably has less than 500TB on the floor. DH probably has a much bigger farm.
    Thats true, but there are obviously other costs that play into it, not just the cost of the hard-drive. I mean, I'm not sure what kind of hardware they are running over their. but lets assume they have 4 drives attached to each machine at 1TB each, thats 4TB per machine. Now lets say there are 40 other people just like you, eating up the remaining 3.9TB's of diskspace. Im sure they probably get a huge discount on their servers, so lets guesstimate and say the total monthly cost per machine is $400. That would put them at the break even point, now count the sys admins, customer support..advertising, office supplies, taxes.. and now they are in the red. Thats why I dont buy it when they say they dont care how much diskspace you use. Those of us who know better, know that's just a gimmick

    Still.. the fact you have been able to get away with that much disk-space usage on a $8 per month shared web hosting account is somewhat remarkable (I definitely dont hear of that everyday). Heres to hoping you dont get suspended!
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  14. #14
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    You are forgetting the positive impact of this review. How valuable is this for DH's business? Does that value exceed the cost of 80GB hosted disk space? This review is much more valuable.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by FernGullyGraphics View Post
    Thats true, but there are obviously other costs that play into it, not just the cost of the hard-drive. I mean, I'm not sure what kind of hardware they are running over their. but lets assume they have 4 drives attached to each machine at 1TB each, thats 4TB per machine.
    At their scale, I highly suspect that everything is on a SAN. i.e., a highly available storage area network box (or many) from EMC, Hitachi, NetApp, etc. They may have local disk for root (or they may run completely diskless), but I'd wager that all of the hosting space lives in a SAN. That's why I say the marginal cost of adding space is low. The frames are designed to hold many terabytes/petabytes and they just call up EMC/Hitachi/whoever and say "give us another 100TB".

    It's a bigger upfront investment but the ability to efficiently pool free space, take snapshots, backup much more easily, etc. outweighs everything. Also the SAN performance is usually higher.

    Disclaimer: I'm just speculating ;-)

  16. #16
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    Thanks for sharing a well written review. And they deserve appreciation since they have been satisfying you for long 5 years. It is always a good read when it is a long term review.

  17. #17
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    I too have been mostly very happy with DreamHost over the years. I am not presently using *any* hosting company other than Google Sites, but still have many domains registered with DH and would definitely be willing to use them again should I need full hosting. I think their panel is truly a work of awesome, their support was *mostly* awesome, and what they give their customers is a goodly amount more than any other company in terms of both features and resources for the dollar. There are some things about them that scare me from time to time, but in the end I don't fear that I would ever *ultimately* not be taken care of should a biggie occur.


  18. #18
    A 5 year great review is something a lot of companies would desire, congrats to Dreamhost!

    Btw, Dreamhost "unlimited + 50 GB" is detailed here http://www.dreamhost.com/unlimited.html and a lot more, +2
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