Update, August 2016: I joined A Small Orange just before it got acquired by the Evil Hegemonizing Swarm that is EIG (a pox upon them). This post was written back when they were good, and they really were very good. Really above-and-beyondish support. They have since spiraled into a vortex of horror, as good people left or were laid off, and service levels and support cratered.
I no longer recommend A Small Orange, and I’m in the process of moving away from them to a new host (founded and staffed by EIG refugees, as I understand it), whether or not I get a refund. I’m DONE.
I started with the logging of the webs back in ye olde 2000. Like so many, I started on Blogger. Blog ontogeny recapitulates blog phylogeny — in anticipation of my current welter of wonderchicken websites, I started (and abandoned) a whole bunch of Blogger sites in those early days, most of which are happily lost to the sands of time (if not to Google).
In 2002 or so, Shelley Powers generously offered to host the newly-minted Emptybottle.org, and not knowing a damned thing about anything including a) birthin’ no babies and b) wranglin’ no webservers, I took her up on the kind offer. A year or so later, I signed up for a cheapo shared hosting account at Dreamhost, the training wheels were off, the good hot salty wonderchicken blog gravy was flowing, and metaphors were being mixed all up and down the lines.
Over the next 5 years, I launched a bunch of new sites, and ended up killing off most of them. Dreamhost actually served me pretty well. My expenses were next to nothing, and even when I got massive traffic spikes (like when /bullshit or Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Wonderchicken blew up and got Dugg and Slashdotted and pointed at by all the rest of those previous-web-gen traffic firehoses), everything worked without the poop hitting the Apache fan.
In 2007, I started MefightClub, and as it grew from small beginnings to a moderately busy web home for lots of great folks, things started to go sideways. From slowdowns to outright outages, I felt like I was letting people down, so I moved everything over to one of Dreamhost’s Virtual Private Servers. Well, two, actually, because they force you to provision a web VPS and a separate MySQL VPS. My expenses went up, but MefightClub folks were insistent, when I worried in public about it, and about whether I should start accepting advertising, that they’d be happy to keep the engines running via periodic donation drives.
As the site grew (and Emptybottle.org and my other bloggy and single-serving sites just ticked over, or lost some traffic because I was neglecting them) and I launched a couple of companion sites for the community — FullGlassEmptyClip and Gamefilter — I had to keep upping the resources allocated, but I figured that was to be expected. I put Cloudflare in front of everything to ameliorate the bot attacks that somehow were getting through Dreamhost’s defenses unscathed, and to try offload a little of the server load. I relentlessly tweaked and tuned to try and optimize things, and sought out help from MFC community members who offered their assistance.
But the server kept dying. Things would go from slowish to painfully slow, to completely unavailable. Many hour outages weren’t uncommon, sometimes a day or more, and earlier this year, the server went goodbye for over a week. A week! I was constantly getting automated emails — all laced with Dreamhost’s special brand of happy horseshit (‘Hey, you’re putting on weight!’) trying to get me to commit more money for more memory — the only resource that Dreamhost offered to increase. Every time I contacted support, the first response would be an automated email exhorting me to spend more, and if I eventually got a real person, they’d immediately try to upsell me as well.
Traffic across all my sites was and is fairly significant, I’ll admit — on the order of about 15,000 page views a day, or 80,000-ish hits. But everyone I talked to about it — people who are professional server wranglers — told me that the resources that Dreamhost claimed were allocated were more than sufficient to keep up, with headroom to spare.
After that 8 day outage earlier this year, I gave up. I had more than a decade invested in Dreamhost, and had never used another host. I knew how to get around their custom control panel, and had never really worked with CPanel or anything else. But I was fed up, and I was spending Other People’s Money to pay for a service that, it seemed, was both overpriced and underperforming.
I have nothing to back this up but literally years of being stressed out when things would slow down or break completely for no reason that I had anything to do with, but I have a very strong suspicion that it wasn’t as much a matter traffic increases for my little network of sites, but the quality of Dreamhost’s services steadily declining along with the timeliness and helpfulness of their support.
So I looked around for a web host that met a few criteria I had: semi-managed servers, at least, Paypal-friendly (because living in Korea makes Paypal a necessity), a good reputation, and some kind of interface for managing the server that wasn’t just a command-line, because even after all these years, that’s still scary. My shortlist included Digital Ocean and A Small Orange. DO I knocked out, because good as they are, they seemed to be targeting more the kind of command-line-cowboys that I’m not, yet at least. ASO offered VPS images that included CPanel, and everything else seemed good — and was cheaper that Dreamhost for a similar level of grunt — and so, after much waffling and trying to find the time for such a major project (moving a dozen or so sites to a new host) I jumped.
I am so damned glad that I made the move.
It took me a little while to get my head around the A Small Orange Way Of Doing Things — which I suspect is more the Way That Things Ought To Be Done — after so many years in DreamhostLand. I’ve probably contacted their support — through the live chat feature on their client site — 20 times in the 6 weeks or so I’ve been with them. Every single time — every single time — they’ve been able to fix the problem, or tell me how to do something, or escalate to someone who could, nearly instantly.
I had gotten to the point with Dreamhost where I dreaded having to get in touch with their support, because once they eventually did reply, it was always to try to upsell me, and almost never actually any help at all with the problem at hand (which was inevitably the VPS pooping the bed for no apparent reason at all). I like to try to learn how to fix things myself, and contacting support is always a last resort for me. With ASO, it’s been a pleasure every damned time, and based on the reliability of the server over the past month, I’m looking forward to not having to very much in the future.
The single VPS server I provisioned with A Small Orange to replace the pair of Dreamhost servers my sites were on before is fast. All of my sites load in fractions of the time it took on Dreamhost. Utilization of CPU and memory is similarly a fraction of what Dreamhost claimed I was consuming (and thank god, I’m not getting spammed with daily automated emails telling me I was hitting the ceilings on my allocation). All of this, and I’m spending less that I was at Dreamhost. I could not be happier.
The thing that inspired me to write this, and to recommend them to anyone who’s having trouble with their own hosting service, happened just a couple of days ago, though. Last week, while enjoying my Friday beers, I noticed that ASO mentioned on their blog that they were running a Black Friday deal for new VPS customers. I left a comment saying that I felt dumb having signed up a month earlier, not expecting anything, just feeling grumpy.
I received an email not long after, telling me they were reaching out to offer me a free upgrade, doubling RAM and disk space on my VPS.
That, friends and neighbors, is how you get and retain customers. That made me feel like someone who’s been in an abusive relationship their entire life, who suddenly realizes that that’s not how it has to be.
So look: maybe if you just want to run a single WordPress site or something, Dreamhost might still be up your alley. With the discount codes that are all over the web (including my old one), you can get a year with them for basically zero dollars. And you get, to drag out the old cliche, exactly what you’re paying for.
But I am keen to recommend A Small Orange to you, without reserve. Switching my network of sites over to them has removed a source of stress from my life, and the value of that is beyond measure. If you feel the same way, and you want to help Wonderchicken Industries out a little at the same time, you can use this affiliate link to sign up with them. That’s not why I wrote this, but you know: every little bit helps.