A few weeks ago my relationship with MediaTemple came to an end. I used to be a huge fan of MediaTemple. Huge. They were innovators. They appreciated and supported great design. Their customer service was great. I was more than happy paying a little more for their product because in my opinion it was much better than any other options available. Loved them. And then things turned bad. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that MediaTemple sucks, but I am happy to not have my sites hosted with them.
Here’s the short story:
My site got hacked. I started getting charged way too much for bandwidth overages. Customer service was bad and failed to find a solution for me. I signed up with Dreamhost and have been more than satisfied so far. It gets technical after this, but you can keep reading for the full story…
1. Media Temple Exploit #1026
First off, I was on a gridserver (GS), so I can’t vouch for any of their other hosting packages, so keep that in mind as you evaluate MediaTemple. Their other services might be better. This is what happened to me…
Last November my site was the victim of a major MediaTemple hack. A large number of WordPress powered sites were affected by the exploit which added code to .htaccess files as well as index files. Bad news. While nothing was permanently damaged and no data was lost, the fact that so many MediaTemple accounts could be compromised so easily really makes you question the security of their whole operation.
The other thing that was strange about the MediaTemple hack was how they handled their PR throughout the ordeal. MediaTemple has a “system status” section on their site so that anyone (customer or not) can see what issues they are working on at any given moment. This is brilliant. It says to people, “No, we aren’t perfect, but as you can see we fix things as soon as we can.” It builds trust and makes you wonder what is really happening at hosting companies that aren’t so transparent. But when the MediaTemple hack happened, the response was slow. The argument could be made that this was for security reasons. Maybe. But it really seemed like they were covering something up. I got emails informing me that they would be changing my passwords, but it took a long time to get things under control and you can see that issue #1026 has several long posts on their site outlining the whole thing.
But accidents happen, and I wasn’t going to let one incident kill a relationship that had up to this point been so stellar. So I stuck with them.
2. Slow Sites
My sites started getting sluggish and unresponsive in March. Font Burner was practically unusable taking a minute to load the homepage at times and sometimes being down completely. Then at times it would work just fine. I haven’t gotten any explanation for this, and never found anything wrong with my files that would cause such sluggishness. This may seem like an unmeasurable thing, so let me reassure you that this isn’t just a passing observation. I use tools like yslow and caching tools to make sure my sites are as fast as possible. I have worked on sites hosted through most of the major hosting companies, so I know the difference between a poorly optimized site and a slow server like GoDaddy (AKA slowdaddy). For whatever reason, MediaTemple was regularly slow. This is something that isn’t supposed to happen on a gridserver. That is the main benefit of being on the grid compared to other shared hosting options.
3. GPU Overages
It was about this same time that I started receiving my first notices of GPU overages from MediaTemple. At first it wan’t very expensive, but each month it slowly increased. Granted, my Font Burner website is a bandwidth hog that was built to support hotlinking to the fonts I host there. As more and more people use Font Burner, my bandwidth will obviously increase. I accept that. But as I researched GPU usage and optimized my site, I learned some interesting things about MediaTemple. Let me explain…
The GPU itself is a unique measurement invented by MediaTemple. Here’s a link to their GPU FAQ’s. Basically, this is a measurement of the amount of their server’s processor your site is using. Since the gridserver distributes the load of your website across a grid of machines, they chose processor usage as a way to identify the heavy users. That’s fair. If you are using more than your share of the grid, you should pay more. But the thing that is deceptive about MediaTemple’s marketing that this is strangely absent. You don’t see it mentioned in their description of the product. All you see is “100gb of storage, 1TB network traffic, 100 domains, etc.” The catch is that you will hit their GPU limits way before you ever get anywhere close to using that much storage, traffic, or total websites. So the $20/month cost is very misleading.
4. Expensive Excessive Charges
At $0.10 per GPU it doesn’t sound that expensive if you are going over your GPU limits. Trust me, it adds up. If you are 3 GPU’s per hour over your limit it will cost you $50 per week. That is what you would pay for their Dedicated Virtual server for the whole month.
So I prepared myself for the ever increasing GPU usage that I would be using by optimizing my sites. Again, I learned some interesting things about MediaTemple. The main cause of GPU usage comes from your error pages, specifically the 404 pages. These pages are hogs because they redirect you to an error page any time a url is typed wrong, of from clicks on links to pages on your site that don’t exist. The first thing MediaTemple recommends is to fix broken links or create files at the location where you get the most errors. Here is a link to their GPU tutorial.
So I went about fixing my broken links and creating files in places where I was getting excessive error pages. I had a uniques situation here because of how Font Burner is setup. If you are one of the 12,000 people who have downloaded the Font Burner WordPress plugin you had to manually enter the name of the font you want to use into a box in your WordPress admin. If you make a mistake (capitalizing the name for example) this will create a link on every page of your site to a file that doesn’t exist on my site. It’s inevitable, and there isn’t much I can do about it. It happened on a dozen fonts or so, so I simply created fonts at those locations and with those names. Problem solved. Actually, no. Not at all. Read on.
5. Disappointing Customer Service
I fixed many links and dramatically corrected the errors found in the GPU tool that MediaTemple provides. This had almost no impact on my total GPU usage. I was very surprised by this, so I called them. Up until this call I have only talked to competent helpful people at WordPress. This call was different. The guy reassured me that if I had fixed the 404 errors, I should be seeing a drop in GPU usage. I took his word for it and gave it some time to see if thing leveled off. They didn’t. So I called again and got the same answer. This person even told me that he saw a dip in my usage. It wasn’t until I got off the phone that I realized that he was looking at the current days usage. For the current day, their stats are about 12 hours behind. Since his reading was only a few hours into the new day, he thought I was below my limit. In fact I was almost at the limit just from the time in the middle of the night when my traffic is the lowest. Terrible analysis.
I commented on the support ticket. Silence. For days.
I tweeted about it and started asking people for an alternative to MediaTemple that they recommended. I was surprised to get a response from an MT worker through Twitter. They promised to look into it if I DM them my account number. So I did. Silence.
So I began the process of moving web hosts. I was looking at GatorHost, Bluehost, and Dreamhost. I decided on DreamHost because I liked how they let you move to a VPS if I needed to upgrade. I chatted with their support team on their site and was satisfied with their answers. I liked their control panel (almost as nicely designed as MT). The price was less than MT and they got lots of good praise from bloggers. Their customers are as loyal and vocal as the MediaTemple people. I found some negative reviews, too, and carefully measured the pros and cons.
I began moving my websites over and recreating databases. I was transferring files and setting things up pretty steadily for a few days. It isn’t an easy task, and not something I would have done if I could have stayed with MediaTemple. I had everything transferred over when I finally got a response on my open support ticket from MT. They said they would pass my issue over to someone else who could advise me about upgrading or something.
After my DNS switched over, I closed my account with MT once I was sure I had everything I needed from them backed up. I got a phone call from someone at MT while I was at work. I asked them to please call back because I really wanted to talk to them. The gal said, “sure,” but the phone call never came.
Happy With DreamHost
So now, I am done with MediaTemple and so far every thing is going will with DreamHost. One of the bonuses of DreamHost is that they make it really easy to host Google products like gmail, google calendar, etc. on your own domain. Loving that. I haven’t had to upgrade to a VPS yet, surprisingly. The speed of my site has been satisfactory, and I haven’t noticed any sluggishness. I hesitate to give them my full endorsement having only used them for about a month, but so far I am impressed. Perhaps, I was just a bad match for MediaTemple because of my unique Font Burner needs. If you are thinking about switching hosting companies, you can save $50 from Dreamhost if you use the promo code “adrian3″ when you sign up for a year. I will check in on this post again after I have been a DreamHost customer longer. Hope this was helpful to you!