Master of My Own Domain

Just a head’s up: this post is a bit of a rant. Had to get it off my chest.

Musical Chairs

I remember a few years back, probably 2002, my web hosting service went down for over a week at Christmas. Thankfully, I didn’t own any online retail/shopping sites, but if I did I would have been completely hosed. Unfortunately, I did host some clients’ sites on that server, and I had a very hard time explaining why their site was down for a week at the busiest shopping period of the year. The hosting service’s response? “Umm… we’ll get back to you,” followed by a very unapologetic string of excuses for the failure.

I’ve tried a number of different web hosting services since then. Despite every single one of them boasting about their “99.9% uptime”, all but one of them had technical problems at some point, leading to significant downtime for my sites. I left the one vendor that I didn’t have problems with because his service was a bit too limited for my needs.

Enter Media Temple

Eventually I was lured to Media Temple. Some of the higher-profile sites I frequented at the time were “proudly hosted by Media Temple.” Media Temple’s site has always been very slick, and includes an impressive a list of big-name clients. Aside from the eye-candy aspect, they also appeared to be on the leading edge of web hosting technologies with their fancy “grid server” system. I decided to take the plunge.

From the very start, I had issues with Media Temple, including confusing documentation, unfriendly/disinterested support staff, and — worst of all — connectivity issues.

Just say no to Media Temple

As with anyone in an abusive relationship, I wondered if it was my fault and was kind of ashamed to speak up about my problems. I let the relationship continue for a couple of years, making it work as best I could. I quietly cursed when my FTP connection would stop working mid-transfer then not be able to reconnect for 3 hours. I muttered to myself whenever I noticed the web service was down again despite the boasts of uptime. I rolled my eyes and sighed heavily whenever I saw the gazillion “hosted by Media Temple” stickers on famous websites.

Then, as I started to get more plugged-in to industry RSS feeds and Twitter, I noticed that there were others like me. The internet became my anonymous support group. I read other people’s Media Temple horror stories and realized I wasn’t alone. Then I started paying even more attention to Media Temple’s service, and started demanding excellence. What I received was most certainly not excellence, and was in fact confirmation that they are a crappy hosting service that I needed to leave behind.

Despite their glossy public profile, despite their proclamations stating that they are on top of their game and provide world-class support, in reality their service was mediocre at best and oftentimes downright shoddy. Customers using the cheaper Grid Service (shared servers) had the worst of it, but even customers using the Dedicated Virtual service have complained about problems. The final straw? The fact that Media Temple’s entire Grid Service system was hacked — including my sites — and they didn’t even contact customers to let them know. I received an email with a very vague warning about the hacks six days after it happened.

I complained to Media Temple directly via their internal support system, emails, telephone conversations and Twitter, explaining that they need to be more proactive and communicative with clients about serious system issues such as hacks and unanticipated downtime. Their response has always been something to the effect of “we provide plenty of information… it’s your responsibility to monitor our website for important notices.” Apparently they now consider Twitter to be their main alert system for clients.

I tried to explain to them that I don’t have the time to check their website every day, and Twitter alerts don’t work because they’re too easy to miss. Why not simply send your clients an email? I received excuse after excuse about why they won’t email clients. None satisfied me and some were completely illogical.

When the recent FTP hack occurred, I learned about it from the blogosphere (here and here [link no longer available]) and Twitter. I checked Media Temple’s site, and sure enough, they had a bulletin mentioning the issue, but I had to search to find it! It wasn’t until almost a week later that I received a notice from Media Temple about the problem.

One of their excuses for not emailing clients was that they didn’t want to alarm unaffected clients with scary news of hackers attacking sites. Whatever. In MY case, I WAS affected. The targeted sites used PHP and WordPress, and Media Temple knew I used WordPress because I initially used their one-click installer to set it up! If they knew I use WordPress and that I was susceptible to this hack, why not contact me directly?

Exit Media Temple

I had no idea what I was going to do, but for the last year or two I’ve desperately wanted to find an alternative to Media Temple. I asked around, and it always seemed to be the same problem: one person loves Host XYZ, yet another person has written a scathing rebuke of the same host. There doesn’t seem to be a perfect host.

Then a post by John Gruber caught my eye. It was very short:

Who better to write about the new Mac Mini server than the guys who specialize in colocating Mac Minis as servers?

A Mac Mini as a server? Whaaaa?! I read the article John had linked to and was impressed. Skeptical, but impressed. The article explained that Apple had just released a server edition of its Mac Mini that comes equipped with Snow Leopard Server OS, an extra hard drive, and 4GB of RAM. What’s more, the author of the article runs a business dedicated to hosting privately-owned Mac Minis in a world-class data center for a modest fee. That’s right — you can have your own private server in a secure top-notch data center for less than the price of a MacBook Pro.

I read the article and said “Screw Media Temple. I’m getting a Mini!”

This blog post is hosted on that Mini.

The World is My Oyster

All of my sites have been transferred from Media Temple to my Mini, and my Media Temple account will be closed at the end of the month. Buh-bye MT, won’t miss ya.

I will be posting on the ups and downs of administering your own Snow Leopard Server — there are plenty of both — in an upcoming blog post. Overall I’m really happy with my decision and feel very liberated. The short version is that administering your own server isn’t for everyone, but I’m willing to bet many of my peers and e-learning tweeps would be more than capable of handling it, too.

PS: If you feel I’ve been unfairly harsh about Media Temple, do a simple Google search and see for yourself. There are some pretty high profile people with similar complaints.

7 Replies to “Master of My Own Domain”

  1. Hmmm….I’ve been considering getting a VPS somewhere. This is a new option to consider. My only hesitation is having yet another thing I’d have to manage on my own. Yuck.

  2. @raph it’s definitely a little more work, but you get all kinds of added flexibility, including the ability to run whatever software you like. I’m no longer constrained by what my host offers or permits me to do.

    @ani I actually switched pipwerks.com to the Mini about a month ago, but wanted to give it a little time before posting (I also needed to find the time to write my post!). One month later I’m still pretty happy with my decision.

  3. How do I transfer my domains from Media Temple to a new registrar? I opened a ticket but the estimated time for a response is still 30 hours (after already waiting for 15 hours) — I figured I might get an answer quicker from you than from Media Temple’s support.

    Everything is transferred to my Linode server: Websites, databases, e-mail accounts. I changed the DNS entries to point to my new server, so it is live. The only thing I haven’t figured out yet is how to transfer my domains from Media Temple to a new registrar. There is an option to close, but I fear I will lose ownership of the domains in that process.

    For any potential Media Temple customers:
    Media Temple’s Grid Service is a joke. “The Grid system is designed for continuous operation 24/7/365. The distributed nature of the (gs) Grid-Service nodes allows this system to be maintained without ever being taken offline.” … I fell for it. Maintenance with downtime every couple of weeks. Websites slow to a crawl without reason. Load times of 5 to 10 seconds are common, even for pages with little database content. Sometimes requests just time out. The database servers are sometimes completely down for several minutes. Using their phpMyAdmin is sooo slow. Resources are scarce: When I did a backup of a database (about 50 MB, 120,000 records) my server returned an “Out of memory” message — which affected my websites as well of course.

    And even if everything runs smoothly, latency kills the user experience. It just doesn’t feel snappy. It takes at least two or three seconds to load a page, even a static one.

    What Media Temple is good at is their marketing, and polishing their website and back-end. Don’t get blinded by all their big clients or the many “In partnership with (mt)” stickers on all the design websites. The Grid Service is unreliable and overpriced for its performance.

  4. @christian

    there’s a setting in the account control panel that lets you get the release code (“auth code”) for your domain name. see this kb article. you then go to a new registrar and complete a ‘transfer domain’ process there and enter the auth code provided by media temple.

    it took my domains about 2 weeks to transfer, and i received very little notification about the status of the transfer. i seriously thought it wouldn’t even work at one point, then BAM! it went through.

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