So this is what it’s like to be taken.
As you know, I’ve been building up a significant portfolio of websites over the past five years or more. Transit Toronto, my personal pages, Erin’s pages, pages I designed for others, that sort of thing. I’ve come a long way from the time when I coded HTML by hand, used FTP to upload my files, had only one domain name (Transit Toronto) and paid $50 per month for the privilege. Back then, we were impressed if a webhost could offer us half a gigabyte of storage. These days, a prospective webhost must be able to store multiple gigabytes of data. In my case, I need a webhost that can handle a gigabyte of traffic for my sites, each day. And I’d like to do it all for under $20 per month.
Fortunately, that’s not to hard to find. But if you want a webhost which delivers your pages promptly, has an easy-to-understand interface, and decent technical support, then the hunt gets more challenging.
For a couple of years, now, I’d been parked at the home of 1&1 Internet Inc., a large European webhosting firm which made a big splash on the North American market three years ago by offering permanent webhosting for free to anybody who switched. A number of Movable Type bloggers made the leap at that time. I came in a bit late for the party, but I was willing to pay for one of the more upscale packages, because I owned multiple domains and needed a lot of space.
And they did a pretty good job. There were periods when Movable Type operated a bit slow, and I obtained Code 500 Internal Server errors, and the technical support department was very obviously based in India, but the system ran, it stayed up. That should have been enough for me, but unfortunately I got greedy.
I couldn’t help but notice that other big webhosts were engaging in a race to see who could provide more bandwidth and more storage space for less money. I came upon a deal with GoDaddy, which offered the same bandwidth and storage for approximately $14 per month less. And GoDaddy had gained a reputation of being a big, aggressive company. Yes, they had their detractors, like Verizon, but I knew my way around handling webhosts, or so I thought. I thought that, if I could do my stuff and not need to refer to the technical support department, then surely I could benefit from GoDaddy’s big data centres, and encounter fewer Code 500 Internal Server errors.
I should have done more research.
For the first few weeks, things were okay. The only problems I encountered were the sort of things you’d expect when you move from one webhost to another, but then GoDaddy’s performance degraded. If you ended up leaving a duplicate comment on my blog or Greg’s Political Staples, you’ll know what I mean. The system would hang, and then abruptly cut out, leaving you staring at a blank screen. Many, justifiably wondering if they’d left the comment in the first place, would just hit the back button on their browser and post again. For people posting on their blogs, it was the same problem writ large — precisely the same problem that left me unsatisfied with 1&1’s webhosting, but more frequent, and without the helpful “you’ve made a 500 Internal Server error” message at the end of it.
Worse, on one occasion, my websites cut out completely, and people couldn’t access a single page without getting a 403 Permission error. The first time, it took a call to GoDaddy’s technical service department to get it cleared up. They couldn’t tell me what had happened to cause the problem, but as the pages were still loading, I was still happy — for about two weeks when the same problems happened again. And again twenty minutes after I called GoDaddy’s tech support to get it fixed. And again twenty minutes after that.
By mid-morning on Friday the 13th (how appropriate), the tech support department for GoDaddy decided that I was a lost cause, and that some program within Movable Type was hogging CPU resources on the servers my websites were on. As other sites were affected (or so they claimed), my account was immediately suspended. All access, including FTP access, was cut off, and I was strongly encouraged to get a virtual dedicated or dedicated server to house my account.
I have to tell you that, at that point, I felt blackmailed. Here was a company that was now holding over a gigabyte of my data, which I could not access, telling me that the best way to get access to that data and serve my customers was to fork over another $25 per month. A virtual dedicated server sells for about $40 per month. A dedicated server sells for over $100 a month, but comes with technical assistance.
At first, I decided to try a virtual dedicated server, but I quickly realized that I did NOT have the technical wearwithall to operate a server on my own. So I decided instead to move my web pages over to a new webhost: NetFirms.ca, which is my current registrar for all but one of my .ca domain names. GoDaddy remained the domain registrar for my .com, .net and .org domain names, since changing the DNS settings got the websites back up more quickly than changing the registrar altogether.
Unfortunately, though NetFirms.ca seemed encouraging — they had a much easier to understand interface and offered me instructions on how to install Movable Type on their servers, progress ground to a halt on Tuesday when their databases refused all access from Movable Type’s programs. I tried calling their technical support, and they looked into it, but came up with an unsatisfactory response (“we can access your database using phpAdmin; I don’t know what your problem is” — “I can access my database through phpAdmin as well. My problem is I CAN’T ACCESS MY DATABASE THROUGH MOVABLE TYPE!”)
It was at 10:35 p.m. on Monday night, five minutes on hold into my second technical support call to Netfirms.ca that I decided that enough was enough: it was time to admit my mistake and return to 1&1 Internet.
And this is what I did. I placed the order that night for their $19.99 top-level service (250 Gb storage, 2.5Tb/month bandwidth, server priority). I had access to their server that night, and started installing databases and Movable Type installations Tuesday morning. By Tuesday evening, my DNS settings started to point to 1&1’s servers.
I still had to get my data from GoDaddy. That took a little doing. GoDaddy’s support department were happy to supply me MySQL dumps of my MovableType blogs, but they were a little reluctant to reopen FTP access to my accounts to get my data, since they couldn’t do that without reopening HTTP access, and they feared doing so would cause the rogue program to activate again. They also talked about charging me a $150 hosting reactivation fee. I credit the fact that I remained mostly calm at this point and asked if there was any way around this fee, that I managed to get access to my data without being charged. As per their instructions, I made sure the remaining domain names were pointing away from GoDaddy’s servers, and they reactivated my FTP access, and a Gigabyte of downloading took place yesterday afternoon (and evening, and until 2 a.m. in the morning).
While that was taking place, I took on the task of restoring the three dumped databases, primarily by entering them in pieces of SQL code by hand..
This morning, the three databases were restored on 1&1’s servers. By noon, I had my Clarksbury and Transit Toronto sites restored. My BowJamesBow site officially came back up around 3:30 p.m. today. Then I called GoDaddy and officially cancelled my Shared Hosting and Virtual Dedicated Hosting services. Because I paid up front for more than a year’s service, they will be crediting my credit card for about four hundred dollars. I cancelled NetFirms.ca’s webhosting soon thereafter.
I say that I should have done my research because, when I googled up “Movable Type” and GoDaddy, I found a number of issues. Apparently, MT users found GoDaddy’s servers to be very slow. Earlier versions of MT could not be installed unless special code was added to the cgi files. GoDaddy has no SSL access, meaning cron tasks were impossible (helpful in automating certain features of the website). Apparently, GoDaddy and Movable Type did not get along.
On the other hand, I’m seeing that my return to 1&1 was the right decision Movable Type functions which were impossible under GoDaddy’s servers (like running Movable Type’s native search engines) now run on 1&1’s servers. There has been no noticeable slowdown of service as all of the blogs have come back online. More importantly, I’m familiar with the setup on 1and1’s servers, and I can make use of such things as cron tasks to implement other Movable type features.
Now, it’s important to note that the tech support people at GoDaddy were courteous and attentive, and when I told them to give me FTP access to my website and perform a database dump, did do so. They also gave me very little trouble in giving me my money back. I should also note that there is at least one Movable Type user who runs his blogs on GoDaddy’s’ servers. However, GeekNewsCentral operates on a full dedicated server. So, depending on your needs, GoDaddy may be right for you. But it wasn’t right for me. And since my needs weren’t particularly special, one wonders at the experience other typical Movable Type users might receive.
People looking for webhosts should know that there are three things to consider, not two: storage space (the size of the hard drive on the server), bandwidth (the number of pages served through the server’s connection with the Internet), and CPU resources (the ability of the server to run the programs on your website). Most webhosts advertise the first two features, and seldom mention the third, because hard drive space and bandwidth are cheap to come by these days. CPUs, however, can be expensive things to add onto or replace.
Still, you would think that a large webhost and domain name registrar like GoDaddy wouldn’t be brought low by three simple installations of Movable Type. So, if you haven’t gleaned this already from the article, any person searching for a webhost to run Movable Type blogs on, is encouraged to stay well away from GoDaddy. You may have to pay a little more for a decent webhost, but in some ways you get what you pay for.
P.S. I’d like to tip my hat and raise my fist in solidarity to two other individuals who had webhost problems around the same time I did: Andrew’s Bound by Gravity went under this past weekend, leading some to wonder if there was a conspiracy against centrists going on. And I hope that Liblog’s problems are resolved shortly. In both cases, if you’re looking for a better webhost; so far 1&1 has given me nothing to complain about.
(Update: Wednesday, October 25, 2:44 p.m.): I’m just off the phone with NetFirms, going over the technical issues that caused me to go back to 1 and 1. We went over what went wrong, and I was told that, the database troubles aside, they were able to install Movable Type 3.3 on their system. They offered me a discount if I would go back to them, but I told them that, now that I was back online and had everything the way I wanted it, I was going to stay put, though I would continue to use Netfirms to manage my .ca domains.
I have to say that I was impressed at the personal touch, here, and the interest that Netfirms had in trying to retain my business, so I will mention this here. The only reason I vacated Netfirms was I was in such a mood from the website outage thanks to GoDaddy, I decided it was time to go back to what I was familiar with. If I had stuck things out with Netfirms, it’s likely that I’d be equally happy at this point. So, I have no problems recommending NetFirms.ca if you’re looking for a Canadian webhost.
(Further Update): My stint with 1and1 did not last. Within a month, I ended up switching webhosts again. Although my experience with 1and1 was nowhere near as bad as my experience with GoDaddy, I did discover that the European webhost had overexpanded, and that crowded servers were resulting in unscheduled downtime. As my clients complained, I moved over to Hostgator. In the eighteen months since, I have had nothing but good things to say about Hostgator’s service and its uptime. They’re the webhost I most recommend, now.