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On the Road to Blog Heaven Part 3

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Hosting Companies

In this installment I’m going to recount my experiences with a variety of hosting companies. As I mentioned before, I was moving from GoDaddy because of the poor service and also with the goal of painless blog setup and operation. I hit a few more potholes along the way.

My first look was at WordPress’s recommended hosters. I took a brief look but after several weeks of trying to solve the “connection reset by server” problem, I was tired plus I don’t like admin duties much anyway.

I have a 15 year old whiz-kid friend who really is a hot-shot at web programming. He’s headed to the top in scholastic competition, having already won everything up to the state championship and he’ll probably win that. By virtue of his age I knew he lacked the experience that wisdom is based on. But I thought that if I posed the problem specifically enough, that wouldn’t matter much. Didn’t work out that way.

I asked him to suggest some hosting companies with which he’d had success. He gave me two. One didn’t look interesting at all. The second, IXWebhosting. It looked OK, though I didn’t really know what I was looking for at that point, so I gave them my money and told my friend it was ready to go. I hired him to do a couple of very specific things – get neon-john.com|net|org and johngsbbq.com|net|org moved to the new site and operating properly, and to set up a WordPress blog with my chosen theme so that I could immediately start posting.

A week went by. He was (legitimately) busy with the state programming competition so I asked him what I could do to help. He suggested moving my existing webs. OK, that should be easy. I thought that “moving” a site would involve simply copying it from one host to another. Well, it should, but not here. I had to make sure my local copy was a duplicate of the one at GoDaddy (I use FrontPage so no big deal there) and then upload the whole site to the new host.

Hmmm, where I live here in the beautiful mountains of Tellico, “high speed internet” means getting a dial-up line that approaches 56k! So I trundled down to his house (his dad and I are best friends) and I hooked this laptop to their cable connection and started uploading. A little over 24 hours and it was done. I pointed my domain’s nameserver records to IXhosting and in a day, my site was up and running. So far, so good.

Now time for the blog. First problem. No WordPress. I called tech support and asked where WordPress was, having been assured by my friend that the hosting company was compatible. The tech support dude told me that they didn’t have WordPress but that I could install it. Strike 1. I asked if my account had shell access? No. Strike 2. Not having a clue how to install a software package without a command prompt, I asked if they’d run the install script for me and configure anything that I didn’t have permissions for. Strike three, yer out.

I pointed the nameservers back to Godaddy, dumped the contents of my site on IXhosting and requested a refund. No problem there.

Having learned a few things, back to the WordPress recommended hosts. I decided to browse each one for first impressions.

Laughing Squid

A quick perusal showed them to be essentially one of those San Francisco touchy-feely communal lifestyle experiences that also offered very expensive boutique service. “Giant Squid for $16-18” a month with only 1 Gig of disk space and 50 Gig/month? Get real. I could fill both in days and I’m not even established yet.

Host I Can

For some reason my first impression wasn’t good. I can’t put my finger on why, just a feeling. Do NOT take this as any negative reflection on the company. I just didn’t get the warm fuzzes so I moved on.

AN Hosting – the Green Gelatinous Monster guys

At this point, my first-cut criteria was how responsive their support service was. They claimed 24/7 support so I dialed the number at about 3AM EDT. Well they DID say to try out support at 3AM. The usual voice mail menu. I selected support. The phone rang. And rang and rang and rang. No answer.

Not to be too quick to judge, I called the next night at about the same time. Same result. Oh well.

BlueHost.net

I usually don’t try the top entry on a list of recommendations. But now it was time to give ’em a look. Hmm. 300 Gig storage, 3 TB/month bandwidth. Looks good. I ran their control panel demo and saw “SSH/shell”. Looks good. A few other things looked good too so I gave ’em my money.

I logged onto the control panel and clicked the “SSH” option. A screen came up telling me that SSH was disabled on my account and that to get it enabled, I’d have to fax or email a photo of my driver’s license! What?!?! I grumbled and cussed a bit and finally sent in a scan of my DL, number blanked, of course.

Since a direct transfer was out of the question at least for the moment, I decided to repeat my 45 mile trip to my friend’s house and spend another day uploading content. *sigh*.

I put all my web content on the host and moved my customized blog template over from GoDaddy. Everything working fine. I pointed my .net and .org domains to the new host to let them run side-by-side with the old ones pointed to by the .coms. I asked friends to hammer away at the new site to see if anything broke. Still so far so good.

So then I get this email message from them:

To: xxxxjohngsbbq.com
Subject: [Bluehost.com #547xxx]:
From: [email protected]
Date: Sun, 27 May 2007 22:28:28 -0600

Your ID did not come through. Please reply back with a valid ID.

Thank you,

RyanC
Technical Support
BlueHost.com
888.401.4678

So I hit “reply” on my mailer, attached another copy of my DL image and send it back. I get this message:

To: xxxxjohngsbbq.com
Subject: Support Center Changes — “Re: [Bluehost.com #547xxx]: SSH ACCESS: neon-john.com”
From: Bluehost Support <[email protected]>
Date: Sun, 27 May 2007 20:07:33 -0600

You can no longer create a new ticket through email, only through our Help Center. To create a new support request, please go to http://helpdesk.bluehost.com. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Bluehost Support
—ORIGINAL MESSAGE—

—-=_2bek53hg7rogc712b0fm5ds07t6gvo2ifi.MFSBCHJLHS
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit

On Sun, 27 May 2007 18:23:36 -0600, [email protected] wrote:

>Your ID did not come through. Please reply back with a valid ID.
>
>Thank you,
>
>RyanC
>Technical Support
>BlueHost.com
>888.401.4678
>
>Most questions can be answered by articles in our forum, knowledgebase, and video tutorials:
>
>When you have a new questions or issue, please open a new support ticket.

WTF? He asks me for a reply with the system configured to reject the reply! What kind of system are they running?

Sooooo, I go through the long and drawn out (on 56k) procedure of opening ANOTHER ticket and sending the file that way.

In the meantime I decide that it’s time to move my email over. I configure my mail reader to point to the new mail host. Everything’s ready except that I don’t have the port to use to do the Port 25 bypass. . I couldn’t find it on the website so I call support.

The guy on the other end tells me curtly that they don’t DO port 25 bypass. I’m annoyed. I ask how I’m supposed to send mail? He suggests using my ISP’s relay. Just what I’m trying to get away from, not to mention that that solution is no good when I’m away from my home connection – traveling, at friends’ houses or client sites.

That straw did it. The camel’s back is broke. I requested a cancellation and a refund. Time to clear off my content and start over. This was starting to get monotonous. Interestingly enough, I got a message from sales asking me to reply to them to confirm my cancellation. I did so and ended up having to go through that same “create a ticket” drill again. Grrrrr.

DreamHost.com

Time to check out the last one on the WordPress list. As it turned out, I saved the best for last. I sent off my usual test message to support at dreamhost to see what response I got. Amazingly enough, in just a few minutes I got a response written by an actual geek who could speak computer-ese. Check this out:

To: xxxxxjohngsbbq.com
Subject: Re: [johdea 11826xxx] Pre-sales questions
From: DreamHost Sales Team <[email protected]>
Date: Sun, 27 May 2007 20:21:10 -0700 (PDT)

————————————————————————
– After reading this response, please consider visiting
– the URL below to comment on its quality. Thanks!

<deleted>

————————————————————————

Hi John,
yep, you can use port 587 instead.

You can set up your site by using a free dreamhosters.com subdomain, then once everything is working properly, just point the domains to us and set it up using the same info as the subdomain.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

On Sun, 27 May 2007, you wrote:

> Like I said in my survey comments, best damn support response I’ve ever
> gotten.
> Answer two more questions and I’m yours :-)
>
> Do you offer port 25 bypass on outgoing SMTP? Gotta have that, as I travel a lot and
> can’t “use my ISP’s server” as one other hosting candidate told me.
>
> Number 2: Will I be able to set my site and blog up on your server and test it out
> before pointing my domains here? I don’t want any interruption of service on neon-john.com.
>
> Thanks,
> John
Thanks,
Mike H.


DreamHost Sales Team + [email protected]
“We host your dreams” https://dreamhost.com/signup/
http://www.dreamhost.com/

How ’bout that? I generated the service ticket using the web form which is reasonable, and now I’m talking to a real live human via email! Not only did he answer my question but he expanded on it, giving me information he knew I’d need. I’m on the road to being sold but I needed to ask a couple more questions. Here’s the exchange:

To: xxxxxjohngsbbq.com
Subject: Re: [[email protected] 11823228] Pre-sales questions
From: DreamHost Sales Team <[email protected]>
Date: Sun, 27 May 2007 07:21:41 -0700 (PDT)

Hello,

> First and most important. Will I be able to use my shell account to directly
> ftp my site over from godaddy to here without having to go through my
> machine? My site is about half a gigabyte and I’m stuck on dialup most of
> the time so sending the whole site from my machine is pretty much out of the
> question.

Yeah, you’ll be able to use FTP from your shell account if you’d like.
Just please be courteous to other users on your server. :)

> I notice that you discourage using FrontPage Extensions. I have been, using
> the hit counter and “page updated” bugs. Is there an alternative with your
> hosting? Will I be able to bring my hit counts over?

We’ve got a hit counter that you can use, and it can start at any number you’d like. So in effect you could move your hits over. Check out http://counter.dreamhost.com/ for more info on that if you’d like. It’ll be a lot easier to use our hit counter and not have to worry about all the extra hassles that FrontPage Extensions bring along (like breaking FTP and a bunch of other web services).

> I have the makings of a wordpress blog on godaddy that has never worked
> properly. Will wordpress be installed on my account so that I can simply
> move my content over? Will I need to move the mysql databases?

WordPress is one of our One-Click Installs, so it’ll be easy to set that up. Then you’ll just need to move the database over if you’d like to have your old content added to the new blog.

> I have my domains registered with godaddy (about 15). All are on fairly long
> term registrations. I’m interested in getting away from godaddy completely
> and moving my registration here. I read about the procedure for doing that
> but one thing isn’t clear. If I move them now will I lose the money I’ve
> spent registering with Godaddy? IOW, do I have to start over? If so then I
> guess I’d be better off leaving them over there until they’re up for renewal.

Whenever you transfer a domain, we register it for an *additional* year. So if you had a domain registered with GoDaddy for 10 years and you transferred it here, it’d be registered for 11 years. You won’t lose any progress. :)

> One other comment. I don’t have the best of vision and I find the tiny
> graphic text in the control panel to the left almost impossible to read. I
> know that style is trendy at the moment but it sure makes it a pain to
> navigate.

Sorry for the troubles there! The site has been coded so that you can increase the text size in your browser (if your browser supports that).

If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. :)

Thanks,
Craig


DreamHost Sales Team + [email protected]
“We host your dreams” https://dreamhost.com/signup/
http://www.dreamhost.com/

Daaaaamnnnn, another competent answer! I couldn’t whip out the ole debit card fast enough to sign up. I ended up paying almost 4X what the cheapest one on the list charged for two years of hosting. IMO, I got a bargain. Had I looked at DreamHost first I’ve have saved several weeks’ hassle and lost production.

Moving my site

This was so easy that I just have to talk about it for a moment. Dreamhost has the (correct) attitude that you don’t punish everyone for the sins of a few. Therefore when my account went active, I had full SSH shell access, no driver’s license photos or other crap required. I could immediately go to to work.

Now a shell account on a machine hooked to a big data pipe to the net at large can be a dangerous thing in the hands of a malicious person. It makes many kinds of cracking, breaking-and-entering and other stuff trivially easy. OTOH, In the hands of a responsible party it makes an admin’s life a dream. DreamHost’s approach is to give everyone shell access, monitor their activities and only restrict those who are (about to) causing mischief. That’s the right way to do things. US government, take note!

First thing I needed to use the shell was an SSH client for this laptop. DH actually recommends several (Gasp! Imagine that). I liked the look of PuTTY. so I grabbed the Windows installer. A few minutes later the installer had done its thing without my having to do anything (the way it should be). I started PuTTY, pointed it at my site. Some FM (fsking magic :-) happened and I had a login prompt! Totally painless.

I wanted to copy my whole site over from GoDaddy so I knew that I needed a recursive FTP client. “recursive” means that it walks all the directory tree, grabbing everything with one command. I googled “recursive FTP Linux”, checked the packages and then checked to see what DreamHost had installed. ncFTP was the one.

I logged onto my shell account and when I got the prompt, changed to the directory where I wanted my site to go, in this case /neon-john.com/. I then typed:

ncftp -u myusername -p mypassword xxxxx.neon-john.com

This connected me to the GoDaddy FTP server. When I got the ncFTP prompt I typed:

get -R *

I then sat back in amazement and watched as my entire website transferred from GoDaddy to DreamHost at the speed of the OC3 or whatever mega-bandwidth connection they have. The FTP protocol overhead is huge so most of the time was spent negotiating the setup for each file. On large files I occasionally saw 10MBYTES/sec transfer rate.

Once that process finished (a couple of hours) all I had to do was log on my GoDaddy admin account, point my domain registration records to DreamHosts’s name servers, wait while that data propagated through the domain name service system and I was on the air.

Other than the wait for DNS propagation, from the time my registration went through until neon-john.com was live on DreamHost was maybe 4-5 hours. Remarkable! And all done from the comfort (?) of my 56kbps dial-up line.

Email setup was similarly simple. With unlimited email accounts and domain names, I didn’t have to waste time playing tricks with redirects like I did at GoDaddy. Just set each account up and point it to where I wanted it to go. Wow!

www.johndearmond.com, this blog, was just as easy. From the control panel, select “goodies”, “one-click installs”, select “WordPress” and fill in the blanks. Less than 3 minutes later WordPress was up and running with a dummy account. All I had to do was plug in my info to turn it into my account, upload my theme, import my content mySQL database and my blog was live! I doubt I spent 45 minutes. I’ve spent several more hours twiddling and tweaking my blog’s appearance but that’s strictly for my own preferences.

Yeah, I’m gushing a little over DreamHost. It was like having been locked up in solitary for a couple months, only to wake up one morning to find one’s self in a nice pastoral setting with a gourmet meal and a gorgeous babe waiting to take care of one’s every need. Feeding frenzy!

I frankly can’t think of anything else I need. Admin is easy, the shell access is there for more complicated problems and responsive tech support is waiting in case I ever need it. In stark contrast to GoDaddy’s overloaded servers (guess Bob’s blowing the company revenues on silicone bimbos and choppers.), DH’s server is fast and responsive. When I’m on a 6mbps DSL line, my web site loads as if it were on my local hard drive.

I’m sure there are other hosting companies equal to DreamHost, it’s just that I haven’t found them yet. And with this working so well, I don’t have much incentive to go looking.

If you’re reading this and you’re with a hosting company that you think is this good, drop me a note*. Set me up a complimentary account with the plan you recommend and let me take the time to load a website and try it out. If you’re as good as DH then I’ll gush over you too. If not, well, I tell it like it is either way.

Next, onward to part 4, off-line blog editors. As with hosting services, there is a clear winner that’s so far above the rest as to be in a class by its own. Then there are those that generate the thought “why did you bother?

* until I get my anti-spambot email script on this page, contact me by clicking to neon-john.com, then click on “email john”. That’s if you want to talk privately. If public contact is OK, then leave a comment. I get an email copy automatically.

Til later,
John

Posted by neonjohn on June 5th, 2007 under Internet, Product Reviews


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