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Brian Kirkpatrick
Brian Kirkpatrick

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What Happened to DreamHost?

Forgive the Rant

What on earth am I even talking about? Here's some background, so you know I'm not just a crazy person.

Looking Back

Ah, DreamHost... I remember your first (and in hindsight last) DreamCon--where a crowd of diverse nerds from personal server hosts to site developers to hobbyists--all gathered in your downtown LA office tower to learn so much awesome stuff from each other and what kind of amazing things DreamHost was up to. I still have the personalized Jenga set on my desktop! Great memories. Even Garcetti stopped by to give a keynote to kick things off! Crazy nerd times.

But memories of one-off conferences aren't the only thing that's getting old. DreamHost documentation started taking a turn for the worse, I'd say about 8 or 9 years ago, when the service strongly pivoted away from the collective-sysadmin-resources model into fully embracing the automated-Wordpress-hosting business.

They're still hosting my virtual private server (or VPS), and for a steal of $39/month it's a decent value. But it's been quite clear for years now I'm a second-class citizen in what was once my own home. There was a substantial amount of spiritual-credit in the form of good will that I had formed from an association with the founders, who were both early open cloud backers and fellow Harvey Mudd College alumni. (It's a small school, and I loved getting great services while backing one of our more successful startup stories!)

Looking Forward

That spiritual-credit is starting to run out. Even though it's been many years since the managed-WordPress model clearly started calling all the shots, it's really the support and services documentation side that has fallen off a Minecraft-like cliff. I found, maybe a few years after that switch, that anything I wanted to do on my VPS would be better documented by a competing service.

That brings me to DigitalOcean. I don't know anyone there who (unlike my Mudd classmates) would always be on 24-hour tech support call with just the right shell script. For years, DreamHost was the tech-nerd-dream-come-true, straight out of XKCD:

with apologies to randall monroe

That meme hasn't been true in a while. And in the meantime, anything you want to do with your own private server, and with the latest and greatest tech developments, is likely best documented by the amazing public content over on DigitalOcean.

I think the breaking point came in a local DreamHost meetup a few years back. I cornered the cloud services lead, who (though he would soon leave for an AWS specialty firm--traitor!) bravely fielded my questions about the nascent DreamHost cloud services ("DreamObjects", basically a bucket storage, and "DreamCompute", basically a mediocre wrapper around OpenStack that was good for VMs but not much else). At the time I was excited to ask questions about where it could all go!

  • Would there be compute-oriented resources like GPU servers?

  • Could we automate orchestration?

  • What was the roadmap for expanding DreamCompute in general?

Poor guy. I didn't realize it at the time, but he had likely already been hung out to dry. Much like OpenStack itself, which it was a modest contributor to and which would later follow suite, DreamHost was completely unprepared for the cloud services wave that would saturate the market with cheap, virtualized automation.

I think this would lead to a sink-or-swim impasse for a lot of similar providers, like RackSpace, who once could do well just by hosting websites but now were in a classic innovator's dilema where the cheap stuff was chasing them into a shrinking higher-margin corner of the market (e.g., WordPress services).

The Camel's Back

Have you ever used Terraform?

enough about tf

It is, by far, the easiest; most stable; most effective; most transparent; and (licensing drama aside) most straightforward way to dive into the immense power behind agnostic cloud provisioning and orchestration. Have you ever set up CI to securely and automatically update and customize vast enterprise infrastructure merely from a static infrastructure-as-code commit? I have, and I practically got drunk from the feeling of power it gives me.

But I was evaluating providers to bootstrap my company (at the time) into cloud-based DevSecOps and realize DreamHost was a complete non-starter. There's no provider, and even if there was, I doubt I would want to use it--that's how limited the services are. I didn't want to lock us into AWS (or, slightly less terrifying, Azure). So I went searching for alternatives.

me, searching for agnostic cloud providers, circa 2019

And lo-and-behold, there was DigitalOcean. The same resource I had been using for years whenever my VPS work needed docs support. Not only had they managed to scale (they're doing great!), their services were modern and their Terraform provider was positively top-notch, just as good as (in some cases maybe a little bit better than) the big boys like AWS. So easy. So seamless. And incredibly affordable.

So, we're here. Whenever I start a new cloud project (or even just on-prem stuff where I need a cheap sandbox), I know exactly where I'm headed to spin up a quick VM, securely integrate cert signing against domain registration, get a compatible load balancer tied in, or just multi-node k8s clusters in a matter of minutes.

The End of Our Story

Which brings me to my VPS. It has served me long. It has served me well. But I'm finally getting ready to transition it. DigitalOcean will be slightly more expensive, but I'm prepared to embrace the advantages that come with it. None of my work has ever been PHP-oriented, much less WordPress-driven (aside from a few travel blogs).

Ah, DreamHost... I miss you already! But none of my classmates and friends are there anymore (and those that I've talked to facepalm even harder than I do at recent management), and I'm out of spiritual-credit. Take care! You'll always have a fond place in my heart. But I'm a DigitalOcean nerd now.

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