Probing the Hive Mind

From his interview with Chris Bowler comes this awesome observation by Dan Benjamin regarding people’s ability to develop and design –

It’s possible to deeply understand code, databases, Photoshop, CSS, and even be able to write very well, but it’s the skill you practice on a daily basis, what you spend the bulk of your time doing, that you build up expertise in.

I didn’t quote the whole statement because you should read the interview.

Probing the Hive Mind


There are a few things which I consider to be most important with a hosting provider: (a) Affordability; (b) Technical Support (read: “Reps that don’t make you feel retarded”); and (c) staying strong when it counts the most.

Not all hosting providers will get you everything you want. It’s usually like hiring a designer. You get to pick two: Good, fast or cheap. Where in this case good means reliable; fast means snappy; and cheap means affordable.

I have been hosting this site on Media Temple ever since last summer, and yes, I have certainly had a few odd moments with their hosting over the past 9 months. But I am more than pleased with their service and am glad to recommend them as a hosting provider. And yes, I pay for my hosting.

Something common that I’ve noticed about most hosting reviews is that people only write them when they’re upset about something. Therefore you often hear horror stories and rarely hear “I’m happy” stories.

Furthermore, since getting recommendations from others is such a huge factor when picking a host, it often seems the decision is made on who seems to be the least crappy. I think this is very unfair to most hosting providers because they work long hours to make our websites stay in public view and most people only speak up when their site goes down.

Therefore I wanted to give a testimony regarding Media Temple.

No doubt there are plenty of worthy hosting providers, and if you were to base your needs on reliability, features and cost alone then Media Temple certainly stands tall among its competitors. But there is something more which Media Temple has that other hosting providoers don’t.

Someone To Believe In is more than just my own spot on the web. Like Cameron Hunt said, his site is an extension of himself, and mine is an extension of myself.

If you publish your own weblog or have developed your own online business you know exactly what I’m talking about. A little bit of you goes into each line of code, every word you publish and every pixel put on display.

So first things first. Media Temple does have fantastic day-to-day reliability. You can trust that if anything crazy ever happens (the good-kind-of-crazy or the bad-kind-of-crazy), they’ve got your back. But for me, working with a hosting company who majors on the “set it and forget it” mentality is not what’s most important to me.

I want to be with a hosting provider who has a hand and investment in the community that I too am a part of. I want a host that I am proud to recommend.

In this regard Media Temple is very much worth checking out. Not only are they deeply involved with the web development and design community — hosting many of the sites you and I visit and read every day. But they are also leading the pack with their hosting technology.

Zeldman says it like this: “Out-of-work IT guys looking to make a buck started most of the hosting companies I’ve encountered. Designers and visionaries founded Media Temple. That’s important to me.”

Of course that is just the external dimension to Media Temple’s business. At the end of the day we all know that if your website gets bombarded with a metric ton of traffic you need a hosting provider who puts their money where their mouth is. And that is precisely what Media Temple does every day.

It’s not too hard to find a hosting company which offers gobs of bandwidth and storage for dirt cheap. But seriously people, you get what you pay for. If your “unlimited bandwidth for .99¢” server starts seeing more than a handful of page views in a month you can literally watch your site slow down. If you get one big link, your site will crash and you spend too much time, energy and money to get it back up. Not to mention you may find some of your hair pulled out in the process.

But it would be silly to buy a dedicated server for a site which sees less than 100,000 page views a month. Why pay for heavy-duty hosting when you may only truly need that kind of beef once or twice a month? It’s the age old question.

The issue of potential, un-predictable traffic spikes is something every hosting provider is trying to answer. And Media Temple offers – from what I’ve seen – the only reasonable, smart, and functional solution to this conundrum. Enter the (gs). Their Grid-Service is a level up from the more common shared hosting plans seen by most other providers.

Not only is the Grid-Service peppy enough to consistently deliver tens of thousands of page views a month without any lag-time, but their Burst Containers are automatically, and instantly available to you — making sure your site responds even faster when under a heavy traffic spike from Digg,, Gruber, whoever.

The way the Burst Containers work is that when your database is suddenly hit with a heavy load of requests due to traffic, Media Temple detects it automatically (usually within a few seconds) and instantly makes more memory available to your MySQL database so it can process the server requests faster.

As a (gs) customer you get two free bursts every month. Media Temple says the Burst Containers last for three days, but in my experience they seem to stay active for five. The times I’ve needed a burst container, my site actually responded better under traffic levels that were 50 times what they normally are for me. It is great to know that I don’t have to watch my site and be ready to email or call my host in case of a traffic spike. Even worse if you didn’t realize it until after the fact.

Suppose you do want heavy-duty hosting. Media Temple’s Dedicated Virtual servers are just the ticket. On their (dv) you can install any application, server software or operating system components you want. And you get root level access to your server.

But enough with stats. Like I said earlier there is something about genuine recommendations. And for those you need personal stories.

To be honest, Media Temple’s hosting hasn’t been perfect. I never expected it to be. Instead of leaving out the negative experiences I’ve had and only sharing the positive, I see it as only fair to mention both sides. Let’s start with the bad, and then move on to the good.

The Bad

In the 9 months I have been hosting with Media Temple my site has gone offline about 5 times. Three of those were the routine, “it’s just the way things go”, maintenance that you get from any hosting provider. (Although one time the routine maintenance ended up taking 12 hours instead of 1.)

Down time number 4 was a few months ago. Well, technically my site never went “down”, but rather the server was responding v e r y , v e r y , s l o w . . .

It took Media Temple two whole days to sort out the trouble, upgrade their hardware, add more RAM and fix the problem. The good news is that afterwards things were better than ever, and in return for the inconvenience they credited me with a month of free hosting. (Many sites only credit you a pro-rated amount for the actual downtime.)

But the biggest trouble I’ve had was in February.

I first found something was wrong when I tried to check my Mint stats from my iPhone but the root /mint/ page came back as an Apache error. That’s not good. I then checked my homepage, and it was blank. (Not Blanc. Ha!)

Fortunately I was near some free wi-fi. When are you not near some free wi-fi these days? So I whipped out my laptop and found my whole site was 404ing. I tried to log in via FTP with no success, and when I went to my Media Temple Account Center login I was rejected there as well.

At that point I called customer service to find out what was happening. The man I spoke with told me a Sys Admin was working on the hardware which hosted my site and things would be back up within the hour. I thought that to be a strange scenario, but I gave it an hour.

60 minutes later my site was still down so I called back. The next guy puts me on hold to dig a little deeper. He comes back and asks me why I had closed my account earlier.

“Um. I didn’t close my account.”

“Oh? Hold on, please.”

Come to find out that my account was inadvertently closed, instead of someone else’s which was meant to be. Horror of horrors! Fortunately I suffered no data loss. Their technicians had everything repaired within 4.5 hours from the time of “inadvertent closing”.

Their process of fixing the mistake necessitated re-createing my account, which meant a new MySQL database. That would have broken my WordPress and Mint config files, but the tech guys caught that and went in manually and adjusted my files to recognize and work with the new database name.

In the end, the only thing I had to do was reset my FTP login password.

Granted, deleting my account was a colossal mistake, and it’s a miracle no data was lost (though I did have an up-to-date backup of my own). But Media Temple fixed the error quickly and efficiently.

With such a crazy event, I haven’t lost any confidence in Media Temple. In fact I now have more confidence in them than I did before.

The Good

It’s Gruber’s fault that I was ultimately pushed to get a new hosting provider. Shortly after getting link-listed for the first time my site crashed. It was then that I decided to migrate to Media Temple and write this:

Having your site go down right when people want to see it is like getting de-pantsed when you’re at the drinking fountain. It’s a bummer.

My preferred strategy would be to keep the server up and zippy while everyone surfed to their heart’s content and then, later that night while everyone was sleeping, it could go down.

But no. Like a 90 pound freshman on the football team, my server got schooled.

This pushed me over the edge to do what I have been wanting to do for the past year. It was time to get a new hoster.

But not wanting to blindly go with (mt) Media Temple just because their website is incredible I asked around.

Responses included a handful of recommendations. I had a conversation with each hosting provider, telling them my needs and expectations and what they would recommend. The options were like a joke. I couldn’t believe nobody had at least something to compare with Media Temple.

My move to Media Temple went great. What made it great was the folks in tech support.

I am not a server-savvy dude. When migrating files I barely knew how to export the MySQL database, but when I discovered that phpMyAdmin wouldn’t import a database larger than 2MB I didn’t know what to do since mine was 10-times that size.

The solution required a bit of SSH and Terminal kung-fu which I do not have any reliable experience in. All I really know in terminal is “uptime” (currently 4 days, 20:39, on the MacBook Pro by the way).

After some failed attempts with how-to’s found on Google I called Media Temple at 3:00AM with a “help me” request. The guy on the other end happily did just that. A bit of team-work and we had my site up and running on their servers in no time. Exhale…

Sometimes when you call a company’s tech support the guys treat you like you’re an idiot; as if you should know everything already. Well, if that was the case then I wouldn’t be calling tech support would I? If every person that called knew everything then there’d be nobody to call tech support because they wouldn’t be calling because they knew everything. Am I right, or am I right?

Well Media Temple has always been friendly, sympathetic and extremely helpful. Even a few days after the inadvertent account closing session I got a personal email from a sys admin who sincerely apologized and clearly explained to me exactly what had happened.

Tech support aside, the thing that drew me to Media Temple was their (gs) Grid-Service hosting.

It is the next level of shared hosting. Media Temple describes it like this:

The new (gs) Grid instantly and automatically scales your site during sudden traffic surges so you do not have to worry about last minute server upgrades. […] Standard in each (gs) Grid-Service plan is a generous allocation of Grid Performance Units (GPUs) sufficient to power 95% of the sites we’ve ever seen. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones with massively growing traffic, you can rest assured that the Grid has you covered.

The brilliance of the Grid-Service is two fold: First off, there is no longer the “bad neighbor” effect. If someone else on your same server gets a traffic spike you don’t suffer for it.

Secondly, if you get a traffic spike Media Temple doesn’t suddenly treat you like the enemy. Many hosting providers are quick on the draw to shut down a site when it gets heavy traffic spikes, assuming it’s not what you want.

But Media Temple knows that you do want the traffic, and they watch your site so as to quickly scale your database resources to keep that popular page of yours at party.

Since being with Media Temple I have yet to receive enough traffic to even slow my website down – let alone crash it.

The Real Test of a Hosting Provider

Here’s the honest truth: No hosting provider is going to provide every single customer with perfect service, all of the time. It’s a fact that somebody, somewhere will have a bad experience.

What defines the worth and integrity of a hosting provider is not the bad experiences, but rather how the company treats their customer and responds to the situation during those times.

My experience with Media Temple has shown them to be a company of integrity, reliability and forward movement. I really do like these guys.