DreamHost might have extensive affiliate marketing, but their domain registration, shared hosting, and VPS plans aren't worth your money.

I want to share my experience with you so you don't have to go through it as well. Despite my following critiques of DreamHost, their service still might be for you. I don't know if any of these also apply to other companies, but they could, and you may want to keep them in mind when choosing any company to host your websites.

Introduction

I had not made a serious attempt to build a website before, so I spent a good amount of time and effort trying to find a company to host it for me. I tried to get an idea of which companies to use, but there are many websites that publish misleading reviews on hosting companies and their services. Most hosting companies offer affiliate marketing partnerships, and review companies can make lots of money from joining them (take a look at DreamHost's affiliate program), so many review websites will try to make money from their affiliates rather than give honest reviews of their products. After all, DreamHost doesn't make money from you if you don't buy their service, so they won't pay anybody to write a negative review. As a result, if you try to search reviews for DreamHost on Google or DuckDuckGo, you'll find that the websites reviewing DreamHost are also reviewing many other companies, and they're adamant about which ones best.

I was trying to build websites with Wordpress and Mediawiki, and DreamHost is one of the few companies that offered 1-click installation for both. DreamHost also offered the ability to easily upgrade from Shared Hosting to VPS hosting, and to quickly scale your VPS plan as your website grows. I liked that the DreamHost salespeople were friendly and knowledgeable, that their knowledge base was large and informative, and that they were committed to being an independent company.

I started out with Shared Hosting because of their generous 97-day money-back guarantee, but after two weeks, switched to VPS because I thought it would be cool to have protected resources. I also wanted to use Node.js, an environment that allows you to run persistent processes, and you can't do that on their Shared Hosting plan. After about a month of using their VPS service, I realized that it was a terrible idea to use their service. What they delivered simply didn't live up to what they offered.

What does DreamHost offer?

I've pasted screenshots of DreamHost's VPS offer to give you an idea of what I thought I was signing up for. They call it `managed' VPS hosting which means they claim that they will do the server operating system updates for you.

https://www.dreamhost.com/hosting/vps/

https://www.dreamhost.com/hosting/vps/

"Features" tab from https://www.dreamhost.com/hosting/vps/

"Advanced Features" tab from https://www.dreamhost.com/hosting/vps/

What does DreamHost Deliver?

1. Outdated web servers

Even though Ubuntu 14.04.5 reached its end of life in April 2019. Seven months later, DreamHost still had its customers using it. The newer versions of Ubuntu contain important security updates, so using older versions for your web server makes them vulnerable. Here's a screenshot of my connection to my web server via SSH showing that my machine used Ubuntu 14.0.5 LTS. DreamHost's support desk has a page on how to prepare for the upgrade from 14 to 18, indicating that many of their machines continue to use the old one. Typing cat /etc/issue prints the version of the web server, Ubuntu 14.0.5 LTS.

2. Outdated 1-click installer

Even though they offer one-click installer for MediaWiki, the version that they offer is outdated. When I first installed MediaWiki, the latest stable release was version 1.33.0, but they only offered 1.32.0. This means that wikis installed on DreamHost with the 1-click installer don't have the latest security updates.

From https://panel.dreamhost.com/index.cgi?tree=wordpress.installer

3. Outdated software

As shown above, Python is pre-installed on your VPS machine, but you don't get the latest version. You have to update Python manually. They have a tutorial on how you can do it yourself, so you can be sure that it's not part of your 'managed' service. The process is a bit complicated if your server still has Ubuntu 14, which, remember, could be the operating system for your server.

4. No root access

Without root access, you can't upgrade your Ubuntu version on your own. You pay for old web servers and don't have an option to upgrade it. You can't build the applications and websites that you want. For example, you can't install Ghost, the professional publishing platform.

5. A lackluster control panel

Check out the "pro-level" control panel:

From https://panel.dreamhost.com/index.cgi?tree=vps.dashboard

Needless to say, there are very few options. (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of what happens when I click Configure).

6. No dedicated IP address

DreamHost charges you $5.95/month to add a unique IP address to your server. Other hosting companies, such as DigitalOcean, give you a dedicated IP address for each of your web servers for no additional fee. Plus, DigitalOcean gives you a free floating IP address, which means you can create backup servers and move your website between them without having to change your website's IP address.

7. Expensive domain registration

Let's compare the prices to register a .com, .net. and .org at DreamHost, Dynadot, and PorkBun. You'll see that DreamHost charges high registration fees with questionable benefit. Sure, DreamHost offers privacy protection, but so do Dynadot and Porkbun. The latter also don't charge absurdly high prices for renewal. Instead, they charge extra low prices for first year registration. (Generally speaking, companies are not suited to provide both stellar web hosting and domain registration.)

https://www.dreamhost.com/domains/transfer-domains-to-dreamhost/

https://www.dynadot.com/domain/tlds.html

https://porkbun.com/checkout/search

8. Expensive plans if you don't commit long-term

Let's compare the prices for DreamHost's VPS if you commit to being their customer for THREE YEARS to the prices you get at another company, DigitalOcean, for month-to-month VPS hosting.

https://www.dreamhost.com/hosting/vps/

https://www.digitalocean.com/pricing/

You can pay less money month-to-month to DigitalOcean than you pay to DreamHost for a 3-year lease, and you get more RAM. One might object that DigitalOcean doesn't offer unlimited bandwidth, but for most users, the transfer bandwidth offered by DigitalOcean will feel like it's unlimited. Transferring static content doesn't take very much bandwidth. That's how DreamHost can 'offer' it.

Don't use any hosting company that locks you into long-term subscriptions. It's easy for a hosting company to set up and shut down your web servers and move on, so it should be easy for you to do so as well.

Does DreamHost do anything well?

DreamHost can help amateur webmasters manage many basic aspects of their websites without having to edit files directly on their web servers. These tasks are not difficult to learn how to do, but they make DreamHost's service seem feature-rich even though it isn't:

  • Set up a free SSL certificate from Let's Encrypt to enable https connections
  • Create virtual hosts on your server so it can serve multiple websites
  • Edit your Apache server's .htaccess file to prevent directory walking or to add a password to your website
  • Set up your website on Cloudflare
  • Set up cron jobs to automate processes
  • Download backups of your server and MySQL databases

DreamHost allows you to set up as many email addresses as you want for each URL hosted entirely on their servers. This might be a good feature if you want many email addresses, but their webmail application is also lackluster, and do you really want DreamHost to be able to read all your email?

If I want to have important email conversations with my readers and customers, I would rather use a dedicated, trustworthy email provider such as ProtonMail. If I want to build a team and give my team members access to a suite of apps, it would make more sense to use something like Google Suite or Microsoft Office.

Nonetheless, it's pretty straightforward to get a refund, and their customer service is actually good when they're willing to help.

Conclusion

Don't be fooled by DreamHost's landing pages or affiliate marketers. Some companies prey on the ignorance of their customers, and my experience suggests that DreamHost is one of them. It seems that DreamHost takes advantage of people who don't know much about web hosting or website administration.

So what should we use instead?

Use a company that real developers and businesses use. DigitalOcean is just one of them. Look at Heroku, mnx.io, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services and decide for yourself. You might notice that none of these are listed as top cloud hosting companies by review websites such as PCMag.

I like DigitalOcean because they offer plenty of one-click installations and a wider set of hosting products. If you take some time to learn how to set up your website or application, then you'll be in better control over it, you'll save money, and you'll be happier with what you've made. You can also do it all with a better, larger community and quality customer support.