Why Media Temple Sucks, or How to Save Money on Web Hosting

I’ve been with numerous web hosts in my nearly fifteen years on the Net. Some shared hosts are absolute nightmares (DreamHost was the worst). Still, you can usually walk away without leaving much money on the table. But Media Temple isn’t for the budget conscious. Its (gs) Grid-Service sounds sexy and makes good sense, but its over-priced and doesn’t live up to the hype (Media Temple even admits as much; see below).

After some nine months of ho hum hosting and lackluster support, I’m giving Media Temple a rest. Yesterday, I moved the last of my domains that remained there to AN Hosting.

Here’s why…

Sloooow Service, or The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

Two days ago, I had problems sending email on my ThemeMeme account with AN Hosting. The same day, my wife noticed that her domain (hosted at Media Temple) was having the same problem. As it turns out, the problem seems to have been with my ISP, but I didn’t know that when I contacted support at both hosts.

AN Hosting took only 22 minutes to respond, better than their usual response time of an hour or two. Media Temple took 26 hours and 21 minutes to respond to the same issue. This isn’t an exception. Media Temple usually took anywhere from several hours to more than a day to respond to support requests.

The Designer Jeans Fallacy, or The Price of Prestige

For some strange reason, there are people who routinely pay $150 or more for a pair of jeans. I’m just guessing, but I bet most of these people are not bloggers or web designers. So why are you paying twenty bucks a month for hosting on Media Temple?

Media Temple has a lot of high profile customers, but you pay a premium for the prestige of having a Media Temple badge on your site. The (gs) Grid-Service includes 100 GBs of storage and 1 TB of bandwidth, more than enough for most bloggers. But it’s $20 a month (or $170 if you pay for the year, as I did).

AN Hosting doesn’t offer much prestige. They don’t have a cool logo. But they offer five times as much storage and bandwidth for $6.95 a month (even less if you sign up for a longer term).

Personally, I’ll stick with AN Hosting and my $35 Levi’s.

But price isn’t really the problem. If the (gs) Grid-Service lived up to the hype, it’d be worth it, which is why I signed up in the first place and why you may be tempted. Keep reading.

Can I get that in writing? Or, Gee, that sounds great! Do you guarantee it?

Media Temple describes the (gs) Grid-Service is glowing terms:

Beyond simple load balancing, the Grid uses an ever-expanding “cluster of clusters” all working together to serve your site with blazing fast response times. Resource limits, hardware failures and everything else you hate about shared hosting is history! The Grid was designed and built with numerous layers of redundant hardware, software, network and power systems. Downtime caused by device failures will be a distant memory once you switch to The Grid.

With so many benefits, you’d think Media Temple would offer a generous, money-back uptime guarantee. They don’t. Instead, Media Temple offers this money-back guarantee:

If for any reason a customer wishes to discontinue service with (mt) Media Temple they may do so and a refund will be issued.

As long as you discontinue service within 30 days of opening your account.

Hey, every host I’ve ever been with has had a hiccup now and then. But I want a host that will credit my account when the service sucks. AN Hosting offers a 99.9% uptime guarantee. When they have a problem, they offer to give your money back before you even ask for it.

The GPU Problem

Though Media Temple offers 1 TB of bandwidth, the reality is that you’ll probably never get to use it, even if you have a popular site. You’ll hit your GPU limit long before you take advantage of the bandwidth offered.

GPU stands for Grid Performance Unit, a measure of your actual usage on the grid. According to Media Temple:

Each (gs) Grid-Service hosting plan includes a large number of GPUs which have been carefully calculated to provide 99.7% of all customers with enough resources to never exceed the GPU allocation. For those clients operating large scale web sites experiencing daily or infrequent traffic surges, GPUs allow you to host your websites without worrying about reaching an arbitrary limit before getting shut down.

There’s only one problem with this. Almost everything sucks GPUs: 404 errors, your Mint stats, scripts, etc. I easily burned about 250 GPUs a month when my sites were getting only a couple of thousand page views a day. If you have a high traffic site, there’s a good chance you’ll hit your GPU ceiling. Additional GPUs are billed at $0.10 per GPU. I burned about 30 GPUs a month just on Mint. If that had been in excess of my quota, I’d be paying another $3.00 a month just for my stats.

And it’s true: 99.7% of customers won’t need more resources for the simple reason that they don’t need the Grid. They simply don’t have the traffic. There’s no reason for them to pay the premium Media Temple commands.

Hey! That’s MySQL!

The real problem with the Grid-Service is that it won’t help you with a slow MySQL database. If you’re hosting a WordPress blog (or any blog that uses MySQL, as most of them do), you can have plenty of GPUs and still have slow performance because you’re sharing a MySQL server. Now, to be fair, this is true of any other host. But that’s another reason why Media Temple isn’t worth the premium; it does nothing to eliminate this bottleneck.

Media Temple offers two MySQL options with the Grid-Service: MySQL SmartPool, which it claims “offers performance comparable to industry-wide shared hosting systems,” and MySQL GridContainers, which offer a kind of virtual dedicated MySQL server. If you want a GridContainer, it will set you back anywhere from an additional $20 to $150 a month.

When I noticed that my sites were slow, I contacted Media Temple support:

Why are my sites so slow to display, taking 5 to 10 seconds or more?

I recently moved one of my domains, upstartblogger.com, to another host and it is loading in 1 or 2 seconds, even though the site is heavier.

I’m not getting the performance I expect from MT. What gives?

They offered a few suggestions for optimizing my databases, along with the suggestion that I pay for a MySQL GridContainer. Here’s my response:

I enabled WPCache, deleted all but the essential Mint peppers, and repaired and optimized my database. My site is still very slow, sometimes taking a minute or more for Mint. I find it odd that Media Temple is displayed prominently on the Have a Mint site, yet you’re claiming it is too demanded [sic] for your shared hosting. I shouldn’t have to pay $40 a month for shared hosting and a MySQL container to get decent performance when I can get better performance from a cheap shared host. I’ll be moving my sites. The Grid is a great idea, but it’s not worth the money.

And their reply (emphasis mine):

We apologize for your experience with the (gs)Grid-Service. I can understand if you need to move your sites to a new service, but hope that you may consider us again in the future. We are developing a successor to the (gs) which we are calling the (cs)Cluster-Server. The new product is being designed with a new architecture to address the shortfalls of the (gs), especially latency. Our experience with the (gs) has taught us quite a lot about the limitations of web hosting in a distributed environment, and we promise not to offer a product that does not deliver a significant performance increase over our current offering. Building on top of our current (gs) platform or applying band-aids is not the goal here. We are undergoing a full revamp that will address many of the concerns and feedback provided by our customers this past year.

Even the Grid Goes Down

In theory, the Grid-Service means downtime “caused by device failures will be a distant memory,” but that doesn’t mean the Grid never goes down. You’ll still find maintenance messages in your inbox from time to time (emphasis mine):

This maintenance action will require that parts of the Grid be briefly taken offline. A very short period of downtime may occur, customers should prepare for a brief disruption of services such as web, email, and ftp. It is likely that only a small portion of the maintenance window will actually be needed. Any email inbound to your server during the maintenance window will not be rejected or lost.

We would like to remind all customers that scheduled maintenance and security related updates are a necessary and vital aspect of web hosting that ensures the long term uptime and reliability of your server.

Don’t Panic. I mean, Can’t Panic!

My main tool for editing online files is Panic’s wonderful Coda application. Unfortunately, for some strange technical reason, you can’t really use Coda with Media Temple. It establishes too many connections and bogs down when you try to save. When I tried to get support for this issue, Media Temple pointed their fingers at Panic and Panic pointed their fingers at Media Temple. Unless I’m missing something, let’s just say that Coda and Media Temple don’t play nice with each other.

Media Temple is Greedy. And Stingy.

Not only is Media Temple over-priced, but they aren’t very generous in paying for referrals. Not that this is the most important criteria for selecting a host, but if you have some traffic on your site, there’s no reason for anyone to pay for hosting. A single referral from AN Hosting pays for a year of hosting. Media Temple pays a tight-fisted twenty bucks, about a month of their ho hum hosting. Even DreamHost pays more (I have nothing good to say about DreamHost, but if you still want to host with DreamHost, give them a try. Somebody likes ’em.)

I haven’t found the perfect host, but AN Hosting comes as close as any I’ve experienced. It’s my best recommendation and, in my experience, at least as good as Media Temple at a fraction of the price. If you’ve made it this far, try AN Hosting now!

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