A few months ago, I decided to create give a name/face to a community around a group of friends who love gaming, particularly Minecraft. Krafters was born1. I shopped around for a server that would meet the required specs which, for Minecraft, is not easy. Minecraft is built in Java and very resource-hungry. On top of that, we’re running Bukkit with a few plugins and multiple worlds. We also wanted to run some other gameservers (e.g. Counter-Strike Source) which, while a lot less resource hungry, still takes up a bit of RAM. Bottom-line: I was looking at 4GB (RAM) server.
While researching for a 4GB server, I went to my personal preference: Media Temple. I’ve been incredibly happy with them since I first moved there in 2008. At that time, I got a (gs) which had some performance issues. I decided to upgrade to their (dv) service and they were incredibly helpful and even offered me a discount because of the reason I was moving was related to some performance on their other product. Since then, I’ve moved over to a (ve) and I couldn’t be happier. They’re definitely an A-Team when it comes to hosting. But a 4GB (ve) with them would set us back $250/month which, for a group of 6-10 friends, with no contracts and relying solely on donations is a bit out of reach. I needed something cheaper.
Wrong Promo, Worked With Me
During my research, the FBI seized a few of Instapapers servers at DigitalOne. During that time, Marco tweeted how the only reason he had rented those non-critical servers were their extremely low RAM/cost ratio.
Since our gaming community was everything but crucial, I thought “what the heck” and got ourselves a 4GB VPS for $59/month and, for the past 7 months, I’ve had no major complaints. The server is hosted on the East Coast and, while most of us are from Central Iowa (Ames), we get decent enough latency (sub-30ms) while playing Counter-Strike: Source (where latency is more critical than in Minecraft). Good enough, I guess.
Fast forward to two days ago and I get an email from DigitalOne saying my VPS had been restarted because they “detected instability of several host servers”. I thought nothing of it and proceeded with my day job as I were. Late last night, I tried to SSH in to make some updates to the Minecraft server and got nothing but timeouts. Tried pinging: nothing. Re-checked DigitalOne’s control panel, saw they have 2 IP addresses listed in different places on my profile and tried pinging both: nothing. I put in an emergency support request at 1:17am (my time, 8:17am their time–Switzerland) and wait. Around 3am I give up and go to bed. When I wake up, I noticed I had a reply sent at about 3:15am (2h after my emergency request) asking me for my root password. Wait: WHAT? Why the HECK would I give you my root password which I may or may not use in other servers, which I don’t even log into directly to?? And why would you ask for that over a ticket system that sends email notifications, meaning my root password would travel in plain text over the wire so that you can check what’s up with my server that YOU rebooted without previous warning or advance notifications so that YOU can check for the OS networking stack (that’s what they told me in a reply to my awestruck respose)?
After I asked them those questions exactly, I get a reply (6 hours later) saying they had managed to reset my password by ____ (the support agent linked to what it looked like an admin FAQ, that I couldn’t see because it was restricted to admins). Apparently the issue was with the VMware Tools that a OS update I had run had uninstalled. Now, I’ve done OS upgrades in other VPS and never had such issue which makes me wonder what the heck are they running there… :S
PS: The sudden restart of the server caused corruption on some Minecraft map files. I restored from backup but that’s unnaceptable.
Support, not Features
This is simply unnaceptable for a company that we pay money to. I don’t care about the price/cost/etc. This is simply a matter of professionalism and service. I don’t want a fancy control panel. I don’t want “ultra-fast high-end SSD disk access”. I don’t even want 24-hour phone support. I’m okay with paying less and getting less. That’s why I chose DigitalOne. But what sets amaterus, pseudo-scamming you (by promising “professional services” when they don’t know how to be professional) and an A-Team apart is the quality of their service. It’s the feeling that, no matter how little you pay, you’re treated as a valuable customer. Doesn’t matter if you’re a “big account” or a user on a free plan. Doesn’t matter if you’re a celebrity or a John Doe. The mark of an A-Team is care, professionalism and attention to detail. Things will go wrong and break, inevitably, but your customers will stick with you through thick-and-thin if you care for them and are honest about your shortcomings. Media Temple’s (gs) is not the greatest hosting service in the world. We know it and they know it. But whenever I had issues with it, I was taken care of regardless of how much I was paying them for it. This is also true for other services and companies I pay money to.
If you’re in the business of getting paid for a service you provice (and you should!), never treat customers differently based on their plan price. At the end of the day, 10,000 customers paying you $10 is better than 10 customers paying you $1,000… That means hiring A-Team employees and creating the right environment where they can help keep your service in check.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to find an alternative to DigitalOne that we can afford. But I’ll be looking… Do you know of any good/affordable alternatives? Get in touch by pinging me on Twitter or Hacker News.