I wish I would have had an article like this to read before signing up. I wish that my Bluehost sales rep knew enough about the product to warn me about the major flaw with the WordPress VPS product. Alas, I did not have the information, but hopefully my experience detailed below will give current and prospective Bluehost WordPress VPS customers an objective look at what I now consider to be a broken product.
My Bluehost History
We cleaned house and got rid of a lot of our old blog posts, but if you were able to go back and read them, you’d notice that I have always been a fan of Bluehost. I’ve recommended them to countless clients and friends. I’ve found their customer service to be top-notch, their products at the upper end of the spectrum for price and performance, and have been a faithful client for over 5 years.
This experience has drastically changed my view of Bluehost. I can understand having a faulty product, but I cannot understand why Bluehost would not step up to take responsibility for their product, which at the time of this post, has cost me thousands of dollars of lost work time.
Bluehost WordPress VPS Hosting
Like most other businesses, we started small with our web hosting solution, and as our business grew, so did the need for us to upgrade our web hosting package. On Friday, June 11, 2014, I called Bluehost sales, and was talked into upgrading to a managed VPS optimized for WordPress. The sales rep was friendly and seemingly knowledgeable (I even called back and requested to be transferred to him so he could get the commission for my signup), and after telling him about how we specialize in WordPress development, he reassured me that I was making the right choice with this WordPress optimized product.
Problem #1: Migration
On Friday, I had told my sales rep how important it was that we not have any interruption in service, as I am providing a service for paying clients. PayPal alternatives allow you to diversify your payments and to speed up the process. To make sure things went smoothly, he scheduled the migration (supposed to take around 4 hours) for 1AM EST on Saturday, June 12, 2014. Not even within 3 hours of closing the sale, my dedicated IP address had changed (mind you, 12 hours before my scheduled migration), which threw some of our clients’ sites offline (the ones with A records pointed to our IP). After calling in, they said they wouldn’t know what the new IP would be until after the migration. We had a high-visibility client offline for 12+ hours. That was a particularly fun mess to clean up.
Problem #2: E-mails and SSL
One of the services we offer is e-mail protected via SSL. With our previous hosting packages, we had purchased SSL certificates, but after the upgrade, the SSL certificates that we purchased would not work with any sub-domains (such as mail.e-socialite.com). Due to this, our SSL certificate was constructed (instead of bought through a recognized sales source), and we had to explain to each of our clients why their e-mail programs were telling that the certificate could not be verified (the SSL functions and protects as intended).
Now, in all honesty, we could have purchased a wildcard SSL certificate for an extra $150 per year, but at this point, we spent more money than originally quoted by our sales rep because he mistakenly assumed some add ons came with the WordPress VPS package. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy one more thing from Bluehost at this point.
In any case, making customers who are upgrading their hosting package aware of the SSL differences is important. Ideally, in my company’s case, we would like to notify our clients that there will be some changes coming, and try to get out in front of any issues such as the one about the SSL credentials being unable to be verified.
Problem #3: Varnish Cache
I have to start by saying that Varnish Cache is not the problem here. The problem is how Bluehost misconfigured Varnish, and made it impossible for WordPress users.
Varnish is a product that comes installed on every WordPress VPS plan from Bluehost. You don’t have a choice. It’s not listed on their website. Their sales reps won’t tell you about this. Here is the best part: they do not give you access to it, permissions to modify it, or even the opportunity to turn it off!
Now, the idea of having a cache solution like Varnish is a good one. It can help with traffic spikes, site load times (SEO boost), and so forth. And in fairness, every time I update my blog or change a page, Varnish will dump its cache, and make sure my latest content changes are reflected. The difference in load time is noticeable (which is good because there is a lot of JS in WordPress sites not being loaded asynchronously).
Here is what Varnish will not dump its cache for: CSS files. But Alex, if Varnish doesn’t dump its cache for CSS files, how do you expect me to be able to see any style changes on the website? Good question! I have been asking Bluehost the same questions for almost a week, and I keep getting the same bumbling response about them “working on it.”
Bluehost’s Proposed Varnish Solutions
I can’t even make this stuff up. The following are things I have been told by Bluehost about what I should do about my problem (not being able to work as a web developer with my current hosting package):
- They suggested that I can wait for Varnish to automatically dump its cache on its regular scheduled interval. It’s important to know that this happens once a month (according to Bluehost tech support). They want me to wait 30 days to see any changed CSS.
- They suggested that I contact Bluehost support whenever I need my Varnish cache dumped manually. Since they do not offer a way for me to do it myself, I now have to call in (or go in by chat), wait for a rep, verify my domain, explain to them the situation, and wait for them to manually dump the cache. I update my CSS files, conservatively guessing here, about 10 times per hour.
- They suggest that I open a new hosting plan (with them, of course), and migrate all of my data over. My data being, all website files, databases, e-mail accounts and messages. They offer a migration service, but they tell me I’d have to pay for that. Not just pay for the migration service, but pay for multiple copies of it because it only covers the migration of so much data (I think they wanted me to purchase 5 instances of the migration package).
Bluehost has a long way to go before they have a product they can, in good conscience, label as “WordPress optimized.” I am currently shopping around and evaluating different web hosts. If you have had a similar situation with Bluehost, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. If you want to make a recommendation to a host that you’re satisfied with, I’d love to hear it as well. Thanks for reading, and I hope that this post saves at least one person from the nightmare that has been, more recently than not, Bluehost.