I had an email the other day asking about my experiences with a particular shared hosting company (not dreamhost). I’ve worked my way through a few companies for smaller projects, and thought I’d throw some thoughts out there.
Dreamhost are one of the cheaper hosting outfits around, and seem to inspire either love or hate, depending on your experiences. Their setup for rails is apache+fcgi, which isn’t the optimal configuration, but works well enough for a low-demand application or one where a lot of content can be cached.
Initially, I had a number of problems with which server I was placed on. One was too stretched and my subversion processes were killed before I could even finish checking out my app. Another didn’t handle a combination of subversion and fastcgi properly. And another wasn’t killing off fastcgi processes at the right time, so the app was quickly spiralling out of control. It took quite a while to get all that sorted out, and support responses were often slow, but since I’ve landed on the current server it seems fairly stable.
The one ongoing problem I’ve had is that it can be hard to manually kill processes, and deploying a new version, particularly when switching from development to production, can be a painful process as you wait for the old processes to die and the new ones take their place. That’s not necessarily a huge problem, but does crimp my style when I want to get into an agile, rapid-deployment, continuous integration flow.
Overall, I’d have to say that dreamhost may be good for hobbyist sites, but if you think you’re going to attract significant traffic it’s probably worth paying for a more appropriate environment.