The fundamental problem at Dreamhost


Let me start by saying that, like most people here my email is rather screwed up. The wrong addresses now “own” the wrong mailbox. These are all personal addresses so I can work around this but others may not be able to.

However I can see why this change was needed.

The real problem here is the process of change control. Dreamhost is no longer a small company with one server and a bunch of friends running it. It’s a business. Thousands of customers rely on it. On the one hand Dreamhost is a great company. They support new ideas and technology (Jabber, WebDav) and with the new voting system they are responding to their customers desires.

The one major problem is change control. Testing may or may not be done, but in this case the customers were not told what was going to happen.

Regardless of how well the “old” email setup worked, it was the system everyone was used to. Email is a critical part of a hosting plan/company. To make a MAJOR change like this without giving everyone prior notice is appalling. The customers should have been giving several weeks to assign each address to a mailbox and sort their forwarding out manually. I cannot believe this sort of change was made, and the customers were told as an after-thought.

To Will, Josh et al. You listened to our complaints after the DOS problems. New Routers were deployed and was setup. After this event, please develop sound change control procedures and inform us well before you make major changes. I’m sure whoever deals with the support queues would also agree.

I sent Josh a message a couple days ago and got a responsible response. I’ve hosted with DH since 1997 and there have been about five times I have had issues with them. That’s less than once a year. In that time I have had several friends with other hosts have a major issues practically every other month. The host’s response to problems would be things like “it’s a problem with your software,” “we don’t support that,” or they would wait until the problem was fixed and simply say “looks like it’s working now.”

When I look at the new mail system, it’s really not that much different. Mainly I was confused by some of the chat about it. Now I’ve realized that there’s very little difference.

Some people are having problems. If I hadn’t been super careful about the changes I was making, I could of had the same issues. I have aliases pointing to multiple addresses, wildcards… obviously there’s something foobar with some people’s accounts. Although it has been a few days, my guess is they are tracing all their previous steps before they make another.

This was supposed to be a minor change. With the distributed mail servers like they had, it would have been very hard (impossible?) to migrate some users over for beta testing as it probably would have required another set of servers.

Apparently things didn’t go as smoothly as they hoped. They’ve released changes to the web panel before without a hitch. Obviously this time is different. One thing I have learned over the years is, paying $10/mo for shared hosting doesn’t get you the support of paying $20k/yr for a sys admin to keep your $50k in hardware up 24x7x365.

As I look at my support history, I see I have 100 pages of announcements and support emails. For all that does go on, their ball-dropping rate is pretty low.

[quote]This was supposed to be a minor change. With the
distributed mail servers like they had, it would have been
very hard (impossible?) to migrate some users over for
beta testing as it probably would have required another
set of servers.


(a response to you, and a response to anyone who has concerns about the way this was handled)

As much as I’d like to say that was it, it really wasn’t. The back end of the system is largely the same as the old, albeit with some added information used to blur the distinction between mailboxes and addresses. The mail accounts, etc. are technically the same, it’s just we’re creating a new interface ‘paradigm’ with which to manage them. There was some migration involved, but I’m sure we could have figured our some way to do it.

The fact is, we pretty much dropped the ball on this transition, and didn’t test the migration tools as well as we should have prior to launch. We also really should have announced this well in advance of the change, as email is (as you all know) a core feature that people rely on.

If you are a business, to some extent email is almost more important than web service. Losing the latter prevents you from gaining new customers, but losing the former can result in harming the relationships you’ve already developed.

Luckily, while these changes definitely didn’t have the same thorough review/beta testing process that some of our other features have had (see the Beta Testing forum for an example of how we really should approach these sorts of things), and the “user experience” needs some serious polishing, the actual number of people whose existing email configurations were impacted was relatively small compared to the size of our customer-base. A lot of the general confusion has more to do with the “paradigm shift” Josh talked about, which could have been easily headed off in a clearly written explanatory email sent a few days prior to the switch.

In the long run, the new changes make a lot of sense in that they simplify the way email is exposed to our users, without actually taking away functionality for those who need it. Hopefully soon the distinction between “mailboxes” and “addresses” - which is extremely hard to explain to customers - will blur.

Anyhow, we’re very sorry that we caught everyone off-guard here, and appreciate your patience with us.

If you are one of the unlucky few who have had serious problems with addresses breaking, please please please send Support a message and we’ll pass it right along to our Dev/Admin team if necessary. Most of the fixes appear to be pretty quick to implement, and we can probably have everything back to normal for you soon.

For everyone else, please let us know how the new system works for you and - if some aspect seems counter-intuitive or complex - let us know. We know we have a way to go before the interface is perfect, and every bit of constructive feedback helps.

  • Jeff @ DreamHost
  • DH Discussion Forum Admin

Okay, feedback! This is based on what my first impressions were.

I’m relatively new to Dreamhost, so I wasn’t really used to the old system. (I only have one mailbox anyway.)

Although I thought I understood the “mailbox == address” metaphor, the interface itself doesn’t make that connection clear, so I was a bit slow to really “get it.”

The current wording–“also deliver to this DreamHost mailbox”–misled me into thinking the mailbox was a separate entity. Perhaps it would be more clear if that said something like, “this address is a mailbox.”

Also, the mailbox option is the least prominent element on that page. I had to spend a moment reading the entire screen to figure out how the options were all interrelated. The emptiness of the big textarea concerned me at first. I also wondered about the 3 options (“why would anyone create an email address in order to bounce it?”) If you wanted to simplify that, you could move those three options to a separate page, accessible from the “disable” link. (When the user clicks “disable”, it goes to another page with the bounce/delete/enable choice.)

(I’m used to thinking in terms of mailboxes vs. aliases… here, an email address can be both at once, and that complicates the interface a bit.)

Anyway, that’s a bit of a ramble. The main suggestion was to ensure that the UI reinforces the address==mailbox metaphor.

Just my take, of course. I could be way off from how other people see it.

I work on large SAP projects so I know all about data migration and project cycles / testing cycles and it is very simple to get it wrong. Unfortunately getting it wrong is like throwing a rock into a pond, it makes a huge splash and upsets everyone in the pond…

One of the continuing values of DH that impresses me is that DH will admit they have gotten it wrong and will make sure it will not happen again. I do not know many companies that will admit as much.

The removal of the M mailboxes is a great step forward, trying to explain to friends that although your email address is in order to log into pop mail you got to use this unmemorable m number was simply painful at best.

Special thanks to Josh & the support team for putting up with the pain this issue would have generated. Although we can be a pain at times (ok well a lot of times) we really do appreciate your efforts…

I appreciate the detailed explanation, and the effort to effectively replace the mxxxxxxx mailbox ‘names’.

Like others, I do think that the UI is in urgent need of work to make things clearer - especially the relationship between ‘real’ mailboxes and aliases

I do appear to have an ‘orphaned’ mailbox, but I’ll write to support about that…


Neil Atwood
Sydney, Oz

Thanks for that Jeff.

[quote]If you are one of the unlucky few who have had serious problems with addresses breaking, please
please please send Support a message and we’ll pass it right along to our Dev/Admin team


You might be interested to know it took me four emails over three days to get Support to accept my report of mail loss caused by the Mail > Addresses change. (Having said which I am generally well pleased with Support). I do hope you can fix it.

Hmm, feedback about the new mailbox situation…

Well, I just posted a suggestion (which you can ignore) asking that we be able to sort the mailboxes by domain and name because as I was looking at my long list of mailboxes/aliases at the time, it was all a jumble. Now I see that sometimes I get a lovely sorted list of mailboxes for which I am thankful and other times I get the random jumble of mailboxes. If I click on Addresses enough times, I’ll eventually get the sorted list but the minute I try to do something (edit or add an address), it goes back to jumbled and the fight begins again.

Any idea why is that happening? (I can send you screen shots to show the difference between sorted and jumbled if you need them).