Using DreamHost for Personal Storage & Backups

Three days ago DreamHost posted a clarification regarding their policies on the use of their services for personal storage and backup purposes. They emphasized that files uploaded to your account should be provided with the intent of distributing them to others from your hosted sites.

The main concern is apparently that DreamHost’s servers are being filled with rsync backups of entire hard drives, copies of DVD rips, music collection, etc., even when the Terms of Service prohibits this kind of use.

The post quickly received tons of comments – both requests for clarifications of the clarification and outcries from customers thinking this rule is unfair.

DreamHost insists that the policies have not been changes, and that this rule has always existed, but I think it’s easy to see why people are confused.

Terms of Service

First of all let’s take a look at the current Terms of Service:

The customer agrees to make use of DreamHost Web Hosting servers primarily for the purpose of hosting a website, and associated email functions. Data uploaded must be primarily for this purpose. DreamHost Web Hosting servers are not intended as a data backup or archiving service. DreamHost Web Hosting reserves the right to negotiate additional charges with the Customer and/or the discontinuation of the backups/archives at their discretion.

From the current ToS it’s pretty clear you can’t use your web hosting space for backups, but just a month ago the ToS read:

The customer agrees to make use of DreamHost Web Hosting servers primarily for the purpose of hosting a website, and associated email functions. Servers are shared with other customers, and as such IRC-related activities or severely CPU intensive CGI scripts (e.g. chat scripts, proxy scripts, scripts which have bugs causing them to not close properly after being run) are not encouraged. Any application that listens for inbound network connections (even if the application would otherwise be allowed) are not permitted. BitTorrent clients, IRC bots and bouncers (BNC) specifically may not be run on any DreamHost Web Hosting server. If your processes are adversely affecting server performance disproportionately DreamHost Web Hosting reserves the right to negotiate additional charges with the Customer and/or the discontinuation of the offending processes.

Although the paragraph mentions that the servers are primarily for hosting a website, it seems more geared towards avoiding abusive or CPU intensive scripts and doesn’t mention backup or archiving specifically.

Bandwaggon

It’s less than 4 months since DreamHost announced a partner deal with Bandwagon, a Mac software program that allows you to backup and sync your iTunes library with an FTP server. The deal gave every DreamHost customer a free year of Bandwagon and Bandwagon users one free year of DreamHost. The deal was still available in the control panel when DreamHost posted the clarifications, but has since been removed.

So was DreamHost actually advertising a service that wasn’t allowed according to their own ToS? Strange…

It’s quite understandable if DreamHost customers thought they were allowed to backup their music collection to DreamHost after this.

Discussion Forum and Wiki

The issue of using your DreamHost account for backups has often been discussed in the forums:

While DreamHost employees rarely participate in the forums, there is usually a rather strict self-policing in the forums where other users will point out violations of both written and unwritten rules, but I’ve never seen anyone mention that backups would be against the ToS. In fact one of the threads actually had an employee giving green lights for using your account to backup your mp3s as long as you were not distributing copyrighted material.

Likewise the wiki used to contain information about how to back up your PC to your web hosting space. Although the article wasn’t created by DreamHost, it must have existed with their knowledge.

Why can’t we use our web space as we want to?

Basically I think the furor boils down to that it is hard to understand why we shouldn’t be allowed to use all our assigned disk space. Why are we given 500 GB disk space, if we’re not allowed to use it? What’s the difference between a backup of 20 GB of photos and an online gallery with 20 GB of photos? Why can I theoretically distribute 50 GB of different Linux ISO’s from my web site using up terabytes of bandwidth every month, but not have a 50 GB backup of my own PC, which hopefully never will be downloaded?

I guess it’s related to the math of overselling, and there is a huge difference between 0.1% of your customers using 100+ GB of storage and 1% using the same space, but wouldn’t it be better to give some more realistic storage limits that you can actually use, and then increase them on a case-by-case basis if necessary?

I’ve used DreamHost servers for a backup of my PC myself, and I really liked to have a secure, off-site backup for worst case scenarios. I wish DreamHost would see the increased use of their service for backups as a great way to differentiate themselves from other web hosting companies, or a opportunity for them to create a niche product they could sell for a premium.

Now I guess, I have to start to look for backup alternatives…

26 Responses to “Using DreamHost for Personal Storage & Backups”

  1. mai9 says:

    And hosting alternatives (if you think this a decieving decision)

  2. Ian Neubert says:

    Thanks for writing this article. I too was taken back by this change of policy.

    I have an account at http://www.bluehost.com and based on a quick search of “backup” in thier TOS. I belive that they allow it. Or don’t have it written to not allow it.

  3. Juan Lupión says:

    Amen to that. Just in case DH threatens to end my account (I use 20+ GB for my iPhoto Library, no mp3s or DVD rips), I am switching to Amazon S3 for backups, which means I am losing the main reason to keep my DH account.

    This is SO dissappointing.

  4. David says:

    This is the main reason I chose Dreamhost. I posted several times to their forum asking how redundant Dreamhost’s servers are and if they work well for backup, my posts appear to have disapeared, this might explain why.

  5. Jenny says:

    I have been reading about the online backup industry for a while now. Online backup is maturing and slowly getting the attention of the general consumer. One website worth mentioning is the backup review site:

    http://www.BackupReview.info

    This very informative site, not only posts up to date news and articles from the industry, but also lists about 400 online backup companies and ranks the top 25 on a monthly basis and features a CEO Spotlight page, where senior management people from the industry are interviewed.

  6. Pete Happy DreamHost Employee says:

    The old language did exclude using your account primarily for backup purposes, but it’s easy to see how the language immediately following it would direct your thoughts toward CPU usage and process types. Nevertheless, having your files consist primarily of backups would still be constituted as violating this part of the TOS.

    Karl’s post in that forum was not technically incorrect, but he would have done well to add “…as long as this does not become the primary usage for your account.”

    Users of Bandwagon of course would be exempt from this consideration seeing as it was an official partnership. I can understand how people might take that as encouragement to set up their own backups, but they still need to bear the TOS in mind.

    Why can’t you use your space the way you want to? I think it’s primarily because DreamHost is selling a web hosting service. When you see 500GB of disk space on a web hosting account, it is reasonable to expect that space is intended for use in conjunction with the service being sold (web hosting.) If DreamHost has ever advertised their accounts as an online backup and storage facility, then an apology for that would be in order, but I don’t recall seeing any ads like that?

  7. Tim Linden says:

    So where does “primarily for backup” come into play. I host a bunch of sites on their servers primarily to get them off my own dedicated server. But if I wanted to throw in backups of my dedicated server on there, is that breaking the TOS? Seems too vague to me..

  8. fluffy says:

    While my account has more data in it for backups than for hosted stuff, that doesn’t mean my account is being used “primarily for backups.” There’s a lot more to an account than just the storage. Just looking at the numbers isn’t enough to make a decision.

  9. Unofficial DreamHost Blog says:

    Pete – I appreciate you’re taken the time to elaborate on my points of view. I also think you understand that if we’ve been braken the ToS it has been in good faith.

    I still have a problem with the way you differentiate between online storage and web hosting. In my opinion online storage is a subset of web hosting – like hosting without the CPU and bandwidth requirements!

  10. Icelander says:

    What if I wrote a web application to handle my backups? I’m sure this wouldn’t be hard to do, especially in Ruby on Rails, and it wouldn’t be in violation of their TOS, right?

  11. SirCut says:

    Thanks for the well written response to the Dreamhost blog post.

    After a couple of days to think about this, I left with the feeling that Dreamhost is even less customer focused then they were. Security issues, downtime and now hitting me over the head that I can’t use my disk space. This was really the last reason that was making it tough to move to a different web hosting provider. Now that barrier is gone.

    I’ve already moved my business customers off because of the security issue, now I’ve come to terms that if I get an email to stop backing up I’m going to move.

  12. A says:

    Please let us know what you find with regard to alternatives.

    Thanks.

  13. DreamHost Backer Upper says:

    I use DreamHost for some small websites and backups (but less than 100 GB). This TOS change/clarification is a major bummer. :(

  14. JD says:

    I think the biggest problem here is that a vague statement that nobody was concerned about (”primarily for the purpose of hosting a website”) has been brought to everybody’s attention by DH employees, causing people to be concerned about their usage of the account and limitations on how they will use the account in the future. Even more, the employees responding in both blogs are being coy about how they will decide what constitutes a violation of the policy, especially a significant enough violation of the policy to prompt action on their part. There are really two concerns here:

    * People are concerned that what they thought was okay, and what they were told by DH employees (or inferred from DH documentation as being okay) is no longer okay, and now they have to figure out what to do about it.
    * People are concerned about _why_ DH is bringing this policy to attention and how that impacts their service in other ways (i.e., that DH has oversold more than they can handle, and this is how they are dealing with it). The main reason for this is that DH has not been forthcoming about the reasons for bringing up (and having reworded) this policy.

    While the wording of the ToS has been modified to prohibit backup activity more clearly, it doesn’t come any closer to defining the thresholds that will be used in enforcing it. If I have 100 MB of PHP code, 1 GB of images, 2 GB of PHP code and images stored in an SVN repository, 5 GB of user-uploaded videos, and 20 GB of important files backed up onto the account, what constitutes backup and what constitutes primary usage? What if it’s 500 MB of PHP code, 5 GB of images, 10 GB of SVN, and 100 GB of backup? The responses have mostly been along the lines of “don’t worry, almost none of you will be affected” or “we’ll use common sense to determine violations of the policy” (both paraphrased), which doesn’t feel very helpful to the DH customer that fears his account will someday be deleted instantaneously by some trigger-happy DH support personnel that woke up one morning and decided that a 20 GB file labelled family_pictures.tgz was a serious enough violation where yesterday they didn’t. The only point of clarification about this so far are the rather extreme cases that numerous DVD ISOs are a good sign that you’re likely to be found in violation and a small handful of Word docs are not. Surely you can understand why everyone in between would be concerned, since you’ve (intentionally?) left their usage in the grey area? It does seem a lot like you are protecting yourselves in case you need to expand your criteria for “primary usage: backup storage” as a buffer to keep the overselling concerns manageable.

    I think what would really help here would be:
    * An explanation as to why this policy has been brought to people’s attention.
    * A statement that those people who signed up with the expectation that they could use the service for backup purposes will be allowed refunds.
    * A clarification with examples as to what might be considered infringing and what people should consider safe so that the 99% of us that are not in danger know who we are (and so the other 1% can worry a little more). Surely you can do this in a way that makes the rest of us feel safe and still leave you a little breathing room so that you can expand your enforcement later when you’re running out of space/bandwidth?

    Additionally, it would also help to have some assurances that we’ll be given a personal warning e-mail several days (preferably weeks if our usage statistics haven’t changed recently) before any action is taken, so that we’ll have time to find alternative solutions or make decisions about what we need to remove. Also, what kind of “additional charges” would you charge for usage that is entirely within the limits of the account, save that it is primarily for backup purposes? $10/mo? $20/mo? People just want to know what they’re dealing with and what they can expect, and right now this is all very far from clear.

  15. mahalie says:

    I’ve been a veritable cheerleader for Dreamhost for years but this does smack of a knee-jerk reaction to over selling. I am saddened by this, it’s like when you find out your dad is human and not invincible after all. I don’t even use my plan for backups regularly, but I have, certainly, in the past and in a pinch. Now I have to be paranoid? Major suxor. Also, if you have FTP users how can you say what is back up and what is not? WTF is FTP for anyway??

    I won’t leave, yet…but I have been taking notes for future customers. They trust me and I have a reputation to think about. Plus this seems super hypocritical in the wake of them bashing Lunarpages for their default 404 pages. A real flame-bait move…

  16. rlparker says:

    Re. David: “I posted several times to their forum asking how redundant Dreamhost’s servers are and if they work well for backup, my posts appear to have disapeared, this might explain why.”

    I’m sorry, but I’m not buying that! I’m on the DreamHost forums *constantly*, and over the years have only seen post in those forums “deleted” a handful of times and *never* as a result of asking a question or even complaining about DreamHost. Almost all of these “deletions” have been for spamming (and, IIRC, the occasional “over-the-top” use of “bad language”).

    Additionally, “deleted” posts are *still in the message system* and they are merely marked “deleted*, leaving a trail of the post’s existence. A good example of this is in the case of a user who prevailed upon DH to delete over 2,000 of his posts over the years – you can *still* see the dates and times of this user’s now “deleted” posts.

    If you are claiming the DreamHost for some reason “removed” your posts asking about redundancy and backups you are just proving that you *don’t* use those forums.

    Meh – “Pictures or it didn’t happen!”

    Without a doubt, the DreamHost forums are the most “free and uncensored” forums I have seen on the net in years – to claim otherwise is just ignorant.

  17. A says:

    What next? A careful reading of the Dreamhost TOS reveals that Dreamhost reserves the right to place advertisements on “Coming Soon” pages, just like Lunarpages did with 404 pages.

  18. David Szpunar says:

    I think that using a web hosting account for regular “offline backups” doesn’t really fall within the spirit of, well, web hosting. But I’ve been known to store the odd file on shared servers I’ve hosted with. However, I researched some online backup companies a while back and ended up choosing Mozy because they were very inexpensive and still reliable ($5/mo for unlimited-size backups of one personal computer, and a 2GB account is free).

    I also started using them for backing up critical files at work with their MozyPro service, which is $0.50/GB and $4/computer per month, but that is still inexpensive. Considering that you get 30 days worth of “versions” of each of your files, a nice client to schedule and do your backups (including bandwidth throttling), fully encrypted (during transfer and storage, with their “key” or your own private one) backups, and a feature similar to rsync that only uploads changed portions of files. I’m just a happy customer of theirs, and others out there provide similar features (just do a Google search for online backups!) but they worked well for me at a price I couldn’t find elsewhere. I’ve blogged about them before, and if you just want their 2GB free account, if you sign up through the link on my blog they give you and me both an additional 250MB of free storage space.

    And I doubt they’ll change their TOS to disallow backups, since that’s the whole intention :-)

  19. Unofficial DreamHost Blog says:

    Command Line Idiot has written a great rant about what he calls Denial of (advertised) Service Attack!.

  20. brian says:

    Mozy is great, but they don’t have a Linux client yet which is what I need. :)

  21. Phil says:

    There’s a somewhat simple solution to this: Serve hundreds of gigabytes of random data using your Dreamhost Web hosting account. Then, if you back up a few dozen gigabytes of unrelated data, it will be clear that your storage quota is being used primarily for your Web site. There’s nothing in the TOS about how popular your site must be.

    Or, just use strong encryption on all backups and put them right on the Web.

  22. LOL says:

    I was thinking of just that. I already encrypt anything I back up rather heavily, so making it publicly accesible wouldn’t be a big deal. :)

    As someone else pointed out, another option is to build a web backup solution. Then it can BE a web site.

    What would be really cool is to build it and then open it up to the public. Make a free web based back up system to compete with Mozy, using your DH account. Obviously you’d have to limit customers somewhat, to like your five best friends, but it would be web hosting. :)

  23. Jim says:

    All this has achieved is to further damage DH credibility, which is is pretty bad shape anyway with the months of network issues. It also encourage users to make stored files public to get around this supposed ‘clarification’ (which is actually a change in TOS if you look at archive.org), which is only going to make server load even worse that the atrocious loads it already has. Really really REALLY stupid move by DH. They should’ve just quietly enforced it on the 0.1% of users who abused it if it was that much of a problem, or better yet, stop cramming servers and actually put their money where their mouth is…

  24. Jim says:

    Looking for a reliable DNS host that has privacy option with proxy email addy on whois like DH does. PLease post any suggestions (not BluHost – they are horrible).

    I’ve moved my site hosting away from DH already, now want to move my DNS hosting just on principle – I want to cut all ties with DH – this was just too much after all the recommendations I made in their favor in the past – feel like I’ve been stabbed in the back.

  25. Jason says:

    Wow, I wish I had seen this earlier. I have been a Dreamhost customer for over a year, but recently signed up with BlueHost (I currently have both services). I specifically asked BlueHost about personal backups, and they said it was ok.

    However, in the end, I decided to stay with Dreamhost, and just prepaid for 5 years of service (mostly because I didn’t have the time to set up SVN, Rails, etc. on BlueHost when it was already set up on my Dreamhost account). But that was before I saw this “clarification” in TOS from Dreamhost. I don’t currently use Dreamhost for personal backups, but planned to start doing so.

    Now I am reconsidering my decision, and looking at BlueHost again. Of course, BlueHost might change/clarify their policies too, but this just kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth for Dreamhost.

  26. Endre Stølsvik says:

    I just found this entry, and it made up my mind about quitting with Dreamhost. They are fucking slow, I’ve had some run-ins with the customer support, and now the one BIG reason for staying with them – using them as a
    truly off-site backup for my pictures – is suddenly illegal.

    This not being a change of ToS – what bullshit.

    Can anyone recommend a good option? I see bluehost mentioned, and I’ve eyeballed them myself before as a dreamhost alternative. Any cheap dedicated backup services?