Pay to Use DreamHost for Personal Storage

Two weeks ago, while on holiday, I received the following email from DreamHost:

Dear Unofficial DreamHost Blog,

Our system has noticed what seems to be a large amount of “backup/non-web” content on your account (#99999), mostly on user “*****” on the web server “bomberman”.

Unfortunately, our terms of service state:

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.

At this point, we must ask you to do one of three things:

  • You can delete all backup/non-web files on your account.
  • You can close your account from our panel at:
    https://panel.dreamhost.com/?tree=billing.accounts
    (We are willing to refund to you any pre-paid amount you have remaining, even if you’re past the 97 days. Just reply to this email after closing your account from the panel.
    OR!
  • You may now enable your account for backup/non-web use!

If you’d like to enable your account to be used for non-web files, please visit the link below. You will be given the option to be charged $0.20 a month per GB of usage (the monthly average, with daily readings) across your whole account.

We don’t think there exists another online storage service that has anything near the same features, flexibility, and redundancy for less than this, so we sincerely hope you take us up on this offer!

In the future, we plan to allow the creation of a single “storage” user on your account which will have no web sites (or email). For now though, if you choose to enable your account for backups, nothing will change (apart from the charges).

If you want to enable backup/non-web use on this account, please go here:

https://panel.dreamhost.com/backups.cgi?g=99999999

If you choose not to enable this, you must delete all your non-web files within a week from when we sent this email (by 2008-02-22) or your account will be suspended.

If you have any questions about this or anything at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us by replying to this email.

Thank you very much for your understanding,
The Happy DreamHost Backup/Non-Web Use Team

Note: While personal backups will be allowed, the use of our services for the distribution, acquisition, or storage of illegal or illegally obtained copyrighted material still won’t be. Please make sure that all material hosted under your account is legal and was obtained legally!

I’ve got mixed feelings about this email…

It’s true that I’ve been using my account for backup purposes. I currently sync my two PCs to my DreamHost account, including a backup of all my digital photos – totally approximately 100 GB of data.

On one hand, I agree that these backups are not part of my websites, and I’m just happy that DreamHost now offers a solution where you can pay to use your storage for backup purposes. Actually I don’t find paying $20/month for backup of two PCs too bad. On the other hand I was under impressions that what I did was allowed – maybe not if you read the TOS very strict – but still accepted by DreamHost and that I already have paid to use up to 500 GB of storage.

Back in October DreamHost changed clarified their policies on using server space for personal storage and backup purposes. From being pretty relaxed about what you used your server space for, they now emphasized that files uploaded to your account should be provided with the intent of distributing them to others from your hosted sites.

Apparently the main reasoning was that the top 100 users were using 5% of DreamHost’s total disk space, and nearly all of these 100 users were keeping 200+ GB backups of copyrighted movies, tv shows, anime, p*rn, etc.

At the time I got a friendly email from Josh Jones, co-founder of DreamHost (as a response to my previous post), explaining all this, and that the plan was to notify about 20 users or so per week who were either using their accounts for 100s of GB of backups of copyrighted material, or keeping lots of extra backups of stuff DreamHost already was backing up (like mysql databases, websites or emails).

He even wrote:

If you’re using your account to back up one-of-a-kind personal files, even tons and tons of them, you really are never ever ever going to hear from us and we have no problem with that and things aren’t going to change AT ALL.

I’m not sure if DreamHost has changed their stand on using web space for private backups, if they see backups as a future source of income, or if it is some kind of mistake (fat fingers anyone? ;-) ). I will try to get a comment from support, but since I know this subject interests a lot of you, I decided to blog about if first. Any of you got the same email?

What do you think? Should keeping backups still be allowed or is pay-as-you-go a clever alternative? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

21 Responses to “Pay to Use DreamHost for Personal Storage”

  1. Simon Moon says:

    I personally think that it’s none of their damned business what I use the space for. I paid for space and bandwidth and a modest share of processor time. One of the draws of DreamHost is their very spacious offerings. If people start to use what they pay for and it makes them worried, maybe they shouldn’t offer so much. To me this feels very similar about all of the broadband companies offering “unlimited internet” who then send you nastygrams complaining that you broke some secret usage cap.

    What if you rsync over ssh to a directory that has a private file browser. Is that “web content?”

  2. blacktulip says:

    Dreanhost is getting worse and worse. I will sincerely consider leaving it if I get a email like this. Actually I am not using it as a storage myself. But I opened some accounts for my friends and they are storing some stuff on it. I surely am not willing to pay anything for the space that I’VE ALREADY PAID FOR.

  3. Matt Nordhoff says:

    $0.05 more than S3, and it comes with a real file system? Sign me up!

    How does bandwidth work with this, though? Does it count against your account’s bandwidth, or is it free? Also, what comes with it? rsync? WebDAV (over HTTPS?)?

    OTOH, I’m already paying $10/month for 300 GB of space (I’m still on Crazy Domain Insane), and I’d like to be able to do whatever I want with it.

  4. Jesse Wilson says:

    I can’t say I’m entirely sure how I feel about this. As customers we are already paying for access to the amount of disk space specified; however, that does not necessarily mean that total amount of storage is readily available all at once across the customer-base. This situation is not uncommon amongst providers that offer large amounts of storage to an unlimited number of users.

    With that in mind, the situation Dreamhost finds itself in is that as users become more focused on backing up their personal data and as storage requirements for that data increase, there is potential for total physical (not just allocated) disk space to become maxed out. There is also the cost of bandwidth that is required for any initial uploads of user data, as well as subsequent transfers.

    Given that, $0.20 per GB per month is not an unreasonable cost, especially if there is no associated bandwidth cost. If Dreamhost can manage also offer a streamlined solution related to this, then they can certainly offset any ill-will generated by this policy change.

  5. riki says:

    I’m sure a high percentage of users would probably have websites that weigh in under 500Mb, not counting web stats and email. They, like myself, probably have little chance of ever needing 500Gb (or whatever the figure may be) of storage, purely for their website or anything else for that matter.

    But we keep hearing 500Gb as a selling point, while at the same time we keep hearing the odd conflicting story (true or not) of people having problems who actually try to use that storage.

    It creates the impression that it’s an artificial figure. If they told me tomorrow, you’ve got a zillion zigabytes. I would still be worried uploading 100Gb.

  6. Icelander says:

    After this rigamarole with using Dreamhost for personal backups, I got a yearly Mozy account to back up my data. This, along with rsync to back up my wife’s iBook and my Powerbook to our Mac Mini, gives me all the backup I need with no storage or copyright limits, perfectly securely, for less than what Dreamhost would charge me.

  7. Elliott C. Back says:

    Come on, Dreamhost sucks, they will try and basically screw wherever they can. Pony up the $50/60 a month to get a cheap dedicated server somewhere and then do whatever you want with it. Combine that with backup scripts to S3 and you have an ironclad solution.

  8. UnknownVariable says:

    Dreamhost is going to charge its users MORE for a service already paid for by them. This is utterly rediculous. If I sign up for something with a promise of 500gb storage, I had better damn well be able to use that 500gb of space. There’s a little thing called “false advertising” and it’d be none too pretty if a lot of people decided to go after Dreamhost for this.

  9. Landon says:

    maybe if you just created some sort of web interface where you can login and get your files via http as well as still having all those nice ftp backup benefits… then isn’t it technically ‘web content’ and you’d be well within the TOS to do what you want.

    just a thought.

  10. mai9 says:

    my opinion is that I don’t like this. I also want to use my dreamhost web space for storing personal photos. And it’s not a valid explanation that “100 users get 5% of Dreamhost space”. Always the top users get most.

  11. Pete says:

    That’s what happens when you oversell like crazy and can’t deliver: you have to find ways to not give to your customers what you promised them you would give.
    I much prefer people like WebFaction who have lower limits but actually deliver everything they promise.

  12. Annoyed says:

    This email from right before I became a DreamHost customer should explain how I feel:

    From: DreamHost Sales Team
    To: annoyed@example.com
    Date: Tue, 1 Nov 2005 18:51

    Hello,

    On Mon, 31 Oct 2005, you wrote:

    > Hi,
    >
    > I’m a fellow Debianite, and I’m interested in your basic hosting plan. I
    > don’t have any big web sites, so I wouldn’t expect to use that much bandwidth
    > or disk space with public HTTP traffic. However, one of the things I would
    > like to use my account for would be backup, specifically using Duplicity.
    > Duplicity is included in Debian, and uses Rsync (among others) as a
    > transport. Provided the data didn’t exceed my account’s quota, is this an
    > acceptable use of a DreamHost account? I didn’t find anything on your site
    > prohibiting anything like it, but I wanted to be sure.

    Sure, you can use your account here for that purpose.

    > Also, do I understand correctly that e-mail bandwidth doesn’t count against
    > accounts’ bandwidth quota? I wouldn’t expect to ever exceed the monthly
    > bandwidth quota, but if, for example, someone decided to hit a public file a
    > million times and sucked up all the bandwidth, would I still be able to send
    > and receive e-mail? I’m considering replacing my e-mail only service with
    > DreamHost, using it for both e-mail, web, and backup, but although it’s
    > extremely unlikely, I wouldn’t want my e-mail to get cutoff because of
    > something like that.

    Your email won’t be shutoff if you go over your bandwidth. If you come
    close to reaching your bandwidth limit, we’ll let you know ahead of time
    so that you can reduce your usage. If you do go over, you’ll just pay for
    the extra that is used and will not have your services affected by it.
    Let us know if you have any further questions.

    Thanks,
    Dan

  13. Tim says:

    Are your backups in one big file? Or is it like a bazillion little files? The thing I could see is if people were all uploading 200GB zips or what not it could cause problems since all the folders are also backed up automatically. So that 200GB file becomes multiple 200GB files, and they probably didn’t design it to handle huge files.

    They also are putting all these files on servers that are supposed to be readily available (ie ready to access any file instantly). Maybe if they had one of those huge file servers that’s a tad bit slower but insanely bigger, it would be more cost effective to put backups on that.

    As for photos, I’ve talked to them about that. I plan on using my full allotment of disk space with photos at some point, but then again that’s on a site where I’m trying to sell photos so it’s clearly not a backup

  14. Annoyed says:

    My backups are split into multiple, encrypted archives around 5 MB each.

    My backup system handles date-based changes already; if DH provided it, I’d be happy to disable their automatic backups of my backups.

  15. rlparker says:

    I’ve got mixed feelings about it too, and I understand why some are frustrated. I don’t think anyone is “actually paying for” the kind of storage that DH “makes available” – that is just overselling, but I *do* think that it is nice to have all the space your need to serve websites – and *THAT* is what DreamHost is structured to do.

    Last time I checked, FTP bandwidth was “logged” but *not* included in DreamHost users’ bandwidth quotas, so syncing 100’s of gigs of stored stuff is an additional cost to DreamHost that is not “metered” – it’s probably not a big deal for the typical site updating stuff, but it could become a big deal if everyone started backing up tons of stuff onto DreamHost’s servers.

    As obnoxious as Elliot can be at times, he has a point – you can do what you want with your own server, and that seems to me to be a better approach for those wanting backup storage.

    DreamHost’s infrastructure is designed to provide efficient serving of websites, and there would likely be significant design changes indicated if it became significantly used for backups.

    At the end of the day, I don”t think DH’s proposed charge for using the service as a backup vs a webserver is unreasonable; there may be cheaper alternatives but it would be your choice whether or not to avail yourself of that.

    I think it’s really hard to be “all things to all people”, and I’d rather see DH’s resources used to host sites than as a distributed storage, or data processing, platform – though I understand that YMMV.

  16. bignumbers says:

    This is very disconcerting. What defines files “primarily for a web site?” Do all files on your web site have to be available to the whole world? What happens if I have a full copy of all my photos, but they’re behind a password-protected image gallery script just for friends and family? Is that a web site, or an archive? How about the same thing with home videos?

    If you had 5MB encrypted backup files (per the example someone gave above) but had them with a .jpg extension – would DH try to open them to determine if they were, in fact, jpg files?

    It’s the policing that bothers me the most (and a close second is the fact they keep changing their stance on this).

  17. Matt Nordhoff says:

    @Tim:

    I’m pretty sure the filers are smart enough not to make multiple copies of a file when it isn’t modified.

    Also, they are huge and slow. :P

  18. Scott Y. says:

    Maybe I am the odd one here, but SIGN ME UP for a good secure backup plan at $0.20/GB!! I am currently paying quite a bit more than that for a rsync/rdiff-backup account to backup all my servers, and I will be more than happy to switch to DreamHost’s backup service if the price is right.

  19. Chris says:

    I’m with Dreamhost on this.
    From their point of view they don’t mind people shoving their personal photos up as they could reasonably be for friends and family, even in a password protected folder. Their problem is with the people backing up copyrighted material, they don’t own the copyright to, on their servers.
    You’re not paying for all that space and bandwidth to use it for backups. You’re paying for using it as a website. They’re a webhost not a backup solution (well now they are if you get that service). If you’re using 200meg for a website and 50gig for backups then you’re misusing your account. It’s as simple as that. Dreamhost readily admit they oversell because they know a majority of websites will never use that sort of space. However with the advent of file sharing people are needing more and more space to store stuff and using your Dreamhost space is cheaper than buying a new hard drive.
    Dreamhost has noticed this and are now offering a very fairly priced solution which also covers them as a host. If someone is uploading films onto their servers and people start downloading them then Dreamhost get taken to the cleaners for hosting copyrighted material. Then all their customers lose out when Dreamhost is shut down. Offering a non web accessible backup solution is a great idea. Your backups are safe from prying eyes and they’re not seen as hosting copyrighted material.

  20. Yurtdisi Egitim says:

    it seems like e very good web site but my English is not good. It would be great if it might be availible in other languages too. Thanks.

  21. steven says:

    I explicitly asked support last year if it was permissible to use the file space for backups. There was a clear statement that as long as the files (including legal owned mp3s) weren’t publicly accessible then this was fine. The suggestion was to have backup folders at your server space route.

    This is of course now not allowed and I have had a massive inconvenience making alternative arrangements.

    The moving of the goal posts is bad enough, but even though I had removed all ‘offending’ content within their deadlines they STILL shut all my sites down and took far too long to reinstate them.

    Thanks.