While I work for DreamHost, and I’ve used DreamPress since day one, I haven’t have the opportunity to put a serious, stress site up on it. The reason for that is simple. The two sites I have that I might do that for are ineligible for pretty much all managed WordPress hosts … because they’re not 100% WordPress.
But. There is one domain that is, and I’ve moved it over. And this gives me an opportunity to determine what needs to be done to this site to make it fly on a different host.
All Hosts Require Site Tuning
This is possibly an unpopular opinion, but no matter which host you pick, there will never be a ‘drop it in and forget it’ option for any web host. The reason is that no two sites are the same. No two sites use the same code, have the same data, and have the same traffic patterns. And all those things come together to determine how well your site will run.
No matter who your web host is, you will have to adjust. It may be something as simple as editing an .htaccess file or removing a plugin you no longer need. Maybe it’s as complex as PHP settings or having someone write you custom code.
I don’t mean to say that no two hosts are equal, or that one is better than another. What I mean is that no two situations are identical. Of course a site will work, out of the box, better on one site than another. But when we have the capacity to understand what it is that makes our site work, what it does and how it does it, we can make any site work on nearly any host.
For DreamPress, I Made Four Changes
After I moved the site over to a test setup, I quickly debugged the ‘big’ issues. I had a white screen of death. Thankfully I knew right away what it was, because I was clearly aware of what went into my site and how it worked.
First, a lot of sanity checks I’d put in to my .htaccess didn’t work. Primarily it was a case of how I’d handled redirects, since I was using an Apache4 format that didn’t work universally.
Second, I wanted to use a phar file, so I had to add custom lines to my PHP settings to let it know how to run properly.
Third, I replaced the old caching system with the new one. DreamPress has Memcached and Varnish, so I removed some of the object caching I didn’t need anymore.
Fourth, I wrote some customized code to teach my site how to talk to Varnish, since I do weird things.
That’s it. Four things. And I was able to debug this in about an hour because I took stock of the moving parts of my website. Not everyone can do this, I understand that, but when you build out a website, even if you can’t code, it’s incumbent on you to document what you did.
When you add a plugin or a theme, you need to make a note somewhere of what it is and why you did it. I recommend someplace not on WordPress, since if your site is down, it won’t do you any good at all.
The Immediate Impact
With those four changes, the result was immediately obvious.
In the chart above, there are two major drops in speed (in this case, a drop is good). At the end of July, I reoptimized how images were processed by using Photon via Jetpack, I applied caching for FacetWP, and I removed all Google Ads. In doing so, I halved my time to load. This is a great thing.
But then, just by moving to DreamPress and doing no changes to code, I halved it again.
The average site load is now .8 seconds. It ‘spikes’ to 1.2 seconds if you hit a non-cached page. The time to first byte, which is shown on the graph as the yellow/orange line, went from 1.6 second to .1 second.
Was Everything Perfect?
No. But as it turned out, everything that wasn’t perfect had nothing to do with my new hosting setup. I reproduced the site locally and found I had some seriously slow database queries on a couple pages, which resulted in poor load times. Once I fixed that, a few of my archive pages began to fly.
Also as I mentioned in the four things I changed, I did have to write new code. The bonus for the new code is that I was also able to back port some of that into the Varnish plugin itself, which means fewer people will have to write that code. You’re welcome. But that really was more for convenience as the site ran fine, it was just a bit overly aggressive in caching.
Is DreamPress Right For Everyone?
No host is right for everyone. Period. End of conversation.
Is it right for you? Maybe. It certainly can be, and not just for generic ‘blog’ type sites. But you have to know what your site does, who uses it, and what they do to really know the right questions to be asking.
The question isn’t “Is this good for me?” but “What does this do to a site that does what I do?”