Avoid 1&1 Internet like the plague

So now that I have entirely distanced myself from 1&1 Internet (as in, accounts are closed and prorated refunds have been received), I can detail the crap I went through with them that made me decide to leave. This is a long post; you may want to make yourself a sandwich first. Read on when you're ready...

I had been running my personal web hosting off of 1&1 for a few years. It was cheap, uptime was good, and they gave me loads of disk space and bandwidth. The only oddity I noticed was that they raised my monthly bill by $5 for my package without notifying me, and they would occasionally change the upper limits of my account (number of mailboxes, databases, domains, etc), but overall I didn't really mind since my usage was far below these limits.

Come to think of it there was another issue I found extremely frustrating. They provide shared hosting accounts with literally thousands of mailboxes split between all of the domains being hosted by 1&1. Unfortunately, there is no way to delegate mailbox management to a subaccount of any kind - meaning if I were hosting a hundred domains each with twenty mailboxes, I would have to manually manage all two-thousand mailboxes, unless I were willing to give away my hosting account's password - which would allow anyone with the password to do anything from transfer domains to upgrade my account to cancel my account.

To clarify, mailboxes must be created by the accountholder, and each mailbox's anti-spam and anti-virus settings cannot be managed by the user of the mailbox. At least they let users change their own passwords...

This only recently became a problem, because I started hosting websites for someone and wanted to give them control over their e-mail accounts, but I was told by 1&1 that this was not possible.

One other thing I should mention is that they don't notify a machine's users when they take the machine down for maintenance, and they have no published maintenance schedule, meaning your shared hosting account could be taken down at any time without notice for maintenance. This isn't particularly good for a business.

I suppose these things should have been a red flag - for example, I don't think they should ever change account limits after someone has signed up - but it was probably in the service agreement, so I can't blame them too much for that; it's mostly my fault for either not noticing or not complaining.

In any case, 1&1 served my needs quite well, and the cost was quite low, enough so that last year I recommended 1&1 to my employer for their websites.

Within two months, we ran into our first issue. You see, 1&1 gives you access to a certain number of MySQL databases, each of which are limited to 100MB in size. A heavily edited wiki will quickly surpass this size limit; we didn't notice until we hit 140MB and the database account was restricted.

Unfortunately, not only did they block inserts into the database, but after reducing the database size manually via phpMyAdmin, inserts were still blocked. For those of you who are unfamiliar with wikis, they make a log entry whenever someone logs in - and that fails without write access to the database. That meant nobody could use the wiki still. We eventually had to create a brand new separate database load the data into it, and point the wiki there.

We decided that this was something we could work around, so we decided not to make too big an issue out of it.

One day in January, all of our websites started spitting out "500 Internal Server Error"s. FTP and SSH still worked, but Apache was no longer serving pages. I called in to technical support and was told that there was no maintenance scheduled, but she would tell the system to reset the machine and it would work within an hour. End call.

Ninety minutes later, I called back. By this time I had determined on my own that Apache still served non-PHP URIs - it was just PHP that wasn't working. She told me she didn't know why it didn't work, and that she'd need my FTP username and password to take a look around. I refused, telling her that their system administrators had access if need be. End call.

Half an hour later I got an e-mail from them asking for my FTP username and password. I replied that they had root access to those machines, and therefore had no need for my FTP username and password; they had my account number and they knew the domain name I was having trouble with, so there could be no confusion about where to look in their system.

An hour later, they responded saying that unfortunately they couldn't do anything without my FTP username and password and oh by the way your account has hit the 12-process limit so you should fix that.

What? 12-process limit? Their website mentions no such limits, and nowhere in the account control panel do I see information about that limit; why would I not only hit that limit, but hit it constantly for several hours?

I logged on via SSH to find twelve PHP processes apparently stuck in an infinite loop. I killed them and immediately our websites were accessible again.

Barring infinite loops, what this limit means is that a 1&1 shared hosting account can only handle twelve simultaneous page views (where each page view requires spawning php, python, or perl). That means if thirteen people go to any of our dozen websites within the same second, at least one of them will get an internal server error instead of the webpage. We tested this with two computers each having seven of our sites bookmarked; opening the set of bookmarks simultaneously on each machine resulted in five internal server errors.

This situation's "resolution" was absolutely unacceptable. Not so much the existence of the limit itself, but the fact that they don't tell anyone about the limit coupled with the fact that they didn't bother checking my account's process usage at any point during the three hours I was in contact with 1&1's technical support until the very end. If they know about the limit, shouldn't they check it for problems like this?

Did anyone notice that she said she was resetting the machine? If she really reset the machine, wouldn't the runaway processes be cleared? Basically, she lied to me.

At this point I started looking for alternatives for both my personal hosting and my employer's hosting, eventually settling on Slicehost. (If you sign up, use this link or enter heron@xnapid.com as the referrer so I get credit!)

Ah, but the 1&1 story doesn't end there. I started moving my personal stuff over to Slicehost, using GoDaddy as domain registrar. I had been using 1&1 to register my domains, since they are cheap and I was using them for hosting anyway. Well, it turns out that they don't provide any ability at all to transfer domains away from 1&1.

In other words, when I initiate a domain transfer with GoDaddy, GoDaddy walks me through the process (selection, payment, entering the authorization code, etc) all the way to the point where the source registrar is supposed to let me finalize the transfer. The catch is, 1&1 doesn't provide a method to do this. (Note that in this situation GoDaddy just waits five days and then completes the transfer anyway.)

Begin call to technical support. I asked him to expedite the domain name transfer to GoDaddy, because as soon as the transfers were complete I was going to close my 1&1 account, and every day they delayed meant I'd get one day less in my prorated refund. He told me this was not possible to do manually, and that their system would automatically complete the transfer in five days. (Five days... sound familiar?) I told him that it is indeed possible, because their system allows instantaneous domain transfers between 1&1 customers, just not for transfers away from 1&1. He didn't believe me.

Then I asked him to explain to me why the 1&1 Control Panel claims that if you unlock a domain, the transfer will be completed automatically and immediately. Five days is hardly immediate! He said that a transfer requires manual approval before it can be completed.

So now he's told me two contradictory things; first, that there is no way to expedite the process because it is done automatically by their system, and second, that all transfers require manual approval. I asked him to reconcile this contradiction; he said it's done automatically.

Alright. I asked him to transfer me to a supervisor who could get ahold of someone who could manually expedite the domain transfer. He put me on hold for five minutes or so, then came back and told me that his supervisor said there is no way to do what I want.

End call.

Basically they held my domains hostage for five days, preventing me from closing my 1&1 account and reducing the prorated refund I would receive from them. It felt manipulative and shady.

I must strongly recommend against 1&1, not only for their poor business practices but for their flat-out terrible technical support. Go anywhere else - just avoid 1&1 like the plague.