Migrating from Webfaction to Lightsail


Posted on 2019-03-13 in  hosting,  ubuntu,  linux


Going back to 2011, I've used Webfaction for hosting various personal and family websites, email forwarding and file storage. For $9.50/mo, I get 100GB of storage (which I'm not convinced is actually enforced) on a massive 24 core Linux beast, a shell account with all the developer goodies you could ask for and a full-featured and well-designed web control panel. Their support has been good the few times I've needed it, and the company just has a cool bootstrapped feel to it. Webfaction has a sensibly limited and well-executed scope that is rarely found in a business that's been around as long as they have.

Unfortunately, they've sold out to GoDaddy. Ugh. I've spent the past few months migrating all my domains (both registrations and DNS) from GoDaddy to AWS Route53. I finally don't have anything in that account any more, and here my hosting company is about to force me back into the GoDaddy sphere.

GoDaddy is the hosting company developers love to hate. We use them at work for domain registrations because they're cheap and they do that fairly well. We also use them for certificates when Let's Encrypt doesn't fit the bill. But whenever a customer actually hosts their website at GoDaddy, it doesn't go well at all. My sense has been that if you just want to do a control panel install of WordPress and use it from that interface, it probably works -- VERY slowly. But for a developer trying to do anything else, it never seems to go well. And their support for doing anything outside of their web control panel is useless. To be fair, GoDaddy does well with basic support - it's responsive and effective, but their expertise is very limited. I've also had a few interactions that make me want to push them off a cliff. Recently, a GoDaddy support staffer tried to refuse refunding an unused (never even issued) and fairly expensive certificate - something that costs them nothing. They claimed I'd passed the 5 day limit for refunds. When I asked where that policy was stated on their website, they pointed to something clearly applying to domain names, not certificates. I had to threaten escalating the issue to my credit card company before they finally caved and gave me the refund. It's interactions like that - and the pain I've seen developers go through trying to get custom-built sites working in their environment - that makes Webfaction's migration to GoDaddy a non-starter for me. I won't even get into the abrasively sexist marketing they're well known for.

Add to that the lack of information from Webfaction about the migration. It's fairly non-existant. No useful detail. The Webfaction forums are filled with angry customers asking what the hell is going on. Rather than get into that fray only to get more frustrated, I'm taking this opportunity to move to my own server, something I've considered doing for a while any way.

Lightsail is the slightly more consumer-friendly version of AWS's EC2 cloud infrastructure service. While I use a personal AWS account for S3 and Route53 and know the EC2 tools well - I use them extensively at work - Lightsail offers some niceties that fit my personal use better. It offers a streamlined control panel for managing instances, snapshots, IPs and the like. Most importantly, it has a simple monthly fixed price for a server rather than the hard-to-predict per second pricing EC2 uses. And for developers, Lightsail can be managed via the aws-cli, which I love.

So I've created an Ubuntu server with 2GB of RAM and a 60GB SSD for hosting a handful of Wordpress and static sites (including this one) and forwarding email for some of my domains. It's been a pleasure to set up and I now have root access to my hosting environment, which is handy. At $10/mo, this has cost parity with Webfaction, and I'm not losing any features. The whole setup took me 2 evenings - maybe a total of 5 hours, which includes 5 site migrations and a postfix configuration I'd never done before.

One lesson learned is to use the plain Linux image and not one of the preconfigured application instances. I started with a Wordpress instance, figuring it would save me time installing stuff, only to find out it's a Bitnami install. Bitnami does not do things in a standard way and is not appropriate, in my humble oppinion, for a production server. Great for development - not so much for production. So I scrapped that and took the time to build it out myself.

Farewell, Webfaction. It's been good. Do something fun with your GoDaddy payout!


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