So nobody’s perfect, there’s no perfect hosting company, or bank, or car, or anything really.  But sometimes it becomes so obvious that a company’s services aren’t fit for purpose that you have to talk about it.

I’ve used 1&1 for nearly 3 years.  I was attracted by their cheap-ish unlimited offering and comprehensive self-service control panel.  They’re the (or one of the) biggest hosting companies in the world, and I thought that would at least mean that big issues get fixed quickly, even if esoteric detailed queries don’t get the level of attention that might be received elsewhere.

I have now been unable to update the DNS server settings for two of my domains for 9 days.  I initially thought it was a glitch over the New Year holidays so I left it for a few days before emailing their customer services.  They initially said I would have a response within 24-48 hours (that should be shocking in itself) but 72 hours later it’s still not working.  Apparently “an update is pending” but it has been for over a week.

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Here’s why I have a major problem with this:

  1. they prominently claim “1 CALL to speak to an expert”, but their call centre staff and email responders know practically nothing, they don’t even understand the different between the DNS server settings for a domain, the records entered on that server, and the web hosting itself – all they do is type your query in and raise a ticket via phone, or “escalate” if you email them
  2. the first response of their call handlers is to cut & paste an article from their support database – even if it’s really not relevant, and even if I’ve already stated everything I’ve done and why it hasn’t worked and more than covered their first tier questions
  3. having “escalated” the call, I have had no contact at all from anyone with any technical knowledge, just repeated replies from first tier call handlers asking for “patience”
  4. hosting management software should have built-in timeouts that automatically raise a ticket if a change hasn’t propagated within a few hours – 1&1 should have known about this and sorted it before I even knew about it – my Plesk control panel does this, the software for an international hosting company should too
  5. this should be being treated as a major, urgent issue: I know I’m only a small fry customer paying double figures for budget hosting, but this indicates a severe failure in their hosting management software – a company the size of 1&1 has the potential to have a severe negative effect on the whole Internet if their domain management software is screwed up and starts propagating junk information

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I don’t mind mistakes, the question isn’t whether a person or a company makes mistakes, it’s about how they handle it when things go wrong.  This isn’t the first time I’ve had an issue with 1&1, and generally found their approach to support frustrating.  But, usually, it’s been a system failure that presumably needed a reboot or a reimage and I’ve been back up and running within a few hours after reporting the fault. (They never give updates, or time frames, nor do they report back and explain what the problem was afterwards).  This is the first time I’ve come across a systematic failure of the sort that any decent systems manager would scramble to sort out immediately, just in case the failure turns out to be something that will leave the whois database in an inconsistent state or just screw up lots of customers’ system.

Just to be clear, this isn’t the first problem I’ve had, it’s just the first one that’s so glaringly bad that it’s worth writing about, and has made their approach to technical support really clear.  That’s why I would recommend to anyone using 1&1 to look into other options.  Their cheap packages are very tempting and, to be fair, their hosted Exchange solution is really good.  But using them is a bit like driving your car without a spare tyre – you might go years without a problem, but when something does go wrong, you’re stuck.

So…. bye bye 1&1, I would like to say it’s been fun but it really hasn’t.