For the past three years, my Web hosting has been on a colocated server in Brisbane, Queensland (Australia). Assurances from the provider of how this would be replaced should it fail, have been vague and uncomforting. (I have always maintained a copy on a server in my office, which can take over should the worst happen – albeit slowly.) With that same provider not answering questions like why my RAID1 array only had one disc in it and never getting back to me on what was going to happen about replacing the machine at the end of its service life, I decided that it was time to move on.
Since about August 2006, I made various investigations into hosting alternatives, especially virtual Hosting using Xen and similar. After another unannounced network outage, when I was not even able to reach my provider, I realised that the time had come to act, and to do so swiftly.
Unlike colocated hosting, virtual hosting often comes with no lock-in contracts or minimum terms, at least greater than a month. This gave me the opportunity to do some evaluations before I made a final decision and migrated all my sites, mailing lists, etc.
Evaluation included, but was not restricted to the following:
- Full virtual server, with root access essential.
- Must be able to run Gentoo Linux – I was tired of having to maintain multiple distributions. (The old colocated server ran Fedora Core, which I hated from the outset.)
- Included bandwidth to exceed, by a large factor, the measly 1Gb inbound of my colocated server.
- Connectivity must be such that SSH sessions from my location in South Australia should not be noticably slower than to the colocated server.
- Must be cheap!
The first to try was VPSLink. These virtual servers are located in a data centre in Seattle, WA. The major attraction here was the pricing of the packages – really, really cheap.
Unfortunately, VPSLink failed for me in two respects:
- The virtualisation used is OpenVz. Whilst, superficially, the client system looks like a normal Linux installation, trying to run regular performance tools like free and top, everything goes horribly weird. For me, this is just too confusing. I want every Linux installation to behave pretty much like every other one.
- SSH sessions from my location are just too slow. As this was my first test of a host in the USA, I was rather worried that this would be the case for all; fortunately, this did not prove to be the case.
Linode was my second system to test; my first Linode is located at Hurricane Electric in Fremont, California. Whereas VPSLink delivered a familiar Stage 3 Gentoo installation, from which I am used to working, my Linode had other bits set up already, which I found a little confusing. However, the speed of my SSH session more than made up for that little annoyance.
Somehow, and I am not entirely sure how, I managed to get an SSH authentication problem within a short time of starting to set up. For a server on the other side of the planet, this could have been a bit of a nuisance, were it not for the fact that by SSHing to another address, one can actually get remote console access, which absolutely rocks. Quick software update and I was on my way again.
Once I had completed installation and configuration, looking around my new system was like looking around a physical Linux server, apart from not being able to touch the kernel. Linodes run User Mode Linux (UML); free and top run as one would expect them to. In addition to these, the virtual file /proc/io_status provides information on disc IO, which is rationed for fairness.
Linode seems to have a more busy user community than VPSLink and, more to the point, the Linode staff are participants.
As soon as my first Linode was up and running, I had already decided that I much preferred this to my VPSLink. After a little more evaluation, I dumped the VPSLink and set up a second, smaller Linode, located at The Planet in Dallas, Texas.
I have now migrated everything from the colocated box, done a data destruction and shut it down. With full redundancy, with better connectivity and an equivalent of at least 25 times the bandwidth to my colocated server, I am delighted that I am now only paying two thirds as much, sparing my clients any price-hikes this year.
I love my Linodes.