Maybe you have run into your current webhost limitations or you discovered that running your own server is cheaper than whatever piecemeal services a dedicated provider might sell you. Or maybe you want to run a service that is either not offered or too expensive for your requirements. Or you consider a VPS an essential part of a mobile lifestyle. Either way, we shall quickly review how to accomplish that.
Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, a Virtual Private Server or VPS can be remarkably cheap, even with cached SSD. In fact, a decent VPS at 128 or 256 MB can cost less than $1/month and even if oversold, that should be sufficient for a good learning experience. Cheap VPS comes with numerous restrictions, such as no TOR, no game servers, no torrents, etc – be sure to check your TOS (terms of service).
Most people “graduate” to a VPS when, for some reason, their existing dedicated webhost is no longer sufficient. I started looking into VPSs when I became unsatisfied with my webhost, at that time 1and1.
Most VPSs use as their underlying (platform) virtualization software Xen, KVM or OpenVZ. Most low-end boxes use OpenVZ, as that is simpler and allows for a better utilization of hardware resources. In practice, this means that OpenVZ VPSs are often oversold and usually cheaper than either KVM or Xen. From the provider’s perspective, OpenVZ also offers the possibility to add more hardware without downtime and more easily migrate configurations, but is restrictive in that it generally allows for only Linux. Xen on the other hand is harder (though not impossible) to oversell and as such the hardware specs the client gets are less likely to be “overrun” or “stolen” from you by a misbehaving customer. (For OpenVZ, VSwap instead of UBC is recommended, though you are unlikely to see that anymore.) KVM is a newer tech than Xen, and as such more promising and with better resource separation, which comes at a slight performance and efficiency cost.
When it comes to OS, CentOS is the most popular Linux-based server distribution deployed on VPSs due mostly to its long upgrade / support cycle – 10 years. It is a community-supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and it uses the “yum” package manager. Another popular OS is Ubuntu, which is based on Debian, both using the “apt” package manager; the first has a 3 year upgrade / support cycle, while Ubuntu has about 5 years. If you are looking for a very minimalist install, Debian offers that, though both Ubuntu and CentOS can be brought to a “bare” state as well. Debian and Ubuntu are not officially supported with cPanel (a visual “command center” that makes deploying websites easy), but then again, its minimum requirements are 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended for multiple accounts) and 20 GB space (40 GB recommended), which may be over what you get with a low-end box.
As a rule of thumb, a 32bit OS will be slightly faster, while a 64-bit will be able to handle (address) more memory.
For a low-end, cheap learning machine, you might want to choose OpenVZ with Minimal Debian, latest version (currently 7.6, codename wheezy) as that will use the least resources out of the box.
Many new providers start by advertising cut-throat pricing for low-end boxes as a “loss-leader” in the hope that customers will get to try their services and eventually upgrade to better packages. Such offers tend to be advertised on a specialized forum such as lowendtalk or webhostingtalk or a list such as FrugalBoxes or lowendstock. Here is a sampling of such offers.
1. Located in Canada, this provider (BV) has been “attacking” the low-end market for a few years with very good reviews. Initially, its $15/yr offer was perpetually sold out, but that seems to have changed more recently, as even cheaper providers have appeared in the low-end landscape.
128MB guaranteed - 256MB Burstable RAM
15GB SSD cached RAID10
500GB Premium (1GB) Bandwidth
1 Virtual Core
- 1 Gbps burstable port
- 1 IPv4 & 16 IPv6
- custom “Stallion” control panel
- locations: Buffalo, New Jersey, Las Vegas
- DDOS protection $3/month/IP, up to 8,000,000 packets-per-second of filtering or 20gbit/sec for volumetric floods
- Camfrog is fine, mailing lists must be approved, BT must be capped, TOR exit nodes forbidden, no pentest, IRC allowed but no “drama” or botnetting
2. This provider (WLS) seems to have started their low-end VPS offers in 2013 and has locations in UK and USA, though their low-end offer is only available in USA.
- 256MB RAM
- 128MB vSwap
- 1 vCPU core
- 10GB HDD space
- 250GB traffic
- 100Mbps uplink –> 1Gbps
- 1x IPv4
- locations: buffalo, dallas, los angeles, orlando
- Intel Xeon E3-1240 or dual Intel Xeon E5-2620processors with 32GB or 128GB of RAM and hard drives in hardware RAID10 + complementary dns
- VPN, adult & IRC allowed; no bt, gameservers
3. This provider (A) is not with Colocrossing but rather with Incero and has frequent discount offers for the first month.
- 1 Accessible E3 Core (3.3+ GHz)
- 128 DDR3 ECC/128 MiB RAM/vSwap
- 7 GiB RAID10 SSD-Cached Space (only reads)
- 75 or 150 GiB Data at 1gbps
- 1 IPv4 Address
- 16 IPv6 Addresses
- IRC, game servers and adult content allowed
4. 123systems.net offers 128MB VPS for $5/year, 256MB for $9/year and 512MB for $14/year, but reviews are mixed – some people complain that their tickets are never answered and the provider seems swamped in offers.
Benchmark results may be found on serverbear, but you can also run and explore on your own. Prices are low enough for you to open an account on more than one provider, then test, compare, and keep the one that best fulfills your requirements.
To see the processor, cat /proc/cpuinfo. A typical dd test would run:
$ dd if=/dev/zero of=test bs=64k count=16k conv=fdatasync
16384+0 records in 16384+0 records out 1073741824 bytes (1.1 GB) copied, 3.619 s, 297 MB/s
You could also do:
$ wget cachefly.cachefly.net/100mb.test -O /dev/null --2012-07-08 18:51:57-- http://cachefly.cachefly.net/100mb.test
104,857,600 23.0M/s in 4.5s
Let us now see how to set up and secure this brand new VPS.