Illusory Follies Andrew Flanagan's Blog

30Jan/081

VPS Hosting

So I had been looking for a new VPS host... I've used GoDaddy for a while and although it was decent a few years ago because of it's pointy-clicky Plesk interface, I've since found that it's easier to maintain it myself at the command line. I'm still running Fedora Core 2 and in order to upgrade, it's really painful. Back in the day, there were packages that I could install but now my only real option is to upgrade the OS entirely (which involves backing up, wiping, and restoring). Seems easier to move to a Gentoo-based VPS, save a few shekels, and get better performance. I also previously only used my server for hosting simple LAMP web sites. I'd like to move towards not only Apache/MySQL/PHP but also Ruby on Rails, Subversion, Trac, and other things.

So, my two main options were VPSLink in Seattle, WA and Slicehost in St. Louis, MO. These were chosen somewhat arbitrarily based off of reviews (mostly "personal" type reviews from blogs).

I purchased a 1GB RAM VPS for a month from VPSLink and a 3 month 512MB RAM VPS from SliceHost. Prices for equivalent products are very close but SliceHost does require a minimum of 3 months.

First off, I noticed that my ping time is obviously pretty good to the Seattle based VPSLink. I get 30-40ms response. I get 50-60ms response from SliceHost. Now, I remote into a server in the D.C. area and try again. Now I get a response time of 90-100ms for VPSLink and 30-40ms for SliceHost. This seems to make sense since SliceHost is more centrally located. Since my website traffic is fairly evenly spread across the U.S. (only rarely overseas) this seems to be a plus for SliceHost.

I like the SliceHost management interface. It's a "developer" type interface that's very simple but very fast and gives me a lot of flexibility. I don't like the VPSLink interface. It's annoying and (as I just noticed tonight -- doesn't always seem to be exactly running). Most of the features are similar but I do feel like I can really control things better with SliceHost. For starters, the VPSLink is dog-slow compared to SliceHost and also has separate sections for billing, support, management, etc. It's a pain to deal with. SliceHost is essentially one page with tabs. And it has more features like the rescue mode (mentioned below).

Well, the VPS with VPSLink is FAST. I do an emerge --sync && emerge world and I get the entire Gentoo installation updated quickly. However, now things seem a little odd and it seems like something's caused a memory leak. Rather than chase it down, I do a reboot instead. Whoops -- mistake. Gentoo (configured in a Xen environment) has a known bug which causes some problems. A trivial fix but I need to boot with a Live CD or something similar. And my server is in a data center in Seattle somewhere. Hmmm... I contact tech support -- do they offer a Live CD equivalent boot? They do not. SliceHost does. This is a big deal overall. Especially with Gentoo, I have a bad habit of goofing something up and breaking my boot process. Since I've always dealt with locally stored boxes, it's just a minor annoyance to have to connect a monitor and keyboard to the system and resolve the issue. However, the only fix VPSLink offers is "rebuild the box". So if I break the boot process, I lose ALL data on the box. Ouch.

So, after one month of using SliceHost and not really being excited about rebuilding my VPSLink box AGAIN, I've canceled VPSLink and have begun to migrate all websites from my old Fedora Core 2 server to the new SliceHost Gentoo. It seems stable, fast, and reliable and if I do make a mess of things I'm confident I can get it back up and running without too much pain.

Over the last week I've spent FAR too much time trying to resolve little things like successfully getting non-Roman characters into the MySQL database (it's odd the way the Gentoo MySQL USE flags work), getting Apache updated and still having PHP work, resolving a mess of library dependencies (I got to use revdep-rebuild -- yay!) and also playing with Jails and getting an SSH account setup that chroot's it to it's web page root. All fun stuff but time consuming. I love Gentoo though -- it's not always the cleanest but it seems like you're never "stuck". Or at least that's been my experience.

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