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How To Become A Successful Solo Low End Hosting Provider! -- How One Guy Is Succeeding In 2022!

Tom Not Oles

Back in December 2019 I spotted on Low End Talk a great offer for bare metal servers from OVH’s SoYouStart brand. As I looked at the ad, I wondered:

  • Could one guy, working solo, become a successful hosting provider?
  • Could that one guy enjoy a ton of computer learning and also actually earn 💰 profit 💰 without allocating way too much time?

It seemed like the best way to find the answer was to try! So, I rented two SoYouStart servers and began my journey toward becoming a hosting provider. Here is what has happened so far and what’s happening right now:

The SoYouStart Days
The two SoYouStart servers that I rented were Xeon D-1521 machines. Each had 32 GB of ECC RAM and two 2 TB spinning rust disks. They cost about $30 per month each.

I began by installing Proxmox on both servers and giving away accounts for free. Then I transitioned to charging.

I made a very simple website, srvr.ovh, which still can be seen on archive org. I sold a five dollar per month plan and a ten dollar per month plan.

To make a long story short, a few folks purchased services. Many people were openly unenthusiastic because the servers lacked both the fastest Ryzen CPUs and the latest, fastest NVMe disks. Others were unenthusiastic because the plans were LXC instead of KVM.

Additionally, I didn’t have any Customer Management System. And I was asking customers to use Proxmox’s “classic style” web GUI as a VM Control Panel.

The lack of the CMS and CP wasn’t because I didn’t want them! I omitted those because I didn’t find good, modern, open source solutions.

The SoYouStart Days ended abruptly when OVH’s outgoing spam filtration falsely flagged an email I sent to a customer in reply to a question the customer had emailed to me.

The falsely flagged email caused great difficulty for me! My customer, who had no way of knowing my reply had been killed, filed a chargeback!

Despite many messages with OVH Customer Service, we did not reach agreement on how to prevent future similar false positives!

The Hetzner Days

Since potential customers had complained about the OVH servers’ CPU and disks being less than the fastest, I decided to move to top notch, fast machines. The least expensive fast machines seemed to be Ryzens from Hetzner.

With tremendous help from Katie, @Hetzner_OL, and Herr Arno Pirner, Hetzner’s Head of Marketing, I got set up with fast, modern machines.

Moving to Hetzner meant that I had to change away from using the srvr.ovh name. One of my wonderful customers from my earliest days was @quangthang. He helped by putting together some cool Animate on Scroll Javascript for the new MetalVPS.com website.

Hetzner’s machines were great! Being a customer at Hetzner was great! Their onboarding was the best!

I tried selling plans based on dividing the Hetzner machines’ tremendous resources into only a few semi-dedicated units. Most people who bought them thought their performance was good!

Nevertheless, the plans were expensive, Proxmox still was in use, and there still was no Customer Management System. Revenue was insufficient to pay for the machines.

Eventually, Hetzner raised the prices for extra IPv4s and began charging sales tax for customers in my location.

I very reluctantly asked my customers to change to a new server. This meant moving from Europe to Texas, which caused a lot more latency for everybody but me.

I transferred my last Hetzner server just ahead of the price increases.

The Darkstar Days

Shortly before reluctantly leaving Hetzner I had purchased — for a great Low End price of $30 — an antique HP blade server colocated with Level One Servers in Dallas. Colocating a blade server with Level One is yet another great Low End opportunity at only $30 per month.

This antique server is a really cool, dual L5630 processor machine with 16 total cores, 48 GB ECC RAM, dual SSDs, and hardware RAID.

Something I had done on the Hetzner servers was install many different Linux distributions just to practice. One of the distributions I tried was Slackware64-current, which impressed me because everything on Slackware that I tried seemed to work without any issues. So I put Slackware64-current on the antique server and named her Darkstar, which is a traditional name for a Slackware box.

For Darkstar, I moved away from Proxmox — not that there was anything wrong with Proxmox — indeed, Proxmox works great. But my time invested with Slackware and the Linux command line brought me closer to the lower level software I wanted to learn.

For example, the Qemu on Darkstar is compiled out of Github source code rather than being installed by a package system controlled by a hypervisor like Proxmox.

Darkstar users get to run VMs directly from the command line! Their VMs can be made with Darkstar’s self-compiled Qemu.

As a further step in learning, I recently compiled the tools required for MIT’s free online Operating Systems course. I’m looking for some people who want to audit the MIT course along with me.

Only a few people want Darkstar accounts. Those who do want accounts seem to be formally educated as engineers or long time computer professionals. Occasionally we get a hard working student.

I call Darkstar a resounding success because she attracts folks who know many times more than me!

Due to Darkstar’s users being mostly engineers, industry professionals, or hard working students, MetalVPS may be pivoting from a VPS provider to something called, for lack of a better term, MetalVPS Labs.

Special Thanks To @jbiloh!

Back during the OVH and the Hetzner Days I wrote several blog posts about using Proxmox to make VMs. Those blog posts were well received by the Proxmox team, by the Administrators of the forum where they were posted, and also by the community. The blog posts led a friend to suggest my name to @jbiloh as a possible Content Creator here at Low End Box.

I am most grateful that @jbiloh did ask me to write for Low End Box! Here, I get to talk with lots of providers and lots of other Low Enders. Jon himself has tons of business experience and computer knowledge! Same with @raindog308! It’s fun for me to work and learn here! I enjoy great days here surrounded by people who teach me!

I have been offered a free LET Provider tag as a perk of my LEB Content Creator job and my work as a LET Moderator. So what’s happening today is more thinking about how best to continue with Darkstar while blogging here at Low End Box about everything Low End related.

Special Thanks To @raindog308!

I especially remember June 24, 2020, because on that day I first read @raindog308’s advice for hosting providers. I’ve since returned to reread @raindog308’s advice again and again. Maybe, during the days since December 2019, I might have at least begun to succeed in “differentiating myself” as @raindog308 suggests? How can Darkstar get more engineers, computer science professionals, and hard working students?

Differentiate yourself. If your plan is to be yet another host selling Linux VMs with Solus with a ThemeForest template based in an OVH datacenter, I think you’ll struggle. People say “I’ll offer better service!” but it needs to be more tangible than that.

Right now, small indy players lack the cloud features (block storage, hourly billing, resizing on demand, etc.) to compete with big guys and don’t offer an API. A small player who brings those to the table will have a leg up. Also those who can find some niche and really add value – e.g., if there is a specialized piece of software that you can master and be the go-to host for – can rise above the herd.

It’s tough, no doubt.

12 Comments

  1. Mel:

    Sorry, I really didn’t get much out of reading that longggggg post. Better luck next time. BTW why didn’t you try out RackNerd? Best resource and customer service in the business. jmho

    April 17, 2022 @ 6:04 pm | Reply
    • Not_Oles:

      Hi Mel! Thanks for your comment! I look forward to trying Racknerd before too long. Best wishes! Tom

      April 18, 2022 @ 12:54 am | Reply
  2. Sebastian:

    Please, I don’t want shitty drama posts or “phishing posts”

    I just want good solid technical content for modern OS (like tutorials, but Ubuntu 20, Debian 11, etc. instead of old versions on google)

    PLEASE stop the drama BS

    April 17, 2022 @ 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Not_Oles:

      Hi Sebastian! Yeah, tech content is good! Best wishes! Tom

      April 18, 2022 @ 12:56 am | Reply
    • Sebastian,

      There is a variety of content on LowEndBox — not just deals. Whether you are searching for a great price for a great hosting package, news, editorials, YouTube video content, etc, I hope you’ll find something that suits your specific interest. Either way, thanks for sharing your opinion and for browsing LowEndBox!

      April 18, 2022 @ 5:35 pm | Reply
  3. CyberMac:

    Thank you Not_Oles for sharing your experiences in starting up your own hosting service. Clearly not all the community is as supportive towards the initiative of others and the personal growth it brings. However, when they stumble over there own ineptitude, we all do at some point, their short sightedness may leave them wanting when their peers are less than supportive.

    Again Not_Oles it is insightful to read how others have applied the opportunities and knowledge provided by LEB. Keep pursuing knowledge and sharing your journey.

    All the best!

    April 17, 2022 @ 8:22 pm | Reply
    • Not_Oles:

      Hi CyberMac! Thanks for your kind words! Much appreciated! Best wishes! Tom

      April 18, 2022 @ 12:58 am | Reply
  4. > For example, the Qemu on Darkstar is compiled out of Github source code rather than being installed by a package system

    This is all fun and games until you need to spend time manually upgrade everything that you installed from source :)

    That’s why I stick with package systems, using third-party and/or backports repos where appropriate.

    April 17, 2022 @ 10:10 pm | Reply
    • Not_Oles:

      Hi Daniel15! Thanks for the good advice about compiling from source vs package systems! Your insight is much appreciated! Best wishes! Tom

      April 18, 2022 @ 1:03 am | Reply
  5. Interesting read on the background of MetalVPS and the different companies you used prior to LOS. Hope things continue to go well for you!
    Thanks for being a valued customer at LOS!

    April 19, 2022 @ 10:42 am | Reply
    • Not_Oles:

      Hi Ian! Thanks for your interest and for your good wishes! Thanks especially for the great service MetalVPS receives from Level One Servers! Tom

      April 19, 2022 @ 6:54 pm | Reply
  6. “by the Administrators of the forum where they were posted” yet you won’t mention the forum by name. Not good!

    April 19, 2022 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

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