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You Get What You Paid For, Sometimes

One aim for running this website is to find the cheapest root you can find on the Internet (legally, of course :) For me I just want to have my own little box that I can do whatever I want, and install whatever software I want on it. I do not have a big budget for the playground so I am setting an artificial limit of USD$7/month for virtual servers — a price point that you probably cannot get decent shared hosting packages.

However, one problem of being cheap is — you usually get what you paid for, i.e. cheap service. And I am not talking about unmanaged service where you are responsible to set up every piece of software and are responsible to keep the box up-to-date. I am talking about cheap & nasty hosts. Some of them are probably under-age with no previous sysadmin experience. Some put artificial limit on your server to explicitly cripple them to completely unusable. Some never reply your support tickets, when your server went off-line every second day. Some even accuse you for running warez or malware in order to boot you off, when all you have is securely patched WordPress blog site. (Okay, I know mentioning WordPress and security is a bit of oxymoron but hopefully you’ve got my point…)

If you want horror stories, hosting industry is never short of them, and it is especially true with low end products like the VPS listed here. Got an email from M.N. complaining about a VPS provider that I’ve listed here. I am publishing the email but I am masking off the name of the host, as I have no prove whether the claim is true.

… But I’m having problems with one I found in you site. <provider name removed> My service started on the first week of june, and stop working 2 weeks later.

I would like you to put a post, alerting people to stay away from they.

You can’t get in contact with then in any way. I tried every single email, contact form and phone calls.

Since his domain was created at <date removed, somewhere early 2008>, I’m pretty sure that it’s site is a fraud.

Yes it sucks to have your server offline but the provider is no where to be found. Looking at their history is a good way to check their credibility, and a domain that was registered recently might be a sign of a new business, which might be a sign of untrustworthy. I do not want to be the one who is judgemental here so I do not really want to post my discoveries — so make sure you do your own home work!

On another note, this blog seems to be popular amongst the Chinese/Taiwanese VPS users, and being able to read/write Chinese myself, reading their sites give me some insight on what providers I ought to avoid (thank you Wayne and Matt for being the guinea pig :)

Currently I have two low-end VPS with Virtual-Dedicated.net and RapidXen. Both of them are pretty much trouble free so far. Here are some tips on picking the right low-end provider:

  • If you are not sure which one to go for, pick VPS providers with Xen over OpenVZ alternatives. You’ll find less surprises with your VPS as it behaves more like a dedicated server. It is arguably more demanding to manage so you are less likely to get an incompetent provider as well.
  • If you are not game enough, stick to the big and trustworthy names. From the comparison matrix, I will probably go for either VPSLink, Virtual-Dedicated.net or VPS Village. VPSLink is backed by Spry.com, which has many many years of managed Virtuozzo experience in Seattle, WA. VPS Village is backed by GrokThis.net, which again has years of experience in Xen hosting in Philadelphia, PA. Virtual-Dedicated.net/Datarealm is too a veteran with over a decade of experience in hosting industry.
  • Do a search on WebHosting Talk, and never be the guinea pig. If the service looks too good to be true, there are always going to be people trying them out for you. Wait for at least 2-3 months for follow up reports if you want to be sure.

The reason why I picked RapidXen is because some kind of trust I guess. When I did my own research on that business, I found it was started by William Pitcock/nenolod, who is a recognisable FOSS and Debian contributor, i.e. someone who probably know more about server administration than you do.

Well. At the end of the day shopping for a cheap VPS is just like shopping for the cheap Chinese import on eBay — sometimes you just don’t know what you are going to get. Actually shopping for VPS is arguably easier because there are a lot of tools (Google, WHT, this blog, etc) you can use to do your own research before you commit a purchase. And make sure you do!

Latest posts by LEA (see all)


  1. Did you ever run a Unixbench test on a Datagrealm box? I’m a little interested on it :D

    July 8, 2008 @ 5:27 am | Reply
  2. @Wayne — here you go.

    TEST                                        BASELINE     RESULT      INDEX
    Dhrystone 2 using register variables        376783.7  3781666.5      100.4
    Double-Precision Whetstone                      83.1      999.5      120.3
    Execl Throughput                               188.3     1329.0       70.6
    File Copy 1024 bufsize 2000 maxblocks         2672.0    69469.0      260.0
    File Copy 256 bufsize 500 maxblocks           1077.0    23706.0      220.1
    File Read 4096 bufsize 8000 maxblocks        15382.0   439690.0      285.8
    Pipe Throughput                             111814.6   399851.4       35.8
    Pipe-based Context Switching                 15448.6    63579.4       41.2
    Process Creation                               569.3     2873.7       50.5
    Shell Scripts (8 concurrent)                    44.8      254.4       56.8
    System Call Overhead                        114433.5   592676.7       51.8
         FINAL SCORE                                                      89.8

    Personally I don’t believe in the unixbench as they say little about real world performance.

    As of Datarealm — it runs fine but not without downtime. You get 1mbps unmetered which is good as a hacked site won’t be able to start a DoS on it, but downloading software packages will take longer time. The biggest itch would be their kernel, which is RHE 4 based, i.e. 2.6.9.

    July 8, 2008 @ 6:11 am | Reply
  3. Webmister:

    I’ve been keeping my eye on RapidXen and was hoping to subscribe their service at the end of this week or next week.

    The owner in fact appears to be both a nice guy and trustworthy, plus his non-VPS hosting company appears to be around for some years now being the only complaints so far regarding his spam filter, that seems to filter way too much.

    I myself never got a reply to my last email about the promotional offer (keyworks like “promotional” + nazi spam filter = @#$%), which is kind of frustrating since I feel my primary mean of communication has been compromised.. and sending more mails about the subject can only make things worst from a spam filter perspective.

    Hopefully everything will be sorted out via his IRC channel, when I am not in a hurry and pressed by all the work..

    July 8, 2008 @ 9:18 am | Reply
  4. I think although the result can not be believed in entirely, it can show the performance from some aspect. So I always do the test when I get a new box.

    July 9, 2008 @ 2:37 am | Reply
  5. One thing to watch for with Xen hosts is the strange memory allocation. For instance, with my previous OpenVZ host a stack of dropbear+nginx+php-cgi+tinydns was around 40MB. With my current Xen provider, I only have 6MB left free from 64MB, and 20MB free in cache. Also, VSZ numbers on XEN seem to be 2.5 times bigger than on OpenVZ.

    July 9, 2008 @ 6:37 pm | Reply
  6. Webmister:

    Any chance commenting on RapidXen uptime and/or experience (although I am not looking for the 64bit version)?

    The reason I won’t choose Daterealm is their 1Mbps bandwidth cap. Don’t get me wrong, but for that kind of bandwidth I would rather setup my own box with my DSL connection.

    July 9, 2008 @ 8:55 pm | Reply
  7. @Dude — rather than strange memory allocation on Xen, I think it is more of strange memory *accounting* on OpenVZ. On VZ your cached + buffer is not counted towards your memory usage, however all your malloc() gets counted towards your privvmpages straight away even before the memory is committed. If you are used to dedicated servers or VMWare, OpenVZ/Virtuozzo just feels awkward.

    VSZ is not as important as a lot of programs allocate more than they use.

    @Webmister — I did have some drama with RapidXen at the beginning (due to my own fault in the first place) so the uptime wasn’t that great. 64bit is also making no sense for 64MB VPS I found.

    Performance wise it is not bad. I got one core of Opteron 2216 (2.4GHz) which is more than sufficient.

    Do note that it has no control panel but they do provide you tty access via Xen to fix FUBAR’ed VPS (neither do Datarealm).

    I fully understand your concern about Datarealm’s bandwidth cap. I don’t really notice it unless I am doing upgrades which requires me downloading lots of packages. I am using this box as a low end web server + secondary MX so uptime is more important to me than the bandwidth.

    July 10, 2008 @ 12:40 am | Reply
  8. Ted:

    At 5$ I have 2 64MB vpses with both
    rapidxen.net & prgmr.com (both XEN providers)
    and they are fantastic.

    So I would suggest you keep listing 5$ hosts :)
    but dont list them till they have been around for awhile.

    July 10, 2008 @ 5:28 pm | Reply
  9. Webmister:

    Thank you for your feedback Ted. (is your RapidXen VPS in Chicago?)

    I myself already have one of these ultra-cheap-low-end VPS with VPSLink (Xen 64MB — Link1 plan) being so far my one and only gripe the fact their ping is way to high for my European location (above 200ms on average). It’s still awesome value for the price tag I have paid, given that I decided to go crazy and prepay 24months during their 50% off anniversary offer. [Don’t do this at home kids! — Although this is Spry we are talking about ;)]

    Rock stable and only with one short network shortage that I can remember during this 2 months.

    Now I need another VPS for my personal hosting needs, but this time I will only pay on a per month basis (like everyone should). I was really looking after the USD$6 plan from VPSVillage, but they don’t accept PayPal, and I vividly don’t recommend anyone using their real hard credit card data for purchasing this kind of services, regardless of reputation (issues are harder to solve when the other side can still charge you regardless of the service provided or what you may say..)

    That’s why I am looking towards RapidXen, that seems to be a pretty decent alternative and their ping to my European location isn’t that bad considering they are stationed in the US (average slightly above 150ms).

    Hope my comments aren’t getting tiresome to read, but I am really looking for all the information I can gather for my next personal VPS.

    July 10, 2008 @ 10:41 pm | Reply
  10. Webmister:

    Forgot to mention a few useful things,

    1) VPSLink provides their own nameservers and have a pretty nifty interface to manage them.

    2) I already knew their service (managed some VPS accounts from them) for a few months *prior* to jumping for a 24month prepay. It wasn’t *just* the tempting price, never fall for those type of schemes, but rather the fact I already knew what I was paying for and how reliable things were so far.

    3) VPSLink does offer both tty and ssh access from their account management area using some java applet. The tty is pretty useful for those times where one get’s too carried away securing the VPS and locks himself out.. (already happened to me!)

    Sidenote: Their IP range seams particularly prone to brute-force root password attacks.. Never do the mistake of leaving sshd on port 22 and/or having a short root password (if possible disable password login and opt for RSA keys).

    July 10, 2008 @ 11:07 pm | Reply
  11. @Webmister — thank you for the comments. I too have a VPS with VPSLink (but a larger Link3 hosting other projects) and it has been rock solid for the last two years I have been with them. Yes it has been that long. I do personally prefer US West Coast providers because I’m at the other side of the planet :)

    Another good feature for a Seattle based VPS is its closeness to Amazon’s data center, if you need to use the Amazon web services from inside your VPS.

    I also agree about the credit card vs. PayPal and would like to use PayPal for online services whenever possible. It is not that the provider is dodgy and fraudulent — sometimes you just cannot trust your credit card details being stored on a 3rd party database. Sites get hacked and your credit card detail is now in every mafia’s pocket…

    July 11, 2008 @ 12:02 am | Reply
  12. Ted:

    Yes.. I have rapidxen in chicago.

    I just tracerouted to about a dozen or so ips
    spread all over europe and you are looking at
    about 110ms of latency, everything went
    through HE.Net

    July 11, 2008 @ 3:15 am | Reply
  13. @Ted: yeah, we (RapidXen/SystemInPlace) only have HE at the moment. infact, in a few weeks, we’re upgrading our core to 10GigE (right now, we have four gigabit handoffs).

    We’re probably going to add Telia once we get our own ASN and BGP going.

    July 16, 2008 @ 2:51 am | Reply

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