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Choosing a VPS hosting provider

As part of my ongoing effort to reduce technology administration, I’ve also been looking at fully managed hosting.   Right now, I have a dedicated server at SoftLayer, which has been a fantastic hosting provider.   But, I have to manage the server, which means keeping up with all the updates, handling backups, etc.  It’s not a lot of work, but it’s something I’d rather not do.   Also, a dedicated server is way overkill for what I need, I think CPU utilization is at 0.01% or something.  And virtualized hosting technologies have come a long way in the last 3 years, making fully-managed dedicated-like machines widely available.

So, I set out to find a fully managed server, preferably provisioned as a virtual server since that would probably give me better backup.  There are a lot of routes to this, including cloud services.   It turns out that cloud services are actually substantially more expensive that what I pay for a dedicated box and few offer fully managed systems even at that high cost.   So I was basically left with traditional virtual private server (VPS) offerings.   In this space, there are basically two models – Xen or Virtuozzo, aka. OpenVZ (at least on Linux…).  Xen has the advantage of providing dedicated resources (memory/CPU) to the VPS, where as Virtuozzo has guarantees and bursting, sort of like cooperative multi-tasking.  Generally what this means is that Xen has fewer VPSs on a single server than Virtuozzo as there is no possibility to share resources between VPSs.  In practice, it also means that Xen VPS hosting is also quite a bit more expensive than Virtuozzo.

So, with that in mind, I set off to find some hosting providers.    There are a LOT of hosting providers, and the real difficulty is identifying those which have relatively good performance, service quality, price and features.  Here are the ones I seriously considered:

Most of these were extensively researched by reading forum posts (in WebHostingTalk and quite a few various other forums) about various providers.   These providers consistently come up as recommended and, in the case of ServInt, WiredTree, KnownHosts, JaguarPC and LiquidWeb, actively participate in the discussions.  It was also particularly instructive to see how hosting providers worked to resolve client problems.   I also looked at how long a company had been around and what their finances might be like, and did some network tests to check connectivity.   All this research was done over a span of about two months, with the final decision to be done before Xmas 2009. There are plenty of cheaper providers (these are about $50/mo for their cheapest offerings), but you get what you pay for and it’s hard to make decent margins at the cheapest prices.

Finally, I also considered EC2 using this image but it’s unmanaged, so it was a non-starter.

I would note that if you are a business with any sort of traffic, while a VPS is fine (and should be considered a minimum), you really should have your own dedicated system, particularly if it contains sensitive client information.   My recommendations are either – which I have used for 3 companies over the last 10 years (and I never once has a failure); and SoftLayer – which I have used for the last 3 years for my personal system. The absolute cheapest dedicated hosting I have seen is VolumeDrive, but I have never used them, so can’t really speak about it.

In the end, I would up on a VPS from ServInt (which is where you are reading this from…).  They had the best ROI and features combination.   The very close runner up was WiredTree.   Really, you can’t go wrong with either, and I choose ServInt only because they offered Plesk’s Power Panel as a management UI, which, although I dislike most of these GUI tools, I like better than C-panel.

I’m almost done migrating sites from SoftLayer to ServInt and it’s been pretty easy.   After that, I’ll have to deal with email migration (ugh).

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