Trials and switching servers

All my sites were off today as I did an emergency switch of servers.

The whole story is amusing, so I’ll tell it. I used to host my web sites with Verio shared hosting, but they were overpriced and did some bad censorship acts, so I was itching to leave. One day my internet connection went out, so I went onto my deck with my laptop to see what free wireless there was in the area. One strong one had an e-mail address as the SSID, though it was WEP-locked. Later, I e-mailed that address with a “hi neighbour” and met the guy around the corner. He had set the SSID that way to get just such a mail as mine. (I have a URL as my SSID now for the same purpose.)

My neighbour, it turned out, knew some people I knew in the biz, and told me about a special club he was in, called “Root Club.” The first rule of Root Club, he joked, was that you do not talk about root club. Now that I’m out, I can tell the story. Root Club was started as a group of sysadmins who shared a powerful colocated web server, and all shared the root password and sysadmin duties.

This was a good idea, we could all get a very powerful machine with lots of bandwidth at a much lower price. So I joined, and it worked well for a while. There were the odd spats, and of course sometimes another user would break things to your detriment, but in general a shared machine like this will be more efficient than the type of virtual private server I ended up switching to.

This went on for years, but yesterday it was found the server had been hacked into, and was using a lot of bandwidth, perhaps for other attacks or filesharing. The founder of the club, who had set up the machine, had recently gotten much more serious in his business, and decided he didn’t want to continue with the club. The contracts for the system and colo belonged to the company and could not be easily moved.

So I went on a rapid hunt, and am now trying a virtual private server company called powervps.com. A VPS is built using a virtualization system, such as Virtuozo (for powervps) or “user mode linux.” This lets you run a virtual linux on top of a real linux box. You can run several of them. In this way, many customers (I figure 8 to 10) share a faster machine, but it looks like a private machine, on which they have root access and the works. In theory you can’t tell it from a private machine, other than the fact that you’re sharing the resources with other people, and if they generate high load, you will feel it.

But, at $45/month, it’s cheaper, and hopefully better than the dedicated servers. The low end of dedicated servers are about $100/month for an Athlon-2000 or Celeron class machine, with just one disk drive (compared to RAID for the VPS) etc. You get all of the dedicated machine, but you can never get more. On the VPS, you average a smaller share of a faster machine, but when you burst, you can use all of it, provided everybody else is not bursting at once.

An ideal situation, present in shared hosting but not yet in VPSs, would be for the company to notice things like a “slashdotting” which suddenly put a lot of load on a web site. Seeing that, the hosting company should quickly move the virtual server to its own high powered machine for the duration of the high load. Then move it back later. If the load is still high then, the site will suffer, and the customer can be encouraged to buy more capacity.

But for most people, including me, the site has a moderately level load, but every so often I will get linked to by slashdot or another popular site and see a giant spike. This would be just what I want.

Let me know of any problems.

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His name is Brad Templeton. You figure it out.
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