Virtualisation and web hosting

I’ve been gradually starting to migrate bits of this site over to a VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosted on Amazon’s AWS. I’d originally come across the concept of a VPS at a previous job which had been offered a Slicehost instance for test purposes. While I’d experimented with Ubuntu on the desktop before, and had used a Linux shell routinely on shared hosting machines, I’d never really had a reason to learn what was going on behind the scenes. The combination of root access with a reason to use it provided a substantial motivation to learn more, and the fantastic Slicehost articles soon had me running GeoServer on Tomcat behind an Apache reverse proxy. No matter what it all meant – an exciting new world beckoned, and I wanted my own part of it.

I’d heard of AWS, and investigating more turned up an unexpected bonus. Amazon’s masterplan (which is actually a really good deal) is to offer a “Free Usage Tier“, providing enough for a free VPS for a whole year. I signed up immediately and soon got things going, learning my way around both Amazon’s infrastructure and Ubuntu server.

Although I’ve made great use of the server for learning and testing, is still looking pretty spartan, and this is in part due to my reluctance to go too far with AWS. While I could have migrated this whole site (including hosting, databases, DNS settings, and data storage) to AWS, the end of the free year would have resulted in either costly bills or a time-consuming migration. In addition, my current hosts (Namecheap) have always done a pretty good job for a pretty low price. I’ve installed Linux on the desktop again (Xubuntu this time), and use VMWare’s Player to run a local copy of Ubuntu server from within Windows. Did I need to continue with a VPS: could I justify the cost?

A number of factors have pushed me further towards using a VPS. As I’ve gained knowledge of Linux, I’ve increasingly wanted to use servers set up my own way. If I need another binary or plugin then I can install it. If I need Apache reconfiguring, I can do it. Namecheap have moved to a new server and terminated my shell access (moving a big folder over FTP takes ages), and their server has started to return 503 responses occasionally when it’s overloaded. I’ve also recently discovered an annoying problem where removing a subdomain doesn’t quite work (they’ve failed to configure a default virtual host, meaning that random sites get returned under my subdomains until DNS entries expire). I don’t have those problems. I’ve therefore started to migrate more things over, with my diary having made the leap already, despite requiring substantial reworking (goodness knows how I managed to write in that many SQL injection vulnerabilities – a story for another day).

The question now becomes one of price – while I can afford £12.48 a month (at current exchange rates), I’d like to do better. I think some of the better options are:

  • AWS offers “Reserved Instances“. Basically I can pay £64.69 upfront to reduce the monthly cost to £4.59 (averaging out to £6.39 pm). This is a lot better, but at the expense of signing up for three years – if I want to stop the instance then a fraction of the upfront payment will be wasted.
  • Hetzner also offer a VPS for £6.39pm (by coincidence). This is without the 3-year signup, but is slightly inferior in terms of RAM (and presumably processing power and network connectivity too).

There’s recently been quite a bit of buzz around Windows Azure, which is now offering Linux VPSes. It also comes with a 3-month free trial, so seemed worth having a go. Perhaps most astonishingly, it looks like the price is currently the best – if I’m reading things right an “XS” non-Windows costs only £5.68 per month! (Even if I’m not reading things right there’s a cushion of nearly £1 left for extra costs like data storage).

So I now have two VPSes ( is also pretty spartan), with still not much to do with them… I think the current plan is to get to know Azure’s infrastructure a bit better (the management console is incredibly slick) and then see which bill is the biggest.

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One Comment

  1. Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    There’s also a VPS option from at $4.95 pm.

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