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Slicehost, Best VPS Ever!


By steve - Posted on 24 February 2009

I switched recently to slicehost.com for my VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting. VPS allows you to run your own virtual server out in the "cloud". Instead of dealing with all of the headaches associated with shared web hosting accounts and other hosting options, or the cost of a dedicated physical box, the VPS gives you everything you are used to having with a physical server, but running as a "slice" of processor, memory, and disk on a larger, managed, server.

I've run many, many physical servers of just about every sort for many years and it is pretty hard to beat having full remote and physical control over your important servers and their services. However, a well hosted VPS is 99.9% as good, but without having to be responsible for the physical server itself.

In the case of slicehost.com (slicehost was purchased by rackspace.com in October 2008), you can buy multiple slices in any of their 7 very reasonably priced configurations and manage them under your one account.

With your VPS, you get:

  • Full root access and rebooting
  • Choice of Linux distro
  • Dedicated IP address
  • Tier-1 redundant bandwidth
  • RAID-10 disk
  • Reserved RAM
  • Guaranteed CPU share (+ more when available)
  • 4-core servers running Xen
  • Web-based management
  • Smartphone management
  • Ajax console access
  • Bootable rescue mode
  • Private IP for inter-slice communications
  • Dedicated capacity
  • Support!

Wow! All this for $20/month for the basic 256mb/10gb/100gb ram/disk/bandwidth plan! I chose this setup, plus the $5 per month automatic image backup, to get started. You can upgrade to a higher plan as needed at any time.

What's to like, besides the specs?

  • No contracts, no setup fee.
  • Upgrade/downgrade/add/remove at any time.
  • Monthly billing.
  • Up and running with a core configuration (empty slate, just the way I like) in minutes.
  • Fast!
  • Easy!
  • 64-bit OS!
  • Great pricing (the best I've found).
  • Very developer friendly.
  • Support by real people--even a phone number to call.
  • Great "recipe"/"how to" documentation to get you started.

What's not to like? I haven't found anything I don't like, but not everyone is like me.

  • You need to know what you are doing. You get a bare OS install and build it from there yourself. (This is a plus to me.)
  • It is still shared, but that is why they call it a VPS--it's virtual. (A VPS is a plus for me.)
  • Linux only, but you get 7 choices and Linux is a plus for me.
  • You can load kernel modules, but you can't build your own kernel. (I don't need this right now.)
  • It is up to you to configure a firewall. (I can do this in my sleep, but there is also a nice "how to" document explaining it to get you started.)

Looking at the "what's not to like?" list, it really is just a matter of what you are looking for. If you are a blogger wanting to get a little more control of your site, and you don't already know how to install a linux server, slicehost is probably not for you. For anyone who is a developer, or wants to be, and needs an "all powerful" home base, slicehost is the place for you. For anyone tired of shared hosting, you can't beat the power and flexibility of having your "own" server. (If you need help setting a slice up, I'd be happy to do this for you for a set fee.)

I found out that because the server and OS are 64-bit, I needed to allow a lot more memory for my php scripts than I was used to. This just required changing my php.ini. However, this means I would need to really bump up my host configuration, if I had a lot of administrators wanting to run on my site (I don't).

The slices currently run in 3 data centers; 2 in St. Louis and one in Dallas. Mine seems to be in St. Louis, right now. Also, at this point, if you want your slices built in different centers for disaster recovery or whatever, you have to ask support and they'll handle it. Automatic will come.

Using slicehost is so much like having a real server, that, for that reason alone, I really, really like it. I even have access to the "console" via the web browser so that I can see the boot screen when I boot up my slice. If I honk up the server configuration or my firewall, I can still get in the console just as though I had access to a KVM or a keyboard/video/mouse hooked right to the server. Given what the hosting world was like just 18 months ago, this is really slick.

The only thing I've seen that might give slicehost a run for their money would be the emerging, massive, cloud services from Google and Amazon. However, having slogged my way though some of their information, you may need to compromise on several things to get your applications running there.

For instance, Google's cloud product currently requires that you develop in Python and limits your data store to 500mb with 5 million page views (however, it is free). I do have an application or two that I'll probably build there, but they will be experimental and not be "enterprise ready". My apps will be beta, just like Google's service.

Amazon Web Services may come out to be a little cheaper than slicehost using their Linux AMI's (Amazon Machine Image) on EC2, but I can tell you that any pricing model that requires that you use a calculator page and answer several questions about what your server "might" do so that a price can be estimated, is too scary for me and, I'd say, most developers. I have some big concerns about the "ephemeral" storage issues and how differently a virtual machine needs to configured (compared to a standard Linux server) to run properly. Still, I'll probably set up a redundant server there and do some modeling so that I can compare performance and management capabilities.

The thing that stands out for me about slicehost is that the entire experience was smooth. There are no barriers to getting up and running as you set up your account and your slice. You answer a few questions, supply a credit card, and a few minutes later, you are up and running and ssh'ing into your shiny new server. It was easier than booting a physical server and installing from a CD!

My only itty-bitty quibble has been with the slice size parameters for my specific needs on my first project. I would have liked to get more disk space than 10gb because I want to use my slice as an online file backup. My old VPS gave me 40gb, which I'll miss, but I can always bump up to the next slice level and get more memory, disk, and bandwidth for $18/month more. That will only be slightly more than I was paying with my previous provider.

If you found my review useful and decide to set up a slice account at slicehost.com, you can use my email (stevej at mojocode) as your referral and I'll get a little back on my hosting fees, if you like slicehost and stay on for a few months.

Slicehost.com is HIGHLY recommended. The title of this review says it all, they are really, "the best VPS, ever" that I've found.

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