I am usually not a cheapskate. I love to pay decently for a service or a thing worth paying for. With servers, things are a little different. First of all, the price span between super cheap and super expensive is usually really huge, while it’s often times totally unclear what the difference in service might be. Services like Digital Ocean are able to charge a healthy surplus by providing a superior “experience”, while their machines are, for the most part, beefy, but not exactly outstandingly so. I am writing this being a (happy) Digital Ocean customer, by the way.

So, a few weeks back, I was doing some research (Read: I googled a lot) on VPS hosters with a little twist: I tried to find European or even German services, with the clear goal of finding the cheapest ones. This didn’t become some sort of shootout, because that would have meant that I needed to deploy compareable things to to it, so don’t expect something like that here. I’m going to name a few names, but not to especially endorse them but to make my report a little more concrete.

Via google, I stumbled upon some sort of comparing site, webhostlist.de (unfortunately in German only). They listed a lot of machines way below the 5 EUR mark, which actually caught me by surprise. I remember I rented my first, very small VPS back in 2009 or so and it was a tiny, tiny machine for nearly 10 EUR a month. So this made me curious. I further trimmed down the list to services with more or equal to 1 GB of memory, because I think this is currently a pretty good limit for hosting small things.

I instantly bought three services, all of them high on the webhostlist.de list and as soon as the accounts rolled in, I started to deploy things to it. So far, my list looks like this:

  • An iRedMail Mailserver, which is my testbed for self hosting email again (most likely worth an own article)
  • A server that runs graphite, as a central hub for metrics coming in from other servers
  • An application server for an upcoming little thing

The List

The hosters I tried so far are:

  • UltraVPS.eu, run by a company called Bradler & Krantz GmbH & Co. KG in Bochum, Germany
  • Linevast, run by a company called Droptop Media Consulting UG
  • OVH.de, which is actually a pretty huge hosting company (They claim to be the third biggest in the world. Interesting.)

The third one is a little special. OVH.de, the hoster I rented the server at, has this weird little twist where they call up their customers once to see if everything is in order. They couldn’t reach me intially and wrote me an email to tell me I should call back. I never did that and they automatically, after a week or so, terminated the whole thing and sent my money back. I called them up a month later and re-ordered a VPS with them and they were nice at the phone and their service seems excellent.

Stability

The most important question is Stability. With one little exception (UltraVPS.eu had a small outage in the first two weeks) all Servers are running rock solid. I’m not doing too much on them, so I can’t really comment on how well, for example, the virtualisation is balanced, but none of the servers feel sluggish, which is something I definitely remember as problematic back with my old crappy VPS.

There are several virtualisation options used at VPS hosts. Both Linevast and OVH use OpenVZ, which is “Containers” based. This has some implications, as, for example, you can’t run Docker on it, which made me a little sad. The good news is that UltraVPS uses Xen, which, at least in theory should work with Docker. As I really want to test out Dokku, I will try this pretty soon.

Management and Contracts

All of them have more or less complete management interfaces, both Linevast and UltraVPS.eu claiming to use SolusVM, a third party management tool.

Also, all of them have decent distribution support, which, for me, mostly means “yes, we do support the latest Ubuntu LTS release”. This is also in stark contrast to my older experiences.

One thing that I found interesting is that none of the offers contain the typical “you only get this price if you sign a contract for the next two years” crap. My Linevast contract is renewed every 3 months (but interestingly, not automatically), which is actually the longest contract term of the three. That would be annoying if a quarter of a year would not cost me less than a frickin’ lunch break, which is kind of ridiculous if you think about it.

Summary

Of course, choosing a service provider should ideally be more in-depth than this. There are a lot of factors I haven’t touched (and probably didn’t even check) upon, questions of trust, security, etc. If you’re interested in these questions, which are of course important, I encourage you to check out these companies on your own.

But I think this is great news. For under 5 EUR, servers become more or less throwaway products. If you need one, buy one. Of course it might still be quicker to fire up an EC2 instance, but even though Amazons prices get cheaper and cheaper, it’s still more expensive than this. So, I’m using these new servers for experimentation, but also to get a good view on how I could actually build larger infrastructures on these “distributed” servers.

With the last box, I also try to stick to a rule which is “don’t touch the server with your dirty hands”. I only log into the system to read log files or configurations and try to automate everything else using a set of Ansible scripts. This is more an excercise for me to learn more about configuration management and such, but with Ansible, I actually enjoy the process, in contrast to my experiences with Chef. This is (right now) not exactly “immutable” infrastructure, but relatively close and with the same goals.

(Photo credit for that gorgeous data center image: Beraldo Leal on flickr.)