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Dirt cheap Linux hosting


June 14 2011

It is now possible to have "root" access on a virtual machine with a high-speed internet connection and a static IPv4 IP for under $24 a year. This kind of connection is called a "Virtual Private Server" (VPS). Since one is "root" on the system, one can have (within the memory, disk space, and bandwidth limitations) an unlimited number of web pages, email addresses, or any other internet service (as long as it follows the provider's terms of service).

The low-cost offers I have seen have the following in common:

  • They use a type of virtual machine called an OpenVZ virtual machine. The Wikipedia has a good description; to summarize, an OpenVZ guest must run Linux.
  • To manage the server, they usually use a "web panel" interface called SolusVM. This allows one to reset the root password, "format and reinstall" the Linux distribution used, and keep an eye on one's memory, disk usage, and network quota.
  • There are four relevant numbers that an OpenVZ account has: Its normal memory usage, its "burst" memory usage (which I will explain below), its hard disk space, and its monthly bandwidth.
One thing to be careful of is that most companies offering $20-a-year plans are new companies and may not last. Another issue is that these kinds of offers are usually only offered by new providers to get their name out there.

One place to look for these providers is at a website called WHT, or at BudgetVPS (who have a special link for plans that cost $2 a month or less).

Some current providers of plans that costs $20 a year or less (prices rounded to the nearest dollar):

  • AlienVPS' "Abduction" plan. 19 gigabytes hard disk, 192 megabytes of memory, 190 gigabytes of bandwidth a month, for $19 a year. Available at Las Vegas and New York.
  • CripperZ. 10 gigabytes hard disk, 128 megabytes of memory (256 megabytes burst), 300 gigabytes a month of transfer for $20 a year ($1 setup charge)
  • FEhosting. 35 gigabytes of hard disk space, 256 megabytes of memory (512 megabytes burst), 500 gigabytes a month of transfer for $20 a year.
All providers provide a single IP; extra IPs cost more.

"Burst" memory usage is memory that can be allocated, but, if the server as a whole is low on memory, processes may be killed if more memory is being used than one's "normal" memory usage.

An OpenVZ guest doesn't allocate cached and buffer memory; this is only seen on the host. The only memory one sees when typing in free in an OpenVZ guest is memory used by malloc in one's processes. For example:

$ free
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:        262144      29376     232768          0          0          0
-/+ buffers/cache:      29376     232768
Swap:            0          0          0
This is the output of free on an OpenVZ guest with 128 megabytes of "normal" memory and another 128 megabytes of "burst" memory. Compare this to free on a native Linux host:
$ free
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:        511516     489544      21972          0      62204     202884
-/+ buffers/cache:     224456     287060
Swap:      1048568       2476    1046092
Here, we can see buffers being used, as well as cache and swap.

On an OpenVZ guest, memory usage is seen with free, disk usage is seen with df, and network usage can be seen with ifconfig (presumably, the ifconfig number is reset whenever the system is "rebooted", so it may not be an accurate number).

It is amazing how technology has made getting an internet presence very, very affordable.

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Errata: BuyVM does intend to sell ultra-low-cost plans again; this article implied otherwise and has since been corrected.