Thursday, July 17, 2008

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VPS Media Xen VPS Review

Wed, 02 Jul 2008 18:26:45 +1000

VPS Media Logo VPS Media, a relatively young provider in the virtual private server scene — yet have years of experience in application hosting, is marketing itself as “for Designers and Developers”. Thanks to Carlos T. who has provided me a testing VPS over the last two weeks, and here is my review on Xen VPS at VPS Media.





Xen Hosting Plans



Xen VPS Media uses Xen to power its virtual private servers. Currently LxLab’s HyperVM is used for server management, however a custom control panel is in the works. The VPS plans range from 384MB of memory for $20/month, to 2GB for $140/month. Servers are available in either Miami with Vault Networks or San Francisco with ColoServe (currently full).



The plan I tested with is their “The Starter” plan with




  • 384MB RAM + 512MB swap partition

  • 15GB RAID10 storage

  • 150GB/month data transfer



VPS Media Home Page



Sign up was easy, and the VPS was instantly provisioned (probably some hooks between WHMCS and HyperVM). Not really sure about the fraud detections in process — as it seems to be the biggest excuse for manually provisioning the VPS. However I can’t see why my sign up request should ring the bell when I was clearly coming from an Australian IP address, has provided a valid AU address, and used Carlos’ special coupon code so credit card wasn’t even needed :)



I started with Ubuntu 8.04 32bit and then reinstalled CentOS 5.1. Thanks to HyperVM, rebuilding the node is trivial and there’s no need of intervention from their support staffs. cat /proc/cpuinfo shows that my node is hosted on a dual core, dual CPU AMD Opteron box running at 2Ghz. Not the state of art processor at the moment (Opteron 2212 — I think it was released in late 2006), but even a low-end plan can burst to all 4 CPU cores.



Pricing wise $20/month is very good for an unmanaged 384MB Xen — it offers more memory than SliceHost (256MB) and Linode (360MB) at this price point. In fact I think VPS Media is indeed targeting directly to what SliceHost and Linode are targeting — web application developers (I’ll talk a bit more about that later). When VPS Media first launched early this year it has only 256MB for its Starter Plan, but has increased the offering in early June to be more competitive.



As its California data centre is currently full, I probably cannot recommend them to my Australian colleagues who would like to have minimum ping from US West Coast. However if you are in US or in Europe, VPS Media provides good unmanaged VPS solutions at great price.



Server Performance



I have already stated that the raw CPU performance of the physical server is not great. I have actually had a few attempts to run the Unix Benchmark 4.1 on that node and the result is a bit disappointing — it seems the older Opterons are just no match to the current generation of Xeons. Performance seems to be stable, i.e. the benchmark yields similar result during different time of the day. Do note that from their hardware page they stated that they are using both Xeon and Opteron servers, and it could be just me who got randomly dropped to this box whereas there might be other more recent boxes around. YMMV.



Do note that “being able to run Hardcore Game Servers” like Counter Strike and Team Fortress 2 is one of the points listed under Why VPS Media. Many VPS providers actually do no like to host game servers because (1) high CPU requirement especially with recent games (2) potential target for DDoS. I am sure VPS Media has thought through all the possible short-falls, but potential customers might still need to be aware that there might be a FPS game sever running in the neighbourhood.



Disk is supposed to be RAID 10 — which means at least 4 disks forming mirrored stripped images. The result of running hdparm and seeker:




# hdparm -tT /dev/sda1

/dev/sda1:
Timing cached reads: 3660 MB in 2.00 seconds = 1831.90 MB/sec
Timing buffered disk reads: 422 MB in 3.01 seconds = 140.13 MB/sec

# ./seeker /dev/sda1
Seeker v2.0, 2007-01-15, http://www.linuxinsight.com/how_fast_is_your_disk.html
Benchmarking /dev/sda1 15360MB], wait 30 seconds.............................
Results: 123 seeks/second, 8.11 ms random access time


Again, the performance is satisfactory but not excellent. I could have been on a busy node. However thanks to the isolation provided by Xen, I have no idea who I am sharing the server with.



Support and Community



From my past reviews of VPS companies I have always stressed the importance of building a community around your customers. I am glad to see that VPS Media is no short of online resources for its communities! Here is the list:




  • Blog — WordPress powered blog that is used mainly for announcements.

  • Forums — vBulletin powered support forums where members can ask question and show off their work. Service status is also posted here.

  • VPS Media Articles Articles — again WordPress powered site that contains a growing list of how-tos on setting up servers.



Support is provided via either the support forum or WHMCS-based support software. Their contact page also contains toll-free phone number, although I am not sure how much response you’ll get during an emergency (obviously I have never tested).



I can’t seem to find whether real-time chat is provided as a support option. Personally I found being able to message someone on MSN or Jabber is more useful than the iteration of submitting the tickets and waiting for replies. However I also understand that tickets and email-based support is much preferred from administration’s point of view because you want everything to be logged and ID’ed (at work I won’t work on a patch unless there’s a ticket associated with the bug already). Hint: Maybe client management software like WHMCS can automatically convert a related chat messages into a ticket against a client for archiving purpose.



Targeted Market — Designers and Developers



VPS Media markets itself as the VPS solution for “Designers” and “Developers”. Whatever it means, VPS Media is probably not for those who need lots of hand-holding as only unmanaged services are provided. As I have stated before — it is targeting the niche where Linode and SliceHost are targeting — those who have no problem managing their servers and use alternate stacks to run their Django, Ruby on Rail, Seaside or ErlyWeb applications.



I am not a designer (and the template of this blog shows clear evidence) so I cannot speak for them that whether VPS Media is really suitable for the designers. They do have very nice web site(s) though, with integrated design all the way through not just their forums and blogs, but also WHMCS and HyperVM control panel.



I am a developer though, and VPS Media gives what a developer needs — a Xen VPS with a root shell (which is actually not asking much). What VPS Media lacks is becoming a “recommended host” from a developer community (like SliceHost with Rails). I guess it depends on what VPS Media is cooking with their next generation control panel that is set to replace HyperVM.



Short Interview with VPS Media



Well. To get a better perspective on the internal working of VPS Media, I actually emailed Carlos a short interview. In fact I was trying to sus out a bit more details on their new control panel but Carlos has kept the secret pretty tight. I guess we’ll see when it is released.



Here’s the full interview.




HostingFu: So Carlos, can you tell us a bit of background behind VPS Media? For example why did you choose to start a VPS hosting company?



Carlos: You see Scott, when our company started back in ‘01, our services were geared towards a select group of companies who needed hosting and maintenance of their ERP (oracle), CRM (siebel & dynamics) and Enterprise Email systems (exchange). After a few years of working with high-availability setups of ESX, and Xen for our customers, we decided it was time to bring this ‘Business’ service, down to the people who need it most.



HostingFu: Is there a particular reason why you chose Xen instead of other virtualization technology?



Carlos: Definitely, Xen rules ;). No but seriously; its Isolation. We really like the hard-caps on each VPS, and the guarantee that your neighbor won’t take your VPS down.



HostingFu: Currently VPS Media uses WHMCS for client management and HyperVM for VPS management, however I heard that you have plans to roll your own customized panel. Can you tell us a bit more about it? What technology/programming language will you be using?



Carlos: Ah! our new system it’s still in the works, and currently testing the new features as I type ;). Lets make it a surprise.



HostingFu: How do you plan to build VPS Media in the next 12 months? What do you envision it to be?



Carlos: We envision VPS Media as a great resource for Designers & Developers who want full control. Who want to be able to load their own kernel modules, who want to customize their setup, and who want a real system. Also, as part of a big community in which developers and designers alike, come together and participate helping each other.




Thanks to Carlos for answering all the questions (and kept the part that I, a software engineer, am interested in, a surprise :)



Conclusion



VPS Media is still a very young company that is growing its customer base, and is still going through a lot of changes. I am generally happy with the service they have provided, and would not hesitate to recommend them if you are looking for an unmanaged Xen VPS server around US East Coast.



However they also face a lot of stiff competitions in their targeted market (developers looking for unmanaged Xen server). Around East Coast there are also Linode and Panix and many others. All the best to Carlos and the team, that they will be able to build something unique.





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Do Paid Keyword Ads Jeopardize Organic Search Rankings?

Fri, 02 Mar 2007 17:15:00 -0400

I heard about this from Dan Kimball at ModernBill. Bill Slawski has two interesting posts on Search Engine Land and SEO by the Sea about a just-granted Microsoft patent ("Systems and Methods for Removing Duplicate Search Engine Results").



The patented technology aims to "efficiently locate desired information.... by] removing unnecessary multiple references to a common resource such as redundant URLs as another listed URL". Consequently, any given page of search results would contain a greater number of unique URLs than would otherwise occur without filtering. Bill says this implies the possibility of removing organic search results from pages that already contain paid listings.



Two Search Engine Land readers reported that they've already seen organic rankings drop as a result of buying keyword ads from Yahoo! and Google, respectively. While search engines are understandably eager to maximize keyword ad revenue, Bill says the ideal situation for advertisers is to have a paid result, an organic result AND a Google Onebox result all on the same page.



This reminds me of Business 2.0's "Perfect Online Ad" article, in which Usama Fayyad, the NASA rocket scientist turned Yahoo! researcher, says paid search alone is much, much less effective than multiple forms of exposure. (He was making the case for non-search ads, though, seeing as 95% of our online time is spent on non-search activities.)



In any case, I did a quick Google search for web hosting and found that there's no overlap at all between the paid ads and organic listings on the first page. Even more interestingly, GoDaddy has the #2 Adwords bid (which puts it at the top of page 1), but a #11 organic ranking (top of page 2). HostGator, on the other hand, has a lower bid that puts its ad on page 2 - but its organic ranking is #9 (bottom of page 1). Coincidence? Or filtering? What do you think?





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Thu, 21 Feb 2008 18:14:23 +0000
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Tue, 24 Jun 2008 11:57:48 GMT
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