Self-hosting on a user-mode Linux virtual machine

by Michael(tm) Smith

Can you recommend a good hosting service? is a question I
sometimes get asked, and one that comes up pretty frequently on
some of the mailing lists I subscribe to. Along with the cost and
how much RAM/diskspace/bandwidth the hosting service provides, the
main criteria seems to be what PHP/MySQL/etc. versions they run,
and what maximum number of e-mail addresses/domains/databases/etc.
they limit you to.

When asked for my opinion (and sometimes even when not asked for
it), I've started suggesting to people that if they really want
complete control over their sites and domains, they should host them themselves.

Perhaps it's because I am myself sort of a recent convert[ id="convertref" href="#convert">note1] to the do-it-yourself Way. It was only
relatively recently that I finally moved my own Internet presence
completely over to self-hosting. The main thing that had prevented
me from doing it before was that I don't have, need, or want any
wireline or broadband access at home[ href="#myhome">note2]. So I couldn't run a machine from home.
And I can't afford to pay a provider the cost of remote hosting of
a physical machine.

Houston, we've got root

Anyway, these days there is another alternative: some hosting
services now provide "virtual machines" that run href="" >user-mode
Linux. In a nutshell, user-mode Linux enables an actual
physical machine to sort of be "partitioned" into several virtual
machines. That's what I have my site set up on. I have root access
to the machine and can install or remove anything at any time,
create as many domains and e-mail addresses and database instances
or whatever on it as I want -- can even reboot the machine at any
time, or replace the OS kernel.

There are a href="" >number of
providers that now offer user-mode Linux virtual machines.
The one I'm using is href="" >Bytemark. But
there are others that are bit cheaper than them. One of the
cheapest I've heard of is href="" >Redwood Virtual. Their
lowest-cost plan is US$10 per month/$100 per year for a 64MB RAM, 2
GB diskspace, 20 GB bandwith setup. The next level up is $20/$200
for 128MB/4GB/40GB.

All of the providers give you a choice among at least one or two
Linux distros/kernels you can run. And you can change it at
any time. Bytemark offers Debian, Red Hat, Gentoo, and Slackware.
Redwood has Debian and Fedora.

With great power also comes great responsibility

The best thing about it is that you really do have complete
control over the host. I run my own mail server and DNS name
server on mine, along with the web server. You can add new domains
and virtual (web) hosts and new e-mail addresses whenever you
want, without needing to wait for an admin to make the changes.
And you can install the very very latest versions of any software
you want. Easily. Especially if you run Debian.

Of course the big downside is also that you have complete control
over the host. Basically, the only time the provider is obiligated
to give you any support at all is if there's some hardware
failure on the physical box that your virtual machine runs on.
They know nothing about the software environment on your
individual host (because, little missy, you are the one who set it all
up). So if you muff something up, you're basically on your own --
you are your own tech support.

Time for the altar call

Anyway, of course it's not the right solution for everybody. But
if you have experience with Linux, it might be worth trying -- you
could register a new domain (or move over some extra or unused
domain you already have now), then sign up for a month or two and
see how it goes.

That's what I did. And you can see where I am now. A true-blue
thank-you-Jesus convert. And brethren, though I've backslid in so
many other areas of life, I reckon (praise God) that I won't be
backsliding on this particular choice. I was a software sinner
once, but now (hallelujah) I have found the light. Call this my

Note1 [back] If you've
ever had any experience with with fundamentalist religion, you
know that recent converts tend to be the ones that are the most
enthusiastic about spreading the Word. Until they get bored with
it and go back to being really enthusiastic about the stuff they
loved to spend their time doing previously -- drinking and
macking, for example. I think that's mostly the stage where I'm at

Note2 [back] I live in a
tiny one-room apartment in the middle of Tokyo. To me, it is
basically just the place where I shower and sleep. And,
occasionally, eat. I live just a few blocks from my office, where
I have fat LAN access. And there are now more and more WiFi
freespots around. And even when I'm not at one of those places,
I have a wireless (PHS) modem that works pretty much anywhere.
Including on moving buses and trains. Or bars.

Can somebody say Amen?


2005-02-23 12:40:00
Preach on...
I'm also a recent convert to UML hosting - I'm with Linode, and so far, I've been very impressed.

Bytemark were on my shortlist - they're based within walking distance of me, which is unusual when dealing with an online firm - and certainly a plus in the case of any dispute, not that I'd expect any. However, they're a little too pricey for my budget.

I've managed to squeeze a lot into a 64Mb VM with only a little swapfile usage - I'm running MySQL, Apache 1.3 w/mod_perl, Apache 2.0 w/Subversion and PHP, qmail, BIND and Courier-IMAP concurrently with no problems. I probably couldn't add much more - but there's not much more I need, really.

I've found it to be faster and more reliable than running a server at home, and Linode has a fairly active user community, which I've found very useful in fixing problems caused by my own stupidity. It's not for everyone, certainly - but I'd recommend it to anyone with the required Linux skills and the need to host a small set of services.

2005-02-24 16:54:11
I second Linode
Been with Linode since Aug 2003. The Admin there is really cool and everything gets handles very well. Definitly worth it.
2005-04-08 10:27:35
Another UML provider, Quantact
I using Quantact for my vps.
One of the things that I found interesting about them was the friendly admins. They helped me get up and running. The price was right too, it seemed to be the middle of the road.
2006-02-18 14:39:27
The VPS' that BudgetDedicated provides are cheaper and we have excellent performance with them. They also offer at least debian, fedora and some more distro's...
It's really worth a try (7 day trials are even available for free!)