Secure Server on Rackspace Cloud, for $11/month.
Everyone who knows Rackspace usually has two comments about them -- "Fantastic support" (they brand it "Fanatic Support") and "Expensive". With their Cloud Servers offering, they're putting the final nails in the coffin of the "Expensive" comment.
We've been hosting multiple domains (including this site) on their Rackspace Cloud (RSC) Servers for several months, and I could not be more pleased. You still get the "Fanatical Support", unlimited 24x7 Chat & Phone support, and you pay a whole lot less... for a better product.
What you get
Their plans start at $11/month for a fully scalable, resizeable Virtual Cloud Server. No, there's no zeros missing. Eleven bucks. For those new to the terminology, the Cloud server offers some huge benefits over standard "VPS" hosting:
- Utility-based pricing -- When your server is usually not under load, you can scale it down to the smallest machine and save money. You can also quickly spin up servers for Dev / Test environments and pay only for what you use, only when you use it. quicloud takes advantage of this by spinning up a "staging" server only when we need one (immediately prior to deployment), using an exact copy of our live site every time so that we ensure we have 100% parity (minus the deltas, of course).
- Fully Restorable Backup Images -- You can snapshot your entire server at any time, and you can schedule recurring backups once a week, once a day, or once every few hours.
- API Control to automate server interactions -- Using RSC's API, you can programatically launch new servers, resize servers up or down, and rebuild servers from custom or default images. Although they do not yet offer the "auto scaling" of Amazon's EC2, one could fairly easily tie Nagios or another monitoring tool into their API to perform the same function. Rackspace ensures me that they will have "auto scaling" as part of their normal service sometime this quarter or next. If you can't wait, quicloud can set this up for your server immediately.
- Instant Server Resizing -- Immediately expand the capacity of your server with the click of a button. Prior to an email blast, or in the middle of a high load period, simply log into the console & select the server size you need to deal with load, and then scale it back down when the load is gone. NOTE: This is NOT auto-scaling.
You also get full shell access, dedicated public & private IPs for each server, free DNS hosting, 3 free backup images on their Cloud Files service, the ability to host unlimited number of domains, and a 100% network SLA. Private IP communications are also not charged on your bandwidth... fully rsycing two servers on their private IPs every day would be free of bandwidth charges.
Base OS images include all of the popular Linux and Windows distros. As of this writing, RSC offers:
- Archlinux 2009.02
- Archlinux 2010.05
- CentOS 5.5
- CentOS 5.4
- Debian 5.0 (Lenny)
- Fedora 11 (Leonidas)
- Fedora 12 (Constantine)
- Fedora 13 (Goddard)
- Gentoo 10.1
- Oracle Enterprise Linux R5U3 - JEOS
- Oracle Enterprise Linux R5U4
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.3 (license charge of 3¢ per hour applies)
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4 (license charge of 3¢ per hour applies)
- Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx)
- Ubuntu 8.04.2 LTS (Hardy Heron)
- Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope)
- Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala)
- Windows Server 2003 (32-bit)
- Windows Server 2003 (64-bit)
- Windows Server 2008 (32-bit)
- Windows Server 2008 (64-bit)
Performance & benchmarks
In both our tests and others, Rackspace Cloud Servers proved to be at least 10 times the Server that you get with Amazon (Amazon charges roughly 5 times the price for 1/5th of the performance -- click + read the link immediately above if that sounds like a fallacy). When I first tested our initial Cloud on Rackspace, I ran a build script that normally takes 30+ minutes. I then went off into another window to check mail & do Web while I waited. A few minutes later when characters stopped flying by in my terminal, I immediately thought something crashed or broke. The reality was that build script was complete... in just 5-6 minutes -- on their lowest end 256K RAM server! …and we're talking CPU and memory intensive compile operations. We've seen nothing short of incredible performance with our Websites, our Databases, and our Logic Layer ever since.
Downsides and workarounds
There are some downsides to using Rackspace Cloud Servers, mainly in the Security and System Administration areas, and quicloud is stepping up to bridge the gap. quicloud offers products and services which allow Rackspace and other cloud providers to be used for mission-critical 24x7 Web sites and software. The "Infrastructure as a Service" or IaaS providers like Rackspace, Amazon, Go Grid and others simply want to sell you the ability to use utility-based infrastructure -- a server you can spin up, do what you need, and spin back down when you're done. That's a great thing, but to really leverage what the cloud has to offer in a 24x7 environment, someone must assume responsibility for securing those servers, for maintaining those servers, and for performing software updates and maintenance on them. IaaS providers do not want to touch security or maintenance on your individual Cloud Server, and we've yet to hear of any IaaS provider offering the service.
That's exactly why we formed quicloud -- to fill the "managed hosting" piece of the puzzle.
In our few months experience with Rackspace, we've found the few following shortcomings, and where appropriate, we've explained how we shore up those gaps with our products and services.
- Barebones server images are "from the disks" installs -- you have to set up and maintain your own Webserver, Database, Logic Layer, and CMS or whatever software you will be using. Many companies, including quicloud will soon be offering "one button" installs to install just about any package you need, and you can expect these to appear sometime in Q3 / Q4 of this year. If you can't wait, quicloud's Lightning product will set up and secure an entire LAMP stack, layering a secured version of WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla! on top. At the end of it all, we will run a Nessus-quality scan over your IP and deliver you a 100+ page PDF report showing all known high and medium vulnerabilities, along with most "low" vulnerabilities (a "low" would be "web port 80 open") completely patched and resolved. In order to make the product accessible to even independent bloggers, developers, and designers, we are keeping pricing extremely affordable. Lightning deploys start at $200 per server.
- Security is all on you -- The servers come extremely secure (even Web Port 80 is closed on the LInux distros we've tried), the problem is that as soon as you start doing anything useful, you open yourself up to security risks. This is why quicloud has developed our Lightning and Thunder products, and is making them available for extremely affordable rates.
- The "control panel" UI is slow & buggy Although very well thought out & easy-to-use, their UI is sluggish, and seems to still have some bugs in it. For example, we use Google Apps for many of our mail servers, but in the few instances where we've gone back in and tried to change MX records, the RSC UI gave us an ambiguous "an error has occurred" error page. Luckily, when we created a ticket & called, our issues were resolved within minutes. Fanatic support saves the day yet again.
- System administration is all on you -- When we first ran a "yum update" on our first server, we were fairly astonished to see it churn for 5 minutes or so, updating an ungodly number of packages. One would think that Rackspace would provide daily "updated" images, but the "default" images you build from definitely need updated prior to doing anything else. quicloud makes the updating part of the process for our Lightning and Thunder products, and we can offer ongoing maintenance of your cloud server (including 24x7 support and monthly upgrades, patches) for as low as $20 - $30 per server.
- The servers are fairly useless if you're not a System Administrator -- We loved being able to shell in and do everything we need, but we're long-time command line Linux geeks. Lack of a "Plesk" or "CPanel" interface is seriously limiting adoption of Rackspace's excellent services. We're hopeful they will add such features in the future, and we can certainly help individual companies or business owners installing one of these interfaces on your server if you need it now.
- Bandwidth charges can add up -- Remember that part where we waxed euphoric about spinning up or resizing to accommodate load? The other edge of that sword is that it can cost you severely. Higher load is generally a great thing -- your site is popular and more people are converting or becoming leads. Without some simple security software like fail2ban, however, it could also mean that some script kiddie in Korea is launching a DOS attack on your machine and sticking you with a large bandwidth bill from Rackspace. Knowing Rackspace, they would likely erase your charges in a true DOS situation, but we absolutely recommend installing Nagios, fail2ban, and perhaps even Snort IDS on your cloud servers to keep hackers out.
- The API Offering is weak -- For small to medium businesses, this is probably not an issue, but if you need to build an Enterprise grade Cloud solution in the next 3 months, Amazon is really the only player we'd still recommend. Knowing what's on all the IaaS provider's roadmaps, however, we're certain that features will converge and commoditize soon, perhaps as soon as Q3/Q4 of this year. When that happens, the only differentiator will be cost and service. Right now, Rackspace Cloud wins on both counts and we expect that trend to continue.
I'm beyond impressed with the offering by Rackspace Cloud and am excited to watch the service line grow & expand.
In short, if you're a small to medium sized business and you need to put a cap on your costs while removing the cap from your growth, Rackspace gets two strong thumbs up from us. They have the best prices, the best performance, and the best support of any of the providers we've worked with. If you're a geek, and comfortable with Sys Admin and Security, you can jump in start using them right away. Setting up an account is free, and spinning up a server and playing with it can be done for under a dime. If you'd rather outsource all the technical stuff, that's what we're here for!
Please give us a call at 303-325-5820 or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.