Talking tech since 2003

As I previously touched on in a previous article, I recently switched a few non heavily-used services and utilities that I had previously been hosting with a large VPS company over to RackSpace Cloud Servers.  In the past I’ve heard wonderful things about RackSpace’s ethical and down-to-earth business practices and I myself was personally lured in because of their fair pricing; perfect for a user like me who uses a minimal amount of resources.  And of course, because I’ve been using previously reviewed Cloud Files (on and off) for a while now it seemed like a no-brainer for me to go with the same company. Well, it’s been about a week and a half now since I made my transition and I must say that I’ve been very satisfied.

If you look back, I used the term “fair” – not “low” – to describe how RackSpace handles Cloud Server pricing.  Why is this?  Well, when I first started looking into Cloud Servers I was a bit taken back by their pricing structure.  A VPS with 256mb of RAM and a 10GB virtual hard drive runs about $11 per month; not including any bandwidth, as that is calculated separately.  Now, I’ve used other VPS companies in the past and I must admit that the same amount of money will indeed get you a lot more in terms of fundamental resources elsewhere.  But in terms of customer service, uptime, and performance these companies are a far cry from RackSpace’s operations.

On top of this, Cloud Servers use the Xen virtualization platform which means that each VPS is isolated in terms of kernel and resources.  Not only does this mean that the servers are flexible (Xen gives you more control at the kernel-level for more advanced stuff like IPTables), but it also means that Cloud Servers are not oversold.  So unlike some of the shady VPS hosts out there, Xen VPS’s with Cloud Servers guarantee that you get what you pay for.  No “burstable” resources or any gimmicks like that.

Continuing on the page of pricing, Cloud Servers bills at an hourly rate depending on the package you select.  While this is a bit more math if you’re going to be using Cloud Servers as a long-term host, the nice thing is that you can create additional servers as you need to, and when you delete them you are only charged for the time that they were actually provisioned.  If you ever need a Linux box to test things out on before implementing things in a productive environment this does indeed become a great option.  Unlike Amazon EC2, though, servers are billed regardless of if they are actively booted up and in use or not.  For most people, though, I honestly don’t see where this is a deal-breaker.

But what Cloud Servers does have EC2 beat on is the simplicity of pricing.  If you opt to use EC2, you have to calculate in their pricing for not only the virtual server itself, but you also figure in the costs of bandwidth (in and out), EBS storage blocks, and disk input/output reads.  Talk about confusing.  On the other hand, Cloud Servers pricing is calculated by the server (which includes a virtual disk size relational to the amount of RAM your instance has) and bandwidth in and out.  The only thing that I really have against Cloud Servers is that they do not let you set a cut-off point for bandwidth utilization (billed at $.08/gigabyte in and $.18/gigabyte out); meaning a denial of service (DoS) attack or even the Digg/Reddit effect could cost you a pretty penny.  If this troubles you, though, I have a somewhat simple method for dealing with bandwidth monitoring and management.

One of the things that I really think RackSpace can improve on with Cloud Servers is how they manage new provisions.  You see, even though RackSpace has a number of datacenters they only offer Cloud Servers in the Chicago, Illinois and West London, UK datacenters.  In some cases these regions are simply too far out of the geographic areas that people need.  But really, this doesn’t trouble me that much because of the fact that RackSpace also offers an Akami-powered CDN for low-latency static file delivery.  When you combine the two, the location of the server really doesn’t become a huge deal.

One can also take advantage of Cloud Files (storage billed at $.15/gigabyte) to backup their Cloud Servers with, just in case something goes wrong down the road.  While I haven’t had the need to restore a backup as of yet, I did complete a backup the other day with pretty minimal effort.  Based on what I see, it really looks like a backup is a two-click process as well.  If I was storing any life or death data, I would probably take advantage of the scheduled (daily and weekly) backups as well.  Moreover, one can also use their server images to provision new server instances as well.  Very useful for things like testing on non-live sites, if you ask me.

Cloud Server users also get to take advantage of free hosted DNS (nameservers) with RackSpace, allowing them to make the RackSpace Cloud control panel all the more powerful and robust.  Not exactly an unheard of feature, but it’s definitely a nice touch.

Last but not least, RackSpace has above-par support for answering general questions.  While managed support is an additional charge, the FAQs have a great deal of insightful information and the support staff have always seemed more than happy to help clarify questions that I have had.  Now, I will say that their turnaround time on tickets is a few hours (in comparison to the minutes that ticket responses typically took with my previous host).  But for quick questions, RackSpace does have live support chat which I have in using it a few times not waited more than a minute or so to get paired with an agent.

Overall, RackSpace offers a pretty nice product with Cloud Servers.  It’s affordable and very flexible, and the support team is absolutely amazing.  While I’d recommend it most people, the one warning that I cannot seem to stress enough is that the bandwidth is a bit pricey.  Other than that, the product is rock solid (I’ve yet to experience any downtime) and does what you’d expect a VPS to do.

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