It’s been over a month since I’ve been with Slicehost so I figure it’s enough time to make an assessment. Especially now that the MacUpdate promo is over, I actually have a sense of how well things hold up under load.
For those who don’t know, Slicehost is a hosting provider. What sets them apart from shared hosting providers is that they provide you with what they call a “slice” (other similar providers may call it a virtual private server or VPS). What this is is a virtualized server of your own. From your perspective, it’s like getting a dedicated server. You choose what OS you want (which right now consists of different Linux distributions) and you get root access so you can do whatever you want.
It differs from shared hosting in that your slice is like it’s own machine. It gets a guaranteed amount of memory and CPU so even if your neighbor is a hog, it won’t affect your slice. Because of the way that the Xen virtualization works, it is impossible to oversell on capacity.
Compared to getting a dedicated machine, it’s much cheaper and you aren’t tied to specific hardware. Blown power supply? Not your problem. I don’t know exactly what they do in this case, but I imagine they can move your slice to different hardware as needed.
You can read my original report on getting set up. You are expected to set up and administer the slice yourself. If you have the inclination and need a high level of control, then this is probably for you.
It only took me a weekend from getting my slice to having everything migrated over. Of course, being the tweaky type that I am, I spent some days playing with it and optimizing it. One of the benefits and dangers of having full control.
When I launched the new store, there was a problem. Ruby on Rails is a memory hog and as a result, I needed to upgrade to a bigger slice. Fortunately, Slicehost automates all that. Just log into the management console and request the larger slice. It takes a little while for the slice to get prepped but during that time your slice is still up. The downtime for the reboot was short (less than a minute) and that was it. The fact that it’s automated is a big deal to me as it means I can do it on the fly without doing a drawn out back and forth with a support person.
As you may or may not know, Hazel was included in the recent MacUpdate bundle. Before the launch, I upgraded my slice again to 1024M in anticipation of the load. Turns out, this was unnecessary. The 1024 slice never broke a sweat. The load went up briefly to 0.4 once. Apache connections stayed below the upper limits of what a smaller slice would have been able to handle. Traffic was about 150K requests a day at its peak. I don’t really have a frame of reference for that except that it’s a good bit more than I usually get. In short, the 512 slice would have been able to handle it fine. The slice has performed better than with my previous providers and I haven’t noticed any slowdowns or downtime (except for when I restart things for maintenance). With the promotion over, I’ve downgraded my slice and things are still running smoothly.
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After all this, I’ve only contacted support twice. Once in the beginning just to say hi and once today for an issue that ended up being an Ubuntu thing. In both cases, I received responses within the hour. Granted, I’m doing a lot of the things that support at other hosting services would do for you. It’s a trade-off between effort and control and I’m at that point where I need more of the latter. For the things I really care about, keeping the machine and network reliable, there has been nothing to report, and that is how it should be.
It’s too bad most providers price on bandwidth and storage space. I would have happily paid more per month if I could get higher availability and reliability (with the ability to run RoR – sorry Pair). Of course, with everyone claiming 99.999999% availability, it’s hard to differentiate oneself on this front so providers seem to just pile on the bandwidth/space like extra gravy hiding the bad meat.
I feel like VPSes are the future of hosting. The amount of computing power that you can cram into a 1U rack space is far more than most of us need or want to pay for. But virtualize it and divvy it up and you have a great scalable model for doing dedicated hosting. It’s probably greener too but I’ll let the hippies make a determination on that.