there is no place like ~

Experiences with unixshell# hosting

Back in December 2006, I was searching a virtual server to host my private homepage and some additional functions. I was looking for a provider who could give me the following services:

In particular, the isolation against other users was an important point to me. Therefore, I was looking especially for a Xen hosting company, and so I came to unixshell#: 6 GB Hard disk, 64 MB RAM, 64 Units CPU (whatever that is), 1 IP Address, a populated user forum (with an active admin) and not much bad critics in the Web for $14.99 per month with a notice period of one month. The low price was justified by the absence of technical support.

The Paradise (December 2005 - March 2006)

Just what I was looking for, I thought. I signed up and after a few days my machine was ready for use. The Web panel was simple but functional and I could accomplish the tasks of shutting down the server, bring it up, create snapshots and install a new Operating System.

My Virtual Machine (VM17) felt fast, the network connection was good and I was quite satisfied. Sometimes there were small dropouts, but none of them were to blame the hosting company for. In January, before the migration of the virtual machines to Xen 3.0, an increase of 50% of the resources was announced, for no charge. From that time on, I had 96 MB RAM for the same price. Not bad!

The purgatory (April 2006 - August 2006)

After the migration to Xen 3.0 the problems increased. Users reported random crashes, with data losses in some cases, VMs were down far to often, and at some moments (some hours or couples of days) any access was agonisingly slow.

The increasing frequency and intensity of angry posts in the forum plus the fact that some technical issues with Xen were palpably not under control made make the owner an offer to all customers to migrate to Tektonic, a sister company, for no charge. unixshell# stopped accepting new customers and focused on limiting damage.

Hell (September 2006 - October 2006)

At some point my account was extended to 128 MB. A nice move, but unfortunately this was not of much use to me, because access to the VM became tantalisingly slow – permanently. It was not a problem of RAM, though, the hard disk access time was so high. Only to open a file made the iowait shot up to 45% or more. Static HTML pages were delivered with 3-4 seconds of delay.

The initially very helpful owner of the company reduced his presence in the user forum notably. Some users posted upset postings about very high response times for support tickets. Eventually, The forum calmed down. Angry customers were gone either to Tektonic or to other companies.

Disillusioning is the fact that the used RAID controller could shred all data of one VM, with no hope of recovering, despite mirroring was enabled. (Rightfully, I have to say the owner of unixshell# tried hard to recover the data.) One might think he can use the saved snapshot – only if it were not kept on the same destroyed hard disk!

Back to normality? (November 2006 - today (January 2007))

In the mean time the quality of service has returned to a acceptable state. I really hope the problems were related only to the migration to Xen 3.0 and all technical issues are now under control.

I will continue to host my personal homepage at unixshell#. The cost/performance ration has returned to a good level, and I think I can hardly find better value for my $15 per month.

And yes, I do make regular backups.

Updates

Update 30 January 2007

It seems unixshell# is now addressing the problem of high I/O latency. If they succeed in their proposals, I'm a very happy customer again.

Update spring 2007

unixshell# offers a free migration to Tektonic. I accept that offer but get a reply that due to lack of space the migration will be deferred for an unspecified time.

Update 10 October 2007

I have contacted Tektonic sales for a manual migration to Tektonic. They were quite happy to help me in that, and literally one day before I sign up for Tektonic, I see in unixshell#'s user forum a post complaining that servers within unixshell# are spamming. There was no statement from unixshell# on this and according to the poster, no corrective action as well. This made me sign up for Linode, because although I was happy with unixshell#, I prefer not to give my money to a provider which appears to tolerate spammers.