LowEndBox

What’s a LowEndBox?

The term comes from LowEndBox and LowEndTalk, where the venerable (and sadly long-departed) LEAdmin would venture out into the world and try various crazy promos he’d come across, reporting back his results gonzo-style.

Yes, You Can Host 18 Static Sites on a 64MB Link-1 VPS is still one of my all-time favorite articles.

The traditional cutoff has been $7 but obviously that’s arbitrary.  At one time, $7/mo might get you 64MB.  128MB was a common size at that price for a long time.  Most of the providers in this space were not the big giants but rather small shops and the game was to stretch the boxes as much as possible.

Today, even “low end” boxes are kind of big.  If we use LET’s traditional $7 price cutoff, that’d buy you a VPS in any of the Mid Market Majors with 512MB, 1TB, and SSD disk.  And if you want to go outside the big guys, some places offer 2GB or even 4GB of RAM for that much.

While you might have problems with a Digital Ocean, Linode, or Vultr, I’m confidant you won’t be flat-out ripped off and that you’re dealing with a company with at least some good sysadmins.  But once you step off into the broader waters, it’s hard to know who truly are the “enterprise-grade hosting providers with a 99.9% SLA” and who are the people who just ripped off that template.  Anyone can run an ad on WHT.  On LET, there is a little more screening, but fundamentally, it’s an adventure.  Players in this space range from long-established brands that clearly have aspirations to become bigger players to summer hosts that are founded in June and are gone by September.

Why Wouldn’t I Want to Just Stick With the Big Three?

You probably do.  However, you may have special needs:

  • You want more advanced DDOS protection
  • You want offloaded SQL
  • You want a different geography than any of the big three offer
  • You want someone who’s less pesky about DMCAs and such
  • You want a really good deal with more resources for your dollar
  • You want to do things one of the big guys doesn’t allow in their Acceptable Use Policy
  • You want to run an OS that the big guys don’t offer (at least one offers custom ISO, but of course that provider may not be in your preferred network location, etc.)
  • You want a more personal relationship.  I know the name of all the owners below, and I think I’ve talked to all of them in forums or IRC.  They’re accessible and the good ones listen to their customers.

I Can Still Nerd Rage About Less-than-Platinum Service With These Provders, Right?

Ah, no.  You do need to calibrate your expectations down a bit.  Some of these providers have bigger help desks, but some are just one- or two-man shows.  Tickets may take 24h- often faster, but the key is that they’re not promising and staffing to deliver on that kind of SLA.  Compared to the bigger guys, problems with LowEnd providers take longer to resolve, SLAs are looser, non-critical tickets might be business hours only, etc.


My Recommendations


BuyVM

There was a time when the only way to get a BuyVM VPS was to get up at 2am and wait for Francisco to release stock.  And many people did this.  That should tell you something.

BuyVM is an excellent provider with a great reputation.  I’ve consistently found their services to be stable and performant.  They’re not perfect and have had issues, but they were always handled very professionally.

BuyVM has also consistently innovated.  I’m not sure if they were absolutely the first in some cases, but they always seem to be in the first wave.  Some examples: $15/yr plans, private networks, offloaded SQL, DDOS protection, dedicated resources.  Yes, others did these things, but BuyVM was first or one of the first in the LowEnd marketplace.

BuyVM has a custom panel which…OK, it doesn’t really do a lot more than Solus but it’s a lot nicer to look at, and funnier, too.  It’s cool that they have that platform to build out new features on…and frankly, just cool to not be part of the Solus monoculture.  If you’re looking for Windows, note that BuyVM includes a license with their KVMs.

Nice wiki, active IRC, always with new features – I like BuyVM and it’s one of the providers that I feel the most comfortable recommending.

SecureDragon

SecureDragon is a LowEnd Provider’s Provider.  You really get the sense that it’s a labor of love.  Joe has poured a lot of time and professionalism into his operation: custom panel (Wyvern) and many options for customers.  BTW, as an example of what I mean by professionalism: Wyvern was sent to an external code auditor for security review, which I think speaks well of SD’s commitment to its service.

Side note: it’s interesting to me that one way to judge hosts is by the length of their AUP.  Long ones tend to reflect deep experience.  Joe’s is long.

I’ve had a great experience with SecureDragon over the years.  They’re generally not the absolute cheapest but the just-works factor is big.  So big, I even promote them without an affiliate code!

RamNode

Blazing fast.  That pretty much summarizes RamNode.

OK, not entirely – they also offer dedicated resources, storage, cheaper/slower systems, etc. – it’s a really nice mix and Nick has continually delivered great performance and good service.

I’ve not used their DDOS protection but they were an early entrant into that market.  I have used RamNode VPSes for everything from tiny VPNs to bigger storage to some speedy app boxes.

I have no hesitation in recommending RamNode.

CatalystHost

I’ve only used their small 128MB Dallas systems for VPNs.  I wrote a review of CatalystHost on LowEndTalk.

Long story short: great VPN performance, no downtime, and a minor issue was speedily resolved.

 

 


On Deck


These are providers I either haven’t used for very long, or haven’t used very recently.  I can’t give them my full endorsement for those reasons, but think of them positively and they may either evolve into or return to being regular recommendations.

BudgetNode

BudgetNode is run by Ishaq, a long-time mod on LowEndTalk.  I’ve had a small kvm with them in LA for a while that I’ve used as a mail gateway/general utility server, and it’s been fine.

If you decide to buy from BudgetNode, I’d check out LET for specials as they periodically post them there.

 

 

 

HostUS

I got some HostUS credit in a the LowEndTalk top provider poll, and have have been using a small plan there for VPN purposes when I travel.  To date it’s been rock solid.

 

 

 

 

Hostigation

Team Tim!  Hostigation is a one-man shop with bicoastal hosting.  I used them heavily back when they did storage VPSes, and I’ve had some KVMs with Hostigation over the years.  I’ve always found Tim helpful and the service both stable and performant.  Don’t like the front page scare you!  I haven’t been with them recently just because I haven’t had the need.