Low price, big power: Virtual Private Server picks for power nerds
AWS not the boss of you? Try these VPS options...
Behind the scenes
The first and oldest of the bunch is OpenVZ virtualisation. In theory, OpenVZ should be the fastest, but because OpenVZ makes it easy to oversell VPS space, a few bad apple providers out there have given OpenVZ something of a bad name. Most new VPS providers use KVM or Xen for virtualisation. In fact all the VPS hosts reviewed below use either KVM or Xen behind the scenes.
As with shared hosting, it's also possible for VPS hosts to seriously crowd server hardware to the point that your server slows to a crawl, which is why it pays to shop around (and possible avoid OpenVZ-based hosts, though again, OpenVZ isn't to blame, it's the hosts that abuse it which create the problem). There are hundreds, if not thousands of VPS hosts out there, but for the purposes of this review I'll stick with some of the biggest names in the business: the venerable Linode, the now-massive Digital Ocean, and recent upstart Vultr.
Perhaps the biggest name in VPS hosting, at least among developers and start-ups, is Linode. Linode has been around since 2003 and the company was one of the first to offer plans in the $20 range and now – thanks in part to competition from Digital Ocean and Vultr – even Linode has a $10 per month plan available. Unlike the newcomers, Linode uses Xen exclusively.
Linode is not the cheapest of the bunch, the company lacks an equivalent to the $5 per month plans found elsewhere, but in my experience it's the fastest and most reliable. It has more US data centres than most of the competition and also offers data centres in London and Tokyo. Linode doesn't currently have a data centre in Europe though, so if the majority of your traffic is coming from Europe, Linode may not be the fastest choice.
The cheapest Linode offering – which gets you a VPS with 1GB RAM, 1 CPU Core, 24 GB SSD Storage, 40 Gbit Network In, 125 Mbit Network Out and a 2 TB monthly transfer limit – outperformed everything else I've tested with the ServerBear benchmark suite. Using the company’s Fremont, California, data centre I was able to consistently get around 60 MB per sec transfer speeds and scores of around 900 and sometimes higher on UnixBench. While both Digital Ocean and Vultr get close, neither was able to match Linode's performance for the $10 a month instances.
Linode also offers some advanced features you won't find in the others, like the ability to use slightly less mainstream Linux distros like Slackware, Gentoo or Arch. Linode also has an option to spin up a bare VPS and install your own distro if the available options don't meet your needs (for example you can install FreeBSD). If your app grows, Linode also offers high-end extras like load balancers and a nice metrics package called Longview.
While Linode has a long history in VPS hosting, Digital Ocean is a relative newcomer. Digital Ocean's growth over its short life has been nothing short of meteoric. In just over two years, Digital Ocean has, by some measures, become the third-largest hosting company in the world.
Digital Ocean likes to credit its success to its focus on developers, which probably doesn't hurt, but having the lowest price didn't hurt either. Digital Ocean was one of the first reliable VPS hosts to offer a $5-a-month plan. Having used that plan almost since the company started offering it, I can say that while it's not always the fastest in benchmarks, it has been very reliable. Over the last six months my "droplet", as Digital Ocean calls VPS instances, has had 100 per cent uptime. For the year before, my uptime was at 99.98 per cent.
Digital Ocean also offers one of the nicest control panels you'll find in this space. The company is also remarkably fast at setting up new instances, in most cases I've been able to spin up a new instance in less than a minute. My biggest gripe is that unless you add your SSH key, Digital Ocean will email your root password in plain text. Make sure you add an SSH key first thing to avoid that issue.