If you have anything more exciting to do, like watching paint dry, by all means feel free to click away and save yourself from the suffering i'm about to inflict upon you.
The primary website for 12bytes went off line for nearly two weeks on the 21st of December, 2022. If you visited here during that time you were probably forwarded to a generic landing page. Getting the website back up was a nightmare.... that lasted 12 days... and nights.
Here's the story...
So i got an invoice from my old host (KnownHost) to renew my service and i diddled around for a while before i decided what i wanted to do. I had the site running on a managed VPS and i have zero complaints with KnownHost. Their service and the reliability of their infrastructure is outstanding. Open a support ticket at 4 AM on a Sunday and someone is on it, usually within minutes, plus their support is not tiered like many other hosts; you always get a knowledgeable tech that writes in fluent English. The problem is that the server was costing me close to $300 per year, plus i wanted to make some other changes. Had i known what i was in for i would've stuck with KnownHost.
The drama begins...
The cost of the server wasn't the only factor that led to me wanting to switching providers. I also wanted to try running a self-managed VPS at a lower price point than what KnownHost could offer, and so i set out looking for hosting companies which, i assure you, is NOT an easy task, even if money isn't a factor. There is a *massive* number of truly shitty companies out there and they probably outnumber the good ones by a factor of 100:1, likely more. Many of them are owned by Endurance International Group (EIG), a.k.a Clearlake Capital Group, a.k.a Newfold Digital, their newest name as far as i know.
In addition to cost, a provider which is protective of free speech was also a crucial requirement and unless you go with an off-shore host, which can be both problematic and costly, there are apparently a very small number of them. BuyVM is one that comes highly recommended. They are certainly one of the most favored VPS providers on LowEndTalk and their prices are quite reasonable. As a matter of fact, a few of the replies i got when querying hosts who didn't care about free speech, referred me to BuyVM. This reply came from Jack Bell of Afterburst:
Honestly you're probably better off with someone like Incognet or BuyVM for controversial but legal content.
And this one from Mike at Asura Hosting:
I would strongly recommend you have a look at BuyVM. Although we do tick basically all your requirements, the main issue is our location being in Europe. You should get a location in US to avoid any GDPR/EU laws
The longest reply i received was from Ryan Arp of Catalyst Host who opened with "Hey friend" and then spent 512 more words telling me that he essentially hates free speech and that i would probably agree with him when i was done reading his wall of text. This paragraph says it all pretty much:
The thing about an AUP for a hosting company is that it has to either be open ended, a lie, or it has to be constantly revised. The reason for this is that if we specify all of the ways someone can abuse our service explicitly, people will just try to skate around it or find new ways to abuse the systems. Regardless of their methods and whether or not we know them exactly up front, I think you'd agree that the big thing is that we can't let a customer harm the rest of our customers. That's really what it's meant to communicate: We love our customers, and anyone who wishes to harm them isn't welcome here.
"His" reply (i hope i'm using the correct pronoun) left me wondering how exactly my lil' ol' website running on one Virtual Private Server on one node in one data center could possibly "abuse" and "harm" his other customers and sink his entire business. That said, i certainly appreciated his honesty.
It's a damn sad state of affairs when several prospective hosting providers all mention the same company with regard to being supportive of free speech. It's sadder still that so many don't give a rocketing turd about their own future, much less that of their kids, or anyone else.
My search went on for several days before i finally rolled the dice and chose Floofy Hosting as my VPS provider. And you thought i was going to say BuyVM, dincha? In all honesty i don't think you could go wrong with them, though i'm not entirely sure i'd count on them if you needed super-duper 24/7/365 99.999999999999% up-time reliability, which is a sales gimmick anyway for the most part. I also prefer smaller companies because they tend to care more about their customers. Matter of fact, one of the very best hosting providers i ever had was run by one guy. He used Digital Ocean's infrastructure, his support was good and, until i opened my big mouth, he was charging me some minuscule amount like $5 a month (OK, maybe $5.95) for a fully managed VPS! I literally felt like i was taking advantage of the guy and so i suggested he charge a little more for the good service he provided. The problem with the one-man-show deal surfaces abruptly however when that one man decides to challenge the coppers to a shootout and loses, shortly after which your website evaporates. Lesson learned: Small is OK, but not too small.
So after nearly a week of searching for a decent company i chose Floofy even though they didn't meet two of my criteria; they haven't been in business for at least 10 years and they don't own their own data centers. My decision to go with them regardless was influenced both by prices, which are really reasonable, and Abdullah's stance on free speech (he's the head honcho at Floofy). Plus Abdullah was quite patient with me throughout our exchange of no less than 16 emails over the course of 6 days before i finally decided to pull the trigger! Poor fella had to work to sell me! So with a VPS provider in hand 12bytes is back in the saddle! Except no.
The drama continues...
Still not satisfied with the depth of the hole i was digging for myself, i also decided to go with a different VPS control panel, Webmin/Virtualmin instead of Direct Admin. OK, so i'm still too dumb to run without a CP. Make fun of me, go ahead you tech tards. Webmin/Virtualmin is not for the timid nooblet however, let me tell ya. It takes quite a bit of reading and fooling around and forum posting and making mistakes and starting all over again and again and again. Getting DNS working properly and getting a mail server running properly is no easy task. I brought up the virtual host and scrapped it again at least 4 or 5 times before i finally had the site running again.
And more drama...
Having canned the static idea, at least for now, it was a simple matter of installing a fresh copy of ClassicPress, restoring the database and image library and viola! El-completo! Not. At the time, the release version of ClassicPress wouldn't run on PHP 8 and the v7 branch is EOL which means, for security reasons, it's SOL. After figuring that out i decided, the hell with it, i'll go back to WordPress, and so i did. Virtualmin has a nice script installer for WP that configures everything and it had an install up and running in less than a minute, and so i invested several more hours working on it and restoring stuff and selecting plugins and yada yada yada, but restoring the image library was presenting a significant problem. Then i find out there's a development version of ClassicPress that works with PHP v8. Given i watch their news feed i normally would have known that ahead of time, except it hit the feed at the same time i was dealing with this mess i got myself into and so i was too busy to bother reading my feeds.
OK. ClassicPress it is! Install that baby, restore everything, done! Except it would not not NOT connect to the database. Scrap and recreate the database and run the installer again. Nope. Make damn sure i'm using the correct credentials. Nope. Scrap the database again. Nope. Scrap me (my user) and recreate me. Nope. Scrap the whole damned virtual server and rebuild it. Nope! Finally i edited the wp-config.php file manually, using the EXACT SAME CREDENTIALS I USED BEFORE and... it installed. Restored the database and images and here we are!
Jesus mother of pregnant golf balls, what a FU**ING JOURNEY!!!
Now, getting back to how i picked a hosting provider, here's some resources and rules i used which proved to be valuable:
- Make sure the company is not owned by Endurance International Group (EIG) / Clearlake Capital Group / Newfold Digital. Because the service and support of the companies owned by EIG, Newfold Digital, etc. often nose-dives once they're acquired, they do not usually disclose their parent company but you can reference my list here. Understand though that these offenders change their names and are constantly absorbing more companies, so no list is likely to be complete.
- LowEndTalk is one of the first places to look for cheap hosting companies and among them you're also likely to find some cheap and good companies once you troll around long enough. LET is fairly free-speech friendly so if a company talks shit, they'll be called out right quick. The reviews section of the forum is here.
- I'm very weary of big, corporate "review" websites but Trustpilot came in handy. The reviews, at least for web hosting companies, seemed to hit the mark pretty well. I judged the accuracy of Trustpilot by looking at the review scores for companies i know to be good, such as KnownHost for example, and those i know to be horrible.
- Searching the interwebs using terms such as 'quality vps provider', 'low cost kvm vps' or 'united states vps host' is completely useless! You'll return piles and piles of garbage companies. You have to be more creative with your searches and it helps to use different search engines as well. For example you could craft searches like 'free-speech vps' or 'family-owned kvm vps' or 'privately-owned vps' or 'we-own data-center vps' or 'dmca-ignored vps', etc..
- Avoid companies that don't offer a personal note about their business. Look for an "about us" page that provides more personalized information rather than the typical corporate drivel, or none at all.
- If you care about privacy, pick a host that accepts crypto and doesn't require personal information.
- Avoid "U.S. based" companies that aren't based in the U.S.. If their English is lousy, it's a dead giveaway.
Here's an example of how deceitful many of these companies are. I don't remember the exact search terms i used to find these idiots, but i apparently included 'united-states' and/or 'about-us' with the intention of finding a company based in the U.S. that had an "about us" page for me to read. Notice anything odd?
Here's a template you might want to adapt if you're searching for a hosting provider. These are some of basic question i asked them:
Questions to ask of hosting providers
i'm looking for a new, long-term host and am considering your company - i was previously with <some company> whose service and support were excellent, but i want to move to a self-managed VPS at a lower price than what they can offer
i'd like to ask a few questions before making a decision...
1. are you affiliated in any way with Endurance International Group (EIG), a.k.a Clearlake Capital Group, a.k.a Newfold Digital? if so, there's no need to answer further questions
2. in what country/state is your company registered?
3. are independently owned and, if so, do you plan to remain so, or would you consider being bought?
4. what is your position regarding free speech as guaranteed by the 1st amendment to the U.S. constitution? for example, a portion of the content i publish is highly critical of Israel and it's influence upon various U.S. institutions
5. do you own your data center(s) and, if not, who provides your server infrastructure?
6. where is your support based and what is the average response time for weekends/holidays/weekdays?
7. i see some companies are requiring that all customers, regardless of where they are based, to adhere to the EU's GDPR - what is your policy regarding the GDPR for websites hosted in the U.S.?
8. do you accept crypto currencies?
9. what coupons/discounts are available if any?
6 thoughts on “The drama of running a VPS and tips for avoiding shitty providers”
I’m happy to see the old site back, the design of the new one wasn’t that convenient.
In the meanwhile I was also looking for other VPS providers since BuyVM was out of stock. I ended up using crowncloud.net. It’s cheap and has a simple, but clean user interface. It’s not managed, but that’s what I needed. Also accepts monero – that’s usually the first criteria I look at when shopping for internet services. cryptwerk.com/pay-with/xmr/ comes in handy
hi Simon – thanks for mentioning the crypto thing – i’ll add that to the list
It looks like the link to your old host’s shootout story is actually at 12bytes.org/12bytes-website/when-your-web-host-has-a-shootout-with-the-cops-and-loses/ .
much appreciated – when i restored the site the permalink structure was changed
Thanks for this long journey…
I cried and I laughed with you through this post… :) :)
Special thanks for your advices. Currently looking for a good VPS provider with “free speech” in mind. Just like you did. So you helped me a lot!
thanks for the kind words and i’m glad you found the article useful :)