ned Productions Consulting

Technology musings by Niall Douglas
ned Productions Consulting
(an expert advice and services company based in Ireland)

Sunday 13th May 2018 11.25pm

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So, it's coming up to that time again, time to rent and configure a new server on the internet to handle my email and other such needs. The current one, dedi4, is in bad shape in any case, there is something wrong with its hard drive such that it runs like a dog. Plus the edition of Debian installed onto it will EOL in June. Plus it costs me €25/month, and I think I can go much cheaper.

Here are the four dedicated servers I have had to date:

dedi1 (2009-2010): I remember that this was a low end single core 1.2Ghz Celeron with 1Gb of RAM for €20/month from OVH Kimsufi, which at the time seemed amazing value. It was dog slow, but good enough to run several Plone websites.

dedi2 (2010-2012): I remember that this was not with OVH, but some other low cost crowd. I remember it being quite expensive, like €25/month or so.

dedi3 (2012-2016): I lucked out with this guy, I actually rented an Atom spec server from OVH Kimsufi for €15/month, but instead got a 3.2Ghz Core i3, which is why I kept it for so long, it was a great deal at the time. Eventually its hard drive began to see lots of SMART read errors, plus the 2Gb of RAM was limiting, plus for the same monthly fee you could get much better hardware by 2016.

dedi4 (2016-2018): OVH Kimsufi's cheapest server with ECC RAM, this fellow was once top of the range, and still is a lot of bang for the buck. 8x Xeon E5504 CPUs with 16Gb of ECC RAM and 2Tb hard drive for €26/month, it's still a very popular choice as it's server grade hardware, albeit from about a decade ago. These are actually still very competitive with modern CPUs @ 2Ghz, within 30% of so of performance. I installed Proxmox with root ZFS on this, running each of my services inside a LXC container and using ZFS snapshots and replication to keep backups to my home server synced every 15 minutes.

So what am I thinking of for 2018? Well, I'd like to get the price back down again, I really don't need 8x Xeon server grade CPUs. Back in 2016 I had ideas of running a CI server on it to test my code per commit, but then the free CI services became sufficiently good it became moot. So I'm paying out about twice the money I want to, for far more server than I need. So I'd really like to downsize.

I'd also really like a SSD for storage this time. I'm pretty sick of dealing with slow servers, I'm just no longer used to waiting when I'm configuring them. Even fetching my email from them, it annoys me that I have to wait. I do use the 2Tb drive to keep offsite backups of stuff on my home server, but given the mirrored ZFS array at home, I could easily pare that down to 16Gb of the super important stuff only.

I want to keep the ZFS based system I've currently got. It's really amazing, the 15 minute synchronisation I no longer with to live without. Unfortunately ZFS cares not for non-ECC RAM, so I'll be needing ECC RAM.

So, for a budget of €15/month, is it possible to find a fully dedicated server with SSD storage and ECC RAM? You would struggle to find a VPS for that, let alone fully dedicated! But in fact I did find one, via reseller OneProvider ( in Paris for €13/month. Comes with 8Gb of ECC RAM (one stick, so half bandwidth), 128Gb Intel 320 SSD, and eight Intel Atom CPU cores running at 2.4Ghz.

So far, I've only been playing with it. It seems lightning quick compared to the Xeon server, though much of that is the old server's hard drive being in "limp home" mode or something. The Intel 320 SSD is not fast in terms of bandwidth, indeed it's only a SATA 2 device peaking at about 250Mb/sec, but it has a 48 microsecond latency and that is very noticeable. As you execute commands, it feels like greased lightning, nearly as fast as my home servers which are much higher end hardware.

I've currently got FreeBSD 11 with ZFS installed on it. I'm currently toying with installing Docker on it, and running dockerised MailCow ( as the email appliance. This is obviously a very severe break from anything I've run publicly before, it's always been Linux until now, and I've not used Docker before. But modern FreeBSD happily runs Linux inside its containers, indeed it'll even run Windows inside its containers! It does this via a cunning syscall emulation, same as how you can now run Linux programs on Windows. So one could configure all your services into Linux containers easily relocatable to another server.

I am concerned however about the maintenance cost with running FreeBSD. Ubuntu comes in LTS editions with four years of not having to rebuild the thing. I like not having to rebuild these servers every two years, as you would with FreeBSD. Equally I'm mindful that OVH has in recent months become uncompetitive and stale, and they will surely be releasing a new lineup of budget servers soon with much better specs for the cost. do not have a great reputation, OVH seems safer to me, I know what I'm getting there.

Dunno, choices, choices.