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Rackspace Cloud Servers vs. VPS Platforms

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Chad Keck, Cloud Guru

Lately I’ve found myself in the middle of several discussions about how Rackspace Cloud Servers and other platforms like it (Amazon EC2, Linode, GoGrid, etc) differ from traditional VPS environments. While there are similarities, they are by no means the same thing. Let’s take a quick look at some of the key differentiators and advantages.

A Cloud Server is a virtual dedicated server instance based on our custom implementation of the Xen Hypervisor that runs on very robust hardware. These server instances offer truly dedicated and protected resources unlike a traditional VPS (virtual private server). While you may get a small portion of dedicated memory, there is generally no dedicated CPU allocation, disk i/o, network i/o, etc. In addition, most VPS providers only offer smaller amounts of resources, 256MB to 1GB of memory and no options above this. The largest problem by far is that VPS platforms are typically oversold making one physical host machine run far too many customers. This turns into a resource allocation nightmare causing server crashes or poor performance (or both). There is no isolation from other customers.

With a Cloud Server you always get the full amount of allocated memory, CPU, network i/o, etc that you are paying for and there are some great perks as well, such as the ability for your CPU allocation to burst when there are free CPU cycles on the host machine or when it is heavily underutilized. So often you end up with far more CPU allocation than what you are paying for as the host servers powering Cloud Servers are never oversold.
Now, that being said, lets talk about some of the real “cloud” features…

Instant Provisioning

Spin up one, ten or 100 Cloud Servers in real-time via our control panel or programmatically via our robust API.

Resource Granularity

No need to worry about finding the best fit between 2 or 3 options. The Rackspace Cloud offers a wide range of instance sizes so you can ensure you are paying only for the resources you need at that time.

Near Instant Scaling

One of the best features of the entire platform is the ability to instantly resize (in near real-time) your Cloud Server instance with a few clicks in the control panel or an API call. Once this event is triggered everything else is automated and takes only a few minutes (depends on how much data is on the instance). Your new instance either larger or smaller will be created and a snapshot of your current Cloud Server is taken and restored to the new instance moving over all your data and configurations (no data migration or reconfiguration necessary). Once you confirm that everything is working with the new Cloud Server instance you can finalize the resize which moves your IP address(es) to the new server instance.

Hourly Billing & Utility Bandwidth

Utility billing is essential for any Cloud platform and something else you will not find from a VPS provider. You pay for your server instances on a per hour basis, so if you only need an instance for a certain amount of days/weeks that is all you pay for. Or if you need to move up and down on your resources you continue to pay only for what you are using. Bundled bandwidth is also something the VAST majority of users don’t exceed. We have broken this out to save you even more money instead of bundling it into the cost which always carries a dollar amount to it.

No Bloatware Installed

No control panels or other software installed by default, Cloud Servers give you straight SSH/command line access to your Linux server environment just like you would have with your own dedicated server. If you choose to install a control panel, you certainly can, but we do not make this decision for you.

Cloning

Server cloning allows you to provision a brand new Cloud Server instance on the spot from any of your current Cloud Servers which will contain all that servers data and configurations. You can also launch a new Cloud Server anytime from a backup image from any other server on your account.

Persistent Storage

This isn’t necessarily a difference between Cloud Servers and VPS platforms, but data persistence is a huge feature of the Cloud Servers platform when comparing to other Cloud infrastructure platforms such as Amazon EC2. Your data on Cloud Servers is stored on a local high-performance RAID10 array on the host server, so even in the event of a hardware failure your data is safe and will be there when the server is brought back online, unlike Amazon EC2 where all that data in memory simply disappears unless you have another storage solution implemented.

These are just a few of the big differences between a true Cloud hosting platform and a VPS environment. If you have any questions or feedback leave a comment below.

For more Cloud topics and discussions, visit http://chadkeck.com/ or follow me on Twitter: @ckeck.





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About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Angela Bartels.

Angela runs integrated marketing campaigns for Rackspace. She started at Rackspace in 2003 and has done everything from Linux support, account management, sales, product marketing and now lives in marketing. She left Rackspace in 2005 to work for PEER 1 Hosting but returned in 2009 because she was interested in the cloud computing movement (and has always been a Racker at heart). Angela is a strong believer in the power of storytelling.


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26 Comments

You probably want to clear up the EC2 storage statement. EC2 can boot from EBS now. That coupled with the storage being associated with the boot image effectively makes persistent storage transparent.

avatar Carson McDonald on December 7, 2009 | Reply

Hi Carson,

Certainly true, I simply wanted to point out that EBS is a separate service/product which has to be used in addition to EC2 to achieve this. It does add an additional layer of complexity and an additional cost, but persistence can be achieved. It’s just not inherent to EC2 “out of the box”, nor is it local.

-Chad

avatar Chad Keck on December 7, 2009

What’s the difference between Cloud Servers and Slicehost?

avatar Piers on December 7, 2009 | Reply

The main differences lie in the integration with the other Rackspace Cloud platforms, Fanatical Support and the utility billing model. On Slicehost you will have standard monthly billing with bandwidth included where as Cloud Servers offers hourly billing based on your instance size and pure utility bandwidth.

Also, Cloud Servers is launching support for Windows in early 2010 which you will not find on Slicehost. I hope this helps.

avatar Chad Keck on December 8, 2009

There is a question here, I like Cloud by technical specs also I’m using Amazon EC2 [because I heard that first and there was not any technical reasons ;) ] Personally use cloud servers just to keep playing with my scripts and backing up some thing on-line but not for continuous working (mean just for paying as utility),

Ok with this background I have a question about why we should use cloud_server as main platform for our servers. You know I use dozen of Virtual machines for web hosting, mail system, and … but all of them are hosted on Dedicated servers I bought or they are just VPS and the reason I think Cloud_server is not good for me is price, I have every thing Cloud_server offers to me with less price, here I make two examples:

1. Little One:: I’m going to have a VPS with 1GB RAM, Should I buy Cloud_Server or normal VPS?

I just checked price list ( http://www.rackspacecloud.com/cloud_hosting_products/servers/pricing ), giving an example if I buy a 1024MB RAM/40GB Storage service for $43 and as I have 300GB monthly traffic, I should pay $66 per month and :
Total cost is $109 for 1GB RAM and 40GB Storage
That seems so expensive, I can buy VPS by 2048MB RAM and 2TB bandwidth and 60GB Storage (Or some thing near that form company to company) for about $60-80 per month.

2. Bigger One:: What about If I decided to have VPS with huge memory (12-16GB):

If we are talking about big amount of memory that you can find rarely in VPS providers, I thing with $700 + Bandwidth price (in cloud_server) I can lease a dedicated server and run Xen or VirtualBox (mostly Xen) with cloning and … for $300-500 (depends on Data Center and facilities)

Conclusion:
So who’s target audience for Cloud_Server?
As a system administrator I prefer to purchase dedicated server and run my own Virtualization platform to gain cloning, flexible server management, more control on servers and isolated security zones etc, so I think cloud_server is not some thing for me!

Don’t know but a company who don’t have technical admins I think will buy a Hosting (may be Cloud_Hosting)
Or a web application programmer/ web designer will prefer to buy hosting (may be cloud one),
So cloud_server is not some thing for them!

** So who’s Cloud_server target? and why should buy it **

I hope I missed to count some thing or I don’t know there is some thing that make me to buy cloud_server. Dunno but may be I go and buy Cloud_Hosting for my clients because it’s looking more flexible and ready to growth but about Cloud_server there is no reason to buy it, at least with my concurrent knowledge.

avatar Ozux on December 7, 2009 | Reply

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avatar Rackspace Cloud Computing & Hosting | Rackspace Cloud Servers vs … | Web Hosting Geeks - Shared Web Hosting, VPS, Dedicated Servers, Virtualization and Cloud Computing on December 7, 2009 | Reply

This question was already asked. I will underline some things further.

QUOTE: “These server instances offer truly dedicated and protected resources unlike a traditional VPS (virtual private server)”

A traditional VPS on Xen is not offering protected and trully dedicated resources ?

QUOTE: While you may get a small portion of dedicated memory, there is generally no dedicated CPU allocation, disk i/o, network i/o, etc

You will argue with me on this one, but that is ok. You can’t guarantee disk i/o. Anyway, how do you guarantee it ? (just to make a point, don’t go into schedulers). The rest, 99% guarantees some CPU (even VZ) and bandwidth. Nothing new.

QUOTE: “The largest problem by far is that VPS platforms are typically oversold making one physical host machine run far too many customers”

Again, the Xen thing. Yes you can oversell on VZ. Some would say you can oversell on Xen too (which is a stupid thing to try to do) so you are describing a traditional Xen again.

QUOTE: “There is no isolation from other customers.”

Hmm, how come ? You probably wanted to say that on VZ (I am using VZ as an example for OpenVZ) there is no isolation because a customer has no guarantee of CPU, disk io, network io, but, since you can’t cap Xen’s CPU usage what do you do ? (everyone has schedulers to guarantee what you guarantee and they pretty much do it). Or you wanted to say something else ?

QUOTE: “With a Cloud Server you always get the full amount of allocated memory, CPU, network i/o, etc that you are paying for ”

Ok. First of all, what does Cloud even mean ? (rhetorical , it’s marketing I know).
You don’t always get the full amount of allocated memory on a “traditional VPS” because ?
I mean, you can’t oversell with Xen (we concluded that) and I don’t see KSM or baloon in Xen and it’s stupid to use those anyway (except for KSM, that looks great, but hey, you are on Xen).

QUOTE: “as the ability for your CPU allocation to burst when there are free CPU cycles on the host machine”

Well, yes, you can’t cap CPU on Xen, and you turned it into a marketing thing. Nice but it’s still a traditional VPS, anyone that offers Xen will let you use free cycles, at leas for now.

QUOTE: “or when it is heavily underutilized”
Now, I do not really know why you wrote that.

QUOTE: “as the host servers powering Cloud Servers are never oversold”
True, but still a traditional VPS on an hypervisor.

The rest of the features are just features of your panel, some already offered by your competitors (probably all but I did not have time to study that).

avatar Tomoiaga on December 7, 2009 | Reply

About the only thing that is different between a Xen VPS provider and cloud provider is the billing format. All the other “cloud” features you mention are standard fare for any of the quality VPS providers…

avatar Thomas Asaro on December 7, 2009 | Reply

Not necessarily, but billing is one of the bigger differentiators. Cloud computing in general is focused around a few key things including the ability to scale to meet demand but still pay only for the resources you are truly using which Cloud Serves allows with its hourly billing and a la carte bandwidth. Cloud Servers also allows you to resize your server instance in near real-time without any data migration or reconfiguration of the server/OS at all. And last but not least is the availability of an API for the system. This is something you will not find with traditional VPS platforms.

avatar Chad Keck on December 8, 2009

Have you seen VPS.Net? I believe Rackspace is contradicting itself.

avatar J on December 8, 2009 | Reply

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avatar Rackspace Cloud Computing & Hosting | Rackspace Cloud Servers vs … | ArtykułyNet on December 9, 2009 | Reply

You know, I’ve been a customer of Linode’s for several years, and my willingness to try Rackspace Cloud just dropped a bit, seeing as many of the so-called differences listed in the post simply aren’t true.

Where did you get the idea that most VPS providers only offer up to 1 GB of RAM? Linode offers up to 14 GB (it’s available in the admin panel, but strangely not on the front page), and even Rackspace’s own company SliceHost offers up to 15.5 GB of RAM.

Also, with Linode (and with other Xen-powered VPS providers as well), you get a minimum amount of RAM, and if the host machine isn’t doing much, you can utilize the dormant VPSes’ RAM. This advantage (dedicated, burstable resources) apply to both VPSes and Rackspace Cloud – yet you make it seem like it only applies to Rackspace Cloud.

Oversold VPSes? Not in Linode’s case (check , and if overselling on VPSes is really the norm (as you seem to suggest), why did Rackspace, a reputable company, buy SliceHost?

Not only has your post not convinced me that Rackspace Cloud is better than my current Linode solution, but I’ve also lost some of the respect I had for Rackspace. If you want to list the differences between you and your competitors, be fair about it.

(I’m not affiliated with Linode in any way other than being a customer of theirs).

avatar Jonas on December 10, 2009 | Reply

Hi Jonas,

Let me take a moment to clarify a few points in my post as I believe there is some miscommunication here and I apologize it I wasn’t completely clear. In my comparison I do broadly mention “most” VPS providers, but not *all* of them. There are many solid VPS hosting companies out there that don’t have many of the downfalls or operational “misconduct” like the hyper-majority. My post wasn’t a blanket for all VPS hosts, I just want to make that clear.

You mention that you are a Linode customer who is one of the minority in the VPS market that offers some solid services, but there are still differences between between our two product lines. Some of which may be of interest to you and others that may not. Lets take a quick look at these:

1) A full and robust open API
2) Availability: Cloud Servers offers the ability to meet almost any demand in terms of resources or just sheer number of instances available. Linode being a much smaller player has very limited resources in comparison. This may not be a concern to many smaller customers, but it does shed light on certain operational aspects of ones business
3) Utility billing allowing you to truly pay for what you use in terms of server instance resources and bandwidth
4) SLA: Cloud Servers offers the industry leading SLA which is the same as a managed solution from Rackspace, 100% network uptime guarantee and a 1-hour hardware replacement guarantee
5) Top tier Rackspace owned/operated data centers
6) Windows Server (launching on Cloud Servers in early 2010)
7) Integration with other Rackspace Cloud products and managed dedicated hosting services from Rackspace.

I hope this helps shed at least some light on a few of the differences. As I mentioned earlier, these may or may not be important to you, so it really comes down to your project and personal preference at some point. Personal blog? Cloud Servers or Linode are both a great fit. Mission critical business site or application? I would recommend Cloud Servers. If you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask.

We would love for you to take us for a test drive and experience some of these advantages first hand – take care.

avatar Chad Keck on December 11, 2009

Totally agree Jonas.
Pretty arrogant sales pitch from Chad that borders on misinformation, and doesn’t reflect well on Rackspace. If you’re going to brag about your services, then back it up with quantifiable claims rather than trying to pull the wool over the eyes of people who don’t know about the technology. Negative down talking of the competition is an amateur marketing mistake. For me, this is another nail in the coffin of using rackspace, their constant aggressive sales tack is extremely off putting.

avatar Mike Grant on January 27, 2011

What cloud management platform does Rackspace use to integrate with VM management (provisioning, de-provisioning) platform, interface with billing systems and provide the user interface for the customer? Is this commercial software or is it custom developed?

avatar Akili on December 11, 2009 | Reply

Akili,

The Rackspace Cloud has a custom in-house developed management console used for provisioning Cloud resources on our various platforms. If you would like to learn more and see some video demonstrations, check out this post on my blog here:

http://chadkeck.com/2009/12/why-the-rackspace-cloud-control-panel-is-the-best/

avatar Chad Keck [Racker] on December 13, 2009

I’m a Cloudsites and CloudServers customer. In recent days I’ve run into some trouble on CloudSites with some issues in my architecture that have affected other CloudSites customers. I really enjoy the LAMP PaaS implemented by CloudSites, but resource isolation is a big issue. I use a CloudServer for mail delivery in my solution, but would like to leverage Cloud Servers more in the future. While server appliance images are useful we really need coordinated instances which implement a PaaS solution with a greater level of resource isolation.

My proposed solution can be found here: http://www.stonedb.com/2009/12/12/coordinated-cloudservers-a-resource-isolated-cloudsites-solution/

avatar Travell Perkins on December 12, 2009 | Reply

Hi Travell,

Thank you for sharing! I think you have some great ideas here and I’m going to pass this along internally. I know we have a lot of work going on around revamped architecture for future product releases and refreshes. Maybe some of your ideas can be worked in.

avatar Chad Keck [Racker] on December 13, 2009

The CloudTools partner, Kaavo, provides a solution that fits the bill! They supply n tier system templates to provide one click deployment of complex server environments. They take an application centric approach to dealing with infrastructure. It would be interesting if the RS engineers collaborated with the Kaavo team to provide an official template for CloudSite customers to easily migrate to CloudServers. Ideally this would be an n tier LAMP stack with many of the bells and whistles implemented in the CloudSites infrastructure except scaled down. Tiers would include: web,mysql/postgres, NAS, SMTP(outbound)

avatar Travell Perkins on January 1, 2010

I think VPS are now in clouds too. And also either expensive or cheap vps are now in clouds. They have GREEN too.

avatar Killer Bee on December 28, 2009 | Reply

Was considering hosting our sites with rackspace but I will surely not after reading this article…

If all your “statements” are like those in this article, I prefer staying with my VPS servers.

Best regards.

avatar Korchkidu on May 3, 2011 | Reply

I set up a Rackspace cloud server today and it went down within an hour (we had not installed anything on it).

The message from Rackspace was

“This message is to inform you that the host server your Cloud Server ‘rocket’ is hosted on has become unresponsive as of 11:02AM CST today. We have rebooted the server and will investigate the issue. If the problem arises again we will proceed with a hardware swap to maintain the integrity of your data.”

So… if one box going down takes down the instance then it’s really a VPS for all practical concerns, right?

avatar Bill on September 8, 2011 | Reply

Many people fail to understand what “cloud” aka virtualization really is for. It is meant to provide scalable resources, (think mainframes 2.0), for a single application/environment. Lets say you had a application that requires various resources, however it doesn’t need the resources all the time. Therefore when resources are not needed, servers are spun down, (and vice versa when resources are needed).

The issue then becomes that most people see a cheap price and assume that “cloud” is like shared hosting. IT IS NOT. It is not for Joe Blow I want to create cheap servers for single sites, (and run a full lamp stack on one server). Or anyone else whom has the expectation that this environment works “automagically”.

It is for Jim Developer whom has a complex “product”/”application” that will be used by many people which resource usage will vary. Meaning you need to *understand* the applications expectations as well as that of your end users, Sadly many people do not fully understand how to use the “cloud”, (or their application for that matter) on their own. Look to use tools such as RightScale or Scalr that assist with evironment scalability management.

Basically, if you do not understand the environment nor the application, no “cloud” (aka Virtualized environments) is not for you.

avatar Peter Gonzales on May 6, 2012 | Reply

There is no difference between “Rackspace Cloud Servers” and VPS hosting. The “virtual dedicated server” is actually a XEN install as you wrote, but rackspace allows users to configure more options than average VPS hosting companies. Open source libraries allow you to configure Disk I/O settings, Ram (Memory Ballooning, dedicated amount, minimum amount), CPU cycles and so on. This is merely a marketing gig. Interesting article tho.

avatar john on April 3, 2013 | Reply

This is an interesting topic about VPS. I have been setting up VPS in Australia and it is helpful to learn more about VPS. Thanks for sharing!

avatar Laura Hill on June 11, 2013 | Reply

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