GeoVPS This is a quick review on the KVM virtual server provided by GeoVPS. Howard from Layerboom first contacted me back in May 2008 through this blog and LinkedIn, and that was before Layerboom was even started. We clicked as both of us had our origins in Taiwan, and Howard mentioned that he has assembled a team to start up a developer-focused virtual server/cloud server company similar to SliceHost and Linode. Over a year later it is finally launched in October this year (as posted on Peer1′s blog). It is called GeoVPS — and it is no ordinary VPS provider.

About GeoVPS and Layerboom

GeoVPS Home Page

Initially Howard & team have planned to develop just a VPS hosting company with an awesome control panel, and have servers hosted in Canada, to provide alternate to US-based virtual servers but want to benefit from being under a different jurisdiction. However exactly is having servers in Canada better than in US I do not know (IANAL), but I’ve been told that it’s better in some circumstances :)

However it turns out that it is more than just Linode or SliceHost under the maple leaves, but instead they ended up developed a solution for the VPS providers, and the company is called Layerboom, which according to Peer1′s CloudXcelerator Cloud Program, is:

Layerboom provides hosting companies with a comprehensive solution which enables them to build and sell virtual private server clouds. After installing Layerboom software, hosting companies can manage their physical and virtual server inventory, customer accounts, define virtual machine sizes, packages, and pricing, as well as customise our hosted dashboard to maintain consistent branding.

Sounds like installable version of HyperVM + fully integrated WHMCS, but in a single beautiful package.

On the other hand, GeoVPS, a subsidiary of Layerboom, is the live demonstration of Layerboom software’s capability, in an actual VPS hosting provider. The dedicated servers are with ServerBeach in San Antonio in Texas, with future plan to provide Canadian VPS.

If you are a hosting provider looking at a full suite control and deployment tool, you can read about how Layerboom works on their website. However let us shift our focus back to GeoVPS which I will be reviewing.

Plans, Pricing & Ordering

One major benefit of virtual servers is reducing cost, so let’s start looking at GeoVPS from its VPS plans & their pricing. You can find out about plans on their pricing page.

GeoVPS Pricing

3 plans basically, from 256MB to 1GB of dedicated memory, from $20/month to $80/month. First of all, these are Canadian dollars which is around USD$0.95 at the moment, although it could get worse if USD continues to depreciates. As GeoVPS has also purchased a display ad here at HostingFu, you can purchase & test out the 256MB VPS plan for $10 using promo code hostingfu.

In some sense it is even dearer than SliceHost when you go up the plan (USD$70/month for exactly the same spec Xen VPS from SliceHost), and SliceHost has also been criticised for their stale pricing from 3 years ago! GeoVPS is definitely not competing with the budget VPS providers. SliceHost is the (literally) the Rackspace of VPS market, and while GeoVPS sits on ServerBeach and Peer1, it might be too young and unproven to demand such premium.

Moreover, the plans peaked at 1GB RAM and 400GB/month data transfer — which might not be enough for your database server. I am sure GeoVPS would be able to work out packages for customers demanding bigger slice and more traffic, but it would be nice to be assured from having them available on the plan/pricing page.

Ordering was easy — although I did encounter some bugs on the ordering page. Fortunately Howard was on IM when I attempted the order so he managed to get the developers to fix the issue. Only credit card is accepted — no PayPal, Google Checkout, etc.

After the VPS has been paid for, a welcome email containing IP address & root password is emailed in within minutes. My very first KVM-based VPS :)

GeoManager, The Control Panel

Before digging into the actual server, here are some screenshots of the control panel. Dashboard — first page after you log in:

Dashboard

Click to get the full image. As you can see it list out some essential info & a list of virtual servers you have. Here is a screenshot after you click through one of the virtual servers:

Virtual Machine Screenshot

It provides graph on CPU, bandwidth and disk IO usage, plus some operations you can do to the VM, like rebooting, rebuilding, change root password, etc.

Very simple control panel (compare to what Linode offers), but has every essentials that you need to manage a server. Currently the selection of Linux distributions is quite limited (CentOS 5.3, Debian 5.0, Ubuntu 8.04 and Ubuntu 9.04) so those who are looking for Gentoo or Slackware builds might be disappointed.

Server Setups

As I said before, I have no prior experience with a KVM VPS. All my previous virtual servers are either Xen, OpenVZ or Virtuozzo (in the order of preference). I know Linux KVM is going to be big as it is already in the kernel and RedHat is backing it (well, really depends on which vendor do you ask), it is still a relatively immature product in comparison with Xen. It however, does full virtualisation like VMWare, whereas most Xen VPS providers do para-virtualisation.

That is indeed the first thing I noticed when I logged into the system, a 64 bit Debian 5.0 Lenny build — it is running stock Debian kernel.

$ uname -a
Linux hostingfu 2.6.26-2-amd64 #1 SMP Wed Aug 19 22:33:18 UTC 2009 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Another weirdness is the network interface. While the VPS has a public IP address at 69.172.xxx.yyy, eth0 is bound to a private IP address.

$ /sbin/ifconfig eth0
eth0      Link encap:Ethernet   HWaddr 54:00:01:f5:55:e1
          inet addr:10.1.mm.nn  Bcast:10.1.255.255  Mask:255.255.0.0
          inet6 addr: fe80::5600:1ff:fef5:55e1/64 Scope:Link
          ...

Not good for the moment when I am on the VPS and can’t remember what’s my public IP :) Root directory is mounted with ext3, and the VPS has access to 4 cores of 2.5GHz “QEMU Virtual CPU”.

While it is a standard Debian build, Layerboom did add a few startup tricks to /etc/rc.local that:

  • Initialise /swap as swap file. Yes, there is no swap partition, and 512MB swap file was create when the VPS first boots.
  • Mount a data partition to /data if there is one. Extra mountable storage might be in the future plan.
  • Fetch new root password from somewhere.

Using a swapfile is a surprise, as the performance is not on par with using a dedicated partition. On the other hand, excessive swapping hurts performance anyway, so I guess it justifies one less partition to worry about.

Network/Server Performance

Peer1 network is nice :) I did some random speed test, downloading a 100MB binary file from various locations, and

Provider Location Speed
GNAX Atlanta GA 10.7MB/sec
SoftLayer Dallas TX 10.1MB/sec
HE.net Fremont CA 7.1MB/sec
Primary.net St. Louis MO 2.65MB/sec
VPSLink Seattle WA 1.3MB/sec

The network pretty much have no problem burst to 100Mb/sec.

As of server performance, I am lazy so I just used the WHT variant of UnixBench. Here is the result:

                     INDEX VALUES
TEST                                        BASELINE     RESULT      INDEX

Dhrystone 2 using register variables        376783.7 20956179.5      556.2
Double-Precision Whetstone                      83.1     1796.7      216.2
Execl Throughput                               188.3     1563.5       83.0
File Copy 1024 bufsize 2000 maxblocks         2672.0   158404.0      592.8
File Copy 256 bufsize 500 maxblocks           1077.0    39005.0      362.2
File Read 4096 bufsize 8000 maxblocks        15382.0  1549344.0     1007.2
Pipe-based Context Switching                 15448.6   401468.5      259.9
Pipe Throughput                             111814.6  5401051.4      483.0
Process Creation                               569.3     2675.3       47.0
Shell Scripts (8 concurrent)                    44.8      561.6      125.4
System Call Overhead                        114433.5  8261016.9      721.9
                                                                 =========
     FINAL SCORE                                                     288.5

The final score is not bad for a fully virtalised VPS, although I have seen much better scores at the same price point. Not sure whether it's caused by the actual server itself or KVM. Good IO performance though.

Conclusion

That's it! No frills VPS hosting service with great network, beautiful control panel and KVM goodness, but it is still lacking something that I am looking for from a hosting provider -- good community. The price (before the discount) feels 2006'ish. While the server performs well, there is just way too much competitions out there for GeoVPS to make an impact.

However, the program is still in beta and more features might still be added. Moreover, I suspect the main business is to sell the Layerboom platform, instead of selling the VPS themselves.

Anyway. All the best to Howard & team! I probably won't keep this VPS (having too many on my hands now), but maybe one day I will be testing another one somewhere else powered by Layerboom.