NCL Hosting Sydney VMWare VPS Review

NCL Hosting When I first saw NCL Hosting’s end of financial year sale back in June (Australia’s financial year starts from July), I just could not resist it. From their VPS hosting plan page, they are offering 100GB of data transfer for $36.75 (ex GST) per month, and 500GB of data transfer for only $66.75 (ex GST) per month! Bandwidth at this price level might be common place with servers in US, but for NCL Hosting, a Sydney based private company having their servers in Equinix DC (Mascot, Sydney), providing this much Australian bandwidth would be insane!

So basically I asked a few questions in the forums (I am “scotty” on –

  • Q: Virtualisation? A: Combination of MSFT and Xen
  • Q: Debian or Ubuntu? A: Yes
  • Q: Data Centre? A: Sydney (later I found out it’s Equinix)
  • Q: You insane? A: (1) Limited offer (2) Bandwidth is subsidised (I guess subsidised == oversold)

Well. It’s only around 40 bucks so a few days later I signed up to give it a test. Almost 2 months later I am now writing this review.

VPS Plans — Cheap Australian Bandwidth

Rule of thumb #1 — when someone said it’s “limited offer”, never believe in it! At least I don’t mind in this case, as their “special price” is still available today, 2nd month into our new financial year. Here’s their pricing table (taken from their website):

NCL Hosting - VPS Pricing

$40/month for 100GB is hard to beat, and $70/month for 500GB (AUD$0.14/GB) is way below cost. Storage is on RAID, and the amount of memory is more than enough for what I intended to use this VPS for — serving static data to Australian visitors (as an alternative to using a CDN like CacheFly). I planned to just install Nginx and let it serve Javascript, CSS and small images.

Signing Up

Signing up was straight forward although a bit of manual process is involved. Within 10 minutes of paying by credit card, Nathan from NCL emailed me asking which OS I would like to install. “Ubuntu 8.10″ I replied, and then got the welcome email with IP address and “admin” password within two hours — on a Sunday evening at 10pm!

Although the account activation is not instant, NCL and Nathan still got my thumb up for the fast process.

Initial Impression

NCL Hosting Revolution So I have now received my IP address and the password, what am I waiting for?!

There is no SSH access!

There is nothing listening on port 22. Having used several unmanaged Linux VPS for the last two and half years and it’s the first time that I was given a freshly-installed Linux VPS without SSH access. It turns out that instead of installing the minimum Ubuntu Server, the standard Ubuntu was installed. On top of that they have also installed Webmin + other packages that I don’t intend to use (Apache, mod_php, etc). The password in the welcome email was actually the Webmin password.

So for the next hour I was trying to figure out how to log into Webmin and then install the OpenSSH server. A bit of fiddling around I have finally got the Bash prompt as root, and the first thing I did was apt-get remove all the extra packages to strip the VPS back to bare minimum.

Then I tried to check out what kind of hardware I got.

$ uname -a
Linux localhost 2.6.24-16-server #1 SMP Thu Apr 10 13:58:00 UTC 2008 i686 GNU/Linux
$ cat /proc/cpuinfo
processor       : 0
vendor_id       : GenuineIntel
cpu family      : 15
model           : 4
model name      : Intel(R) Xeon(TM) CPU 3.40GHz
stepping        : 8
cpu MHz         : 3400.777
cache size      : 1024 KB
fdiv_bug        : no
hlt_bug         : no
f00f_bug        : no
coma_bug        : no
fpu             : yes
fpu_exception   : yes
cpuid level     : 5
wp              : yes
flags           : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush dts acpi mmx fxsr sse sse2 ss constant_tsc up pebs bts sync_rdtsc pni
bogomips        : 6857.87
clflush size    : 64

Well. Looks like the previous era of Xeon processor, and I only have access to one of the cores. It is running 32bit Linux with kernel 2.6.24. Here is the result of disk performance test:

# hdparm -tT /dev/sda1

 Timing cached reads:   782 MB in  2.00 seconds = 391.53 MB/sec
 Timing buffered disk reads:   70 MB in  3.07 seconds =  22.81 MB/seca

# ./seeker /dev/sda1
Seeker v2.0, 2007-01-15,
Benchmarking /dev/sda1 [19751MB], wait 30 seconds..............................
Results: 501 seeks/second, 1.99 ms random access time

Interesting result! The throughput is a little bit disappointing for a RAID storage but 2ms seek time on a VPS?! You have to do a RAID10 on 15k RPM drives or SSD to get that! Or maybe the virtualisation layer is doing some tricks on me?!

Not Xen, Not MSFT — It’s a VMWare

It turns out, that my VPS is not on a Xen node. Nor on a MS Virtual Server/Hyper-V node. In fact it is running VMWare.

# lspci
00:00.0 Host bridge: Intel Corporation 440BX/ZX/DX - 82443BX/ZX/DX Host bridge (rev 01)
00:01.0 PCI bridge: Intel Corporation 440BX/ZX/DX - 82443BX/ZX/DX AGP bridge (rev 01)
00:07.0 ISA bridge: Intel Corporation 82371AB/EB/MB PIIX4 ISA (rev 08)
00:07.1 IDE interface: Intel Corporation 82371AB/EB/MB PIIX4 IDE (rev 01)
00:07.3 Bridge: Intel Corporation 82371AB/EB/MB PIIX4 ACPI (rev 08)
00:0f.0 VGA compatible controller: VMware Inc Abstract SVGA II Adapter
00:10.0 SCSI storage controller: LSI Logic / Symbios Logic 53c1030 PCI-X Fusion-MPT Dual Ultra320 SCSI (rev 01)
00:11.0 PCI bridge: VMware Inc Unknown device 0790 (rev 02)
02:00.0 Ethernet controller: Advanced Micro Devices [AMD] 79c970 [PCnet32 LANCE] (rev 10)

When you list out all the processes, you can also see vmware-guestd running. Is NCL Hosting running ESXi? Infrastructure? I have no idea but at least the VPS performs alright over the last 2 months.

I think the main issue I have with VMWare is the leaky vmware-guestd. It uses quite a bit of CPU, and the memory usage grows from 1.2MB to 20MB within a month. I have to run /etc/init.d/vmware-tools restart to claim the memory back every now and then although I have no idea whether it will introduce any ill effect on a VMWare-based VPS.

2 Months Later…

So how is it after 2 months? I installed Nginx to serve up static data so I am not running anything CPU intensive. The load pretty much stays at 0 most of the time. The VPS itself is rock stable — no reboots, no downtime, the network is always up. Basically I got nothing to complain about.

As I am only serving the Javascript, CSS and small images, I used around 30GB last month so I have not yet had a chance to test the limit. Bandwidth wise it seems to be buying from the Wholesale Communication Group, and I am getting for international traffic and Optus for Australia-wide traffic. Bandwidth also seems to be capped at 10Mbps which is fine for me. From a work server I had at Optus DC at Ultimo, I can fully saturated the 10Mbps link. However from both my home and work ADSL2+ link I can’t even sustain 1Mbps, for some reason that I have not yet investigated.

Overall it is pretty much “set and forget” and the server has no problem handling the traffic. However I am still hesitated to bring my site back to Australia (after moving it to US earlier this year), as I think I still trust Linode more if a disaster strikes.

However if you have high bandwidth requirement in Australia, I doubt you can find anyone cheaper.