Who offers FreeBSD hosting?

For some reason I hear one question increasingly often lately: "Where can I host my FreeBSD stuff?"

This is a short article about different VPS and cloud hosting offers with either good FreeBSD support or the ability to install whatever you like from ISO images (including FreeBSD, obviously). All of them have a few things in common, which I personally find very important:

  • FreeBSD 10.1 available and supported
  • private networking possible between instances
  • reasonable pricing, hourly
  • quick turn-around from order to going online
  • several data centre locations world-wide

Note

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the providers here. However, I have actually used all of them in one way or another. This list is most definitely not complete.

I'd like to point out that I'm only looking at VPS (virtual private servers) and cloud options here. I'm not going to start a discussion as to what is or isn't a cloud. Ask 10 different people, and you get 10 different answers. Include marketing and sales people into the conversation, and the answers deviate further apart... :-) For the sake of peace, let's call everything "instances".

Also, this is not a complete comparison. It's merely a few impressions from my own experience scribbled down for those who might be looking for a FreeBSD-friendly hosting option.

Amazon Web Services

Admittedly, I am a little bit biased, since I offer consulting in this arena. Nonetheless, AWS is probably the option which offers most flexibility. It is also the only provider (in comparison to other offers in this article) where stopped instances don't cost the full hourly rate. The downside is a very steep learning curve. Getting started is not exactly an easy feat, and for somebody who just wants to run a handful of instances, it will be overkill.

That said, AWS offer a so-called Free Tier which allows to use limited resources for one year -- free of charge. Anybody who is planning for the bigger picture should use that opportunity. But I digress...

FreeBSD support was the topic. And that is brilliant here. Colin Percival (former FreeBSD Security Officer) made it happen, and a few weeks ago AWS AMIs (instance images, ready for the taking) have been added to the regular FreeBSD snapshot cycle. In other words, it not only works out of the box; it is also the "cleanest" FreeBSD offer out there, because no environment specific kernels or quirks are required (since XENHVM/virtio made it into the GENERIC kernel).

Beyond the Free Tier, instances start at around $10/month (on an hourly basis) for 1 GB RAM. The smallest instance types are throttled if you exceed a certain level of CPU usage. Storage costs extra and its price depends on desired size and IO requirements.

In a side-by-side comparison on the basis of specs for single instances AWS EC2 does not seem to look like a good option at all. Their target group has never been the individual or tiny company that only requires a handful of instances. AWS becomes more viable for larger setups where automation and scalability play a key role.

More details on AWS EC2 over here

If you are looking to get instances up and running very quickly and don't need a lot of infrastructure-level automation or APIs to control virtually everything, read on.

Digital Ocean

This provider seems to become increasingly popular, and there are very good reasons for it. Their "droplets" are SSD-backed and really quite fast. And since January this year, they also offer FreeBSD 10.1. The smallest instances cost only $5/month (on an hourly basis) and come with 512MB Ram and 20 GB. There's a choice of 6 data centres world-wide.

There are a few niggles though. Their FreeBSD image is slightly outdated:

FreeBSD test2 10.1-RELEASE FreeBSD 10.1-RELEASE #0 r274401: Tue Nov 11 21:02:49 UTC 2014 root@releng1.nyi.freebsd.org:/usr/obj/usr/src/sys/GENERIC amd64

Seems they haven't touched the image since their announcment in January. For anything that is officially supported, I would expect to see updated images shortly after new versions become available. Unfortunately, many VPS providers get that wrong. With their low prices, they obviously attract a lot of people who just want to give different Linux distributions or FreeBSD a go. With the latest provided image being half a year old, the provider leaves their own customers exposed. Also, it kind of negates the benefit of their very fast provisioning of instances.

There are 37 ports installed (I'd expect none at all). Avahi is running, apparently required for their network setup, which is the culprit for all the ports, as it depends on them. In my opinion DHCP would make more sense, but that's just me.

I'm not a huge fan of anything unnecessary being installed. On the same note, they should have left /usr/ports empty. If I needed it, I could as well populate it with a current revision myself.

What annoyed me a bit was the fact that you cannot create snapshots while the instance is running. You have to shut it down. Of course, if you want a 100% consistent snapshot, this is sensible. I would like to have the option to keep it running, though.

None of these issues are show-stoppers by any stretch of imagination, though! Their instances run really well, and their network performance is excellent. You absolutely can't complain, considering that the smallest instance costs only a fiver per month! Oh, you also get IPv6.

Follow this link to learn more about their offers.

Vultr

I've been going on about updates before. Vultr does this better. Their images are configured to run freebsd-update at startup, so you get the latest update. (And their base image is younger, too, from April.) I could be knitpicking and complain that they don't automatically issue a reboot if the kernel was updated as well during first startup, but that's a minor niggle in comparison.

Where Vultr really shines is freedom of choice. As with Digital Ocean you get access to a console, but with Vultr you can also mount custom ISOs to boot from. What that means is that you can install pretty much anything you like, while Vultr focuses on providing only images for the mainstream Linux distributions, FreeBSD 10.1-RELEASE and Windows Server.

As far as FreeBSD is concerned, installing from ISO is usually not necessary. The base image is clean, meaning it contains no ports or source, has no funny daemons running, and no silly configuration tweaks were applied. This is the "purest" FreeBSD offer (outside AWS) that I am aware of.

Their instances also start at $5/month (again on hourly basis). They have 768MB Ram and 15GB SSD. There's currently a 20% discount on all other instance types. 2CPUs, 2GB Ram, 45GB SSD, 3TB traffic for $16/month anyone?

You get to choose from 14 different data centres world-wide, which is outstanding. IPv6 as well as internal networking are possible free of charge, and for a small fee you can even get multiple IPv4 IPs per instance (if you absolutely have to).

What's also quite nice is the ability to create scheduled backups (in fact snapshots), though they add a little fee to the price of the instance. Manual snapshots can be taken, too, of course, and they are currently free of charge (while in beta). What didn't impress me here was the speed, or lack thereof. It really takes quite some time to take a snapshot.

Personally, I go with ZFS (custom install from ISO) and ship the incremental snapshots off elsewhere using zfs send. Since Vultr's network connectivity and disk IO are outrageously fast, and enough data volume is included, this is the best option for me.

I've noticed that their support seems to be quite speedy as well. I filed a ticket on a Sunday evening, which was answered and dealt with within minutes. But one ticket is not a good measure; I might just have been lucky.

Head over to their features page to learn more.

Other contenders

Rackspace

I have to admit that it's been a while since I used them. My overall experience wasn't as stellar as they like to depict themselves; neither with support nor on the value-for-money side of things. In fact, they are quite pricey and I cannot quite see why an instance with 1GB and 20GB SSD will cost around $23/month plus $0.12/GB traffic.

I thought their instances performed rather well about 1-2 years ago. Digital Ocean and Vultr perform at least as good at a fraction of the cost, though.

I remember their FreeBSD offer having a couple of niggles and customisations back then. Whether or not that still holds true, I can neither confirm nor deny. ;-)

Linode

They operate in a similar price range as Digital Ocean and Vultr do. What Linode is better at is backups and snapshots. However, they may not deserve to be mentioned here, as they don't officially support FreeBSD. There are rumours that it can be installed with some trickery, though. Hence I thought I'd throw their name out here, in case anybody feels like trying.

RootBSD

I haven't tried them myself, but I have heard good things about them. They are little bit pricier than DO or Vultr, and don't seem to offer any snapshot facility. Billing is monthly only, from what I gathered. Since they focus on BSD, they should be rather solid. Maybe somebody can add a comment below to share their experience with them.


Alright folks, that's it for now. Please do add comments if you have any experience with other VPS providers that offer and support FreeBSD. I might just give them a spin and provide an actual comparison some day. Any pointers will help other readers to choose the best fit for them.

Comments !