I ordered a virtual root server. My goal was just to get a machine that is always running and do various experimenting. I don’t expect much traffic and don’t need much resources. So I chose server4you, which was the cheapest offer I could find. Basically 54 EUR for the first year. And you need to remember to cancel the contract after 9 months in writing, if you don’t want to pay the double price for the next year.
Of course you get what you pay for. So for (one of) the cheapest on the market, I somehow expected some surprises. Additionally if somebody makes business with such an aggressive marketing and such price level, I’d always expect some strings attached. So I felt more comfortable to do business with a German company than e.g. with an American one, because German happens to be my mother tongue.
So ordering the server from http://www.server4you.de was somewhat more complicated than necessary. The German pages didn’t allow to enter any address outside Germany. Finally I managed to do so by changing the language to English. The other unpleasant feeling came from the fact that they have mandatory fields in their order form, which according to German law they are not allowed to ask (According to German law you are only allowed to ask data necessary to do the business in question)
There was no confirmation of the the contract sent by email. I would not call this good way to do business.
After 15 minutes or so I received an email that my server had been configured. Well, that was quick. But they hadn’t even asked me what operating system I wanted. Weird. And the email did not contain the address of the server. Even weirder. I waited another 15 minutes and then I got the idea that I could try to login to my account on their web site (you need to choose a user name and password during ordering)
Well, it didn’t let me in. Ok, maybe the database is just not updated yet. After 2 more hours it still didn’t let me in. Oh, they even have a free support hotline. (A toll free number in Germany, which you can reach fro free using Skype even from outside of Germany. Not sure whether they would serve you in any other language than German there.) They answered in less than a minute. Well, the only idea they had was wrong password. So they recommended to use the reset password functionality. Thanks and goodbye!
Hmm, but the resend password functionality claims that my user name is unknown. Another call to the hotline, another quick answer and some deeper investigations this time. Ahh, they have 2 different systems. http://www.server4you.de and http://www.server4you.net. And because I had to make my order in English, they had obviously created my server in the dot net system, although I had never entered that URL (and hadn’t even known that it existed)
Logging in to the dot net server, and yes, it works. Well, some unnecessary hassle, but quick and free customer service that actually solved the problem. That’s clearly better than average these days.
The first message when logging in: Your server has not yet been installed. Ahh, that’s how they got the server ready so quickly without even asking me about the OS.
Searching around a bit how things work and installing a minimal debian system.
After a couple of minutes I can log in. OK it’s really quite slim, only 160 packages and 426 MB of data. Nice to see such a clean system.
Se let’s see what it is. Configuration file /etc/apt/sources.list.d/debian.list tells me it is etch. Oh yeah, could be newer. And the sources file is not updated, the German mirror specified there has no etch repositories anymore. Well, I can update it myself. And indeed, the installation is pretty out of date, apt-get dist-upgrade pulls in 45 upgrades (out of 160 installed). And I guess etch hasn’t got many updates recently.
So how do I upgrade this beast to lenny? Ok debian has really good release notes. Hmm, the kernel. That was said in server4you’s FAQ, you can’t change the kernel of the virtual server. What kernel do I have? 2.6.9. Whaaat? I couldn’t even parse that number. we are at 2.6.35 these days. Ubuntu Hardy 08.04 LTS uses 2.6.28 and that sounds already very old to me. 2.6.9 is from October 2004!!! Googling a bit for the full string 2.6.9-023stab052.4 leads to http://kb.parallels.com/en/8556. Ahh, this is actually a rather recent version of the RHEL 4 kernel. Welcome to the real (slow) world of enterprise computing???
Anyway lenny seems to require only 2.6.8 or higher, I should be on the safe side. So updating sources.list to lenny, apt-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade. And now a reboot. Yes!!! It works.
In conclusion the feelings are mixed. Why do they provide such an old etch system even with non-functional sources.list configuration? But if you know how, you can relatively quickly upgrade it. Maybe they do that only that you can feel good over your own achievements… But definitely not the right choice for somebody who doesn’t want to repair and upgrade the system on day 1.
This posting is already too long, but there is one more story. The firewall. You can configure it from the management interface in the web. (Which will also apply the settings after reboot. Even though this nice feature is again undocumented) But to make a long story short, their web console is broken. The help in the web console tells how it opens outgoing connections if you have blocked incoming ones. But even if the help tells you how it does it, the implementation just doesn’t do it. Yet another call to the support. Quick answer again. But he knows nothing about firewalls, needs to connect to a colleague. After 5-7 minutes of waiting somebody seems to know something about firewalls. Well, yes it’s broken he admits after a while. He’ll pass it on to the development department.
Summary: It’s cheap. (Well if they didn’t manage to cheat me and I only pay what I expect). The user (or should I say admin) guidance could be better. Debian etch is a bit too old, especially such a broken configuration that you cannot install security updates right away. The kernel base version is extremely old, but maybe that’s common industry standard? The firewall configuration has a bug, wonder why a new customer finds that after a couple of hours. The free customer support worked much better for me so far than with many other companies (even those with generally good reputation)