I have dealt with multiple dedicated hosting and colocation service providers within the last three years. I maintain the servers at the colo where stevedoria.net is hosted, and I assist clients who do not receive their hosting services from me. Dealing with demanding clients and their always very restrictive budgets gave me experience in configuring software to push available hardware to its limits.
Having managed computers at colocation sites for multiple companies and being humbled multiple times through personal experience, I have never felt so annoyed by the problems that arose with hosting companies. I recently assisted a client transition their site from a third-party hosting company to another. I was naive to believe that there were two basic forms of hosting: dedicated and shared. The client signed up for Verio’s Managed Dedicated Server hosting. First off, they attempted to bilk the client by providing hardware that was inferior to the client’s previous server. Upgrading servers with the hope of gaining improved performance was a key motivator for the transition. I discovered Verio’s “mistake” after careful prodding around the system. The server used a crippled version of FreeBSD, and a lot of the common tools that readily provide information about the server was stripped.
I believed that the handicapped version of FreeBSD was also a mistake and the correct server would provide a version of FreeBSD that is fully functional. I was wrong. Installing server monitoring applications, which would allow independent review of bandwidth usage among other things, could not function on the server. Information regarding the number of bytes and packets being transferred that is usually found in ifconfig was removed. Network diagnostic tools such as Wireshark and tcpdump did not work either. It seemed that the server was missing device nodes that were needed by these tools, and either the recompilation of the kernel or the loading of kernel modules was necessary. Unfortunately, the programs to load kernel modules were removed, so compiling a new kernel seemed like the only feasible option. Lo and behold, the kernel could not be found.
I called up Verio’s technical support line to seek help with recompiling a kernel on their server. I thought I would be able to at least gain information on where the kernel was located in the case that Verio’s operators were unable to provide active assistance. The support line number that was listed on their site connected me to their sales office, which had a recorded message about their office being closed. I was frustrated enough to require technical support, and hearing sales pitches for additional services was the least desirable thing to hear. After digging through my email, I found a technical support number that worked. It took a great deal of constraint to communicate with Paul, the Verio technical support representative who answered my call.
I discovered through Paul that the kernel was totally inaccessible to all users, including root. At this point, I concluded that the supposed dedicated server is nothing more than a virtual machine with a convoluted version of a respectable operating system as a thin facade for an actual dedicated server. Verio Managed Dedicated Server just isn’t. Methods that increase resource usage visibility that would enhance Verio’s accountability are prevented. Security measures like FreeBSD’s firewall cannot be deployed. There is no telling of how the resource demands of other customers hosted on the same physical machine will affect the client’s Internet presence. There is no telling of how Verio’s restricted FreeBSD server will hamper a power administrator’s ability to diagnose and rectify future server problems.
I find myself making the most of what is provided to meet a client’s demanding needs once again.