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Outsourcing Linux:

We look at the offerings of eight providers of Linux-based managed hosting services.

Managed Hosting1

Linux has made impressive inroads into the conservative enterprise server room in the past year. Use of Linux has expanded outward into many companies that have traditionally thought of themselves as Windows or Unix shops. With backing from big names in the tech industry, and with the continued support of Linux geeks everywhere, Linux is fast becoming a mainstream corporate standard. In fact, Linux has become such a dominant force in the Internet server market that even businesses without in-house Linux expertise are looking at ways to integrate Linux into their Internet infrastructure.

At the same time, the costs and limitations of hosting a large Web site in-house are proving to be impractical for many companies. It can be prohibitively expensive to run a T1 or T3 line out to a company campus, even for a large corporation. Fortunately, there is an excellent solution available for these needs. In many cases, companies with and without in-house Linux expertise are turning to co-location and managed hosting facilities to house their servers.

What Is Managed Hosting?

Managed hosting offers all of the benefits of server co-location, including reduced bandwidth costs, guaranteed electrical power, physical security, and a controlled environment. However, managed hosting facilities take all of this one step further, providing full management and maintenance of the server hardware and software. Many managed hosting companies will set up dedicated servers to meet your specifications (without requiring you to purchase hardware up-front).

Managed hosting can be particularly attractive to companies that don’t have a large internal IT staff to support and manage a co-located server or server farm. It is also often more difficult to establish and enforce a Service Level Agreement (SLA — which basically means that you get a guaranteed level of service for a fixed amount of money per month) with your internal IT department than with a managed hosting facility that is set up to provide high uptimes and comprehensive management.

Why Choose Managed Hosting?

Managed hosting offers several advantages over traditional server co-location. With a managed hosting provider, maintenance of the hardware and software is the responsibility of the provider. Also, system backups and disaster recovery are typically covered under the terms of the service. SLAs guaranteeing uptimes from 99.9 percent to 99.999 percent (the famous “five nines”) can be negotiated if you are willing to pay the extra cash for such obscene reliability. These are major hassles in a typical co-location setup. With traditional co-location, you are responsible for all hardware maintenance and may have to handle your own system backups and software patching. Also, the co-location provider is only responsible for reliable power and network connectivity. Keeping the server in working order remains the responsibility of the owner (you). This is fine if you have the budget and staff to handle the upkeep, though still costly if you have unexpected downtime.

So, if you are looking for a quick and easy way to get up and running with a Linux-based server or cluster of servers and you don’t want the day-to-day hassle of managing your servers, read on. We’ll outline some of the basic offerings from several major providers of managed hosting services. This is not an exhaustive list of all managed hosting providers. Indeed, making a truly comprehensive list of managed hosting companies would be an impossible task, as many ISPs and existing co-location facilities are getting into the act.

Also, all of the providers we looked at offer multiple platforms (in hardware and operating system) under their managed hosting services. We concentrated on places that offer some type of Linux hosting; no Wintel-only providers were considered.

Dellhost

http://www.dellhost.com

DELLHost.com

Worldwide, most hosting companies concentrate on the services that they provide while relying on other established companies to provide the actual hardware that powers those services. They buy servers, install their own custom software images, and configure them for customers. This is true in the shared hosting scenarios that a large number of companies offer and with the more business-focused managed hosting offerings that have become popular in the past few years.

Dell saw this trend developing and expanded their business offerings to include a full-fledged hosting arm. DellHost uses Dell’s PowerEdge enterprise servers to provide customers with a wide range of hardware options for complete hosting solutions. They use Dell PowerApp servers for companies that need a dedicated basic Web server machine at a lower cost. All of them are running Linux, of course. At $199 per month for a dedicated box, DellHost offers an excellent price versus performance ratio.

DellHost offers customers the option of handling their day-to-day administration themselves or having DellHost techs do the hardware and software maintenance, monitoring, and management. For $299, you get a PowerEdge 2450 with 866 MHz CPU, 128 MB RAM, and 9 GB SCSI drive. The server is RAID capable, in case you want to add additional drives. And if your company needs some serious performance, stock systems as beefy as a Quad Xeon 550 MHz with 2 GB of RAM and three 18 GB drives in a RAID 5 configuration are available. This isn’t bad for $1,249 per month with a 12-month contract.

If you’re looking for solid managed hosting, a wide range of available hardware, and guaranteed uptime for a low cost, DellHost is just the ticket. While they don’t offer platforms other than their own Dell servers, and center their services to a large extent on standard hosting, their managed hosting offering is among the best.

Exodus

http://www.exodus.net

exodus logo

Exodus is one of the big boys of site hosting, server co-location, massive bandwidth, and top tier peering relationships. Many well-known Web sites are hosted on Exodus servers. In fact, they’re the provider that VA Linux Systems uses to host sites in their Open Source Developers Network. Even that company in Redmond uses Exodus for hosting Internet and internal servers.

Exodus provides managed hosting for a wide range of hardware and software platforms. Customers can rent preconfigured servers from a variety of vendors, including Sun, Dell, and Compaq. With their Managed Monitoring Services, a comprehensive managed hosting service can easily be set up. Exodus is all about choice and they offer various levels of service at different prices.

Exodus manages a worldwide network of Internet Data Centers in North America, Europe, and Asia. Through this widely dispersed network, vital data can be quickly replicated worldwide and then served up to end users from the nearest link. This not only gives the end user the fastest possible experience, but it also saves bandwidth by serving up information locally.

While managed hosting isn’t Exodus’ only business focus, they have the infrastructure and technical know-how to do an overall excellent job of supporting all sizes of Internet sites. Of course, their services are on the pricey end. However, you definitely get what you pay for. Exodus is a good choice for those sites that demand the best in peering relationships and solid uptimes — and have a large enough budget to afford it.

Hostopia

http://www.hostopia.com

hostopia logo

If you can ignore the flying pig on the main page of their Web site, Hostopia might be your managed hosting utopia. Their approach is a bit different from the others we looked at. Hostopia is focused on providing services to companies that want to be hosting providers themselves. In other words, you can set yourself up as a full-blown hosting provider and have Hostopia invisibly do the grunt work. It’ll appear to your customers that you’re providing the hardware and software services.

Hostopia provides a totally outsourced Web, e-mail, and e-commerce hosting solution. This is perfect for ISPs and ASPs who want to expand their services to include managed hosting for their customers. They offer cross-platform integration in their server farms, so customers are able to choose between BSD, Linux, and Windows services.

Hostopia’s solution offers some unique advantages. For instance, all administration and configuration is done through a customized Web interface, both for its direct customers and the end users of those customers. In addition, as a direct customer of Hostopia, you can manage your own customers’ sites and account information through their w3Control Panel.

Hostopia isn’t for everyone, but if you’re an existing ISP or ASP and want to easily resell managed hosting services without investing in a huge server farm, they are definitely worth a look. On the other hand, if you’re simply an end user or a small business who only wants basic managed hosting, Hostopia’s services aren’t for you.

Hostpro

http://www.hostpro.com

Host Pro logo

HostPro is the perfect example of a diverse hosting provider. They offer traditional co-location, dedicated servers with managed hosting, individual site hosting, application hosting, and even home and business Internet access services. This makes them an excellent choice for non-technology companies looking for one source for all of their Web needs.

HostPro’s wide platform support and varied services makes them a great pick for tech companies also. They offer dedicated hosting on Linux, Cobalt RaQ 3 and RaQ 4 servers, Windows NT, Windows 2000, and Solaris platforms. All of these platforms can be set up as managed or unmanaged, allowing companies to pick and choose how they want their hosting servers set up.

HostPro offers a comprehensive site control panel that allows the customer’s administrator (or others in the organization) to set up sites, configure options, set up e-mail accounts, customize site security, and view site statistics. Basically, anything that you would expect an experienced admin to handle can be done by a non-geek through a control panel without command-line tweaking. Of course, if command-line tweaking is your thing, it’s available too.

A standard HostPro managed Linux server (the DH6) comes with a 650 MHz Pentium III CPU, 256 MB of RAM, 9 GB SCSI disk, and 50 GB of monthly bandwidth for $1,045 per month. This can be scaled up for those who need even more horsepower. And if you’re looking for the ultimate in performance and scalability, HostPro also has managed clustering systems. A pair of clustered DH6 servers with a dedicated back-end storage server runs $3,250 per month and ensures maximum uptime for mission-critical applications. A cluster of four DH6 servers with a back-end storage server is available at $6,050 per month, with even higher-end custom options for your super-duper, 24/7, no-downtime needs.

HostPro offers a wide range of managed hosting options and services, making them a good choice for a wide range of users. They have low-end servers available for the cost conscious and massive, geographically distributed clustered servers for those with the most demanding needs (and large budgets).

Hurricane Electric

http://www.he.net

Hurricane Electic logo

Hurricane Electric sounds like some weird weather research company or power generating station. But they are a well-known Web hosting provider. They’ve made the leap from hosting and server co-location into the managed hosting arena, and their services match many larger providers.

Dedicated servers with a gigabit backbone make Hurricane Electric a good choice for bandwidth-intensive customers. They handle all aspects of getting your site up and running, from ordering and configuring your server to taking care of the long-term system management. They have spare hardware on site in case of hardware failures, technicians ready to put out fires 24/7, and massive bandwidth to keep your site pumping even under Slashdoted loads.

Unfortunately, only their self-service Web hosting services are available for instant setup from the Web. However, if you’re not in a last-minute rush to get your site on the Net, and are on a tight budget, Hurricane Electric may be the service you need to get started.

Hurricane Electric’s services are geared primarily towards individuals and small to mid-sized businesses, although they have the bandwidth and peering relationships to support larger businesses. However, if you’re in need of high-end servers and rock-solid SLAs, a small site like Hurricane Electric might not be the best fit. For the budget conscious managed hosting shopper however, Hurricane Electric may be just what you’re looking for. Now if they could get rid of that power shortage in California…

ManageNet

http://www.managenet.net

manage net

As their name implies, ManageNet is a company dedicated to managed hosting and services. They offer a wide range of managed hosting options, including managed Web hosting, database servers, and managed global e-mail services. ManageNet also offers Internet access and managed LANs and data centers for companies who want to outsource all of their IT resources.

ManageNet’s local hosting services are a unique approach to linking your business to the Web. ManageNet will connect your existing IT infrastructure to key partners, customers, and remote sites, effectively doing managed hosting of your internal network as well as remote managed Web hosting. Of course, you can pick and choose how far you want to take your company’s relationship with ManageNet. If you’re looking for standard managed Web and application hosting, they can take care of that with ease.

Hardware and software support is broad with ManageNet, including Linux (of course), many flavors of Unix, Windows NT, and even NetWare services. They offer a range of pricing and service levels, which allows companies to start off with basic managed Web hosting services and then grow into their more in-depth network management and back-end hosting. ManageNet also offer services without long-term contracts, an appealing option for those just starting off on the Web.

ManageNet isn’t for everyone. If all you’ll ever need is basic managed Web and e-mail hosting, many of their capabilities will be lost on you. However, if you hope to grow your managed hosting relationship into a broader overall IT outsourcing and management arrangement, ManageNet may be the perfect combination of services and costs.

NonStopNet

http://www.nonstopnet.net

NonStopNet Logo

NonStopNet is a managed hosting provider with one goal — redundancy at every corner. They offer varying ranges of managed hosting, with geographically distributed data centers and a highly scalable infrastructure for businesses that need their hosting provider to grow with them. NonStopNet offers managed Web hosting, storage, databases, and even entire managed networks for customers.

Their service isn’t limited to providing the managed hosting that your company needs. Instead, they work with you from the needs analysis stage through network design to implementation. It doesn’t stop there. Part of NonStopNet’s service is an ongoing relationship in which they help your company reevaluate current needs and tweak the service accordingly.

NonStopNet can provide high-performance data storage services for your business as well. Replication between sites ensures availability, and managed clustering ensures data integrity. Of course, these high-end services come at a cost, but if your business depends on these mission-critical services, the costs of not having this support can be devastating.

Massive redundancy and high availability come at a higher overall cost. NonStopNet is probably not the best choice for small businesses or individuals who want basic managed hosting, although they do provide those services. Instead, NonStopNet is a better choice for mid-sized to large businesses that need high availability and plenty of room to grow their hosting needs.

Rackspace

http://www.rackspace.com

Rackspace Logo

When many people think of managed hosting the first company that comes to mind is Rackspace. They have made a name for themselves by allowing the easy and quick setup and configuration of a wide range of dedicated servers at reasonable prices. Rackspace focuses exclusively on the managed hosting market, and it shows in the way that their site and service are set up.

With Rackspace’s “Price a Server” pages, customers can see (and modify) exactly what they get for their money. For example, each server component, from CPU speed to operating system, can be modified and the price can be recalculated for monthly managed hosting. There is no need to purchase your server up front, as its cost is already factored into the monthly hosting fee.

The ease with which you can tweak server options makes setting up a Rackspace server fun. The first option you choose is your operating system. Linux is the first choice in the list (of course), but you can choose from Solaris, FreeBSD, Cobalt RaQ, or even Windows NT/2000. For non-technical users, they even offer assistance with figuring out the basics, such as how to pick an OS, what managed servers are, etc.

Once the operating system is chosen, a number of preconfigured options are available. Each can be customized. If you choose a stock configuration, Rackspace can get your site up and running in an hour!

Rackspace is a popular choice for those just getting started in the managed hosting arena, and for good reason. It’s easy to set up, customizing your server is simple, and costs can be matched to your budget. If you’re looking for an all-around strong managed hosting service and you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to get started, you should give Rackspace a close look.

Valueweb

http://www.valueweb.com

ValueWeb

ValueWeb is a hybrid — more than a co-location facility but less than a full managed hosting provider. If you are looking for a company that can provide dedicated servers, 99.9 percent uptime, and a money back guarantee, and are willing to manage your Linux server yourself, then ValueWeb may be a good option.

ValueWeb is less expensive than many of the other companies we list in this article, but their service does not extend to the day-to-day management of your servers. They provide the common shared hosting options that many other sites offer and give growing or larger companies the option of having their own dedicated, custom-configured server.

ValueWeb can do more than set up a simple server however. They offer merchant hosting options that allow new Web-based businesses to get up and running quickly with a full suite of commerce tools. While not as powerful in the long run as a totally custom server that your company must design and manage, their merchant hosting is a perfect choice for those who need to get their commerce site going without the expense and hassle of doing it themselves.

ValueWeb’s dedicated servers offer enormous variety. They offer Intel-branded server hardware, VA Linux servers, and even Cobalt RaQ systems. ValueWeb has a wide range of hardware configurations that can be customized to meet your business’ exact needs. If, on the other hand, your company already has their own servers, ValueWeb will also co-locate your servers at their data center.

This means that you can start with shared or merchant hosting and then grow into a dedicated server or fully customized company-owned solution without needing to change providers. ValueWeb doesn’t offer the in-depth managed hosting of the other sites we discuss in this piece, but their co-location and dedicated server solutions are worth a look for those that don’t need someone managing their Linux boxes.

Verio

http://www.verio.com

Verio Logo

Verio is another big name in Web hosting services. They offer dedicated servers, high bandwidth, rock solid facilities, and of course, managed hosting of your dedicated servers. Similar to HostPro and ManageNet, Verio can provide a full range of services from basic Internet access for your business to managed clusters of high-end servers.

The managed services that Verio offers are divided into different categories. In this way, your company can choose which management pieces it needs handled by an outside source while you can take care of some aspects yourself, if you so desire. The categories are: system administration, backup services, security/firewall services, server monitoring services, and server load balancing. If you choose to only subscribe to some of these services you can still have help with any of the others by simply paying an hourly or per-job fee for system administration support.

Similar to the other facilities we discussed, Verio gives you full root access to your servers. They also have peering relationships with 15 Internet backbone links, ensuring that your site will be accessible even in the event of an Internet hub problem.

Verio is definitely a provider aimed at the business community. They offer services to help your site grow and prosper, such as Web site promotion services and affiliate programs. They can handle the whole range of Internet services that your company needs, from registering your domain name to propagating your storage needs and data between data centers.

If you’re an individual looking for an easy to set up place to host a simple Web page, Verio can do the job for as little as $24.95 per month. Of course, if you’re in need of managed hosting for a dedicated server, you should look to sites like Rackspace or Hostpro. Verio’s higher-end services are well designed for businesses that need to get their e-business going.

Which Is Right For Me?

As many managed hosting companies as there are in this article, this list is by no means a comprehensive one. Any of these companies can provide basic Linux-based managed hosting, but the one you should choose depends heavily on your budget and needs.

Large enterprises needing geographical server distribution and high-availability clustering should look to providers such as Exodus, Verio, or NonStopNet for their managed hosting. Small and mid-sized businesses that need a more cost-effective solution, while maintaining a high level of service, should consider Rackspace, DellHost, HostPro, NonStopNet, Hurricane Electric, or ManageNet. ISPs and ASPs who are looking to resell hosting services will find what they need with Hostopia, while individuals should consider less costly alternatives such as Rackspace’s low-end offerings, Hurricane Electric, or HostPro.

When you’re looking for a managed hosting provider, the key is to make sure you know exactly what you need, what you’re willing to pay, and what your future plans are. There are literally hundreds of hosting providers out there, and each offers a unique combination of services and features (at a wide range of cost); you should choose carefully.

COMPANY NAME OSes SUPPORTED CLUSTERING ROOT ACCESS SLAs PRIMARY AUDIENCE PRICE RANGE URL
DellHost Linux, Windows NT/2000 Yes Yes Yes, 99.9% uptime guarantee Large enterprise customers, mid-sized businesses, Internet businesses $199 per month for basic Linux PowerApp server, $299 per month for basic Linux PowerEdge server http://www.dellhost.com
Hostopia Linux, BSD, Windows NT/2000 Yes No Yes, 99.99% ISPs, ASPs $9.99 to $69.99 per account http://www.hostopia.com
HostPro Linux, Solaris, Windows NT/2000 Yes Yes Yes, wide range Small to large businesses, individuals $1,045 per month and up for managed Linux servers, $495 for unmanaged http://www.hostpro.com
Hurricane Electric Linux, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes Small to mid-sized businesses, individuals Unpublished http://www.he.net
ManageNet Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, Novell Yes Yes Yes Small to large businesses Unpublished http://www.managenet.net
NonStopNet Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes Mid-sized to large businesses Unpublished http://www.nonstopnet.com
RackSpace Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes, 99.999% Individuals, Small to large businesses $380.80 for baseline Linux server http://www.rackspace.com
ValueWeb Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes Individuals, Small to mid-sized businesses $295 per month for basic VA Linux server http://www.valueweb.net
Verio Linux, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes, 99.9% and up Individuals, Small to large businesses $375 for basic Linux dedicated server http://www.verio.com
Exodus Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes, wide range Large enterprise customers, mid-sized businesses, Internet businesses Unpublished http://www.exodus.net



Kevin Railsback is the west coast technical director for the InfoWorld Test Center. He can be reached at kevin_ railsback@.com.

COMPANY NAME OSes SUPPORTED CLUSTERING ROOT ACCESS SLAs PRIMARY AUDIENCE PRICE RANGE URL
DellHost Linux, Windows NT/2000 Yes Yes Yes, 99.9% uptime guarantee Large enterprise customers, mid-sized businesses, Internet businesses $199 per month for basic Linux PowerApp server, $299 per month for basic Linux PowerEdge server http://www.dellhost.com
Hostopia Linux, BSD, Windows NT/2000 Yes No Yes, 99.99% ISPs, ASPs $9.99 to $69.99 per account http://www.hostopia.com
HostPro Linux, Solaris, Windows NT/2000 Yes Yes Yes, wide range Small to large businesses, individuals $1,045 per month and up for managed Linux servers, $495 for unmanaged http://www.hostpro.com
Hurricane Electric Linux, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes Small to mid-sized businesses, individuals Unpublished http://www.he.net
ManageNet Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, Novell Yes Yes Yes Small to large businesses Unpublished http://www.managenet.net
NonStopNet Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes Mid-sized to large businesses Unpublished http://www.nonstopnet.com
RackSpace Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes, 99.999% Individuals, Small to large businesses $380.80 for baseline Linux server http://www.rackspace.com
ValueWeb Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes Individuals, Small to mid-sized businesses $295 per month for basic VA Linux server http://www.valueweb.net
Verio Linux, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes, 99.9% and up Individuals, Small to large businesses $375 for basic Linux dedicated server http://www.verio.com
Exodus Linux, Unix, Windows NT/2000, others Yes Yes Yes, wide range Large enterprise customers, mid-sized businesses, Internet businesses Unpublished http://www.exodus.net



Kevin Railsback is the west coast technical director for the InfoWorld Test Center. He can be reached at kevin_ railsback@.com.

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