Review: Top 3 Unmanaged VPS Providers

Let's be clear what I'm reviewing here.

What is a VPS?

A VPS (Virtual Private Server) is when someone takes a powerful server, and divides it up into a number of mini "virtual" servers. You can then pay to run your own private server, only without the cost of paying for the whole physical machine - you just pay your share. Lots of people host their websites on a VPS when they want a step up from shared hosting - you typically get a lot more resources than in any shared package. They really come into their own when you want full control. With a VPS you get root access to the server, and you can set it up how you want, installing whatever software you need.

What is an Unmanaged VPS?

Some VPS providers are "managed", meaning they'll help you set up your server, and you can ask for help with running it. That's great for those who need it, but it costs a lot to provide, so it is unnecessary for the person with the expertise and willing to manage their own server. For them, an "unmanaged" (or, more accurately, "self-managed") VPS would be a better choice.

Some unmanaged VPS providers have tried to offer VPS for lower prices, typically below $7 per month for something powerful enough to run an active website. Sure, there are some on a rush to the bottom, offering bargain-basement unsustainable prices. I'm not talking about them, but about those trying to offer something sustainable and reliable, but at those kinds of prices.

OpenVZ versus KVM

There are different ways to divide a physical server into virtual ones. One technology to use is "OpenVZ", an open-source sibling to Virtuozzo. With this, each virtual server shares the parent node's kernel, meaning that it's not possible to run Windows or to use your own kernel. Memory allocation is soft-shared, which means that containers can use RAM not being used by other containers, which makes overselling possible. With some providers (but not those recommended here) that also means overloading. An advantage is that you don't need your allocated memory to run your own kernel, so more of the RAM you're given is available to you.

The other technology used by these hosts is "KVM", "Kernel-based Virtual Machine". This is true virtualisation, and you get to run your own kernel / architecture. You can therefore install an OS from a (virtual) CD / DVD as well as from a template, because the OS installation system will treat your VPS as a full server in its own right. As well as better isolation of resources like memory, there is greater security. You can run full-disk encryption, and the parent host cannot enter your virtual server without rebooting it into a different OS (such as a rescue system).

What am I recommending?

Over the years, I've used many such providers. Some have been a disaster - cheap for a reason. Others have been unreliable, good while they lasted, but disappeared or gone downhill. Others were quirky - they met my needs for a season, but I'd never recommend them to anyone else. But I've found there are 3 that I keep on coming back to. They've been in business for several years, offer rock-solid services, and I'd be delighted to recommend any of them.

I'm going to give a brief review of each here (in no particular order) - just click the links to the full review if you want something more substantial.

BuyVM

First up is BuyVM. BuyVM offer affordable OpenVZ and KVM servers at three locations: Las Vegas for low latency to US West Coast, New Jersey for the East Coast, and Luxembourg for Europe. They've been offering low-prices servers for many years, and know how to do this stably. Their networks have had problems in the past, but they've either moved or renegotiated terms with their colo providers and things are now good. DDOs protection is available at all locations for $3 extra per IP per month. They offer free AnyCast DNS for those who have services in all 3 locations, a totally unique feature amongst low-cost VPS providers. Finally, they've developed "Stallion", their in-house VPS control panel, to let you reinstall / reboot / set up rDNS or AnyCast your VPS. A solid and experienced provider. (Read the full review)

RamNode

Next is RamNode. RamNode offers OpenVZ and KVM at 5 locations - 4 in the US, and the Netherlands for those in Europe. Their best selling point is the speed and performance of both their network and their servers. You have a choice of either pure SSD disks in their nodes, or mechanical drives with SSD for caching - both deliver the fastest read/write speeds I've seen from any VPS provider. At each location, their network has excellent peering / exchange. DDOS is a problem for any provider; RamNode offer protection for a small extra fee, and have developed "RamNull" - technology that automatically null-routes any non-filtered IPs that get targeted. The result is a stable network. (Read the full review)

Secure Dragon

Last is Secure Dragon. Secure Dragon are a quiet, understated provider. They aim to be professional, friendly and excellent, and to run services that just work. They succeed, too. They have an astonishing 9 different locations across the United States (no European location, if that's an issue). They've also developed their own in-house VPS control panel called Wyvern; it runs within the WHMCS billing system for OpenVZ customers. Using Wyvern, you can migrate your VPS between the 9 data centres offered, which is great for flexibility. You do this yourself, and it takes about 15 minutes - a unique feature amongst low-cost VPS providers. (Read the full review)

Future Hosting

I have a post-script to this page. I'd like to mention Future Hosting. I've only ever used them for Managed VPS. However they do also have a range of unmanaged VPS. If the quality of the service is as good as their managed services, then they would be a good choice. Their prices are in a comparable range, so I have included their unmanaged plans below, in case they're the right fit for someone. (Read the full review)

Prices and Plans

To help you compare providers, below is a table with the plans for each provider, together with the prices. (If you spot any errors, please let me know). You can filter and sort the table. By default, only plans with up to 1 GB of RAM are shown, but you can see larger plans by using the filters.

Provider Plan RAM Disk Space Price / Month Price / Quarter Price / year Order
BuyVM E3-SSD KVM 1024MB 20GB $3.50 $10.50 $42.00
BuyVM KVM 128MB 15GB $3.00 $12.00 $25.00
BuyVM OpenVZ 128MB 15GB $1.99 $5.98 $15.00
Future Hosting SSD1-UM 1024MB 30GB $10.00 $30.00 $120.00
RamNode Massive SSD OpenVZ 256MB 120GB $8.00 $28.80
RamNode Massive SSD OpenVZ 512MB 150GB $5.00 $14.55 $54.00
RamNode Massive SSD OpenVZ 1024MB 200GB $10.00 $29.10 $108.00
RamNode Premium SSD KVM 256MB 8GB $3.50 $10.19 $37.80
RamNode Premium SSD KVM 512MB 15GB $7.00 $20.37 $75.60
RamNode Premium SSD KVM 1024MB 28GB $14.00 $40.74 $151.20
RamNode Premium SSD OpenVZ 128MB 12GB $15.00
RamNode Premium SSD OpenVZ 256MB 25GB $8.00 $28.80
RamNode Premium SSD OpenVZ 512MB 50GB $5.00 $14.55 $54.00
RamNode Premium SSD OpenVZ 1024MB 75GB $10.00 $29.10 $108.00
RamNode Standard SSD KVM 512MB 10GB $3.00 $8.73 $32.40
RamNode Standard SSD KVM 1024MB 20GB $5.00 $14.55 $54.00
RamNode Standard SSD OpenVZ 1024MB 40GB $3.50 $10.19 $37.80
Secure Dragon KVM 512MB 10GB $3.99 $11.97 $47.88
Secure Dragon KVM 1024MB 20GB $4.99 $14.97 $59.88
Secure Dragon KVM Storage 512MB 250GB $5.99 $17.97 $71.88
Secure Dragon KVM Storage 1024MB 500GB $7.99 $23.97 $95.88
Secure Dragon OpenVZ 64MB 3GB $5.97 $11.99
Secure Dragon OpenVZ 128MB 10GB $7.47 $14.99
Secure Dragon OpenVZ 256MB 15GB $2.99 $8.97 $29.90
Secure Dragon OpenVZ 512MB 20GB $4.99 $14.97 $49.90
Secure Dragon OpenVZ 1024MB 25GB $6.99 $20.97 $69.99
Additional Terms