Slicehost and Linode - Which Xen based host is the best?

Choosing host is very difficult. There are so many choices to make; dedicated or VPS, managed or unmanaged, what type of virtualization (XEN, OpenVZ etc). As moving between hosts can be teadious and costly, it’s important to be as sure as posible that the host you use is the right host for you.

Today we’ll be looking at two of the most reputable Xen based VPS hosting firms out there today; Slicehost (Rackspace) and Linode. Which one is best at what, and what characteristics are there to take into account when choosing between the two?

We have deliberately narrowed it down to these two candidates as the other players in the Xen based, unmanaged hosting space is simply not in the same league as these two. This is our opinion after having spent time with more than 10 Xen based hosts in this market space.

We’ll be looking at the performance, the availability of OS + Software, Support, Communities, the dashboards, and the pricing structures.

Please note that we are not affiliated with either of these two companies.

Slicehost – a Firsthand Experience

Getting started with Slicehost is very easy. We went about this by first testing the availability of the community and the willingness to answer so called newbie questions. We tried their online chat – which has a very nice and intuitive interface – as well as the IRC channel and our questions were answered promptly, even enthusiastically, in all except one case. There was no one, not even when we asked the three Slicehost representatives, who could answer our question on why Slicehost only offers 64-bit versions of all their setups.

Signing up was a breeze, paying $20 for their most basic plan with 256MB ram, 10GB storage and 100 GB bandwidth. The dashboard is very clear and intuitive and comes with mobile apps as well, so you can restart your slice if need be from your iphone. Nice, and not half as unnecessary as you might first think.

You get to choose between a number of OS’s ranging from Ubuntu 9.10, Debian Lenny (5.0) to CentOS, Gentoo and Fedora. As mentioned earlier, only the 64-bit installations are available which is quite noticeable in the memory footprint. This is the first negative aspect we come across at Slicehost.

Support and Community at Slicehost

All basic processes, such as seting up your slice for the first time, setting up IP-tables, installing MySQL, PHP, and Apache, or even Nginx, is very well documented at the article repository at Slicehost. It’s nearly impossible to go wrong and you are quite quickly up and running by just following the available walkthroughs. Very nice.

Questions in need of immediate attention, albeit not critical, are swiftly answered by the community available on IRC. The forums are made up of a Vanilla Forums software installation, which is really sub-par from any and all angles, and not terribly active either. vBulletin is standard and would really have been to prefer here. It’s in no way a dealbreaker for us since there are so many other ways of getting help when you get stuck.

As mentioned earlier, the Slicehost support is very eager to help. They answer quickly and promptly and have a very professional attitude. All pluses there.

Hardware, Uptime, and Performance at Slicehost

A Xen based VPS is really the best you can get, given that the underlying hardware is good. With Slicehost, you get a very stable and good performance. Although, when compared to Linode, the server could feel just a tad snappier. Linode made us nearly gasp, while Slicehost was more of a “Nice, it’s really responsive and fast”.

BYTE UNIX Benchmarks (Version 4.1-wht.2)
System -- Linux NNN GNU/Linux
/dev/sda1              9805144    505864   8801216   6% / 

Start Benchmark Run: NNN 11:29:04 UTC 2009
 03:29:21 up  1:06,  1 user,  load average: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00

End Benchmark Run: NNN 11:39:31 UTC 2009
 03:39:29 up  1:16,  1 user,  load average: 14.04, 6.16, 2.71

                     INDEX VALUES
TEST                                        BASELINE     RESULT      INDEX

Dhrystone 2 using register variables        376783.7 15418279.0      409.2
Double-Precision Whetstone                      83.1     1123.6      135.2
Execl Throughput                               188.3     3249.3      172.6
File Copy 1024 bufsize 2000 maxblocks         2672.0   119098.0      445.7
File Copy 256 bufsize 500 maxblocks           1077.0    34802.0      323.1
File Read 4096 bufsize 8000 maxblocks        15382.0   916381.0      595.7
Pipe Throughput                             111814.6   960661.8       85.9
Pipe-based Context Switching                 15448.6   254661.7      164.8
Process Creation                               569.3     7911.5      139.0
Shell Scripts (8 concurrent)                    44.8     1226.8      273.8
System Call Overhead                        114433.5  1051339.6       91.9
     FINAL SCORE                                                     212.8

As you will see, Linode has better figures, but these aren’t bad. A Slicehost basic slice will definitely host between 5-10 “normal” wordpress sites, or 3-5 Joomla sites with traffic ranging between 5,000 – 15,000 pageviews / day in total.

The uptime during our testing – which lasted 30 days- was impeccable. Zero downtime, without the slightest hiccup.

When testing the slice with some simulated traffic, it got a peak load figure in TOP on 11.14 which is very good. Some of the non Xen based VPS’s we’ve tried this with have gone to 40 and then become unresponsive. This did not happen here.

The hardware seems OK but how CPU’s are handled and shared among the slices is still somewhat of a mystery. However, it didn’t pose a problem to us during the testing.

All in all, the performance and uptime meets our expectations.

Linode – Review and Firsthand Experience

Let’s face it. The first impression at Linode is not as good as with Slicehost. It simply feels like the “cousin from the countryside” with a little less appeal to the eye. Don’t let that fool you for a minute. Our testing showed Linode to be very tough to beat; in any of the tested areas.

Signing up was easy and every bit as simple as with Slicehost, with people who seems married to the Linode IRC channel answering even what must be the most annoying newbie questions we could think of. Kudos to the people on the Linode IRC channel for that.

We chose the basic Linode 360 plan with 360 MB RAM, 200 GB Bandwidth, and 16 GB Disk space. Linode basically has the same plethora of OS’s to choose from as Slicehost with the added benefit of having 32-bit versions for all of them, as well as 64-bit. As we cannot find any valid reason to go with 64-bit at this point in time, it saves us nearly 50% of RAM in idle mode for a Debian Lenny installation. It sits in our Linode on just 18 MB RAM tied up. Nice. Very nice.

Support and Community at Linode

While Linodes article repository is not as impressive as the one at Slicehost, the Linode Dashboard has Slicehost beaten hands down. We’d wager that even the greenest of newbies would feel well at home in this excellent dashboard. You handle anything from DNS Zones to a virtual SSH client. Sure, this is available at Slicehost as well, but so much better and thought through user experience at Linode.

Support answers questions quite promptly and quite thoroughly. Slicehost gave us more of the royal treatment in this area, but it is in no means a dealbreaker for Linode.

The community forums is based on phpbb. It feels very ‘inside baseball’ and initiated. Not as many newbie questions here to find answers for as with the forums over at Slicehost. The forum software doesn’t really give you any encouragement to start a thread either. Could be a lot better, but just as in the case for Slicehost, you get your answers fast and promptly from Support or IRC.

Hardware, Uptime, and Performance at Linode

We had a hunch already when having run the installations and seen the thorough setup of the Linode Dashboard that it would be something totally different than what we’d seen before at other VPS’ including Slicehost. We were not disappointed.

BYTE UNIX Benchmarks (Version 4.1-wht.2)
System -- Linux NNN GNU/Linux /dev/xvda 16384952    420060  15469440   3% / 

Start Benchmark Run: NNN 11:00:39 UTC 2009
00:50:39 up 8 min,  1 user,  load average: 0.06, 0.13, 0.08

End Benchmark Run: NNN 11:11:50 UTC 2009
01:00:50 up 18 min,  1 user,  load average: 12.19, 5.55, 2.56

                  INDEX VALUES           

TEST                                        BASELINE     RESULT      INDEX

Dhrystone 2 using register variables        376783.7 22903326.3      607.9
Double-Precision Whetstone                      83.1     1773.0      213.4
Execl Throughput                               188.3     4556.9      242.0
File Copy 1024 bufsize 2000 maxblocks         2672.0   143783.0      538.1
File Copy 256 bufsize 500 maxblocks           1077.0    42424.0      393.9
File Read 4096 bufsize 8000 maxblocks        15382.0  1143167.0      743.2
Pipe Throughput                             111814.6  1641535.3      146.8
Pipe-based Context Switching                 15448.6   383953.3      248.5
Process Creation                               569.3    10094.6      177.3
Shell Scripts (8 concurrent)                    44.8     1571.5      350.8
System Call Overhead                        114433.5  1254749.9      109.6

     FINAL SCORE                                                     290.2

Simply put, Linode is the fastest VPS host we’ve had the pleasure of test running.

Slicehost was very good. Linode is in another division. The console even feels snappier. We were simply blown away.Our figures tells the story as well.

The uptime was impeccable. 30 days out of 30 with no glitches.

A basic linode 360 will without a doubt host 10-15 wordpress sites or 7-10 Joomla sites having between 20,000 – 30,000 pageviews / day in total.

When testing our linode with some simulated traffic, it got a peak load figure in TOP on 6.14 which is outstanding. As mentioned in the Slicehost review, some of the non Xen based VPS’s we’ve tried this with have gone to 40 and then become unresponsive. This did not happen here.

All in all the uptime and performance of Linode exceeds our expectations.


If you have read through the above reviews of Slicehost and Linode, it will come as no surprise that we’ll chose Linode as the winner here. Slicehost is by no means bad, not at all, it’s just that Linode –currently – is better.

What is very good – in both of these cases – and quite unique, is that with these very basic setups you get very potent virtual machines to host basically production ready apps. This is far from the case with most other VPS offerings out there. What is often neglected is the fact that a basic setup has so little CPU, and is hosted on a very busy machine, so it almost feels unresponsive in comparison to Slicehost and Linode based VPS.

We can warmly recommend both Slicehost and Linode. Slicehost may be the winner in the “responsive support” category. Linode takes the prize in almost all other categories including performance and value for money.

Please note that we are not in any way affiliated with either Slicehost or Linode. This is a subjective review and we advise you to test both these companies before settling with any of them. We take no responsibility in the accuracy of the above figures.

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