how to run a dedicated server on the cheap

Since I don’t have much spare money, and my site, along with the other sites I host don’t generate much income. Here is a guide on how to get your own dedicated server, reliable mail delivery, and reliable DNS service.

Getting the server:
There are a million differant server hosting companies out there, and a bunch of differant setups.

  1. Virtual Servers: These are the cheapest, but have many disadvantages. You really don’t have your own server. You basically get an account on one big server that is sectioned off into a bunch of smaller servers. Each user has full control over their own section, but there are still plenty of ways where one users could inadvertantly effect the performance/reliability of your little server
  2. Co-Located Servers: This gives you the most amount of control out of all the options. In this setup, you build/buy/steal your own server, and mail or deliver it to the hosting provider. They then attach it to their network, charge you a monthly fee, and then leave you alone.
  3. Dedicated Servers: This is what I have, and in my opinion is the best bet for your average poor person, like me. This is basically like leasing a car. It’s your for as long as you want to pay for it, but as soon as you decide you don’t want it anymore, you’re left with no server to claim as your own. But other than that, a Co-Located and a Dedicated server are both the same.
  4. Guerilla Hosting: This is where you take whatever computer you can find, and hide it somewhere in your works office or data center, and leach off of their network. This is the cheapest option, but it has its obvious implications

Where to install the server:

So now that you have your method of hosting your server picked out, now you have to find a place to put it. If you go to google and type in: dedicated server hosting (or whatever hosting choice you decided on) you will see there are hundreds of companies to choose from. All of the companies have their own advantages or disadvantages, but in my opinion at least, the biggest factors are

  • price
  • network perfomance
  • specs on the server they give you,

So really who you choose is all up to you, but out of my latest search since I moved to my current provider, I looked through 30 or so differant companies, and settled on this on place that is based out of Germany. 1paket.com They are a real simple company. They do one thing, which is rent out dedicated servers, they have been extremely responsive about any problems I have had, and they had my new server up and running in less than a day.

Also, they only charge $75/month, which is pretty cheap.

Now on to the good stuff. Saving your ass

So now you have your server hosted somewhere, and you started setting it up. This brings up to the next 2 important things.

DNS: Unless you just want your server to only be accessible by its IP address, you’re going to need a reliable DNS setup. The first thing you need to decide on is who to make your primary name server.

  1. Do it yourself – You can just install BIND on your new server and call it a day, but this has 2 big disadvantages. It is another service running on the same machine, which in the end is just another point of failure. If the machine goes down, any backup mail setup or anything like that goes out the window, you’re gone until you get everything back up. The second downside is that your introducing another hole for someone to sneak through and break into your system. Since there are other options available, it seems like that isn’t a decent trade off.
  2. Pay for DNS – who wants to do that? on the other hand, you’re paying them to make sure their DNS setup always works, which might work out good
  3. Use a web based DNS provider – Most of the dirt cheap domain name registrys these days offer DNS for free. Sometimes you don’t even need to buy a domain from them, but if you still need to buy one, it might not be a bad idea to get free hosting. I know mydomain.com does this, but I have had some problems with the reliability of their network, and the procedures they use to transfer domains. The site I currently use is XName. They offer completely free primary and backup DNS service, you can manage as many domains as you want, and they provide you with a company of the BIND config that you use, which makes restoring lost changes or even moving your DNS server elsewhere extremely easy, and as I said, they are free. However they will happily accept PayPal donations, and I strongly recommend taking that option. Their setup is better than most of the web based services I have seen, including ones that you pay for. Then get secondary DNS hosting somewhere else. This way, even if XName goes down, your domains will still resolve because your secondary DNS provider is still up and running somewhere else. RollerNet is another great company. They offer mail and backup DNS services for completely free, and if you send them $30, they give you a bunch of extra features as well.

Mail: Just like everything else, there are plenty of web based providers, but most of them cost money, and most of them don’t offer the large range of features that I need. So in my opinion the best setup is to host all your mail services locally, using Postfix or something similar, and then setup a backup MX record that points to a provider that will hold the mail until your server comes back up in the event of a crash or network outage. For this you should go back to the company I mentioned earlier…RollerNet. They offer a ton of mail serving features, including store and forward, which lets you make them your primary and backup mail host, and they deliver the mail to whatever mail server you tell them to, making your real mail server hidden from the public. Spam control, DNSBL, SPF, along with a ton of other features.

So, you should go check out:

1paket.com – extra cheap and reliably server hosting

RollerNet – reliable free mail and free DNS hosting

XName – reliable free DNS hosting

  1. I will second both the XName and RollerNet recommendations. Both of these services are excellent, and top quality.

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