I have been using shared hosting from 1 & 1 for a few years now. No big complaints (except their domain management page is terrible) but I needed a bit more flexibility. I suppose shared hosting with its inherent limitations helps you develop a certain way, but I wanted a bit more.

For one, I wanted a much more flexible IMAP server setup. I was getting something like 100 mailboxes at 2GB each, but what if I wanted to totally move off of gmail and use 5GB? Setting up one or two archive accounts seemed… Messy.

So I did some research and found lowendbox.com. It is a bit intimidating at first because you don’t know what to look up, or what questions to ask, like “what is OpenVZ, and does it matter for what I want to do?” Or “what happens when I lock myself out?” (Notice, that’s when, not if). “What about if I want to wipe it out and start fresh?”. “Do I need one of these control panel products?”. I have those answers now, if you want. 😀

Well, I didn’t have any very clear answers to any of these but I decided to try it out, with a great special from LEB for $56/year for a 2GB machine from ServerMania.

This. Stuff. Is. Cool.

If you have never done any admin work on Linux, set up your own server or anything, stay away. You will get little value out of it and very likely get hacked. But if you are confident with your admin and security chops, this is a crazy bargain. I chose Debian 6 because Debian. I have a long history with that.

I spent a good day figuring out, testing and setting up the firewall, and learned an amazing amount. I tightened up SSH, installed some IDS stuff and I was happy, even though the thing was hardly useful yet!

I used git during the setup so I would have some ability to track and undo dumb changes. I should have started this earlier, I know it!

First big task was IMAP and SMTP. I got that rolling and made sure that spammers couldn’t hitch a free ride. I got a free SSL certificate from StartSSL and it does the job. Test like crazy.

Next I got Apache rolling and a database server, and made sure those aren’t vulnerable either.

Finally, once I was happy, I pointed my domain to freedns.ws and configured its records. Let me stop for a second and state that of all the stuff I have done so far, FreeDNS.ws amazes me the most. I can’t see why anyone would pay for DNS server services when this thing is around (ok I notice certain record types are missing. I didn’t really need them though).

While waiting for the DNS switchover to happen (always an interminable wait) I discovered mydnscheck.com. A great tool to see how things are progressing and what you have set up or have forgotten to set up!

So far that’s it. I haven’t cancelled my shared hosting yet but I’m moving everything off it. I think I’ve outgrown it… Or more likely it just doesn’t suit me, as I never really used it to it’s potential.

Now I might even run a personal Minecraft server on my VPS, not sure yet. But hey, I can.

It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun. And I am happy in knowing there’s a little piece of the Net that I put together all by myself.


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