What I learned from giving away free VPSes
Since 2014 I have been a happy customer of OVH using mostly their inexpensive Kimsufi brand servers. At Thanksgiving 2019, however, I found, via this community's predecessor site, a great offer from OVH's Soyoustart brand. I snapped up two new Soyoustart servers to replace my faithful Kimsufis.
By January, I was glad to give away free VPSes on one of my new servers. The free give away ran through mid-April. Here are a few random observations about what I learned from giving away free VPSes for three months.
My biggest surprise
One thing about Low End users is that they love to run bench tests! So it wasn't long before a user did just that on his free VPS. Wow! The giveaway server was 1 Gbps!! Not 250 Mbps like Soyoustart specs!! I had heard that OVH was ramping up some of their server speeds, but I indeed was very surprised to find one of my supposedly 250 Mbps Soyoustart servers clocking in at 1 Gbps. Consistently. The other new server, alas, is but 250 Mbps, exactly as specified and expected.
I had no idea! If I hadn't brought Low End users on board for free I probably never would have known. I probably never would have run a bench on the second server that I used for the giveaways. I probably never would have noticed the difference in speed. 250 Mbps was plenty fast enough for me to play around. And my faithful Kimsufis had been 100 Mbps. Even 100 Mbps had been sufficient for me.
On the first of the new SyS servers I had run tests of the time to download and compile binutils, the Standard Build Unit from Linux from Scratch. The first new SyS server was way faster than the Kimsufis. Had I bothered to test the second new SyS server, otherwise identical, I might have found the prem bandwidth secretly hidden behind the forest of identical specs. But maybe not. It took the Low End user benches to tell the tale.
The server's April Fool joke on me
I ended up using Proxmox to configure the giveaway LXC container VPSes, since Proxmox knows LXC configuration better than me. :-) As you may be aware, Proxmox numbers each container VPS, by default beginning with 100. At some point I decided it would be convenient to ask Proxmox to include the last octet of the assigned IP address in the container number. For example, when the last octet was 032, I asked Proxmox to number the container 132. Of course, such a simple system would not work if there were many IPs, but we only had a few.
During the transition period between the old and the new numbering schemes. . . . Haha! You already know what happened!
Yup! I blissfully created a container with the new numbering scheme even though the particular octet already was in use under the old numbering scheme.
The previously created VPS was idling because its user was camping at work due to the virus and had no time to use his VPS. The newly created VPS showed seemingly random aberrations in its response to attempts to login. It would work for awhile and then stop.
Of course, the poor guy who was assigned the newly created VPS had a lot of trouble. After some checking, I gave him a different VPS at a different IP. Eventually I ran lxc-ls and was surprised to find one more VPS than I had IP addresses. :-) Oh! Wait! :-)
Fascinating user projects
One of the most fun and interesting parts of the free program was the fascinating projects several of the users were attempting.
One user ran meetings and remote classes for his university via Jitsi. His little free VPS successfully handled meetings of as many as thirty people.
Another user ran gigabit tests of the Interplanetary File System. The test files were dumped from /dev/random. He ended up concluding that IPFS was not yet fast enough for his file sharing project. After the tests were finished, he sent me detailed, illustrated explanations of the tests he was running. Definitely a lot of fun, and I am most grateful to this user for sharing with me the details of his project.
Yet another user wanted a graphical environment. He persisted through a couple of install failures, but eventually got LXDE up and running with Xrdp. This user was kind enough to write a post about how he initially did it with VNC instead of Xrdp.
The memory allocation for the free VPSes was 4 GB ECC RAM per VPS. Judging merely from what the kernel left in memory after awhile, the users seemed to fall into two groups: low and high memory usage.
The high group consisted of three users:
- 1.75 GB -- Jitsi
- 1.62 GB -- Minecraft
- 1.44 GB -- LXDE, browsers
The low group included:
- 111 MB
- 083 MB
- 061 MB
- 039 MB
Two of the low group were running Seafile. The third was the IPFS tester. I don't remember about what the fourth was doing. Also there were a few more low memory group users than the four listed above.
I looked at the load averages multiple times per day. Running a bench test unsurprisingly could kick the averages up to as high a 8 while the test was running. However, I was surprised to see how quiet it was aboard the server almost all the time. The averages almost always were between 0 and 1, and, very rarely, between 1 and 2.
ssh keys and passwords
I had asked the users to send me their ed25519 ssh public keys. Every user sent me a key, but only the "professional" users sent ed25519 keys. Everyone else sent RSA keys. A couple of users sent .ppk keys even though they knew they were going to be running Linux.
I explained to the users that their VPS was being delivered with my public ssh keys installed in addition to their ssh key. I told the users that they were free to remove my ssh keys and to change their password if they didn't want me to be able to get in via ssh or password. Surprisingly, as far as I am aware, no user removed my ssh keys or changed his password. How do I know this?
Several users asked me for help, and, for those users, I had no trouble logging in to help them. Several additional users took time to respond to my introductory email explicitly saying that they were leaving my credentials installed. One or two even said that they trusted me. :-)
There was one user, a professional, who said he accidentally deleted my credentials in the process of setting up his home directory. He asked me to give him my keys again so he could reinstall them, which I and he did, and which I then tested.
There were a couple of users who did not respond to communications from me and also never asked for help, For these users, I never looked into their VPSes, so I don't know what happened with my ssh public keys in these cases.
Customer service gems
No account of giving away or selling a service would be complete without a few customer service gems. One user just couldn't login to his new VPS. No matter what I said, he was convinced that the reason for his problem was that he had written something like [email protected] into the comment field of his ssh key. He seemed 100% sure that he had to find the perfect "password" for his key's comment field. He ultimately disappeared, never having got into his free VPS.
Another user tried installing a desktop interface version of his distribution. When he rebooted, he lost his ability to connect via ssh. I seem to recall getting into the VPS via console and finding sshd masked under systemd. It seemed to me that maybe the software desktop he installed was not meant to have sshd running, which often is the case for desktops. This user's problem also might have been somehow related to LXC and privileges.
I wanted to keep working on finding and fixing the problem, but the user insisted on an immediate reinstall of a different Linux distribution. His point-of-view was that it is "obvious" that anything meant to be used with a browser should work, even under LXC, because HTTP is a "universal protocol."
A few users didn't respond when I messaged them asking how everything was going and whether they were satisfied with their free VPSes. After two polite requests, I asked, "Have you given up on this project?" Which, of course, produced immediate replies saying "No."
My favorite part of the project
No question about it, my favorite part of the free VPS project was meeting and getting to know users and potential users from all over the world.
I had contacts from users and potential users in Germany, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Viet Nam, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the USA, and more.
I had a student user who already had founded his own company which already was running on investment capital.
I had a medical doctor who mostly used his cell phone to access his VPS, because his job kept him much of the time moving around and away from home.
I talked with a potential user in China who seemed to have perfect English. When I asked about how he had acquired his perfect English skills, he replied that he was using Baidu to translate for him. I was blown away by Baidu's seemingly perfectly fluent English skills.
I got to talk with these wonderful folks via LES PMs, email, and, sometimes, via Signal App. It was awesome to hear about their lives and about what they were doing.
In addition to meeting all these wonderful people, I myself got to learn more about servers. I don't know why, but I always have enjoyed messing around with servers ever since I started, some twenty plus years ago.
Will there be another free VPS program from me? Probably. On another server I am trying to configure LXC myself, rather than relying on Proxmox to do the LXC configuration for me. When I think I've got it right, I will need some testers.
The server with the Proxmox-made LXC VPSes has been stable for months now. I made a little website from which to sell VPSes on it. The site is at https://srvr.ovh if you want to check it out. There is a 30% LES Discount on the Gold VPS, so, if you want one, please use the discount link on this page instead of the full price link on the site.
I'm looking forward to many more years of messing around with servers!
Thanks yet again to @AnthonySmith and to everyone here at LES for making this place as lovely as it is!
Old guy! Happy customer of OVH. Tom, not Oles! :-)
Purveyor of fast-as-metal LXC VPSes