Varnish for the masses – Gandi.net Simple Hosting Review

Gandi.net Simple HostingLast month, Gandi.net sent a tweet providing free hosting for a month on their simple hosting package. As I already purchased a domain from them and was already looking for a host, I immediately replied and received the promo code within minutes. I’ve been using their service for about 20 days now. So, here is a quick review on how it went on so far, how it fares comparing to other hosting providers, its advantages over others and its unique disadvantages!

Overview

Once you are signed up (and paid for a month or year of hosting in advance), you’d be provided with three logins.

  1. To administer the instance
  2. sFTP info
  3. Database login (phpMyAdmin)

Once you log in to administer your instance, there are details about processor usage, disk usage and network usage (very handy to see everything on the same page).

Advantages of Gandi.net “Simple Hosting” Platform

Let me start with the advantages with this setup:

APC – Also called as Alternative PHP Caching, it is not available with any other shared hosting provider that I know of. APC is the first thing I’d install on any VPS or dedicated server. So, when I saw APC in gandi.net’s simple hosting, it was a pleasant surprise for me.

Varnish – I can’t believe myself when I’m presented with Varnish cache too. However there is no way to purge the Varnish cache via the administrative panel. On the other hand, APC’s opcode cache can be cleared via the control panel. Please note that you can still purge the cache using a plugin for WordPress. Please see the updates below.

Security – If there is one thing that everyone is scared of on a shared server is that of the security. There are a number of instances where the security is compromised just because a site was hosted on a shared webhost. By providing only sFTP to connect, your instance is already protected to some extend.

mod_deflate and mod_expires – I always miss these two modules in Apache on many of the shared hosting providers. This is one of the reasons many of my clients move to a VPS too. By having these, all your static files are cached on the visitors’ browsers so that speeding up the time to load consecutive visits to the same page or other pages.

Price – Most people who start building online presence would usually go for a shared hosting for a price between $5 to $10 per month. Once the site becomes famous and starts attracting a lot of visitors, they usually go for a VPS plan that costs at least $50. Gandi.net fills the gap by having a flexible upgrade path of $5, $10, $20, $30 and $40 (+ VAT).

Everything looks great. So, what’s the catch?

No cPanel – As you could have guessed by now, there is no cPanel. If you have used cPanel for a while, you’d know that cPanel has always been a resource hungry monster. But there are others who prefer cPanel. So, if you are specific about having a cPanel, then you may stop reading this article now and search for other hosting providers that offer cPanel.

Purging – Varnish can be tricky to work with, especially if you make changes frequently and if you don’t know how to purge the old cache. I sent an email to Gandi.net asking how one could purge the Varnish cache in Gandi.net. They did reply and here is how to purge the Varnish cache in Gandi.net Simple Hosting. If you are making the changes in your theme or any other CSS files related to plugins, then you may have to force CSS changes to “go live” immediately.

Learning Curve – Even though it is named as “Simple Hosting”, there is a bit of learning curve involved in getting started with it. Every traditional shared web host offers cPanel. So, switching to a particular host is only a matter of setting up the name servers and wait for up to 48 hours to get started. Some hosts even provide a temporary URL to get started. In “Simple Hosting”, no cPanel, so no name servers to switch. You’d be pointing your domain to your instance by updating the “A” record in DNS. This involves a bit of learning curve, if you have never setup or tweaked your site’s DNS for yourself. There are other areas you may want to learn too, but the mileage varies from person to person. As a sysadmin, I was at home with the “Simple Hosting” in no time. For you, to feel at home, it may take some time. :)

Verdict

Overall, I’m more than happy and satisfied with the features offered at this price ($5 + VAT). I highly recommend Gandi.net’s Simple Hosting for anyone who is serious about their hosting. For more information, you may visit Simple Hosting in Gandi.net.

I’d like to thank Nicolas (from Gandi.net) for clarifying about deploying multiple domains using a single instance.

Update (as of August 2012): I used Gandi.net’s “Simple Hosting” only for a month (in February-March, 2012). Since then, I moved to their VPS to deploy all my test domains and sites.

Looking for more hosting reviews? Check out my web hosting reviews. Happy Hosting! :)

27 thoughts on “Varnish for the masses – Gandi.net Simple Hosting Review

  1. Nicolas (Gandi)

    Thxs for the post. I have 2 comments:
    – “there is no way to purge the Varnish cache” => it’s in your local admin page
    – “you can not host more than one domain on a single instance” => you can host up to 100 domains on an instance

    Reply
    1. Pothi

      Wow! I did not know this, we are allowed to host multiple domains!

      On Varnish, I do not see any Varnish related settings in the local admin page. It may be in the ‘to do’ list of yours.

      Reply
        1. Pothi

          Thanks Romuald. I updated the post with the link to that wiki page. I use WordPress and install Varnish HTTP Purge plugin and now everything works as expected. I’m in the process of creating a plugin to purge CSS updates in WordPress too.

          As mentioned, I sent an email to your support inwhich Emerick from tier/level 3 support was kind enough to answer a few of my important questions on Varnish in Gandi.net’s Simple Hosting and in Gandi VPS hosting package.

          Reply
    1. Pothi

      You are right, Mike. As Gandi.net allows up to 100 domains (and/or sub-domains), it is easy to integrate Piwik or similar software. I’d recommend installing it in a sub-domain (like stats.tinywp.in), similar to how it’s done right here for this domain.

      Reply
  2. lewis wright

    Hi great post I just signed up for simple hosting my self and didn’t know what benifits I was getting as I m completely new to this. I hae one question for you how did you configure your word press to have public access I.e your taken to http://www.example.com instead of the backend instance directory.

    I’ve looked around gandi not found any help with there install tuts I actually have word press installed just can’t see it publicly

    Thanks for any help in advance

    Reply
    1. Pothi

      Hi Lewis,

      May I know the website URL you’d like to setup in Gandi.net? It’s hard to tell what’s the issue without looking at the URL.

      Thanks.

      Reply
  3. Fraser

    In case anybody is wondering about the current state of Gandi’s Simple Hosting I’d love to provide an update.

    There are absolutely no SSL certificates available as of August 2012. None, nada, zip. If you want some basic https security when logging into your WordPress/Joomla/whatever CMS, simply forget about it.

    There’s also no way to manage your instance, for example if you want to ditch your American instance (delete it? can’t) or move it to Gandi’s Paris facility (can’t do that either).

    Load balancing isn’t like Amazon’s EC2 which is what I was expecting when I signed up. You get one of two datacenters, not both.

    Reply
  4. Antonio Eggberg

    Thank you for the post. maybe you can help me clarify this.
    I have installed WordPress on Gandi Simple Hosting. I have enabled the WordPress network option i.e. multiple blog under from the same codebase. What I want to do is have

    domain.com –> currently goes to vhost domain.com under my instance.
    au.domain.com –> country specific sites
    us.domain.com –> country specific sites
    … etc.
    I have added wildcard DNS so all of the above country specific domain goes to “domain.com” as per WP instructions and validated with opendns seems to be ok. What I now want to do is to point all my subdomains to one single vhost domain.com and let wordpress .htaccess do the magic.. I don’t really now if it’s possible? Can you tell me if wildcard DNS is supported in one instance/vhost?

    thanks.

    Reply
      1. Antonio Eggberg

        As per Gandi – This is do-able but I have given number of try and failed, honestly I believe this is not supported and Gandi Support lied (based on the answer, I have received so far). For those who would like to try here is how you can do it. But It doesn’t work!! If you can get it to work – YOU will be a hero!

        So here we go My broken solution (but Gandi Says this is the way to do it), In my specific case I am using WordPress Multi Site i.e. in Network mode.

        1. Install WordPress as you would and it works say “domain.com”
        2. Create 2 new vhost so you have 3 vhost i.e. “domain.com”, “a.domain.com”, “b.domain.com”
        3. Create symlinks (must be relative symlinks) so “a.domain.com” and “b.domain.com” htdocs points to “domain.com” htdocs. So in general they are all using the original WP MU install code base.
        4. Setup WP Network as per documentation.
        5. You will see it “domain.com” works but not “a.domain.com” and “b.domain.com” simply because the symlinks is the trouble maker here.

        So to conclude Gandi says simple hosting supports “Symlinks” but It doesn’t support “Symlinks”. I like to be proven wrong and If Gandi really says they should have a blog post explain who/how its being done.

        Anyway I am planning to move out of Simple hosting. I don’t think its worth the trouble it’s just not ready for serious business — it’s just simple thats all. It’s a alpha product.

        Thanks

        Reply
        1. Pothi

          Hi Antonio,

          Thanks for the follow-up comment that may help others to make an informed decision when someone wishes to run a WordPress multisite using sub-domains. But, just because it doesn’t support WordPress multisite with sub-domains, we can’t call or assume it as an alpha product. :)

          I’d recommend switching to a VPS, if you are serious about running a WordPress multisite (sub-directory or sub-domains). Running a WP multisite on a traditional shared hosting is never going to work (unless it is a demo site or a site with very low traffic). May be, it’s just me. You may want to consult someone else to get an alternative view on this topic.

          Best,
          Pothi

          Reply
        2. Steve Root

          WordPress multisite works fine on simplehost (mine has been running since Sep 2012). I wrote my notes at http://wp.sroot.eu/ and also added them in the gandi forums.

          I like simplehost a lot now I undertand it’s limitations and now I generally prefer to put new sites on that rather than my VPS’s. However I stil run VPS servers for some of my sites where I need a little more fine grained control (eg: a legacy PHP site that can’t use simplehost version of PHP, ruby/rails things) or for where simplehost is not an ideal setup (eg: streaming large files). Besides – simplehost is amazingly cheap compared to even a basic VPS

          Simplehost also offers SSL now, although you need a medium instance so it costs a little more.

          Reply
          1. Pothi

            I started recommending Gandi.net simple hosting as well, over VPS for small sites. There are a lot more stuff added by Gandi.net to make it more compelling.

            Thanks for the note about SSL.

            Reply
  5. Antonio Eggberg

    I fully agree about WP Multisite on VPS, however you want to try out new ideas with little investment as possible before you know it’s worth putting more money in to it. Anyway the reason I say Gandi Simple Hosting is an Alpha product is basically simple. If your product can’t even support basic “Symlinking” which GANDI say it does but fail to produce it then it’s an Alpha product. It’s the simple Symlink support makes it an Alpha product.

    Cheers

    Reply
  6. Alexander

    Dear Lewis,
    in my practice I run into situations when site is under attack, e.g. bots simulate normal users, hunt for admin areas, find nothing, but being served custom 404 pages with text and graphics. I’m worried wthere 300 000 page views per month threshold on 5 USD plan is enough. I know of bandwidth limit, of disk capacity limit, but hits limit is sometihng that confuses me. Could you be so kind and share you thoughts on subject?

    Reply
    1. Steve Root

      The limit is how many concurrent requests can be processed by the server, it’s not a threshold of 300,000 but that’s a reasonable guess of how many requests it can handle on that plan. The actual figure would be dependant upon how long each page takes to process and whether all your visitors nicely spaced their visit.

      To work out for your site, take a month of apache logs, count the lines. That’s roughly how many requests in the month.

      However: You can now remove almost all the static images from count as the Varnish Cache will handle most of those, along with any .html pages.
      You may also run into a problem if you have a large peak of traffic (eg 90% of your customers arrive between 9am and 10am), so you might look for how many requests you have at peak traffic times instead of the whole month and size according to that.

      Reply
  7. Milosz

    Thanks for such useful information. I recently moved my small blog to Gandi using SH and I am quite happy about it. The only thing I miss is SSL cert.

    Reply
    1. Pothi

      True.

      IMHO, the SSL certificate integration would probably never come to SH as it basically runs on Varnish. As of now, Varnish core team doesn’t have any plans to support SSL.

      Thanks for your comment, Milosz.

      Reply
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  9. Jeff

    I have been trying to install WordPress on my www. Adventure.coop domain. I have my domain and simple hostin with them, followed the tutorial to install but am hung up at the point where I try to access the URL to “install” WordPress. I keeps sending me to the parked page by gandi.

    Any ideas as to what I am doing wrong??? I am totally new to this so type “slow” :)

    Jeff

    Reply

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