Two weeks ago, following some interruptions of service, my hosting provider simply went out of business. This was a bit of a shock, as RazorLogix (RL) had looked like an almost perfect shared host - great service (until the outages), and a very good shared-host plan which included SSH access (non-root), Java, Python (including mod_python), RubyOnRails, Subversion support and more.
When the end came, it meant backing up everything and moving to a new host. Having done this only a month or two previously (in order to move to RL!), I wasn't very pleased. The first problem was, who to host with? I looked around for something close to the RL offering. There are other shared-host companies which offer mod_python, but usually these are a bit constraining and very few offer SSH access.
In the end, I decided to take a slightly bolder step and go for a Linux virtual server. I hadn't considered running my own server before because it had meant either running the hardware myself 24x7 (not really something I want to do), or purchasing access to a rack-mounted server (very expensive). Now that virtualization has arrived in the hosting market, running your own server is very cheap and gives you complete flexibility. The downside of course is that you have to do everything else: administer the server, install software and so on.
There appear to be two main approaches to the virtual server market: User Mode Linux (UML) or using a virtualization layer such as Xen. The result, as far as the user is concerned, is broadly the same: you have a complete Linux OS environment, an allocation of main memory, and some disk space (a few GB). Of all the providers I looked at, the two I concentrated on were Bytemark, which uses UML and Rimuhosting, which uses Xen.
I chose Rimuhosting. So far, so good. They are based in New Zealand but most of the hardware seems to be in US datacentres. Requests for help have been answered promptly and they do seem to know what they're doing. The standard VPS install has almost everything I need, right out of the box, including Java and Python. For most of the basic setup, there is a web-based control panel.
As for me, the experience has been a bit like going back in time, to the years I spent developing in C and C++ on Unix (12 years or more ago). It's surprising just how much has stayed with me, even csh/bash stuff. The biggest challenge has been understanding the components of the standard (RedHat Enterprise-based) distribution that Rimuhosting uses, e.g. Postfix and Dovecot for email. Having SSH access (and SCP access, so you can use something like WinSCP) means complete freedom: now I can do some of the server-side stuff I always wanted to do!