Hosting at Hetzner.DE

By Abhijit Menon-Sen <ams@toroid.org>

2007-09-25

In July 2005, I ordered a "root server" at Hetzner.DE, to host mail, web, and DNS services for myself and a few friends. I used that machine for five years, then retired and replaced it with a new Hetzner server. This is a brief summary of my experience.

Hosting plans

Hetzner provides the hardware, power, and connectivity. You get root and can run whatever you want on the machine. They maintain the hardware, and you have to maintain the software. A range of server configurations is available.

I signed up for the entry-level RP2999 plan, and got an Athlon XP 2000+ with 512MB RAM and a 160GB disk for €29/month, with a 200GB monthly transfer limit. That plan was discontinued in April 2007, and my server was automatically shifted to the DS2000 plan (same features, 1TB limit) for €39/month.

Update (2010-08-10): Today I ordered the current entry-level server, the EQ4, for €49/month plus a setup fee of €149. Although that is no longer "very cheap", you get much more for the money: an Intel Core i7-920 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 2*750GB disks in RAID-1. The data transfer limit is 5TB per month (if you exceed that amount, you can pay €6.90 per TB, or your connection is restricted to 10Mbit/s). Here is the story of my upgrade.

There is no way to upgrade from one plan to another, other than to order a new server and decommission the old one after migrating your data and services (during which you pay for both servers).

Hetzner also offers inexpensive shared web hosting, as well as colocation and managed servers. I have no experience with any of these.

Extra features

The RP2999 server didn't have any, but newer servers offer features such as automatic reboots via a web interface (as opposed to requesting that your server be rebooted and waiting for someone to do it) and 100GB of free backup space on another server.

Update (2007-11-23): I discovered that the DS2000 plan I had been moved to (without any advance notice, I might add) was eligible for six free IP addresses (a /29 subnet). I applied for it, and received email a few minutes later with the relevant details. Easy as pie.

Update (2010-07-07): A friend told me that Hetzner was offering a free IPv6 /64 subnet to their customers, so I signed up for one, got the details by email, and was IPv6-enabled a few minutes later. No problem.

Update (2010-08-15): I just noticed that the new servers can get only four free IP addresses. Getting a /29, which used to be free, now costs €15 for setup plus €15/month for the "flexi-pack".

Signing up

Back in 2005, I had to fax my order because their web form was not set up to accept my non-German postal code. They responded promptly, and my new server was online within two days (not in the promised 24 hours, but nothing to complain about). Five years later, I had no problem ordering a server online, and it was online within a few hours.

My credit card is charged monthly, and I get a PDF invoice by email. Because I'm not in Europe, I don't have to pay VAT, so I'm charged a bit less than the prices on the web site (which all include 19% VAT).

Support

I have rarely needed to contact Hetzner support, but their response has usually been prompt, courteous, and helpful. I have never spoken to them on the phone, only by email.

Language

Hetzner is a German company, and they were focused on the German market. In 2005 their web site and their email notifications were all in German, but they did answer my email in English. They began to translate things into English in 2007, and these days their automated email and most of the important pages on the main web site and administrative interface have English versions.

The documentation wiki is still mostly in German, but its contents are mostly technical, and thus relatively easier to understand. I have been able to make enough sense of them that I've never had a serious problem. You might find it a little painful if you know no German at all.

Recovery support

While recovering from a disk failure (see below), I found two useful features of the "Hetzner robot" (the administrative web interface).

The first allows you to ask for the machine to be rebooted. Unless you pay for the "24 hour reboot service" (or your plan includes it, which the new ones all do), this is available only at certain times (0645-2245 on weekdays, 1000-1700 on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday), and is subject to unpredictable delays, because someone apparently does it manually. (It took about an hour both times I was needed to use it.)

The second allows you to activate a "rescue system", whereby the DHCP server instructs your machine to boot off the network (into a minimal Debian-based system) the next time it reboots. A random root password is generated, and you can ssh in to try to fix the problem. The next time you reboot, the machine will boot from the disk as usual. Very handy.

You can apparently even use this to reinstall one of the standard Linux images provided (32/64-bit versions of OpenSUSE, Debian, and Ubuntu in various configurations).

Documentation

There's a Hetzner wiki with answers to FAQs, system configuration information, and so on. All in German.

Service disruptions

hetzner-status.de has information about any current problems, and the robot allows you to subscribe to fault notifications.

In the two years since I ordered the server, I can remember three power failures that their UPS couldn't handle, and a few network connectivity problems. In each case, the problem was resolved quickly. (I can't be more precise because the outages were infrequent enough that I never bothered to measure.)

Update (2007-10-08): Hetzner provided ten days' notice for two and a half hours of downtime scheduled for maintenance work on their power infrastructure. I hope this improves the power situation in future.

Update (2009-09-13): Since the last noted scheduled downtime almost two years ago, I have noticed no outages (either network or power).

Update (2010-11-12): I discovered that Hetzner no longer blocks outgoing connections on port 6667, which was once a minor annoyance to many customers.

Hardware failures

Update (2007-11-22): My server's hard disk failed this morning. I notified Hetzner, and received a response an hour later. They booted the machine from the network so that I could copy the data off it, and asked me to submit a support request through the web form to have the disk replaced. I did so, and the machine was back online with the new disk 4 hours later (although they initially estimated that it would take just half an hour).

Conclusion

I have been very happy with Hetzner, and I would recommend them to anyone who needs inexpensive and generally reliable hosting.