We were searching for a low to mid range box that would allow us to comfortably test xxx client connections and generally make the server core / database / script integration and performance evaluation and testing as hassle and variable free as possible. We were also mindful of the need for a lot of on-site support to deal with any errors which might result in unrecoverable crashes caused by running bugged code. I was personally looking for a monthly contract with no setup fee, I am too well aware of the number of 'fake' hosting companies out there.
After searching through a lot of different dedicated and co-location packages in the UK and USA I stumbled upon this bizarre website: Rackmounted.com
Bizarre because the site is technically outdated, bizarre because its a very small company with very great connections and bizarre because its run by "one of the oldest hosting companies on the net", (although maybe the last two explain each other).
In terms of hardware, their budget option is perfect for us at the moment; it includes a 1.8ghz Celeron and 256MB RAM. 200GB's of data transfer each month, which is more than enough for our current uses. It's a fairly standard package for the price (considering a slight premium because of 0 setup fee), but it begins to shine when you take into account their customer service promises, which are closely tied with the fact they are a small team.
Firstly, all customer service staff are trained in server software and hardware maintenance and are able to sort out your problems themselves, no Chinese whispers through ranks of middlemen. Secondly, they claim that any job which takes under half an hour is completely free, i'm sure there are fair-use limits to this, but its an extremely fair offer considering the majority of technical jobs like reboots, hardware checks and installation of hardware and software often take less than 30 minutes. Notably, this is an area where budget hosts tend to charge a small fortune.
So what of the experience itself? One of the fiendish methods employed to maintain a select customer base (/sarcasm) is the requirement that the client must print sign and fax return the signed usage, service and billing contracts. No hardship in my mini-office but quirky to say the least. Once these we're dispatched I sat back and waited for contact, the next day I followed up with an e-mail to customer services asking for confirmation which was soon cheerily confirmed. I was asked what linux distro I wanted on the box and asked for Gentoo, the next day they responded to let me know that it was causing technical probs but that the server would be up later that day. Instead of Gentoo I got fedora (no big loss at this stage), but instead of the 1.8ghz cpu I got a 2.7 to make up for the trouble caused, bonus!
So we got the server on there and had a few test runs. Local pings inside the US are a little high, I think at ~100 but my ping from the UK is right on what it should be from a backbone data center in the US at ~160 so I'm thrilled. I've also had a run of e-mails setting up DNS for a few domains and the conversation got onto talking about Phoenix Feather and how they can help us in the future, which is always nice.
So theres my thoughts. If you are looking for a similar solution I reckon rackmounted is a great service, a slightly higher cost than the super low budget hosts perhaps but a an excellent price overall. Having those small business perks is a real treat with a hosting company and something which is definitely worth while if you are serious about remote hosting in comfort. The only slight fault on their part was the initially slow response and the failure to install gentoo, but later service and the hardware upgrade more than made up for it.