UPDATE: There was an error in one of the steps, the file /etc/ppp/options does not have to be edited, but /etc/ppp/pptpd-options does. The steps are now correct.

Like many Canadians I am jealous of the American’s and their ability to watch Hulu or listen to free music with Pandora. Both services claim they are working on making their site available to the world but I don’t like waiting.

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The way these types of sites figure out that you are not an American is by your IP address. I don’t know of any way of using an American IP address on my computer at home but it just so happens I have several Cloud Servers that are located in the US which of course have American IP addresses.

I have heard of people outside the US using the Proxy server or VPN server method but I had no idea it was so easy to setup. If you already have a cloud server up and running you could literally have it working in about 5 minutes. Setting it up from scratch should take about 10 minutes.

Below are the steps I followed to setup a Ubuntu based VPN server that allows me to access these coveted American sites from either my Mac or PC.

Cloud Computing & Cloud Hosting by Rackspace

I use Rackspace Cloud Servers for all my cloud server accounts but any VPS or dedicated server provider (provided they’re servers are located in the US) will work. I used Ubuntu 10.04 but any version of Ubuntu should work.

Connect to your server via SSH and start typing commands

If you just created a new Rackspace Cloud Server you’ll want to change your password.


Next update the package list and upgrade any packages that need updating.

apt-get update
apt-get upgrade

Now install the PPTP server package.

apt-get install pptpd

Specify the local and remote IP addresses. Default should work unless your local network is

nano /etc/pptpd.conf

Add these lines (or uncomment and modify existing ones)


Create a user account to connect to your server

nano /etc/ppp/chap-secrets

Add a user to the file in the following format:
username pptpd password *
For example:

john pptpd abc123 *

would create a user named john with a password abc123.
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Now restart the pptpd service

/etc/init.d/pptpd restart

You should be able to connect to your server via PPTP but you won’t be able to access any websites outside your server without a few more steps.

Setup DNS servers in the PPP Server options

nano /etc/ppp/pptpd-options

Uncomment and change the 2 lines starting with ms-dns
This sets up your server to make DNS requests via OpenDNS


Open the system configuration file and setup IP forwarding

nano /etc/sysctl.conf

Uncomment the following line


To make the system configuration changes take effect:

sysctl -p

Edit this file

nano /etc/rc.local

Add these two lines above exit (0) in this file:

/sbin/iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -s -o eth0 -j MASQUERADE
/sbin/iptables -I FORWARD -p tcp -syn -i ppp+ -j TCPMSS -set-mss 1356

Server is done. You can connect to this server using any PPTP client.

Cloud Computing & Cloud Hosting by Rackspace



Rackspace Cloud Server vs. Running Your Own ServerEvery web developer needs some sort of web server. Some use a virtual machine running on their workstation. Some use a physical box connected to their LAN. Until recently, it wasn’t really even feasible to consider having a remotely hosted development server. But with the introduction of hosted VPS services like the Rackspace Cloud servers, it’s not only affordable but possibly cheaper, depending on your requirements, to have your own hosted VPS.

The following is a comparison of the total cost of ownership for a Rackspace Cloud Server versus running your own local web development server. We want the comparison to be as fair as possible, and therefore we will try to compensate for the major differences between a virtual server and a physical server.

Rackspace Cloud Server… 1.5ยข per hour? I’ll take 2 please.

Let’s start with a Rackspace Cloud Server. The cheapest Cloud Server plan–which is more than sufficient for web development–starts at $0.015 per hour. All plans include 4 virtual CPU cores and RAID 10, and provide dedicated resources and CPU time. The cheapest plan comes with 256MB memory, 10GB of disk space and a 10Mbps connection to the Internet.

Hourly Daily Yearly Monthly
Price $0.015 $0.36 $131.49 $10.96

Formula: (Hourly rate X 24 X 365.25) / 12

Data transfer

Rackspace charges an additional per-gigabyte fee for incoming and outgoing data transfer, but since this is a dev server, it’s very unlikely this will affect your monthly fee very much. In my case, my dev server never comes close to 1GB in or out.

Bandwidth In Bandwidth Out
Price $0.08 $0.22

For these calculations, we will assume that we will be charged for 1GB incoming and 1GB outgoing transfer.

Our total transfer cost will be 1GB X $0.08 + 1GB X $0.22 = $0.30

Don’t forget to backup your Cloud Server

The last thing to consider is backup. Rackspace Cloud Server’s are hosted on servers featuring a RAID 10 hard drive configuration. Ideally your data should be safe, but just in case something goes wrong with the physical servers your Cloud Server is on, you’re covered. Rackspace’s backup for Cloud Servers is stored on their Cloud Files service. Backup storage is currently free, but it will eventually cost you $0.15 per gigabyte.

We’ll assume you want both a daily backup and a weekly backup, so your backup storage cost would be:

10GB X $0.15 X 2 = $3.00

Note: The backups are transferred via the network interface on your Rackspace Cloud Server that is connected to Rackspace private network. Rackspace does not charge any data transfer fees for any data transferred on this network.

Ok, so after adding up our average monthly server fee, monthly data transfer and backup charges, the total cost for running a Rackspace Cloud Server is:

$14.26 USD

Now let’s see what it costs to run your own server.


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Running your own server

With a Cloud Server, you are essentially leasing space on Rackspace’s hardware. They provide the hardware and make sure it’s working. If it breaks, they have to pay to fix it. With your own server, well… it’s all up to you.

I know you can turn your old Pentium 4 desktop into a great Linux box, but it’s not really fair to compare a professional grade server product to a budget workstation. To make our comparison as accurate as possible, we will use a used or off-lease server that is easily affordable for the average web developer.

Our used server will feature 2 hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration, a Pentium 4 processor, a 300W power supply and 1GB of RAM. I know the RAM here is 4 times the amount in Rackspace’s base Cloud Server, but since we are using a Pentium 4 processor instead of the quad core server class CPU Rackspace is using, I think that its use in our calculation is justified.

We’ll assign a price of $150 for this server.

What if the power goes out?

Since Rackspace obviously has uninterrupted power supplies supporting their servers, it’s only fair that we use one as well. Let’s assume we need a 300W UPS and it costs $50. If we add the cost of our server and UPS together we get $200. Let’s assume our used server will last 2 years (24 months).

$200 / 24 = $8.33

So a Rackspace Cloud Server costs almost double this amount? Not quite. I left out one important factor that you may not think about unless you’re the one paying the hydro bills: electricity. Surprisingly, the cost to run your server 24/7 is not an insignificant factor.

Electricity costs money too, you know

Since I live in Ontario, Canada, I’ll be using Canadian hydro rates for my initial calculations and then converting them to US dollars before adding them to our server total.

The non-Smart-Meter hydro rates for Ontario are as follows:

Condition Rate
First 1000 Kilo Watt Hours per month: 5.8 cents/kWh
Above 1000 kWh: 6.7 cents/kWh

Assuming we use under 1000kWh per month, we’ll use the rate of 5.8 cents.

In order to calculate the cost of our electricity consumption, we must first figure out how much power our server will consume. Since the server will probably be idle for the majority of the day, we won’t use the maximum power consumption but rather an average. I used this website to determine how much power our server will use. The calculator gave me a power consumption of 163W.

Let’s convert that to kilowatts:

163W / 1000 = 0.163kW

  Hourly Daily Yearly Monthly
Price $0.009454 $0.226896 $82.873764 $6.90

Formula: (0.163kW X $0.058 X 24 X 365.25) / 12

Before you get too excited, we still have to convert this back into US dollars. We’ll use $1.00 USD = $0.95 CAD as our exchange rate.

$6.90 CAD X 0.95 = $6.56

Wow, you could definitely argue that shared hosting is cheaper than running your own server on the basis of the electricity cost alone. When we add our electricity bill to our server cost we get:

$8.33 + $6.56 = $14.89


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Wow, they’re close!

  Rackspace Cloud Server Your own server Difference
Average monthly cost $14.26 USD $14.89 USD $0.63

The numbers speak for themselves.

Results with a grain of salt

There are two important aspects to consider when evaluating these results.

First, we made a lot of assumptions about our server. If you prefer to run a low power desktop as a server, can find a cheaper used server, or decide to turn your server off at night, these will significantly reduce the costs for running your own server.

Second, the value of the features and expertise provided by Rackspace is far superior to anything you might set up in your basement. I made a brief chart to highlight some of these differences that can’t easily be assigned a monthly monetary value.

  Rackspace Cloud Server Your own server
Hardware Managed for you by the professionals at Rackspace It’s your problem
Support 24/7 – chat, phone, email That’s up to you – 24/7 (if you don’t sleep)
Scalability Add more RAM and disk space anytime automatically or with a few clicks Turn off your server and open it up

Obviously a Cloud Server is not ideal for everybody, but I bet that it could save a lot of developers a great deal of time and money.

Why not try a Cloud Server? It’s only 1.5 cents an hour!

Cloud Computing & Cloud Hosting by Rackspace