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Xen, OpenVZ, Virtuozzo, and You!

Will Roberts Jan 29, 2011

There are three main virtualization technologies out there being used to provide VPSs: Xen, OpenVZ, and Virtuozzo. Of our 38 proxies, 12 are on Xen, 12 are on OpenVZ, 10 are on Virtuozzo, 3 are physical machines, and we have a single VMware machine.

Physical machines give us absolute control over all the settings. The only limitation to the software we can run is what is available in the Debian repositories and what I’m willing to compile. The other benefit is that no one else has access to the box so there’s no concern with hostname and resolver settings being changed which can be issue with our VPSs. The hostname of the box isn’t overly important except when I’ve got a terminal open and I need to know where I am on our network (sorry I don’t actually know where vz2542 is). We run our own DNS resolvers on each box so that the box should get responses similar to other boxes in the geographic area so our resolv.conf is fairly simple and points at our local resolver. If dedicated servers weren’t so expensive, we’d use them everywhere.

Xen is our preferred virtualization technology mainly because it also allows us to run an OpenSwan based IPSec VPN. Xen also allows us to opt-in to an independent wall-clock so if the host’s clock isn’t properly synced we can fix our clock without their help. When a Xen VPS is rebooted some files are automatically overwritten to ensure that the VPS will work properly, in our case this actually changes our configuration and is very undesirable. Thankfully we can use the immutable bit like on a physical machine to prevent the change without any side effects.

We can use chattr to set the immutable bit so that files aren’t accidentally modified

chattr +i /etc/hostname /etc/resolv.conf

OpenVZ doesn’t currently allow for IPSec VPNs using OpenSwan though it does appear that it will change in the future; no telling how long that change will take to show up on production systems. Like Xen we can use the immutable bit to preserve files from undesired modification without side effects. Unlike Xen, we do need to ask the provider for help if our clock is wrong. OpenVZ tends to be popular among VPS providers because it is free; most customers don’t care which technology is being used and will buy based on price.

Virtuozzo similarly doesn’t allow for IPSec VPNs, and for the longest time I didn’t realize there was an actual difference between OpenVZ and Virtuozzo (oops!). The more unfortunate “feature” I found after I’d already made the change to all our proxies is that if you have the immutable bit set on certain important files (like we do) then the VPS will refuse to boot! Thankfully only one proxy was taken offline by this mistake, and even more fortunately Virtuozzo provides a fairly decent VPS management panel that allows you to reboot into a recovery mode and “fix” the problem. The control panel can be accessed by going to and putting in the root username/password. I haven’t had to use it for anything other than fixing my mess with the immutable bit, but it is nice to know it’s there.

Since we’re incredibly geographically sensitive, we don’t always get to choose our hosting providers based on their virtualization technology. When we do have the choice, we strongly prefer Xen over the competition. Between OpenVZ and Virtuozzo it generally comes down to other criteria like cost.

Will Roberts

Will has been fixing computers ever since his family first bought one. He focuses on maintaining WonderNetwork’s collection of servers and dealing with support in different languages.