topserver, a new VPS service from tophost

Without any doubt tophost ( is one of the most known and used domain name registrar and web hosting providers in Italy. The services offered are limited but reliable and cheapest enough to make a high ratio quality / price. In practice there are only two services:

  • topname (EUR 5.99 + VAT per year) to register and maintain a domain name. The service includes mail and 100Mb of web space to use for email or as FTP space;
  • topweb (EUR 9.99 + VAT per year) for web hosting. The service includes 10Gb of space to distribute at will between mail (up to 30 boxes), database space (up to 4 MySQL database) and web space;

We have several active domains with topweb for several years, and after an objective evaluation of the service we can say that the quality is excellent, especially considering the cost is absolutely negligible. The control panel (cPanel) allows quick access to all management functions, from mailboxes configuration to php.ini settings, and also database creation and management is quite simple. But the most interesting feature of the service is the opportunity to freely distribute the available space (10Gb, not so few for a "normal" use) between the different services (mail, database, file system), and changes can be made "on the fly".

Looking at performance, the service offered is more than acceptable and allows, for example, to run a medium complexity Joomla site with more than 300 unique daily visitors without any problems and with response times absolutely acceptable.

topweb page load time

Of course we are referring to an optimized site, with compression enabled, with cache, and so on, but topweb is nevertheless a service more than just enough not only for "amateur" sites, but also for those sites with some monthly traffic (suitable, for example, for sites of small and medium-sized companies). Moreover, the infrastructure used is that of Seeweb (, which represents a guarantee for the quality of service offered, although at a considerably higher cost.

After this brief presentation, we want to talk about the real news coming from tophost. For several months it was announced on "social" channels a third service, topserver, that during the first "alpha" stage could be tested only by a selected number of users. Now that topserver has (finally) come to the second "beta" stage, is open to the public, and every registered tophost user has a chance to try it, even if the number of available topserver is still limited.

Let's see what this new service. Basically topserver is a Virtual Private Server (VPS), and is available in three different sizes:

  • Server 1) 1 core - 512MB RAM - 20GB HD
  • Server 2) 1 core - 1024MB RAM - 20GB HD
  • Server 3) 1 core - 2048MB RAM - 20GB HD

Basically, available solutions differ only by the amount of included RAM. The service is based once again on Seeweb infrastructure although, as we shall see, the costs are significantly different. But first of all, let’s see the real news, which consists in the activation mode of the service, that is openly inspired by the mechanism of "consumption" typical of cloud servers. To activate a topserver, instead of choosing one of three available types and complete the purchase process for the selected period, you must purchase one or more topvoucher, at fixed price and you then will get an amount of credits, called topcoin, on your account. A topvoucher price is EUR 5.99 + VAT (EUR 7.25) and provide 43200 topcoin. Once you have the topcoin it is possible to activate a server just selecting the type and the OS distribution (in this beta stage you can activate only one VPS). Once the server is ready (in our test preparation takes about an hour) you can already start using it, but it also starts to burn the available topcoin credits with a "charging per minute" model.

Preview of topserver management panel

In tophost panel there’s the root password for SSH access, and there is also a second control panel that allows basic monitoring and control operations like start, stop, graphic use of resources, and a shell console based on java that can be used from the web browser (handy if you do not have an SSH client).

Server control panel

Let’s talk about prices. With the 43200 topcoin that you receive paying the EUR 7.25 of a topvoucher, yo can held on a type one server (512Mb RAM) for a whole month. A type two server (1Gb RAM) takes 72000 topcoin a month (EUR 9, 99 + VAT, which is approximately EUR 12 per month), and finally a type three server (2Gb RAM) takes 115200 topcoin per month (EUR 15.99 + VAT, approximately EUR 19.35), rather than competitive prices for server with these characteristics. It must be said that a server still continue to consume credits even if is turned off unlike cloud solutions, where you pay only the effective use of resources. The only way to suspend the consumption of credits is to destroy the server using a function in the panel, but in those cases where a server requires a longer stand-by period and cannot be erased (a common situation, as example, when the machine is used as test or demo environment), there is a ingenious and convenient solution. You can just use the panel function which allows to create and save a server image, and after this you can destroy the server. Maintaining the image still has a cost (7200 topcoin a month, about EUR 0.99 + VAT), but allows to avoid "wasting" topcoin for not used servers. The same image mechanism can also be used to change the server type. If you need, for example, to increase the capacity changing from a type one server to a type two or three server, just create and store an image, destroy the active server, and create a new server of the desired cut starting from the saved image, easier to do than to explain.

For our tests we have set up a type two server (with 1GB of RAM). This solution in our opinion is the minimum recommended choice for hosting a website with a significant number of monthly visits. With the available resources, in fact, it will be possible to safely install Webmin & VirtualMin as a control panel, to activate the mail service (Postfix, Dovecot and SpamAssassin), to enable the FTP service, and configure a web server with PHP support and a MySQL database. This is what you need to create a website using Joomla, Drupal or Wordpress, but also to install an e-commerce script like PrestaShop, OpenCart or Magento.

Virtualmin screenshot

The OS distribution for our trial is our beloved CentOS (version 6.2, 64 bits). After Virtualmin installation and configuration, we have chosen to disable Apache and use nginx as web server. For PHP support it has been configured PHP-FPM (FastCGI Process Manager), n very efficient implementation of PHP on FastCGI. We have also configured MySQL with the "medium" configuration supplied with the package. To maximize performance we installed also XCache, used for both code cache, and page cache for the CMS Joomla (128Mb for code, 8Mb for variables). All such applications stand "comfortably" in the available space (1Gb). With all the services started, in fact, the occupied memory is approximately 800MB. To check the server performance we have cloned a Joomla site hosted on topweb, and executed a series of comparative load tests between the two sites, to try to measure the performance gain you can get passing from shared hosting (topweb) to a dedicated VPS (topserver). For a meaningful comparison, we left the same settings regarding of optimization (compression, KeepAlive, Expires, Cache-Control). Main differences are the webserver (Apache on topweb, nginx on topserver) and the Joomla cache (file type on topweb, xcache on topserver). After having verified the correct installation of the new site, we had multiple sessions of different online "load test" for both sites, and in different periods along the of two days, to be sure of "stability" of the results.

Load time comparison between topweb and topserver

All the results confirm what we expected, that is with a properly configured VPS server better results can be achieved (up to 60% more) with respect to any shared hosting. And with a VPS there’s the advantage of full control over the server, the applications to install (e.g. nginx instead of Apache), and the configuration. To verify the server's behavior under stress, finally, we have performed a series of load tests with a number of concurrent users (up to a maximum of 50 active users), by monitoring both the response time of the site, and the trend of the "vital" parameters.

topserver resources monitor

The greatest satisfaction was to see that with the final server configuration, it was able to held up the load without difficulty and without any evidence of CPU saturation or presence of memory leaks throughout the whole test run (15 minutes). And the result was virtually the same even after a second test run, with about 4 seconds of average response time.

topserver load test evolution

In conclusion, topserver is definitely a new and interesting service in the VPS scenery. Our tests have confirmed the "solidity" of Seeweb services, but efficiently revised by tophost, and the lowest cost is an additional advantage. We'll see if after the beta stage all these characteristics of performance and price will be confirmed (or improved, why not). A further service improvement would be to increase the number of CPUs in the server type two and three (with - at least – two CPU it would be really perfect).