My Journey with NAT VPS
Introduction: NAT or Network Address Translation
In this post, I will write about NATs and their typical uses. Also read about my experience with using different NAT services over the past year. Finally, some resources and sites where you can further explore the world of NATs.
In a nutshell, NAT is form of VPS in which a single ipv4 address is shared among multiple guests or clients. each one of them gets a range of ports, and they all share the same IP.
This is a way of providing a VPS service at very cheap prices. If it is ipv6 enabled, then you can install a web server. You have to use CloudFlare or something similar to access the site via web browser.
As I started hanging around the LowEndTalk forums in May and June 2019 , I kept coming across a word quite often: NAT. I saw that they were very low priced, and specifications were modest (which is no longer the case today as you will learn later). But the users on LET were ga ga over this type of service.
As I read up on this technology, I thought of giving NAT service a try. Gullo’s was and remains one of the most popular providers in the Low end hosting world. I signed up for their 128 MB plan in Germany, priced at US dollars 2 per year.
The instructions on setting up the service were rather complex, but once I read them a second time, three things became evident.
a. Setting up your NAT server is not rocket science. You need to follow some basic steps. Most providers send the configuration details in the welcome email.
b. You need to know how to use ssh using a terminal. Ideally, with an ipv6 service. Though that is not mandatory.
c. In order to access a website hosted on a NAT, you will need to use a service like Cloudflare.
Typical uses of NAT
-Hosting a website I used the NAT VPS for testing and hosting websites. At one point in time, 4 different NATS (2 each from Inception hosting and Gullo’s) were hosting a website. Each was a subdomain (e.g. fi.mywebsite.in, nl.mywebsite.in) and each NAT had apache2, PHP and flextype CMS
-Using as a VPN with Wireguard. Time permitting, I aim to try out the much popular and talked about user nyr from LowEndSpirit, whose wireguard script is very highly regarded. I may try this later this year.
-Proxy server or firewall
-SSH to other services I use a VPN to connect to most websites. My favourite being VPN Unlimited. I use their server located in Bengaluru, which is hosted on Digital Ocean. But that ip has been blocked by some providers like ExtraVM and Gullo’s.
In order to access services, I ssh into my MrVM Singapore NAT and connect to Gullo’s Finland. (update December 2020: I have discontinued the MRVM service in Singapore)
-Storage: Many providers use NAT for offering backup or storage services at a low price. Wishosting has such storage plans. Nexusbytes for example, offers NAT for backup if you subscribe to their VPS plans.
-For commercial or carrier grade providers, uses include routing and load balancing.
You can find a more detailed explanation of applications here.
A list of providers that offer NAT
pros and cons of NAT
In spite of the advantages that NAT offers, there are many limitations or disadvantages. The Wikipedia page on NAT describes the technical limitations of this type of VPS. From a everyday user’s perspective, I found the following:
-Setup and configuration of NAT might not be everyone’s cup of tea. -Dependence on a service like Cloudflare if you have to set up a website and access via web browser.
My journey with NAT
I had originally recorded this segment in April 2020, using Otter.ai speech to text program. There might be some errors in the below text, though I have cleaned it up quite a bit.
June 2019: Gullo’s Hosting
I read about hosting plan offer by Gullo’s hosting. My intention was to try out something new that would add to my learning. What was supposed to be simple task turned out to be a bit complicated, because the welcome email with the ip configurations never arrived. Turns out the welcome email was sent automatically by Gullo’s, but it was lost in cyber space. A quick message to Cam, the owner/ man in charge at Gullo’s, solved the issue. Turned out that the information could also be retrieved by logging on to my account.
My goal was to see if I could create a small time website for real cheap. So with that in mind, the lowest plan at US $ 2 per year seemed like a good testing ground. The speficiations were:
-3 GB Disk
-128 MB Ram
-200 GB Bandwidth -1VCPu
-Hosted in Germany (Hetzner)
I later upgraded the service later to a higher priced $4 plan with 256 megabytes of RAM. However, the node where this VPS was hosted had severe issues in early 2020.As a result of which the server kept going down. Cam offered to transfer the VPS to a new site, but I asked for a cancellation instead.
By then, there was a second service in place from Gullo’s (in Finland) and NATs from other providers. The offer from Gullo’s for a 128 MB NAT in Finland was too good to resist: a NAT for US $ 1 per year was on offer during Black Friday sale in 2019.
August 2019: Inception Hosting
Anthony Smith from Inception Hosting had a “birthday special” deal on LET, where he offered three a bundle of NAT Vas’s for 5 US dollars.
My thought process for getting this bundle was,
“Okay I’ve managed one, how about managing four?”
Within five minutes of making the payment, my inbox had three emails. In each email, there were specific instructions to set up the NAT. One email per location. All went will for the first few months.
Around November, however, the server in Phoenix kept getting errors. I could not connect with SSH of configuration using Cloudflare. That VPS is in ‘offline’ mode since then.
Even the UK site went down for a few weeks in December or January. This was the period when the node was upgraded from OVZ6 to Virtuzzo.This made me think that renewal of this NAT bundle was probably not a good idea.
Update: My intention was to cancel the service, but there were some other plans that came to fore. In August 2020, when I renewed the service, a message to Anthony Smith resolved the issue. He also bumped up the RAM to 256 MB.
December 2019: MrVM, Singapore
MrVM had a bubble of NATs on offer for Black Friday and in December 2019. The 3 NAT-bundle in Asia (Perth, Singapore and Sydney) was available for US $ 7. I opted for the one year, 128 MB VPS in Singapore for US $ 4 instead. My goal was to use this server as an an add on site for images for direct loading and serving of images for one of the blogs. One thought was to upgrade, but that option is not available.
Update September 2020: The renewal comes up in about 3 months’ time, and the VPS has eagerly been idling, with occasional use as a ssh terminal. This one may be let go because there is another NAT from Webhorizon in same location, at same price but double the RAM.
December 2019: Nexusbytes- Backup VPS
Nexusbytes offers a NAT VPS for backup data for free with every VPS plan. This was not put into use till recently, but it might become a good backup for all websites as the flock grows.
January 2020: Wishosting
Wishing offers a NAT VPS in France, for $3 a year. It is based on the older, now outdated OVZ6 technology. But with 26 GB of usable storage space, this can become a cheap storage space. After encrypting the data, of course.
August 2020: Webhorizon
This is the newest addition to the NATs in my VPS collection. As some other servers are being let go, this one might come into use. Particularly because of my focus to concentrate web hosting in Europe or Singapore.
Initial set of issues with this service include my inability to use Cloudflare for configuration of ipv6. Logging in via SSH works well though!
Update December 2020: In the first week of December 2020, Abdullah from Webhorizon changed the network and the containers for this service.
Websites tested by me on NAT
The common question that is asked about hosting websites on NAT is, “Can I run WordPress on it?” On a 256 MB RAM server it might be possible, but I would not recommend it. In addition to RAM, disk space is a limitation.
Many other PHP based (or Python) Content Management Systems (CMS) can however be run. Maybe not the CMS that require a database server like MySQL ones, but definitely the lightweight ones. Below are some of the CMS’es used by me on different VPS’es -Flatpress
–Flextype (Inception Hosting, UK and Netherlands)
–Sitemagic (MrVM Singapore)
–Brizy Cloud (Gullo’s Finland)
-WordPress (Webinoly and WordOps- not recommended for RAM below 256 MB)
Many folks recommend using Nginx on a NAT with low RAM instead of Apache. But during my testing, Apache worked well even on 128 megabytes of RAM. The documentation for Apache and Nginx is available readily, and configuration was a breeze. Sites like Stackexchange and Websiteforstudents are good resources.
One or two NATs were tested on Lighttpd server. But testing Lighttpd comes at a cost, namely, time (opportunity) cost of learning about a third type of server cannot be justified. So also for LiteSpeed server or Caddy.
If one knows where to look, there are enough resources on the Internet to help even a non-techie newbie like me to set up and use a NAT.
a. Page on NAT on Wikipedia
b. List of NAT Providers on Serverhunter
c. What are NATs and how they work – discussion on LowEndTalk