let's talk about hosting companies

A rails app I wrote for a client needs a new hosting company.
Currently it's being served by textdrive under the $15 shared hosting
plan. However, we're running into some problems with the setup and
the client wants us to use a dedicated machine.

- The biggest problem we're experiencing is the production server has
been crashing at least once a week since March. This is main thing
that's upsetting me and the client. I'm pretty sure it's not us as
all of our exceptions are being handled.

- The client always intended this application to be run on a dedicate
machine. Currently, the app doesn't have any performance problems and
it's an internal site so it's not going to be slash-dotted anytime
soon. But still, they want to peace of mind to know that the site has
plenty of room for growth.

- Also, I want to use a mongrel_cluster based deployment. Textdrive
uses lighttpd, which has been okay. But I'm more familiar with
mongrel and it seems quite fast for our needs.

- My client also wants this machine to run a few static and PHP driven
sites. Shouldn't be a problem with apache though.

- The client also wants the machine to run a mail server. This is
where my experience drops off a bit. A few people in my company have
suggested I use plesk or some other web-gui tool to configure this.

Given these requirements, can anyone suggest some hosting companies to
investigate?

-- RYAN

If you do not need your own physical machine (and all the headaches that go with that), check out Engine Yard. I am very pleased with their service, and they provide a depth of operational support you can not afford short of a major site. They support redundant virtual private servers so your client would not need to worry. I can assure you that your up time would be better than a standalone box you need to manage yourself.

Michael
PS. I am not affiliated with them, just a satisfied customer

You're probably right in terms of the headaches on deploying to a
dedicated machine. That's why VPS appeals to me more and more each
day. Tell me, does EngineYard offer DNS and email server
configuration through some sort of cPanell? I'm looking for something
more than, "Ya, we do that. Go ahead and install it, then spendd a
week configuring it yourself."

-- RYAN

EngineYard has a couple nice things going for it:

1) You're basically getting another member of your team to handle
server stuff. You don't have to configure jack no your servers.
Seriously, just give them the svn url, and they'll give you a
capistrano deploy file. These guys know there stuff when it comes to
deploying rails apps.

2) The slices that you pay for run only rails/nginx. They're not busy
dealing with database/svn/email stuff. Those are all managed by EY
for you. I think email boxes are provided through webmail.us, and the
EY email servers only handle SMTP...

Also, Rails Machine is a great VPS host too. Top notch support, and
your VPS slice will be running a rails app in minutes after receiving
your root password. It comes with the rails stack preinstalled.

They use a mail service which includes 5 accounts, and you can add more as needed. All admin is over the web, and nothing you install. It supports POP and IMAP for clients.

They really offer production level deployment with no hassles.

Michael

Given these requirements, can anyone suggest some hosting companies to
investigate?
  
I still think it's hard to beat 1and1.com (or .co.uk or .de) on price for what you get. I have two servers with them now and reason to call their tech support on several occasions and they seem decent enough. Stuff seems to take "hours" to fix rather than say "minutes", but I think if you lean on them then it shouldn't take "days" to fix stuff (this is just an estimate based on what I see, no evidence..)

What I do is log in via the serial console, boot into the rescue distro and reformat the drives and install the OS of my choice. Then I stick a bunch of vservers on the machine...

Ed W

I would get a VPS and manage it yourself. It's really not hard to
manage assuming you're controlling everything. Servers get tough to
manage when you try to host a bunch of people running crappy software.

You should be careful with EngineYard. We hosted our service there
for a few months and it was ridiculously unstable. Also it never had
anything to do with our code - the DB server would crash, drop
connections, stuff like that. It was just unacceptable considering
how much we were paying. Apparently those outages didn't affect all
the customers, and they say that we were unlucky in that we
experienced a lot more outages than others. We signed up with them
initially because we felt we could just focus on our app and let them
handle the deployment. By the end of our time with them, we all
honestly had trouble sleeping because we'd lie in bed thinking, "Man I
hope EY doesn't go down."

We've been running a couple dedicated servers located at Voxel and
haven't experienced a single problem. It has been a huge relief to
move off of EY and handle deployment ourselves. It's not that tough
and we don't have any stability issues.

Pat

Pat,

When was this? I have been using them for several months, and while there was an issue about the time I started, it is been quite solid for the time we have been there.

Michael

Hello all.

Ouch! :frowning:

Pat and twistage did indeed have bad Engine Yard experience. His description of that experience is 100% accurate. We've apologized for the experience they had and refunded hosting fees as they requested.

They are however, the only customer that has ever left Engine Yard unhappy.

This is not to suggest that we haven't had our share of challenges, some of which were technical, others related to very rapid growth. One thing our customers appreciate is transparency in the face of those challenges. We've implemented such things as a weekly all-customer conference call where we can get direct feedback from customers on a regular basis, etc.

It's painful to us that one of our customers had their experience, and we are working hard and taking steps to ensure this never happens again.

Here are some well know sites hosted at Engine Yard and their uptimes for the month of June, according to our external multi-POP monitoring service.

bonnaroo.com 99.982%
lighthouseapp.com 100.000%
hivelogic.com 99.929%

We've recently avoided the issues that they experienced by shuffling around some cluster resources, and we're extremely happy to report that the root of the problem, a Xen crash bug associated with disk I/O, appears to be fixed in the latest release of Xen.

We're testing this new release on our second cluster, and once we're convinced that this new Xen version performs better than the previous version, we will roll this update out to the existing cluster as well.

Hopefully one or more of our customers will come to our defense here, and explain their decision to use Engine Yard in their own terms.

I want to add a bit, since upon rereading my response it seems I
ripped into you pretty good.

I think that the problems we experienced with EY were purely technical
and really had nothing to do with the people. They're a sharp bunch
that worked with us to solve the problems we experienced. When we
decided to leave, they were very gracious.

Personally, I enjoyed working with them. They were pleasant to talk
to and VERY eager to solve any problems. Unfortunately, the tech side
of it was just unstable and that was unacceptable to our business.
I'm sure that if we need help scaling in the future, we'll consult
them for advice as I'm not sure there's a group that knows more about
Rails deployment than them.

Pat

I have been very pleased with Engine Yard. The thing that is crystal clear to me and seems to be overlooked
when talking about self-hosting or self managed hosting is that then the organization / developer needs to do
the management. A raw VPS solution still requires 24/365 support staff that are knowledgeable about all the
various aspects of hosting a site. For a site short of several million hits a month that is unrealistic. Getting a single
box or VPS node up and running is possible by most of us, but keeping a site up that is using replicated
databases and is running on several nodes is way more trouble than a small shop can justify. In my experience
unless you are a world class sys-admin the "do it yourself" solution to this problem is far worse then using a service.

Even with Engine Yard's longest outage their up time is enviable by most IT shops, and would be very hard to beat
without a staff > 5 people dedicated to that task. They have also been far more responsive than the typical IT shop.

I look on them as more an IT outsourcing play than a raw hosting play. For me and my clients this makes far more
sense. And, when something goes wrong (as it always dose no mater who is doing it), I bust their chops about it,
and it gets resolved quickly. I can not ask more than that.

Michael

I'm using Rails Machine and am very happy with them. You can get a 256-
Mbyte VPS for $75 or a full physical machine for $500. Unless this app
has pretty high usage, you may be fine with the VPS. For a little more
money, you can get a bigger VPS so you can run more mongrels.

The rails stack there is completely turnkey, but you do have to set up
your own solution for mail, backups, and monitoring. I've invested in
doing that and I don't regret it, but it wasn't quick (when I was
doing it myself) or cheap (when I hired an experienced sysadmin to do
it for me). Bradley Taylor, who runs Rails Machine, is the author of
mongrel_cluster, so you know you're in good hands when it comes to
understanding the technology deeply.

Engine Yard is a big step up from a shared textdrive account, and if
you have a high-volume app, it is probably worth it. But Rails Machine
is a great solution for an intermediate level. For me, it is far more
cost-effective that Engine Yard, because I run lots of low-traffic
sites, for which Engine Yard's pricing model isn't really viable. At
Rails Machine, for $500/month I can run 16 256-Mbyte VPSs, each of
which can handle 4-5 mongrels.

Michael
www.mslater.com

On this topic, anyone got any bright ideas for a
reasonable Ruby / Rails hosting company in the UK? I
have a couple of clients who would like to migrate
some of my existing and (primarily) perl applications
to Ruby and Rails at some point.... Sadly the hosting
company I currently use which is cheap and reliable to
the point of being uneventful period has no plans in
the immediate future to provide a Ruby / Rails
environment.

Steve

I would also recommend a VPS for what you need. We use Slicehost.com
and they are SOLID with really great (almost unbelievable) prices with
a 256MB VPS starting at $20/month (1GB for $70/month). If you need
more resources, you can up/downgrade automatically from your control
panel in-between the different plans and it takes all of 5min to
complete. We've been there 8 months with no downtime so far (besides
upstream scheduled maintenance.)