Engine Yard – Rails Hosting Nirvana
Most of my daylight hours are spent as CTO/lead-coder/graphics-monkey of a start-up I’ve been with for a couple of years: Dialed In. This is a Ruby On Rails application and that means we hit the usual problem with Rails of finding a good hosting service. There aren’t a whole lot of top-shelf options in this area yet and, back when we started, there were even fewer. At that time Engine Yard (“EY”) had a waiting list of a week or more to get service and we didn’t have the time, so we went with another provider who was technically as good, but could fulfill our server needs more or less same-day.
Now fast-forward a couple of years. Our provider starts to have some performance issues, one of which ends up costing us half a week of down-time to move our server image to a new physical server. Support starts to get slow and, while responsive, we get the impression that they’d rather we figure stuff out on our own. They have great technology and, if we were a large company with a full IT staff, it’d be great fun to play with.
But we’re not. We’re a small outfit where everyone does 3 or 4 or 20 jobs and messing around with complex server configurations is simply not good for business. Every hour one of our developers spends trying to configure the server is an hour they’re not spending writing code.
So we just recently moved the whole deal over to Engine Yard. In a word, I was astounded by the reception we received. For starters, their slice hosting comes with free accounts on GitHub (Git hosting), Beanstalk (SVN hosting), Lighthouse (ticket/project-management system), and New Relic (application analytics). So basically all the services we needed, or were paying for elsewhere, were now included in our basic hosting fees. Email is hosted on MailTrust – which works pretty well, even though it’s based on a Microsoft platform. But using MailTrust we can suddenly send email to people on AOL, so that’s a good thing.
Freebies aside, the real impressive event came when I started moving stuff over. A lot of the administrative chores and other minutia are handled by the EY staff. Submit a ticket to change a DNS record, install an application, or whatever and they handle it for you. Tickets get answered within 10 minutes with at least an acknowledgment. EY provides you with all your login credentials for you slices, static IP address ready to roll, and environment files for running Capistrano deployments. Outside of learning how to use Capistrano, it couldn’t have been much easier.
As I started getting our application running, I hit various configuration issues along the way. Mostly this was due to gems not being installed but sometimes it was things in our code which had to change. At one point I hit a problem which just baffled me. Rails was saying a class wasn’t defined when clearly it was. I threw the problem over to EY and an hour later they told me what was wrong. It was a configuration problem because we didn’t have a “staging” environment on our prior hosting setup – the missing setting was ultimately what was causing the class to not load (sure would be nice if Rails gave a more useful message, huh?).
What was really amazing was the EY tech’ spent an hour going through our code to find the problem. He could haev just spouted some canned answer from the KnowledgeBase (which is what I’m used to from ISP’s). But no. He actually analyzed our code and found a very subtle problem and told me how to fix it. That’s nothing short of amazing from a support organization. Imagine taking your new car back to the dealership and telling the service manager that you’re having trouble down-shifting into first and, rather than throw a “Driving For Dummies” book at you, he comes out from behind the desk and teaches you how to heel-and-toe downshift.
Once the gems were all installed and the configuration problems worked out. The application fired up on Staging just fine. Then simply install the same gems on the Production slice, copy the latest database image, and “cap production deploy” from my MacBookPro and – bingo – we’re running on a new host. I flipped the DNS a day later, EY made the necessary additions to their nameservers within 5 minutes of my ticket informing them of the move.
Just awesome. So, the bottom line is that if you’re looking for Rails hosting and want everything you need to deploy a commercial application from one vendor, plus incredible support, at a reasonable price – you just can’t beat Engine Yard. With their support it’d be a bargain at twice the price because you don’t need to hire an IT guy to manage the servers.
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