Rails Host Review – (the good) SliceHost

As I explained in my earlier post berating HostingRails, I built a project for the City of Edmonton’s Apps4Edmonton contest in Ruby on Rails called Alertzy.  In order to make our project live, we needed to find a host for it.  Our initial host fell incredibly flat, so in our second iteration we made sure to perform more research into our available options.  We were initially looking for what I would call a “Rails Host”, as in a hosting provider who gives you an out of the box solution ready for rails hosting.  Under this criteria we found a few potential options, but then we stumbled upon SliceHost.

SliceHost Review

I’ll summarize my impressions of slicehost here:

Pros: Very fast setup, very good performance, very professional

Cons: Start from a blank image on a VPS

Our intention was not to use a VPS provider who didn’t provide an out of the box rails compatible solution.  The reviews for SliceHost, however, were just too good to ignore.  All the reviews which we were able to find for this hosting provider were positive, so we decided we had to give them a shot.

It is important to understand that SliceHost is not so much a Rails hosting provider, as a generic VPS hosting provider.  They simply provide you with a “slice” which has certain performance metrics and a blank OS install on it, and then it is up to you to configure the server to do what you would like it to do.  This has the advantage of complete freedom (SliceHost would prove as effective a PHP host as they are a Rails host), but comes at the cost of configuration.

With our decision to give SliceHost a try, we proceeded to go through SliceHost’s registration and payment process.  Their cheapest slice starts at $20, but we opted to go for their $25 plan which got us 384 MB of RAM, 15GB of storage, and 225GB of bandwidth.  For some reason we flagged something in their system and had to go through an additional verification step.  This process was completed promptly by SliceHost, and our account was online and operational within 45 minutes of the start of the process.  

With our account in place we now had access to their control panel, where you are able to configure your DNS as well as choose an operating system for your Slice and launch it.  The speed with which a new slice comes online impressed me greatly.  From the time of choosing the operating system and launching it, it takes only ~20 seconds before you are ready to start connect to and start configuring your slice.

Unfortunately the next step of this process involving configuring our Slice to run Rails proved to be very difficult.  This was in no way SliceHost’s fault as this process is exactly the same as configuring Rails to run on any system, but the convenience of having a ready made image to use would be an advantage of using another Rails specific host.  The tutorials that I was able to find for configuring Rails to run on a SliceHost VPS were out of date and didn’t work with the more recent versions of Ruby and Rails.  (I will try and put a tutorial outlining my own experiences online in the near future).  I opted to use Capistrano and Deprec to deploy Rails on the new server, and due to the same shifts in versions this proved to be quite a headache to deploy on the Ubuntu 10.04 server we had opted to run.  It took me approximately 10 hours to resolve all the bugs in the deprec scripts to where the deployment could fully run.

Once I had Capistrano and Deprec functioning I was able to deploy our site to SliceHost.  Finally being able to access our site on a good host with great performance was more than sufficient reward for the past day of struggle deploying Rails!  The difference between HostingRails and SliceHost was truly night and day, and we’ve received very good feedback on the responsiveness of our site. 

In conclusion, I had a hard time deploying Rails, but in no way was this the fault of SliceHost.  In everything that is their responsibility, SliceHost has so far delivered either up to, or more often exceeding my expectations.  I intend to use them as my default host for similar projects going forward.  If you would like to check the responsiveness of our site, go check out www.alertzy.com which is running off our slice.

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