I am currently working on a project for the City of Edmonton’s Apps4Edmonton contest. When we initially started looking for hosts we made the decision that we would use a cheap host for our initial deployment, and then migrate over to something faster when it was justified. Our site Alertzy is mostly a web portal for people to configure settings for text messages, so we didn’t expect the load to be high.
After looking through the available options, we initially decided to go with www.hostingrails.com.
At the risk that some might not read this entire review, I’ll summarize our experience here:
Pros: Friendly, fast support. Very Cheap.
Cons: Painfully poor server performance. False advertising on website. Bad upgrading support. Outdated support articles. Blacklisted IP’s for e-mail.
We initially went with Hosting Rails’ Shared hosting option. For $8 we got 10 GB of space, 100 GB, and migraines. The initial sign-up process was unexceptional, but things went downhill from there. We naturally went to Google and searched for articles on deploying a Rails application onto hostingrails.com, and quickly found an article on hosting rails wiki “How to deploy a Rails application on HostingRails.com”. Unfortunately this article which was the first hit on google is archaically out of date, and we wasted hours trying to get its procedure to work. We created a support ticket for help with a step of this procedure, and this was our first experience with the knowledgable, fast, and friendly support. We were quickly straightened out, and started working through the much easier and up to date process in the more hidden article on their wiki “How to deploy a Rails app with Passenger”.
With this updated procedure in hand and the occasional promptly answered support ticket we soon had our application online (I should point out that this great support response was happening at 4 in the morning on a Saturday night!). Unfortunately this accomplishment only led us to experience more issues. It was quickly apparent that the performance of the server just wasn’t going to cut it. At times the site was snappy, but at other times a page load could take upwards of 20 seconds. As this is shared hosting some performance variance is to be expected, but this was well beyond acceptable.
Continuing our deployment (with our fingers crossed that performance would improve once passenger got up to speed), we then worked on deploying e-mail. I configured SPF and domain keys to try and ensure our outgoing e-mails wouldn’t end up in junk bins, but unfortunately despite both of these passing, our e-mail was still getting junked on gmail. Having a bad feeling about this I performed a blacklist search on our IP address, and sure enough it was blacklisted. We created a support ticket, but unfortunately received a very apathetic response:
We can request a removal from the blacklist, but due to compromised accounts and other customers sending spam, the blacklist is almost always reinstated shortly after having it removed.
Being the resourceful chaps we are, we moved our e-mail over to Google Apps, and kept on moving along. Finally we had our application fully deployed, but had to come to the conclusion that the performance on the shared server wasn’t going to cut it, and that we’d need to move to a VPS to avoid being embarrassed at our site’s speed. At this point we could have looked at other hosting options, but we had been very impressed with the support thus far and were convinced that VPS would solve our performance problems and we could move on.
We were very optimistic about the migration to VPS, as hostingrails.com states on their site they are “experts in scaling Rails applications from shared to VPS and multi-server dedicated environments”. They also state they provide a “Ruby on Rails Image Ready to Roll”, which had all the software we would need pre-installed. Unfortunately both of these statements turned out to be false.
After a painful account upgrade process with broken e-mail confirmation links and confusing billing we finally got a server online, only to find that it was a completely blank CentOS install with none of the functionality we had been told would be present. At this point our shared hosting was already down, so we were understandably anxious to get our site back online. We sent in another support ticket (about our 5th of the migration process) asking where the stated functionality was. We patiently waited about an hour with no response, and found that our support request had been escalated to a level 2 request. Deciding that no response would likely be forthcoming until morning we decided to call it a night.
In the morning we did in fact get a response, but it was not what we were hoping for.
I apologize for the inconvenience, but the VPS Rails image that was used previously has become very out of date and is no longer offered the image that is currently on your VPS is the standard image all VPS accounts receive
At this point we had had enough. We picked up our bags and decided to move elsewhere. This time we did better research before choosing a host, and ended up at Slicehost. I will do a follow-up post with a review of our experiences on Slicehost once we have been there longer, but so far the experience has been a dream relative to our nightmare with HostingRails.
[update] HostingRails.com has since removed the Ready to Roll image from their list of features; likely do to our experience.