The switch to Cloud 66

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It’s not very often that we at BugHerd will recommend a service or product. We may tweet, but we’ve never gone to the lengths of writing a blog post about it. We’re making an exception for a startup called Cloud 66.

Cloud 66 provides a straightforward interface for configuring servers, very similar to services such as Heroku. The big difference is that it’s all done with your choice of hosting provider and it currently supports Ruby frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, Sinatra and Padrino. Cloud 66 nails provisioning and deploying Rails apps. It  leaves the hosting to your choice of several world class providers and gives you the flexibility to configure a cloud solution that suits your needs whilst still getting the full benefit of a managed deployment solution.

For the 3 years prior to using Cloud 66 we were on Heroku. Just to be clear, this isn’t a Heroku bash. Heroku have been awesome for us, especially in the early days. Their service has literally revolutionized startups, and if it weren’t for them BugHerd would never have been seen by our first customers. Their support for pre-revenue startups in particular, is something that should absolutely be praised.

The problem for us was one of scale and unfortunately as a Rails shop, Heroku didn’t scale the way we wanted it to. There have been plenty of blogs on the topic, but suffice to say that we got to a point as a business where it was time to take more control of our servers.

We started off down the track of managing our own deployment and provisioning, but it meant one of our devs was essentially becoming a sysop, and that wasn’t something he wanted in his job description. We hunted high and low for something better than a DIY solution before eventually tripping over Cloud 66.

About three weeks later we were up and running on Rackspace. This process was definitely simplified thanks to Cloud 66. Our hosting bill has reduced by a third and we now have measurably better performance (in fact we’re probably overdoing it).

Cloud 66 provisions our servers, sets up Rails (or Postgres for our database server), configures our security, installs BugHerd on them, adds those servers to our load balancers and brings them online all with the click of a button. It means we spend more time developing, and less time configuring boxes. It also means we can add and remove servers as required, release updates to our application without being offline, and can scale individual servers to suit demand.

Cloud 66 is incredibly powerful and configurable but doesn’t sacrifice ease of use; something that clearly comes from their ability to focus on the one problem. With Heroku you have no option but use their hosting offering, so now we can choose from several different providers (Rackspace, Joylent, AWS or even our own servers!), we have much finer control over things like load balancers, databases, caching and importantly how much RAM we have in each server. When you’re with Heroku, you offload these responsibilities to them (which can be great), but it means you’re stuck with their choices. Not all apps have the same requirements, therefore the standard configuration may not always be the best for you.

If you’re like us and love the benefits of a service like Heroku, but find yourself frustrated by the lack of control over certain aspects of hosting, Cloud 66 is certainly worth investigating.

It’d be remiss to not mention some of the downsides, as it’s not entirely without its frustrations. Due to the nature of Cloud 66’s serial deployment process, we’d love to see the speed of deployment improving as they do take longer than we’d like. There’s limited control over scheduled/cron tasks, and the Rails console is a bit of a pain to get to. But really… we’re being pretty picky here!

But, in addition to being cheap and on our choice of host – server setup is fast (the default options are sensible and work first time), we can automatically deploy from a commit hook, we have easy access to environment variables, security settings, SSL certificates and most importantly support and documentation is absolutely first class.

If you want to know more about Cloud 66, head over to their website and check out the documentation.

About Alan - Alan Downie has been working in web for over 20 years. Alan was the founder of Fivesecondtest, UsabilityHub and BugHerd. He participated in the Startmate (Australia) and 500 Startups (US) accelerator programs, before becoming a mentor at partner at Startmate. He recently launched Splitrock Studio, a startup studio based in Melbourne, Australia.

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