A Response to Dreamhost

Jan 12, 2008

Dreamhost sure stirred things up with their article rant about rails deployment and performance issues. Their complaint is roughly that they are having to work too hard to support rails; it needs performance and deployment improvements. Dreamhost voiced all of these complaints on the company's blog.

As they put it...

What I do have personal knowledge of is how difficult it can be to get a Rails application up and running and to keep it running. DreamHost has over 10 years of experience running applications in most of the most popular web programming frameworks and Rails has and continues to be one of the most frustrating.
...the solution from the Rails community itself was quite honestly, stupid.
That suggestion shows either a complete lack of understanding of how web hosting works, or an utter disregard for the real world.
Ruby on Rails needs to be a helluva lot faster.
Ruby on Rails needs to more or less work in ANY environment.

Forgive me for chopping up their arguments. If you have the time, please read the article. These quotes don't quite do it justice; they serve merely to provide the tone of the piece.

Frankly, I think DHH responded well: rails core team is there to serve their own purposes. Ruby on Rails doesn't need to do anything, despite what a Dreamhost blogger might suggest. The people hacking on rails core don't target platforms like Dreamhost's. So, in fact, rails is not designed to run on shared hosting.

It's not just shared hosting, either. Dreamhost is trying to support rails on massively oversold servers. Configuring rails in a shared environment (particularly under apache) is difficult; configuring, and maintaining their servers to support rails probably costs Dreamhost a lot of money. Rails doesn't perform well in that environment, which probably costs them even more money in support calls from frustrated customers. So, their profit margins on rails service are likely narrowing.

Why is that the rails community's problem to solve? Dreamhost has a business challenge. Rails deployment isn't perfect — it has more than its fair share of problems; but, there are plenty of rails apps running just fine in production. This blog, a rails app, runs on a 20$ per month plan from slicehost. The identical app barely ran at Dreamhost. It's anecdotal evidence, sure, but the point is that rails deployment (at least on this scale) is far from impossible. Dreamhost just can't seem to squeeze it in to their oversold offerings. And, they want somebody else to fix the problem for them.

There are plenty of shared hosting offerings available that support rails nicely. Those companies don't seem to be having any trouble creating an environment that works. None of them have published angry articles pointing the finger at "the rails community". But, I digress.

If it were an individual complaining — a noobie who was having a tough time deploying his rails app on a server he could afford — then perhaps there would be a reason to look at this differently. But, Dreamhost is a corporation; they are simply "...looking to capitalize on a framework that's driving a lot of demand...", to borrow some words from DHH.

If this had been a PC manufacturer, complaining loudly (and rudely) that linux doesn't run on cheap enough hardware for them to sell PCs for 50$/each... If Linksys had posted a rant on their company blog, complaining that linux needed to be faster, because their routers weren't performing well enough... If IBM had posted a rant on their company blog, complaining that the linux community showed "...either a complete lack of understanding of how web hosting works, or an utter disregard for the real world."... Everybody would have said the same thing: so, fix it.

Plenty of businesses are capitalizing on open source technologies. But, part of the deal in the real world is that when something doesn't work right, you might have to fix it yourself; but you can, and that's part of what's so great about open source. Engine Yard just hired the entire rubinius team (and some people to hack merb, so I hear). Linux kernel developments are facilitated in large part by corporate sponsorship, bounties, etc. The system works, because companies can solve their own problems, while leveraging the work of countless others. That's how it works in the real world.