We’re probably within 6-8 weeks of having our Genlighten private beta ready for interested providers to try out (though everything always takes longer than we’d like). One of the decisions we need to make in the next few days has to do with where Genlighten will be hosted long-term.
Up until now, the alpha version of the site has been built in PHP and hosted at MidPhase on a “shared” basis. This has been a cheap option while we’re just trying things out, but it’s time to get more serious.
The beta version of Genlighten is being built in Ruby on Rails (RoR) and will need a more sophisticated (and reliable) dedicated hosting environment. Ideally, our new host would have startup-friendly pricing that would let us pay for only the storage capacity and bandwidth we need, then let us scale the amount we pay as traffic (hopefully!) grows over time. Another criterion, since we can’t yet afford to hire an engineer who focuses her/his time specifically on server setup and management, is that the host offer a fairly high level of support, quick response in the event of a problem, and robust backup options.
We’re focusing on two main candidates right now: Joyent and Engine Yard.
Joyent is located in Marin County, CA and has been around for several years. They’re backed by Peter Thiel, former CEO of PayPal, currently president of Clarium Capital Management and managing partner at Founders Fund (the VC firm that invested in Geni.com).
Joyent provides hosting for both PHP and RoR applications. So for example they have offered free PHP hosting for developers of Facebook applications. They’ve also provided RoR hosting for Twitter, though that relationship ended amicably earlier this year. Both of these examples speak to Joyent’s ability to help web apps scale to large numbers of users. Here at Genlighten, we hope we’ll need that kind of scale someday!
Joyent offers what they call a 4 GB Accelerator with 4 GB of RAM, 50 GB of storage, 1 CPU core and 10 TB of data transfer for $500/month and a one-time setup fee of $500. That comes with a relatively modest level of support (including help if the site becomes inaccessible or slow).
Engine Yard has been called the Ferrari of RoR hosting. They’re focused exclusively on Rails. Investors include Benchmark Capital, New Enterprise Associates and Amazon.com. Engine Yard enjoys an excellent reputation in the Rails community. They’re known for hosting both Github and Lighthouse, key developer tools for version control and bug tracking.
They offer a higher level of “managed support” — even for their entry-level monthly offering – than Joyent does (or at least it appears so from their website). You pay for that, naturally. It’s tough to make an apples-to-apples comparison with Joyent, but I’ll give it a try.
Engine Yard recommends early-stage web developers start out with three slices — two for production (including one for backup) and one staging slice. That costs about $1,050 per month (plus about $800 for initial setup), and includes 768 MB of RAM, a dedicated processor and 45 GB of storage. Note that this is much less RAM than Joyent includes. It’s not clear to me how much bandwidth we get for that price.
What makes this attractive are the support features. Even at the entry-level we’re looking at, you get 24/7 support, database backups, Github and Lighthouse subscriptions, and shared load balancing. From what we can tell, a lot less of our CTO’s time would need to be used for server maintenance and database management with Engine Yard’s service.
There’s another option we might consider if either Joyent or Engine Yard look like they’re going to be too expensive for our needs at this stage: Slicehost. Their service is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Engine Yard’s: a quality service, but one designed for those who can handle server maintenance, software installation and downtime recovery themselves without the need for extensive support.
In return for a lot more of our CTO’s hands-on involvement, we could get by with a much lower monthly fee: somewhere between $70-$250/month for a 1 GB or 4 GB slice, with 40-100 GB of storage and 400-1,600 GB of bandwidth. Since we would do the setup ourselves, there would be no setup fees.
The hosting decision is an important but difficult one for us. We want a hosting provider who can support as we grow but not charge us for services we don’t need yet. On the other hand, we want a partner who will handle back-end server maintenance tasks as we scale so we don’t have to rush out and hire an engineer the minute traffic spikes due to a favorable review by a genealogy blogger.
In a recent presentation to entrepreneurs on how to survive the economic downturn, the famous VC John Doerr recommended:
“Negotiate. Negotiate with all your supplies and vendors, get more favorable payment terms.”
Our hope is that we can find a high-quality hosting company that can become a long-term partner, but that will consider offering us favorable terms while we’re still building our early customer base. If you have any suggestions or recommendations, please let us know.