Making Ruby on Rails Scale

New companies are focusing on delivering scalability for Ruby on Rails.

Although developers swear by the productivity gains afforded by using Ruby on Rails, the popular Web platform has met criticism as not being scalable enough for prime time. Well, some startups are focusing on ensuring that Ruby on Rails, also known simply as Rails, does indeed scale.

Ruby on Rails, like the Ruby language it is based on, has been used in several Web 2.0 applications such as Twitter, Jobster and Shopify, as well as beginning to appear in a number of enterprise applications. However, despite many success stories, what tends to stand out are the tales of how Rails took a development project 95 percent of the way to the Promised Land of enterprise scalability but needed a boost from some other language to get the application over the hump.

Steven Beales, chief software architect at Mdlogix (Medical Decision Logic) said Mdlogix views Rails as the most productive tool it has for developing simple-looking Web applications with advanced functionality. However, Mdlogix is also using Rails for enterprise development.

And for enterprise organizations concerned about issues of scalability and performance with Rails, help is on the way.

A startup called New Relic, backed by venture capital firm Benchmark Capital, and particularly by Benchmark General Partner Peter Fenton, who has made some big bets in funding companies like JBoss, Red Hat, MySQL and SpringSource, has launched to address Ruby on Rails application performance management.

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New Relic announced on May 1 that it had received $3.5 million in first-round venture financing from Benchmark Capital. The company plans to use the funds to drive product development and to expand sales and marketing programs, and Fenton will join its board of directors.

New Relic RPM, a subscription-based Rails performance management solution, enables developers to quickly and cost effectively detect, diagnose and fix application performance problems in real time, the company said. This SAAS (software as a service) offering is currently available to a limited customer base as a private beta, but will be generally available to the entire Ruby on Rails community soon.

Lewis Cirne, founder of New Relic, founded Wily Technology in 1998, which provided the same type of solution for Java. Cirne said he views Rails as the same kind of game-changing technology that Java has proven to be. Cirne eventually sold Wily to CA.

"The critiques we hear about Rails [are] it's not scalable, that it's not well-suited for mission-critical applications," Fenton said. "I think those critiques are similar in nature to what we heard about Java in the mid-90s."

However, to find problems and to help applications scale, "You have to find out where the bottlenecks are," which is what New Relic does, Fenton said. "The monitoring insight New Relic has is to provide visibility without adding overhead."

Moreover, Fenton, who said Cirne's Wily Technology firm was the first investment he made at Benchmark, added that Benchmark's commitment to Rails is as deep as its commitment to Java in the '90s. "Couple that with cloud computing and this [Rails] could be much more rapidly adopted than Java," Fenton said.

Moreover, Fenton said he believes Rails could be "as big a force for change for developers" as cloud computing may be.

"We're really excited about the software-as-a-service model," Cirne said. He said New Relic will officially launch in 30 to 60 days. The company's private beta consists of about 50 customers that New Relic is helping to scale their Rails applications. And Cirne said the company will offer a developer version of its solution to complement the production version of RPM.