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.
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.
Third parties are working to make Rails a scalable platform.
Rails deployment platform provider Engine Yard on April 29 announced its sponsorship of the recently launched GitHub service, a distributed version control system, and the popular Lighthouse bug tracking application. By hosting both GitHub and Lighthouse on Engine Yard’s scalable platform, the company said, it ensured that Rails developers’ source code and ticket tracking would be both available and secure. Engine Yard also donated a private cluster to the projects as a part of its ongoing efforts to support open-source communities and nurture open-source projects.
Tom Mornini, chief technology officer at Engine Yard, told eWEEK, “We believe that Rails does not have any fundamental scalability issues. People who suggest otherwise are confusing efficiency with scalability. Ruby and Rails are less efficient at run-time than older platforms, but this has been true for all new development platforms; we can all remember how slow Java was in its infancy. New Ruby run-times such as Rubinius will allow for higher efficiency using the same optimizations that Java relies [on], such as native code generation. We currently serve Rails applications with millions of unique visitors monthly on just a few modern servers, and have no concern for scaling to tens of millions of users today and hundreds of millions of users in the future.”
Discussing knocks on Rails scalability, David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails, told eWEEK in a May 1 interview, “This is known as the ‘Last Stance’ defense. When you have nothing of left of substance to argue with, you draw the ‘But does it scale?’ card. This is on page one of the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt playbook.”
Hansson said Rails was scalable in 2005, and “since then the economics of scaling Rails have only become so much better. Hardware has never been cheaper. You get 2GB of RAM with your coffee at Starbucks these days. And the on-demand platforms like AWS [Amazon Web Services] are making even the upfront investment a nonissue.”
The question has been addressed long since, Hansson said, “But I can totally understand why this meme sticks around. Just like I can understand why e-mail chain letters still do. And why people fall for Nigerian scammers. When everyone and their blog is praising Rails to the skies on things like ease of use, maintainability, productivity and so forth, the public demands an Achilles’ Heel. Otherwise the story is just not deemed credible.”