Okay, the cloud (or grid or whatever they’re calling it now) isn’t exactly a lie, but at least on a retail level, it hasn’t held up to the hype.
This is not going to be an overly technical article, mostly because I’m tired. I expect to get some nasty comments because I’m not citing specifics. Luckily for me, I have a thick skin. It’s more of a lament than anything else. I don’t even have the energy for a full-blown rant.
The grid/cloud – I’ll call it the groud for now – promises so much, and yet always seems to fall short, regardless of the provider.
I switched over to Rackspace Cloud Sites in January of last year. My motivation was not to get onto the zomgweb2point0cloudbbq, but it was the first Rackspace product that fit within my budget, and they had such a good reputation in the industry, it was worth a shot.
Overall, the service has been alright. MySQL failures about once a week on average, more often on bad weeks. They usually don’t last long, but they’re frequent enough to make me reconsider recommending them to the company I work for for hosting client projects. The “could not find a suitable node” problems are far less prevelant now than when I frst signed up, but many of my sites still seem sluggish, specifically WordPress sites. I have heard the same about sites running some of the other large open source projects, but I don’t run Joomla or Drupal, so I can’t speak to that.
By all accounts, Rackspace is a fantastic hosting company with spectacularly reliable service. Except for their cloud product. MySQL performance has consistently been poor and the source of performance bottlenecks. Their control panel doesn’t let you break down CPU usage (which directly impacts your monthly bill) by account, by script, by anything at all, actually, so your monthly bill ends up being somewhat of a mystery.
To their credit, their team has worked with me personally to try to isolate any performance issues that could be optimized, but without one-on-one hand-holding, it’s a bit of a black box. Alarmingly, if your CPU usage starts to trend over what is covered by your monthly allotment covered in your fee, they don’t even email you to give you a heads up. You just get a lovely surprise at the beginning of your next billing cycle.
My first month on their cloud, my hosting bill was more than twice the then-$100 monthly fee, based on my CPU overages, and I hadn’t received a single email. In fact, I don’t receive any billing emails at all. The only way I know how much I’ve paid for hosting is by looking at my bill. (I want to say in the beginning they did email me a warning or an invoice, but I haven’t received one in many months.) The funny thing is, I’d pay $200 a month if I’m getting what I need.
I started investigating Media Temple’s grid hosting, since I had heard so many good things about them. Unlike Rackspace Cloud Sites, they offer SSH and Subversion access and several features that are closer to a more traditional virtual hosting environment, with the cloud’s promise of scalability and performance. Another attractive feature they offer is the ability to add a MySQL container that takes your MySQL off the shared environment, so you have far more resources available to your database – a great idea for database-heavy applications. It seemed like the perfect solution.
Upon further investigation, colleagues who have tried Media Temple’s Grid Hosting services have largely been disappointed. Like Mosso/Rackspace Cloud, they are far more stable now than they were, but the same problems seem to come up. Latency (even with the MySQL container in many cases) and poor MySQL performance are cited thousands of times in forum posts and reviews. Media Temple, like Rackspace, is a well-respected company whose image is being tarnished by the inability for the cloud to live up to the promises.
I fully understand that every single hosting company on the planet is going to have negative comments and reviews – any company that doesn’t is probably too good to be true. I also fully understand that most people only post comments and reviews when they’re pissed off, which can color the perception of onlookers. There have been positive reviews of both companies’ groud products, just not that many.
Part of my frustration comes from how these two companies (and I would assume many others) address the complaints of latency. When confronted with benchmarks, their answer is always that you can improve performance by optimizing your site. Obviously, you should always strive to optimize your site, that’s a no-brainer. But the reality seems to be that (for example) a barebones WordPress install with zero plugins and stock theme consistently runs significantly slower in the groud environment – at least with these two vendors – and their response to customers pointing this out is that they have to optimize.
I’m sorry, but that’s bullshit. If you’re promising scalability, you should be able to match the performance that any run-of-the-mill virtual host can provide at the very least. Scalability and performance is THE selling point for groud hosting, and yet that seems to be the area that all of the big providers fall woefully short with. If you’re offering groud and you don’t have performance/scalability, what the fuck is the point, exactly? And the kicker is that for a lot of the big guys, you can’t even GET a non-groud account these days. Everybody drank the fucking kool-aid.
Before you jump down my throat and tell me to get a VPS or dedicated server, let me stop you right there. I had one. I had one for years, starting with a dedicated server at a hosting company 12 years ago, to the one I bought the hardware for we built that shit from the ground up. But I’m a busy person, and I just don’t have the time to be a sysadmin and a developer, an information architect, a commuter, an activist, and all of the other things that I do. I specifically switched off my dedicated server to release myself from the headache that comes with to maintain a server.
I am a firm believer that unlike, say a designer, you cannot be a good sysadmin if you’re only part-time. There’s too much to stay on top of, too many security issues, too many patches. Security itself is a full-time job and the bad guys still manage to get into even reasonably well-secured servers. So I’m not about to be a part-time sysadmin.
All of the large name companies with the best reputations offer more expensive dedicated/VPS servers, or cloud – nothing in between anymore. Everyone’s version of “managed” services is now the groud. There are others that still offer traditional virtual hosting, but they’re not the kinds of companies that instill confidence with clients – or they charge by website, which quickly adds up when you have as many as I do. I ask my colleagues who they’re using, and invariably they’re unhappy with their hosting company, or they’re using a service/package that isn’t the right fit.
I’m just tired of having to do this research again every few years. I want to be in a hosting environment that I love and that I can recommend to everyone I meet, and I have never, not once in 15 years, been there. I’m exhausted by the disappointment, and by never managing to find the right fit. I don’t know the guys at Media Temple that well yet. I know the guys at Rackspace very well – I’m sure they have bullseyes with my face all over their office. I adore the people at Rackspace and so desperately want this to work, but every time it seems to stabilize to the point where I could recommend them to my company as an option, MySQL goes down again. It’s 2010 – how am I still in the same situation I was in a decade ago? How is there nothing for the customer who needs a managed environment that scales well and doesn’t have $1000 to throw at a managed dedicated server? It’s either ghetto or enterprise, nothing in between. Has no one fllled that hole? FILL MY HOLE!
Now then, with that off my chest, let the snipe-bashing commence…. Tell me I’m lazy for not managing my own server. Tell me I’m cheap for not wanting to spend half a mortgage payment on a server that hosts 95% very low traffic static sites and 5% high traffic sites. I know I’m not the only one in this situation. I suspect I’m just one of the first to say it out loud, since the cloud is the in-thing right now.