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Solo: Engine Yard on Amazon EC2

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Solo is a new service from Engine Yard, and is basically the complete Engine Yard stack their hosting is based on, but running on (the cheaper) Amazon EC2.

You might wonder why they are competing with themselves, providing a cheaper alternative to their own product. We talked to Engine Yard's founder and architect Jayson Vantuyl to find out:

Let me say first that Solo can be a bit confusing from the outside because it's targeted heavily at a segment of our customers.  We have a decent chunk of customers that have one instance.  While many of them are happy with that service on our existing cloud, we recognize that we can do better for some of them with a slightly different or lower-cost offering.  Some customers prefer to have the ability to duplicate their staging environment in a way that is difficult due to the persistence of configuration on our instance.  Others don't need to pay more for our support options when they just want a development or quality assurance instance.  In general, we scale our Rails support personnel with our cloud.  While this guarantees a sufficient supply of expertise, some people don't need to pay for that on every instance.  They certainly don't for certain classes of non-production environments.  This offering is for them.

In the end, our expertise is at scaling Rails.  While we gladly provide access to the technologies in our cloud, we recognize that the cloud is secondary to the application.  To some degree, this opinion may make us unique among cloud providers.

Solo is quite different from our cloud.  It is not fault tolerant, doesn't have the technologies that we provide for clustering, and doesn't come with the same level of support.  As such, it allows a more cost-effective product for staging, quality assurance, and development environments.  It provides an outlet for people that would like to start out on the Engine Yard infrastructure but don't quite need everything that comes with our cloud.  As such, it doesn't replace the existing cloud, but certainly gives a fuller offering.

As our line of services on alternate clouds grows, we expect to have a number of complementary offerings that meet the needs of people focused on specific aspects of hosting and development.  Whether you need the best Rails expertise, a very traditional hosting environment, a highly scalable environment, or a highly affordable environment, Engine Yard plans on having something for you.  We believe that those needs are best served by having a varied line of offerings rather than try to make something for everyone.  Solo is the exciting beginning of that strategy.

So, who should stay on Engine Yard's existing cloud?

Our existing cloud is geared heavily toward traditional applications.  In particular, if you require extensive configuration of your machine that cannot just disappear, we provide a more traditional offering in that respect.  Developing that automation to make your deployment more portable takes developers' resources.  We allow you to develop your deployment independently of developing the pieces necessary to deploy it to something like Amazon's cloud.  While Solo provides a powerful system for getting that final deployment into the cloud, we smooth the learning curve with our existing offering.

Additionally, we have shared block storage tailored to providing clustered data.  This is a blessing in that we can make developing an application on a range of environments much more like developing it on your laptop.  Like most technologies, it must be deployed carefully to scale with your application.  In the end it's about providing choice to our customers and having the tools to align our customer's preferences with technologies that scale.

Are there any general guidelines customers can follow?

Honestly, hard and fast guidelines are very difficult to establish.  Depending on your resources, you can start by trying Solo directly and seeing how it fits.

Beyond that, the best guideline I can think of is to call our helpful sales representatives.  They can help assess what your technical needs are, what expectations you have, and find the best fit among our product line.  We pride ourselves on giving personal service to our customers, and we want to provide the experience that you want with our service.  If you had just wanted to buy a server or an Amazon instance, you could have done that by yourself.  We aim to provide something more comprehensive and our people are a critical part of that.  When in doubt, we're here for you.  Give us a call.

You very recently released Vertebra, is there any integration with Solo?

Vertebra is open source, and you can fairly easily deploy any software on Solo.  In that respect, it's "available".  That said, we have not yet integrated it with the offering directly.  We'd be glad to talk to people about doing so, but it's currently under such active development that we prefer to address deploying it on a case-by-case basis.

Solo should be available from January 28 on. What do you think, could Solo be a valid alternative to the various other Rails software stacks?

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