It’s been a busy time here at Boost, and we have just released our new web usability testing application IntuitionHQ. I’ll be writing a post about IntuitionHQ soon, but today I’d like to talk about hosting.
When we launched SonarHQ in April we decided to host on Slicehost. There were two main reasons we went with a virtualised hosting solution. The first was that we were not sure whether we would be scaling vertically (bigger, faster servers) or horizontally (splitting different functions onto different servers), and the second was the we wanted to be able to scale up and down in a fine-grained way.
Our initial approach with SonarHQ was to have 2 applications servers, 2 database servers and a utility server (for background tasks including mail). This approach gave us some redundancy and the ability to scale in either horizontally or vertically as needed. This has worked well, but we didn’t feel that the performance/price ratio is particularly good.
During our initial testing, we had IntuitionHQ setup at Slicehost in the same way. As we were preparing to launch, Engine Yard released Engine Yard Cloud. Built on top of the Amazon cloud infrastructure, Engine Yard Cloud provides a managed instance and configuration engine specifically optomised for hosting Ruby on Rails applications.
It was easy and painless to get IntuitionHQ up and running on Engine Yard Cloud – taking under an hour from start to finish. I don’t think it could have been any easier – everything just seems to work! We fired up a small instance and put through a quick series of load tests. It was evident even with casual clicking through the application that we were getting better response times. Working through the likely costs for hosting on Engine Yard Cloud, we found that we could use a 32bit, 5 ECU, 1.7GB RAM instance for around the same cost as our previous setup and get a useful boost in both performance and manageability.
One of the most significant benefits is the ability to scale vertically all the way to a 64bit, 20 ECU, 68GB RAM instance with a simple restart. Scaling horizontally is just as easy, and Engine Yard Cloud really takes the pain out of this.
Another important benefit has been the streamlining of our deployment processes. Engine Yard takes care of everything needed for automated deployments, and any custom deployment tasks are easily handled with Chef recipes. Deploying multiple application instances is easy and works seamlessly, with Engine Yard implementing a proxying system with failover across all instances without the need for a separate proxy instance (and single point of failure) – a significant cost saving. Running a seperate instance (or set of instances) for the databases is as easy as ticking a checkbox.
The image used for the instance is kept up to date with the latest security and reliability patches and is used each time our application is deployed. This gives you a semi-managed hosting system without any of the associated costs.
The margin over standard Amazon EC2 is reasonably high for the small instances but reduces to a 10% premium on the biggest instances. This is very reasonable and for us makes a great deal of sense.
The one thing that would make this much more affordable is the ability to use Amazon reserved instances. These give you a discounted hourly rate for the instance once a one off payment is made. If you know what you need and can commit to a year, this can effectively half the hosting costs.
We launched IntuitionHQ a week ago and have been extremely happy with the performance and utility of Engine Yard Cloud. We are looking forward to growing IntuitionHQ and are confident that Engine Yard Cloud can grow with us.
Our new product, IntuitionHQ, shows clusters of clicks on an image. To generate these clusters we made use of a gem called Hierclust. The great thing about this gem is it’s simplicity – just input the points and a minimum cluster separation, and out come the clusters.
The problem with Hierclust was the performance. With fewer than 100 points to cluster Hierclust was running too slow to do it dynamically. This was no problem, we moved the clustering program into a cronjob and stored the data in a marshalled file.
However, in testing we found that Hierclust was still too slow. Once we had over 200 points being clustered it started taking minutes to process – an unsustainable amount of time for the data we expected. The graph below shows the timings, which I believe is O(n3). We had to disable cluster processing while looking at the problem due to issues it was causing on the server.
The MacArthur Foundation in the US funds some very interesting digital media and learning initiatives. Last month, they released this video featuring those involved in developing and using the very cool YouMedia space at the Chicago Public Library, which opened in July this year.
It’s an example of how young people’s use of digital media can be factored into libraries. The way they’ve set up the library space recognises the importance of social connections between students and leverages their digital interests. Connie Yowell from MacArthur Foundation says that at the library the students will find ‘extraordinary resources on anything they may be interested in but now they can create produce and make things as well’.
Nichole Pinkard from Chicago Public Library adds that the point of YouMedia is not just about making young people into movie producers and music producers but enabling them to become ‘fluid in use of technologies so they can use them to engage in public conversation and public discourse.’
Locally, it’s great to see the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa get an award at the LIANZA conference this month. Interesting stories on their website about the impact that providing free broadband in public libraries is having on the community and on the use and development of library services.
We’re really stoked that National Services Te Paerangi, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, has asked Boost to facilitate four workshops around the county to introduce museums to the benefits and practical realities of using social media to promote themselves and grow their networks online.
The workshops are called How to Promote Your Museum Using Online Tools. They will cover:
an overview of social media tools
what they offer and who they target
how to use them to build audiences and professional networks.
Participants will get the chance to:
get hints and tips on using social media effectively and avoiding pitfalls
see examples of how museums – big and small – are using social media
discuss approaches you might use for your organisation
build confidence to use and contribute to the growing body of practice around social media.
The one-day workshops are taking place at these locations and times:
6 October 2009 – Whanganui Regional Museum, Whanganui – register here
30 October – Westport – details and registration to be confirmed
Watch the fun unfold on a blog specially prepared for the workshops. It contains relevant links, tools and examples and – hopefully – participants’ thoughts and ideas on what social media can do for them and their organisations.