RailsConf08: Engine Yard on Rails Deployment Issues

Yesterday I sat in on a session on rails deployment, headed up by the guys from Engine Yard. The idea was to discuss deployment problems but it turned into general deployment tips. If anyone knows about deploying rails it is these guys and they have some fantastic ideas. I took away some interesting things that I’d like to share with you.

Server choice

One of the issues discussed was the choice of what rails server to run your application on.

  • ebb ebb is extremely fast, but probably not production ready today
  • thin thin can be good for requests that are completed quickly. Because thin is event-driven it doesn’t work as well for longer running requests
  • mongrel

Tom pointed out one important fact to consider when choosing between these. He said:

They can all respond to requests faster than your application can generate. There are way more important things to spend time on. Tom Mornini, Engine Yard

The improvements you gain by switching between these is often insignificant when compared to your use of caching, limiting disk i/o in your apps, and controlling your overall application architecture.

Mongrel is, obviously, going to be most people’s first choice, because it’s great for general purpose. But when using mongrel, a common question is “how many mongrel processes should I be running?” Tom said that “you can burn out a modern CPU with 3 mongrels” and there is no reason to run more than 3 mongrel processes per core. Typically if you have more than 3 mongrel processes per CPU core they are generally wasted.

The guys at Engine Yard love nginx. They said they’ve had no problems with it. Tom said that in internal tests against statics files they’ve seen nginx serve 40 megabytes per second of static images and not show up in top.

Misc other tips

Static Files Static files don’t have to be local. They can be shared across the entire cluster with a clustered file system. They use RedHat GFS for static storage and it is convenient because multiple machines can read the same filesystem. “If you can avoid NFS, do… NFS was really, really cool in 1979.”

Static resource domains Browsers limit the number of requests per domain. At Engine Yard they have had success in improving load times by creating domain name aliases that often point to the same physical machine. e.g. images1.domain.com, images2.domain.com, etc. can all point to the exact same machine and exact same IP address but the browser is tricked into loading them concurrently because the domain names are different. They have seen significant improvement in load times by using this technique on pages that need to load a lot of files.

Virtualization They use (the free, open-source version of) Xen and love it. Nearly everything at Engine Yard is virtualized. Because of the way Xen works they said they have very little performance hit when using virtualization. One tip they gave was that it is not always good for each service to be on a separate virtual machine. They said that, by default, every slice (vm) at Enine Yard has nginx, 3 mongrels, and memcachd. They group the services and find that this often works well.

After the session I chatted with the guys. I told them that I spent a few weeks with the free version of Xen and found it very complicated to work with. They said that it took them nine months to perfect their use of Xen. I’m glad to find out that it wasn’t just me. However, it does inspire me to give it a second chance.

mod_rails and passenger When asked about the new mod_rails they said that they are much more interested in rubinius and mod_rubinius. More posts on both rubinius and passenger to come.

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  • Matt Pulver

    Thanks a lot for sharing that. Glad to have it confirmed that Mongrel+Nginx is still a good web stack.