Posted on December 31st, 2009 in Everyday Tips, PHP | 15 Comments »
I have worked with several dedicated servers at Rackspace and the experience was a joy. The servers perform very well and the Rackspace managed support was great. So when I learned of Cloudsites which appeared to bundle the great support I had grown to love with a package that seemed great for hosting our sites that didn’t require their own dedicated server I was very excited. Unfortunately, it turns out the Rackspace Cloudsites is unstable, unreliable, and slow. The support is still good, at least in terms of being available, but all they can say is “I’m sorry all your sites are down.”
The Cloudsites control panel is very nice (when it is online). It’s very easy to set up sites, the interface is clean, and their built in email service is excellent. Their spam filter works exceptionally well. It is a bit confusing to set up email addresses that simply forward to another domain but it is possible. Even though the control panel is nice, that is pretty much the only redeeming quality Rackspace Cloudsites has to offer. There are many other factors that totally negate the benefits of their pleasant control panel.
No SSH Access
Since Cloudsites does not provide SSH access you can’t host your git or svn repositories on cloudsites. They recommend using ExpanDrive so that you can deploy your sites from your source code repository to your live site but it is extremely slow to the point of being virtually useless. We found that it was far faster to use Transmit to connect to the server than Expandrive. We also started using Beanstalk for our subversion repositories. Beanstalk is awesome, works great, and has a very cool FTP deployment feature which enabled us to deploy our sites to Rackspace Cloudsites quickly and effectively. The only downside to Beanstalk is that they limit the number or repositories you can have. Most of our projects don’t require much disk space for the source code so we are going to run out of repositories long before we hit our disk space limit. Be that as it may, Beanstalk is a great investment and I recommend it to anyone looking for a managed subversion resource. If the lack of SSH access were the only problem Cloudsites had, we would still be using it. With Beanstalk and a few tweaks to our production work flow we were able to get around the lack of SSH access – although it was annoying. For example, it’s nice to transfer a large number of files as a compressed tarball or a zip file (such as a WordPress installation) then extract the tarball on the server. The Rackspace Cloudsites control panel has zip/unzip functionality but it’s a pain to use compared to real command line access. Likewise, anything else you would do from the command line, like testing cron scripts, is painful if its even possible at all.
Stability and Performance Is Miserable
The stability of Rackspace Cloudsites is terrible. Just this week the control panel was completely offline for about 3 hours. It went off line right as I was transferring a site and consequently I was unable to complete the transfer and had to start all over again the next day. So, basically all 26 sites we had on Cloudsites were completely unavailable if I needed to do anything involving the control panel such as install an SSL cert, create an email account, reset and FTP password, etc.
Even worse than having the control panel offline, we run several e-commerce sites and 2 weeks before Christmas, our peak sales time of the year, our database was in “read only mode” ALL DAY due to a “degradation” in their service. So, to our customers, it appeared like they were buying things because the site was online and everything seemed to be working, but their orders were never saved to the database. This was a problem with several of our sites that day since multiple sites all use the same database server that was in read-only mode. Rackspace has offered us 1 free month of hosting for our trouble.
Performance is pretty crappy too. Because of all the trouble we had with Cloudsites, our friends on Twitter suggested that we look into VPS.net. After reading a bunch of great reviews and researching their product offering we decided to sign up for a small, 3-Node account costing a mere $54/month (compared to $120/month for Rackspace Cloudsites). We transferred one of our WordPress websites off Rackspace Cloudsites onto our new VPS.net setup and here is a report of the response time of Rackspace Cloudsites vs VPS.net running the exact same site. VPS.net is about twice as fast (half the response time).
We have run other benchmark tests and have found that a 3-Node, $54/month account with VPS.net is roughly twice as fast as Rackspace Cloudsites. For example, in addition to response time being about twice as fast, the VPS.net account is serving twice as many requests per second. Again, these tests are on the exact same WordPress website running on both servers.
The main reason we signed up for Rackspace Cloudsites in the first place was because of the great experience we have had in the past with Rackspace “fanatical” support with our dedicated servers. The support is still good with Cloudsites but, unfortunately, since the platform itself tends to “degrade” frequently, there is not much the support can do for you other than perhaps hook you up with a free month of hosting. With Rackspace Cloudsites the unlimited support is included in the $120/month cost (Yes $120/month not $100/month: Cloudsites charges you and extra $20/month if you want to use SSL certificates).
With VPS.net you are free to manage your own account or you can elect to purchase their Pro-Active Managed Support package for $99/month. The managed support package gives you live chat with their support team and they will pretty much do anything you need including migrate over up to 20 of your websites from your previous hosting company. This also includes monthly security overhauls and 24/7 monitoring. If you don’t want to buy the $99/month package you can submit paid trouble tickets for $10/ticket. We have found that the we almost always have our support tickets resolved in less than one hour.
Both Rackspace Cloudsites and VPS.net offer excellent support. But, since the folks at VPS.net can actually do something to help, as opposed to the Rackspace support folks simply apologizing for their failing system, VPS.net wins out in the support department as well.