Click here to close now.


Microservices Expo Authors: Greg O'Connor, PagerDuty Blog, Liz McMillan, Derek Weeks, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Linux Containers, Open Source Cloud, Ruby-On-Rails

@CloudExpo: Article

Top Six Ruby on Rails Deployment Methods in AWS: Pros & Cons

I’ll examine various deployment choices in detail, walk through a thorough analysis and then provide recommendations

Setting up a deployment process on the cloud means a variety of choices. Most likely you're prepared to make some tradeoffs. But getting a view across these potential tradeoffs can be difficult. Here are six popular deployments and advice for making the best choice for your organization's needs.

Let's assume you want a deployment for a small startup with fewer than 20 developers, each needing to host a web app that's gaining traction and for which rapid growth is expected. Its requirements are as follows:

  • Autoscaling support to handle expected surges in demand
  • Maximizing developer efficiency by automating tedious tasks and improving dev flow
  • Encouraging mature processes for building a stable foundation as the codebase grows
  • Maintaining flexibility and agility to handle hotfixes of a relatively immature codebase
  • Counting on a few sources to fail, because any of them can cause deployment failure - imagine GitHub failing or a required plugin becoming unavailable

Narrowing the focus a bit more, let's assume the codebase is using Ruby on Rails, as is often the case. We'll examine various deployment choices in detail, walk through a thorough analysis and then provide recommendations for anyone that fits our sample client profile.

1. The Plain Vanilla AMI Method
Amazon OpsWorks: This proven deployment is a well-tested Amazon OpsWorks Standard recommendation. Each time a new node comes up fresh, it requires running all Chef recipes. To automate this process, Cloud-init is used to run scripts for handling code and environment updates that occur when running nodes.

Pros: This approach requires no AMI management. The process is straightforward, self-documenting and brings up a clean environment every time. Updates and patches are applied very quickly.

Cons: Bringing up new instances is extremely slow, there are many moving parts, and there's a high risk of failure.

Bottom Line: While this is a clean solution, the frequent-failure rate and amount of time needed for bringup makes the Plain Vanilla AMI impractical for a use case with autoscaling.

2. The Bake-Everything AMI Method
This deployment option is proven to work at Amazon Video and Netflix. It runs all Chef recipes once, fetches the codebase and then bakes and uses the AMI. Each change requires a new AMI and an ASG replacement within the ELB, including code and environment changes.

Keep in mind that the environment and configuration management parts of the deployment still need automation using tools like Chef and Puppet. Lack of automation can otherwise make AMI management a nightmare, as one tends to lose track of how the environment actually looks within the AMI.

Pros: Provides the fastest bringup, requires no installation, and includes the fewest moving parts, so error rates are very low.

Cons: Each code deployment requires baking a new AMI. This requires a lot of effort to ensure that the process is as fast as possible in order to avoid developer bottlenecks. This setup also makes it harder to deploy hotfixes.

Bottom Line: This is generally a best practice, but requires a certain level of codebase maturity and a high level of infrastructure sophistication. For example, Netflix has spent a lot of time speeding up the process of baking AMIs by using their Aminator project.

3. A Hybrid Method Using Chef to Handle Complete Deployment
This method strikes a balance between the Plain Vanilla AMI and the Bake-Everything AMI. An AMI is baked using Chef for configuration and environment, but one can't check the codebase or deploy the app. Chef does those once the node is brought up.

Pros: Since all packages are pre-installed, this method is significantly faster than using a Plain Vanilla AMI. Also, since the code is pulled once a node is commissioned, the ability to provide hotfixes is improved.

Cons: Because we're relying on Chef in production, there's a dependency on the repository, and pulling from the repository may fail.

Bottom Line: We consider this to be a medium-risk implementation due to its reliance on Chef.

4. A Hybrid Method Using Capistrano to Handle Code Deployment
This is similar to the hybrid Chef deployment approach, but with code deployed through Capistrano. Capistrano is a mature platform for deploying Rails code that includes several features and fail-safe mechanisms that make it better than Chef. In particular, if pull from the repository fails, Capistrano deploys an older revision from its backups.

Pros: The same as for the Chef hybrid, except that Capistrano is more mature than Chef, especially in handling repository failures.

Cons: It requires two tools instead of one, which increases management overhead even though they're tied together. In addition, the gap between environment and code is wider, and managing the tools separately is difficult.

Bottom Line: Capistrano is a better Rails solution for code deployment than Chef, and the ability to apply fixes quickly may make it the best solution.

5. The AMI-Bake and CRON-Based Chef-Client Method
This deployment method resembles that of the hybrids. However, it provisions features allow auto-propagation of changes because each AMI runs chef-client every N minutes. New AMIs are baked only for major changes. It can provide continuous deployment, but continuous deployment is an aggressive tactic that requires excellent continuous integration on the back end.

Pros: Allows continuous code deployment.

Cons: It's prone to errors if Continuous Integration is not stable. In addition, Chef re-bootstraps aren't reliable and may fail.

Bottom Line: Not recommended unless CI is solid.

6. The Cloud-Init and Docker Method
All indications are that Docker is the best choice for this use case. It comes closer to a bake-everything solution while getting around bake-everything's biggest drawbacks. It allows AMIs to be baked once and rarely changes after that. Both the environment and the app code are contained inside an LXC container, with each AMI consisting of one container. Upon code deployment, a new container is simply pushed, which provides deployment-process flexibility.

Pros: Docker containers provide a history with which one can compare containers, helps with issues of undocumented steps in image creation. Code and environment are tied together. The repository structure of containers leads to faster deployment than does which baking a new AMI. Docker also helps to create a local environment similar to the production environment.

Cons: Docker is still in early phases of development and suffers from some growing pains, including a few bugs, a limited tools ecosystem, some app compatibility issues and a limited feature set.

Bottom Line: If you adopt this approach, you'll be doing considerable trailblazing. There's little information available, so comparing notes with other pioneers will be helpful.

While there are many options for deploying Ruby on Rails in AWS environments, there isn't a single best solution. Taking the time to review the options and tradeoffs can save headaches along the way. Talk to peers and experienced consultants about their experiences before making the final decisions.

What are your comments in regard to using these deployments?

More Stories By Ali Hussain

Ali Hussain is CTO & Co-Founder of Flux7 Labs. He has been designing scalable and distributed systems for the last decade and is an AWS Certified Solutions Architect, Associate Level, earning this recognition with a score of 95%.

He began his career at Intel as part of the performance modeling team for Intel’s Atom microprocessor where he focused on benchmarking, power usage and workload optimization. Ali spent four years focused on performance modeling at ARM, Inc. At ARM he optimized the latency and throughput characteristics of systems, modeled performance, and brought a data-driven methodology to performance analyses. Ali acquired his passion for distributed systems while earning his MS at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His Bachelor of Science (High Honors) in Computer Engineering was obtained from the University of Texas at Austin.

His current interests in Flux7 are in Enterprise Migration and configuration management

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
It's been a busy time for tech's ongoing infatuation with containers. Amazon just announced EC2 Container Registry to simply container management. The new Azure container service taps into Microsoft's partnership with Docker and Mesosphere. You know when there's a standard for containers on the table there's money on the table, too. Everyone is talking containers because they reduce a ton of development-related challenges and make it much easier to move across production and testing environm...
Hiring the wrong candidate can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars, and result in lost profit and productivity during the search for a replacement. In fact, the Harvard Business Review has found that as much as 80 percent of turnover is caused by bad hiring decisions. But when your organization has implemented DevOps, the job is about more than just technical chops. It’s also about core behaviors: how they work with others, how they make decisions, and how those decisions translate t...
In his General Session at DevOps Summit, Asaf Yigal, Co-Founder & VP of Product at, explored the value of Kibana 4 for log analysis and provided a hands-on tutorial on how to set up Kibana 4 and get the most out of Apache log files. He examined three use cases: IT operations, business intelligence, and security and compliance. Asaf Yigal is co-founder and VP of Product at log analytics software company In the past, he was co-founder of social-trading platform Currensee, which...
People want to get going with DevOps or Continuous Delivery, but need a place to start. Others are already on their way, but need some validation of their choices. A few months ago, I published the first volume of DevOps and Continuous Delivery reference architectures which has now been viewed over 50,000 times on SlideShare (it's free to registration required). Three things helped people in the deck: (1) the reference architectures, (2) links to the sources for each architectur...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data...
Culture is the most important ingredient of DevOps. The challenge for most organizations is defining and communicating a vision of beneficial DevOps culture for their organizations, and then facilitating the changes needed to achieve that. Often this comes down to an ability to provide true leadership. As a CIO, are your direct reports IT managers or are they IT leaders? The hard truth is that many IT managers have risen through the ranks based on their technical skills, not their leadership ab...
Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
One of the most important tenets of digital transformation is that it’s customer-driven. In fact, the only reason technology is involved at all is because today’s customers demand technology-based interactions with the companies they do business with. It’s no surprise, therefore, that we at Intellyx agree with Patrick Maes, CTO, ANZ Bank, when he said, “the fundamental element in digital transformation is extreme customer centricity.” So true – but note the insightful twist that Maes adde...
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Su...
Using any programming framework to the fullest extent possible first requires an understanding of advanced software architecture concepts. While writing a little client-side JavaScript does not necessarily require as much consideration when designing a scalable software architecture, the evolution of tools like Node.js means that you could be facing large code bases that must be easy to maintain.
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningf...
Continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications are both impacted by -- and a benefit to -- the Internet of Things trend. To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and a plethora of new end-devices and data please welcome Gary Gruver, consultant, author and a former IT executive who has led many large-scale IT transformation projects, and John Jeremiah, Technology Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), on Twitter at @j_jeremiah. The discussion...
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true ...
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem"...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound...
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, San...
PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNu...
In today's enterprise, digital transformation represents organizational change even more so than technology change, as customer preferences and behavior drive end-to-end transformation across lines of business as well as IT. To capitalize on the ubiquitous disruption driving this transformation, companies must be able to innovate at an increasingly rapid pace. Traditional approaches for driving innovation are now woefully inadequate for keeping up with the breadth of disruption and change facin...
I recently attended and was a speaker at the 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I also had the opportunity to attend this event last year and I wrote a blog from that show talking about how the “Enterprise Impact of IoT” was a key theme of last year’s show. I was curious to see if the same theme would still resonate 365 days later and what, if any, changes I would see in the content presented.
You may have heard about the pets vs. cattle discussion – a reference to the way application servers are deployed in the cloud native world. If an application server goes down it can simply be dropped from the mix and a new server added in its place. The practice so far has mostly been applied to application deployments. Management software on the other hand is treated in a very special manner. Dedicated resources are set aside to run the management software components and several alerting syst...