A tutoring client who was nearing the end of the Django project he's been working on asked how he should host his service. I explained to him that there are basically two options: use a service that takes care of everything for you (like Heroku or Google App Engine) or get a VPS and do everything yourself. After begrudgingly suggesting he use a service like Heroku, I wondered why there wasn't some sort of middle ground.
My client's situation is an extremely common one: "I finished my web app and want to launch it. I'm not a Linux sysadmin. Now what?" If you decide to pay for a service to take care of all the details for you, you learn nothing in the process. Worse, when stuff goes sideways (and it always does), you're totally reliant on said service to fix things. You, yourself, don't have any power to fix issues outside of your application. If you need to scale, you better hope the service you chose scales with you.
On the other hand, if you rent a VPS, you're essentially dumped to the command line of a fresh Linux distro installation. Forget things like security and monitoring, just getting your web application working consistently involves a ton of work. You need to become a DBA/sysadmin over night. Any issues with the machine and you're in for a night of Googling about arcane Apache error messages or PostgreSQL config files.
Why doesn't a third option exist? In home repair, for example, there is an option between "hire someone" and "buy the materials and do it from scratch": many chains (like Home Depot) offer classes taught by professionals wherein you'll learn enough to complete your project, while still maintaining total control over it. Why doesn't something like that exist for web hosting?
straphost: The Solution
When I was first learning to deploy web applications, I would have thrown money at someone offering to set up my application while at the same time explaining what they were doing and why. I think there's a real need for a service that sets up your web app according to up-to-date best practices while at the same time teaching you how to do so. I would also have appreciated someone teaching me how to solve common maintenance issues, so let's include that as well.
That's why I'm announcing the creation of straphost ("bootstrapped hosting"). Think of it as both a VPS provider and a tutoring service. I'll teach you how to set up your Python web application with the web server/database of your choice as well as provide you the infrastructure on which to do so. We'll also set up tools like supervisord and cron/celery for your project. After your application is installed, you'll have full control of your application server. Want to enable a service like Loggly or PagerDuty? Feel free to do so yourself, or ask for help and we'll do it together.
Where We Are
At the moment, I'm still in the process of provisioning the hardware, but that will be finished in days. I've not come up with a pricing model, but assume it will be a very reasonable flat monthly rate plus an hourly charge for tutoring sessions in which we administer the application. Note that the tutoring portion is entirely optional; if you know how to do it yourself and just want a VPS from some random Internet blogger, that's fine with me. Also, I'll be hiring 24/7 technical support for when you have a problem that needs to be solved now.
Which reminds me: there's a lot of sales-y type stuff for me to do (for example: make a web site for this). That said, if I've piqued your interest, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get notified when this is available (likely sometime later this week). The initial cohort of clients will be extremely limited. This will let me devote enough time to each client while at the same time proving to myself that the model works.
Let's Do This
I've been tutoring long enough to know that this is a real issue; you either pay a service to take care of everything or pay a VPS provide to take care of nothing. There needs to be some middle ground. If you have a Python-based web application you'd like to learn how to launch and maintain, straphost may be just what you're looking for. Email me and we'll find out together.Posted on by Jeff Knupp