Of all the companies that populate the Ruby and Rails world, I think my absolute favorite is Phusion. I was early into the Rails space – 2007 so I date back to the days of Mongrel based rails installations and when Passenger from Phusion came out, it was a revelation. Running a rails application went from a "How the F do I do this" to "I'll use Passenger and it will just work". And Hong Lai is to me a stellar example of how to support an Open Source product. I cannot say how many times I've been researching something and, damn, there's Hong Lai answering stuff. The man is a damn machine and I mean that in the very best of ways. Once upon a time I was a Ruby Enterprise Edition customer for Passenger and other times I've been a paid support customer. And it is all because of the quality of Passenger and the tireless work of Hong Lai. Every single time I go to deploy a Rails app, I reach for Passenger – it is just that good.

Phusion has a new product, Union Station:


(Stock image; I never got it running for my apps; alas.)

And it is squarely in my sweet spot of tools:

  • For ruby / rails
  • Deals with performance / scalability
  • Is NOT New Relic
  • Is priced reasonably / rationally

Unfortunately I am unlikely to look at Union Station and there is a lesson here about software marketing that I think is illustrative. The first thing to understand is that the person handling my account, Tinco, has been absolutely excellent - he has been helpful, timely and I can't say anything bad about him as a sales person – which rare for me. The problem here is that Phusion wants me to make a decision with only 1 to 2 weeks of time. This is a product that I'm going to need to evaluate at a pretty deep level to make a buying decision and I refuse to rush that kind of thing. Even just understanding performance tools is hard and takes quite a bit of time. What happened to me is:

  • I requested the evaluation when I had free time to deal with it
  • There was some kind of glitch where my account wouldn't activate
  • By the time my account was fixed, there was some other higher priority problem that I had to deal with
  • Now that I have the time, my account is expired

My problem is with time limited evaluations in general – people these days are busy. And time limited evaluations, particularly for complex products, are hard to get around to. This is particularly true for a product where real data needs to be gathered and you might not have an immediate use case for it. In our case we do intensive processing under Passenger only about once per month. So with a week long evaluation period, the timing just didn't work out.

Yes I can ask for more time and I'm sure that Tinco would grant it; that's not the point. This is a general problem with selling complex products to busy people with limited time; I don't think I'm alone in this.

Now, with all that said, companies do need to close sales leads – I get that. I don't know if there is a solution to this problem. My personal preference would be usage based or capacity based i.e. I'd like to be able to install Union Station and use it for say 100 times in order to make a decision but that, while good for me, is directly against their interests.

Overall I'm impressed with Union Station and I suspect if you're in the Rails space you should look at it. The pricing model looks particularly rational which, having been burned by New Relic in years past, appeals to me. Personally I'm going to wait until I have a more pressing front end project in mind but that's coming up soon for me.