Explaining the Value of Agile, Rails and the Cloud

September 14, 2009 Pivotal Labs

Rob and I were recently asked by a client for some help justifying the choice of Ruby as an implementation language for their SaaS product. They were very happy with the results, but wanted to be prepared to answer investor and customer questions about why Rails was a good choice.

One way that I’ve been talking about Rails is in the context of what I’m calling “The ARC Model”: Agile + Rails + Cloud. I’ll borrow from my abstract from my talk at BizConf:

The Ruby on Rails Revolution has been one of productivity and efficiency, and has coincided with an equally powerful revolution in the ownership of technological infrastructure. The Rails approach combines agile methods with a highly productive language to allow developers to focus on developing business value, instead of developing plumbing. The Cloud Computing Revolution at the same time has changed the economics of infrastructure, allowing computation to become a commodity not worthy of developer attention, further enabling developers to focus on that which is truly valuable, Innovation. These three factors, Agile, Rails, and the Cloud, combine to revolutionize the economics of software development and information management, in ways that directly impact return on investment.

The question should not be, “is Rails a safe choice,” but “[how long] can we justify the expense of traditional development approaches.”

I think this kind of approach plays nicely to the strengths of SaaS.

In terms of large enterprise deployments, it’s early yet: Enterprises tend to be conservative (about Rails as they are about SaaS) so most of the innovation has been in the startup space, with companies like Hulu being good examples of the disruptive power of Rails.

But that said, there have been some major mainstream Enterprise success stories. AT&T chose to dump a failing Java yellowpages effort in favor of Rails, with excellent results in terms of scalability, time to market, code quality, and performance. (There’s a decent write-up on BuildingWebApps.)

We are starting to see major companies develop ever more mission/business/revenue-critical components in Rails. BestBuy built Remix, their new public API app, with us using Rails. We have one major multinational client who is rewriting their entire ERP system in Ruby internally. We have another major hardware vendor building new products using Rails.

Large companies tend to be a bit shy about talking about new technology initiatives, and we suspect that most Fortune 500 companies have someone doing Rails somewhere in the organization. There are a number of others we’ve spoken to who are using the technology to their advantage, but who aren’t ready to talk about it publicly yet. But you can also search for job listings from major companies and see how many big companies are hiring Rails developers. We see them all the time.

Hard statistics are harder to come by, but Mark Driver at Gartner projected that there would be 4 million ruby programmers by 2013. We’re already seeing the smart companies get huge efficiencies out of these new development models: efficiencies of cost, flexibility, and time to market.

We’re very bullish on Agile, Rails and the Cloud. In the current economic climate, the reduction in risk alone is worth the cost of admission. Coupled with the qualitative benefits of being able to out-flank your competition, it’s no surprise that we’re continuing to see adoption grow so rapidly. The results are too compelling to ignore.

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