There are a lot of open source e-commerce solutions available on the market. Some are really awesome, some are just OK, while some are downright horrible.
Even among the awesome ones, flexibility is not necessarily good. When we say flexibility, it is about a lot of things. Developing new plugins to use with the chosen e-commerce system requires flexibility, but for most people, it also means being able to design your theme without being restricted by the default layout. Unfortunately, some e-commerce platforms are like that. While they allow you to customize the layout, it sometimes takes a lot of hacks and workarounds.
For people who want this level of flexibility, Spree Commerce is the solution for you. Developed using Ruby on Rails, Spree Commerce promises to deliver unrivaled flexibility and control. The themes are coded using semantic HTML and you can also use plugins to add extra functions.
The current version of Spree Commerce requires Ruby on Rails 4.0.4 or above. This eliminates low cost Shared hosting solutions that advertise Ruby on Rails hosting. They use an earlier version of Rails. Expect to host on a modern VPS or a dedicated server that gives you root access with full control of the environment.
When that requirement is met, the process of installing Rails and Spree Commerce is, in fact, very straightforward. The spreecommerce.com site has a good tutorial that leads you through the process.
It (almost) goes without saying that any site that conducts e-commerce must guarantee airtight security. Since customers need to transmit their credit card information over the internet, you need to provide a secure communications channel so that security cannot be compromised.
Since you need to use a VPS (or above) to support Spree Commerce, security can be implemented. The Rails 4.0.4 requirement rules out bottom-of-the-barrel Shared hosting servers that do not even offer or support private SSL certificates. We assume that you will take the appropriate steps to ensure secure transmissions. All of these VPS and dedicated hosts make the required tools available to the sysadmin.
With that in mind, the only thing we need is a good cloud VPS or dedicated hosting provider.
The Best 5
- VPS.net : The leading cloud VPS specialist with 18 datacenters around the world,
- A Small Orange : A VPS provider that offers fully managed VPS at great prices,
- Eleven2 : A Shared and VPS provider with RoR 4.0.4 support on VPS,
- Site5 : A Shared and Cloud VPS provider who has 20 datacenters around the world and RoR 4.0.4 on VPS plans,
- A2 Hosting : A cutting-edge provider with RoR on their Shared hosting and VPS plans,
Read more about them after the break!
Winner – VPS.NET – From $20/month
While some may prefer Rackspace or Amazon AWS, for us, we prefer VPS.NET when it comes to cloud VPS hosting. They offer a line of elastic cloud VPS plans at affordable prices and backed by a network of 18 datacenters around the world.
As the name suggests, VPS.net offers only VPS hosting and they specialize in Cloud VPS hosting. Cloud VPS servers can re-size on demand without reboot while remaining online.
The extra care they give in providing only high performance services can be felt throughout your time with them. Since you can spin up their VPS servers in only 55 seconds, you can easily set up a cluster of servers for a high availability configuration. This is perfect for a high traffic e-commerce site. They also have an automatic scaling service called Elastic Cloud Hosting which essentially allows you to scale your system resources up and down.
This ability is often advertised as “auto-scaling”, “auto-healing”, “elastic service”, and so forth. Capacity expands to meet heavy demands and cloud servers can take over if your main server goes down.
VPS.net claims 99.99% uptime, which ought to be realistic for a Cloud VPS host. Besides the special requirements for Rails 4.0.4 hosting, the worldwide array of datacenters is important to any business who needs to conduct e-commerce around the clock.
VPS.net has an impressive network of datacenters all over the world. In combination with their cloud technology, it makes VPS.net a fantastic choice. Here is the complete list of their datacenters. You choose your server’s location when you sign up.
- Asia: Tokyo, Singapore, New Delhi
- Australia: Sydney
- UK: London, Manchester
- Europe: Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt
- South America: Sao Paulo
- Canada: Montreal
- US: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Washington, D. C.
VPS.net has a huge selection of plans; the unmanaged cloud VPS is is a great balance between cost and capability. You get root access so you can use the instructions for installing Rails 4.0.4 (or above) and Spree Commerce.
Unmanaged Cloud VPS Plans
Here are their plans in the $100/mo and below range:
1. Full management is a $69/mo option.
2. The cPanel is a $10/mo option.
VPS.net describes these plans as “semi-managed”. That means:
We make sure we are here for you. We provide 24×7 support via live chat, email and phone. Should you have any problems with the software that comes with your server then we can help you out with the basic free of charge. More complex issue may require our paid for Fully Managed support.
It seems that “semi-managed” means that they are there to assist but you are the primary system administrator, not them. For many people, this is a good balance since a VPS customer is often an experienced webmaster and can handle all the routine tasks themselves. Unmanaged and semi-managed plans are cheaper than a fully-managed plan, so semi-managed or unmanaged is smart if you are ready for the responsibility.
The VPS.net plans are upgradable in units that they call “nodes”. You can add additional VPS nodes to scale up if you want. The additional system resources will be multiples of the basic node. You can scale up or down without any downtime.
VPS.net also has a strong line of managed VPS solutions, but an unmanaged cloud VPS is all you need to host Spree Commerce. Check out their managed plans if you wish to indulge.
2. – A Small Orange – From $25/mo
Founded in 2003 in Atlanta, their mission statement is to (modestly) provide the best quality service at an affordable cost. They claim 99.9% uptime and offer an unusually generous 90-day money-back guarantee. They do have a long term policy of not overbooking their shared servers and a good rep among the geeks for that and for quality technical support.
Their LAMP stack is right up to date. They use CloudLinux as their OS and they recently upgraded all their plans to SSD storage at no extra cost. Their line of VPS plans is backed by cloud technology and gives you root access. This is exactly what you need for Spree Commerce.
With root access, you can install Rails 4.0.4 and Spree according to the instructions at the Spree Commerce site.
Cloud VPS Plans
ASO’s prices don’t necessarily stand out — until you learn that this is fully-managed Cloud VPS hosting that uses 2.5GHz Xeon CPUs and SSD storage. If you shop around half as much as we have, you’ll see that these features can easily add an extra $50/mo to the base charge. This is especially true after you throw in the cPanel. It is included in ASO’s VPS plans. Since a panel is included, be sure you specify enough additional horsepower to manage the interface.
It’s in ASO’s character to advertise the price of the “deluxe” version of a service instead of advertising the bare-bones version and then upselling everything in the building.
1. The cPanel is included.
2. Each core is equal to a 2.5GHz Xeon or better.
3. Plans include 24/7 tech support & 90-day money-back guarantee.
3. Plans include SSD storage in RAID-50.
4. Backups are included.
They have a premium “Managed SEO Services” plan as a high cost option. It is only for business and promises to hand tune your site for maximum SEO.
Environmentally friendly technology is being used by ASO for its datacenters. By using a reproductive power management system, they are adding 1.5KWh to the power grid for every 1KWh used by their hosting servers.
3. – Eleven2 – From $49/month
Eleven2 was founded in 2002 and it is headquartered in Los Angeles. They are a full-featured hosting company with attractive Shared, VPS, and Dedicated hosting plans. Their service is backed by a 60-day money-back guarantee, double the industry norm.
They have datacenters in the Dallas, Asheville, NC, London, and Phoenix, but their VPS servers are located in Los Angeles. If you need to have your server in Asia or Europe, then check out a host like VPS.net or a specialist in your part of the world.
Their Shared hosting plans support Ruby on Rails but not Rails 4.0.4. As expected, that is available only on VPS and on Dedicated servers. Expect to install the software at the command line.
Eleven2’s VPS plans are fully managed. The prices include the cPanel/WHM panel. This is often an option on VPS plans. They do have SSD but SSD is used currently as high-speed cache, with mechanical disk storage.
The prices are month-to-month; they offer a 10% discount for an annual payment.
4.- Site5 – Unmanaged VPS – From $25/month
Site5 has been in business for more than 15 years and is one of the most successful hosting companies. Site5 is the home for over 200,000 domains and 250 servers. They have a worldwide network of 20 datacenters that run shared, VPS, dedicated, and reseller servers.
Here’s the locations of Site5’s datacenters.
- Asia: New Delhi, Singapore
- Australia: Sydney
- Europe: Amsterdam, Bucharest
- UK: London
- Canada: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver
- South America: Joao Pessoa, Sauo Paulo
- US: Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, Miami, Atlanta, New York, Washington
For VPS, Site5 has datacenters in the following locations: Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Amsterdam, and Singapore.
Their main datacenter is in Dallas, but you choose your datacenter as part of the signup process. This means that your server will be close to your customers, no matter where they are!
Site 5 offers a 15 day money back guarantee for VPS (They have a much more generous 45-day guarantee for Shared hosting plans). Their guarantee for VPS is different since they need to custom configure each VPS as part of the signup instead of just assigning you a Shared slice on a big server.
What’s almost unique is that they do have a 30 day free trial account! It’s available for Shared and Cloud Shared plans. If you want to check out Site5 ahead of time, we suggest that you take them up on their 30-day free shared cloud account.
Site5 is among very a small group of hosting companies that offers a customer support Service Level Agreement. The SLA states that if a customer does not get a response to a support inquiry within 24 hours, his account will be credited as a token of apology. This is both commitment and confidence.
Their Shared hosting plans have Ruby 1.8.7 and Rails 2.3.3 installed server-side, but this does not meet the requrements of Spree Commerce. For Spree, you need to move to a VPS or a dedicated machine where you can do the necessary installation and configuration. So we won’t review their Shared hosting plans here.
Site5 offers both managed and unmanaged VPS hosting plans. Their unmanaged plans include root access, choice of Linux distro, and optional panel and installer. This is all you need to install and configure Ruby on Rails. Their library of knowledgebase articles gives you plenty of info on how to do it.
Here is the price sheet for their unmanaged VPS hosting.
Cloud VPS Plans
Site5 also has a line of fully managed Cloud VPS plans. Their prices include the panel, installer, and remote backups — but without root access. You can SSH into your server but you don’t need the benefits of full management to work with Spree Commerce. It is a luxury.
The Cloud Web plans are designed with fully redundant backup components with automatic failover. It is designed for businesses that must be online 24/7 but don’t have enough traffic to justify the expense of a cloud VPS. Site5 guarantees 99.99% uptime for their line of Cloud Web hosting plans.
5. A2 Hosting – Unmanaged VPS – From $15/mo
A2 Hosting, based in Ann Arbor, MI (“A2”), positions themselves as a cutting-edge provider. They are consistently among the first to offer the latest versions of the core components of the LAMP stack. As is typical of their personality, they fully support Ruby on Rails on their line of Shared hosting and VPS plans. Their datacenter for VPS is in Southfield, MI.
Their excellent library of technical notes has dozens of papers on installing and configuring Ruby on Rails and Spree Commerce. They list three types of servers that qualify:
- Cloud VPS
- Semi-managed (a.k.a., unmanaged) VPS
- Semi-managed (a.k.a., unmanaged) Flex Dedicated Server
Your options (as you can guess by now) are VPS and dedicated server plans that give you root access.
We recommend a cloud solution so that your store has the best chance of being online 24/7, but any of these options support the instructions for installing Rails 4.0.4 (or above) and Spree Commerce.
Cloud VPS Plans
A2 Hosting’s page for configuring a Cloud VPS doesn’t present any preconfigured packages. It’s all a la carte. Therefore, we present a few samples of Cloud VPS plans that are well configured for Spree Commerce. By its nature, the specs are highly pliable. We’re assuming that you will need two cores and at least 1GB of RAM with no panel or installer. A friendly GUI requires additional computer resources but that is not needed to host Spree Commerce. If you want a panel, then bump up the CPU and RAM.
1. Additional bandwidth is $0.12/GB.
2. These prices are for their fastest CPU speed, 2MHz. Lower prices are available for slower clock speeds.
3. These prices are for mechanical disks. SSD is available, but the cost depends on the size of the storage device.
Unmanaged (a.k.a., Semi-managed) VPS Hosting Plans
A2 Hosting offers a full line of unmanaged VPS plans. As is the case with many companies, you can vary the values of several features to create a customized VPS for yourself. This table represents only some of the possibilities. Realistically, the cheapest plan that they offer is unlikely to work for a Spree Commerce site. We think that A2 offers it for other uses of VPS and to bid for business at that price point.
This table is only for the lowest processor speed and mechanical drives. See the notes at the end of the table.
1. Bandwidth is $0.12 per GB after you reach 2TB.
2. These prices are for their slow processor, 600MHz. For a 1.2GHz processor, add $5/mo; for a 2GZHz processor, add 13.64/mo.
3. These prices are for mechanical disks; for SSD storage, add $5.00/mo.
Flex Dedicated Server Plan
This plan turns over a physical (not virtual!) Linux server that meets your specifications and gives you root access. Since it is a custom configuration, we can only give you a ball park estimate of your cost. Dedicated servers start at about $100 and go to $250 or more.
E-commerce websites demand more resources than sites that are not continually conducting transactions. Speed is always crucial. And please don’t forget security! Although we have not talked about it here, you need to do your homework and be as sure as you can be that your customers’s credit card information is transmitted securely. For more information, see our discussion of PCI compliance in our post on 5 Best WooCommerce Hosting. Hardly a day goes by when the tech industry isn’t jolted by the news of another security breach. Be sure it isn’t you!!
Uptime is another critical thing for an e-commerce site so it is important to only host your Spree Commerce site on a reliable cloud VPS or dedicated server provider. If you want to find out other companies, then use hosting services comparison tool to find them and evaluate them yourself.