Site Notice: New Web Server

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November 29th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

We’ve switched over to a new web server as of early on November 29, 2010. Everything should work the same as before, only significantly faster than the previous configuration. We hope this will help our readers have a more pleasant experience compared to the repeated slowdowns and service interruptions we’d been seeing with the previous web hosting service provider despite months of trying to resolve the problems there.

If you notice any problems with this change, please let us know as soon as you can. You can email us at [email protected] if there’s anything confidential involved with a web site problem you’re experiencing or leave a reply comment on this posting if not.

  1. whatsittoyou
    December 13th, 2010 at 19:55 | #1

    It appears that this “new” web server, is about as bad as the original.
    Slow, can’t log on, etc….

    • December 13th, 2010 at 21:57 | #2

      Moving from the previous web service provider to the new one has been a big change as we had to learn to set up all the software from scratch as it is a semi-dedicated (virtual) server, not a shared web server where they do almost everything for you. The problems with shared web servers are many. Little can be customized, if you have a problem then you’re out of luck if they want to play games about fixing the problem, and often the performance is really poor if some other site on the same server is getting a lot of readers that day. Since they may put thousands of sites on one server, the odds of that happening are high.

      The problem with moving away from that model to virtual servers is that the knowledge required to run the website increases dramatically. So at first there was a push to get the shared web hosting provider to fix problems, but they always played “pass the buck” even when their most basic services were failing to work at all for even days at a time. After a while, it become clear that there was no way to continue to work with them without just accepting that there would be days of downtime and poor performance and no way to fix any of it.

      Hence the move to a virtual server was intended to get some ability to fix problems and update the software to get better performance, but unfortunately the learning curve is really steep. There have been several unpleasant surprises along the way, mostly due to a lack of experience installing and configuring everything needed.

      The only major problem the first couple of weeks live on the new server has been that three times it suddenly bogged down to the point of not working at all for an hour or two until we were aware of the problem. This happened again today about the time you left your comment. It looks like what happens is that as the web site software runs, like many programs it slowly leaks memory until the server starts to slow down. At some point, it becomes critically low on memory and the performance degrades very severely. And the web server’s default way of dealing with the slowing performance is to start more copies of itself, making the problem go from bad to really, really bad.

      We’ve just made some additional changes that should prevent that slowdown from happening again by having the web server restart every day in the middle of the night (when it is lightly used) and limiting the number of web server copies that can be started when the site gets a bunch of requests from readers at about the same time.

      Apart from those three big slowdown instances in the last two weeks (which hopefully are not going to happen again after the changes today), Google’s web site performance measurements show the site load times have improved significantly from their viewpoint.

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