The server saga continues…

Thanks to some amazing efforts by Elwed things are running a bit better around here, but there’s only so much he can do and your’s truly didn’t do his homework properly before settling on a VPS service and, as a result, it’s underpowered for something like EE. The VPS guarantees us 256MB of RAM with a maximum possible RAM of 512MB and it turns out that the minimum EE should probably be run under is 512MB (the servers at pMachine Hosting are minimum 2GB). The folks at TekTonic do offer a 512MB guaranteed/1GB Maximum RAM solution—it’s the next service level up from what I have now—but the cost jumps from $28 to $53 a month and I don’t think I can afford that right now. I was telling Elwed that I have a dual proc Dell workstation with 2GB of RAM sitting right next to me if only I could afford the pipe to run a server off of it with.

The other possibility is looking at converting to a different platform such as Drupal, but I’m a big fan of EE and I hate to give it up. I’m familiar with it and how it works, it’s easy enough for my mother to use, and I’ve got a good relationship with the guys who produce it. There’s always the question of how well anything else would run in this environment as well given that most of the problem stems from being beaten to death by search engines. I know someone will suggest WordPress, but I’ve tried it and wasn’t happy with it. Don’t know that it’s evolved enough to change my mind yet.

So I’m looking at the very real possibility of throwing in the towel—at least on SEB for the moment—until I can afford to do things properly. I’ll have to find someplace to migrate some of the other blogs I host such as my mother’s, sister’s, and our family friend Darlene, but the others aren’t used so much that it’d be a problem if I took them down. I never thought SEB would get to be so popular that it’d bring about its own death, but it certainly seems headed in that direction.

Hang in there, more updates as I think of other possibilities…

27 thoughts on “The server saga continues…

  1. Elwed is like a genie in a bottle.  I hope it never comes to completely shutting down SEB.  There are so many other alternatives to consider first.

    Losing SEB would be akin to turning off the light in an already dimly lit corner of the universe.  Even though a good number of us have our own blogs, SEB is where everyone comes to gather ‘round the campfire.

    I would propose selling a ‘men of SEB’ calendar but you’ve probably got more change in your pocket than that would rake in.

  2. What about WordPress!? 

    Seriously, though, I was less then impressed with WordPress until the latest version and then suddenly it became happy like all things good in life.  Like butter, for instance.

  3. My only suggestion is to ditch Momma’s Corner to save SEB unless you can pull a few more donations in. 

    I’ll pledge one possibly two months at $53. if that next level will be sufficient.

  4. Don’t forget that Unixshell will be increasing their VPS packages shortly (that’s if you are on the UnixShell Xen 2 platform, the upgrade will be when they move to Xen 3 – if you are straight Tektonic, I dunno if there is an upgrade).

    If you give us a better idea of your budget, we may all be able to help. Have you considered running Google Adsense between the top banner and the first entry (or the first entry and the second?)

  5. Calm down, everyone…

    Things have stabilized a bit. The VPS is still under strain, but now there’s breathing room and more than a few tweaks to try over the weekend.

    One thing I learned in the process is that one must take a cold, hard look at search engines. The crawlers of some search engines exhibit abusive behavior and if the return in traffic they draw to the site doesn’t justify the cost, one can reasonably consider to block them by any means necessary to keep the site responsive for legitimate visitors. I see the same at my sites, but so far I have had no need to get serious about countermeasures.

    One idea I’m kicking around in my head is to automagically maintain a leaner static copy of the site, redirect search engines to it, and keep them confined in there. This way, the content could be indexed using way fewer resources and I don’t see that it would be a challenge to create a naïve prototype.

    Richy, thanks for the reminder about unixshell#. I loves me some Xen. And not forget, Xen should result in less expensive plans for an otherwise equal feature set. I wouldn’t mind moving my own sites if I can find a better deal than what I currently have…

  6. Ditching Momma’s Corner wouldn’t be enough, Mom. While you’re the second biggest source of bandwidth usage out of all the sites I maintain here, you’re still peanuts compared to what SEB eats up. Last month I think you used a total of 2GB of transfer whereas SEB was on the order of 46GB of transfer. It’d make more sense, from a hosting perspective, to drop SEB and keep your blog.

    Besides, you’re getting way too much enjoyment out of it for me to take it away. grin

    I apologize for the alarming nature of this entry, but I was feeling pretty damned frustrated at my own lack of knowledge when I wrote it. It was about a half-hour later that Elwed managed to get things stabilized a bit. Though we may have cut the memory allocation down a bit too much as I’ve seen one or two errors crop up on the occasional page load.

    DS, I don’t know if anyone would pay for a Men of SEB calendar either. I’m certainly no Chippendale’s model. Perhaps they’d pay for me to keep my clothes on instead.

    Pancakerage, I’ll probably take another look at WordPress in the future as I’m always revisiting different packages.

    Richy, my budget is limited. I went from a shared hosting plan that cost me a mere $12 a month ($30 by paying quarterly) to this VPS which is running me $28 a month and that’s about the limit of what I can justify to my wife at the moment. It’s not that I wouldn’t be willing to pay more, it’s a matter of actually being able to pay more and still pay the bills. I’m back to work after being laid off for 10 months, but it’s only $15 an hour and it’s part time. My primary monetary focus while living here with my in-laws is going to be getting all our debts paid off so we’re in a position to buy a home in the not too horribly distant future. So I have to keep my expenditures on stuff like this as limited as I can manage.

    As for Google Adsense, I’ve tried to sign up with them twice now and was turned down both times because I have too many naughty words like “Bastard” and “Fuck” on my site. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t had occasional offers from other folks who want to put ads on the blog—including one local fellow who’s trying to launch a business—but I’ve been trying to avoid that if at all possible. At the moment I’m considering seeing if I can’t sign up with the BlogAds folks.

  7. Not to be too egotistical, but I’m sure if I shaved off my facial hair and toned my abs a bit I’d make a good addition to that calendar raspberry

  8. Page rendered in 4.0935 with 78 SQL queries.

    78 queries just to display one page? That seems pretty high. Are there any modular features over there in the sidebar that we can do without, in order to take some memory load off the server?

    F’rinstance, the “Stupid Evil Comments” and the “Threads With New Comments” items have always seemed to be duplicative to me. Maybe knocking one of them out (SEC would seem to have a higher overhead) would cut down on some of the memory and SQL load, as well as cutting down on the amount of actual outgoing bytes.

    And how about this thing?

    Total damage done so far:

      * 3681 entries
      * 698 trackbacks

    Last update:
    02/11/2006 12:34 pm
    Last comment:
    02/11/2006 03:54 pm
    Most visitors:
    500 on 02/01/2006 02:37 pm

    Yeah, it’s neat to be able to see that, but it’s not really useful from a user perspective, IMHO. That seems like more of an Admin thing. Do you really need that calculation running (and bytes going out) for every single page load?

    I won’t recommend WP to you because you’re pretty well set with EE, but I will tell you that WP has definitely made quite a few strides in overall usability. If you experimented with any version prior to 1.5, I’m not surprised you decided against it. It’s up to version 2.0.1 now, in case you want to give it another look.

  9. That’s more or less what I was getting at, but I wasn’t very clear about it. My bad.

    The DB queries are returning all that stuff in the sidebar for every single page, and generating that content on the fly. Then there’s the resources the server requires to insert that text into every at the single page. There tends to be an average of about 75 people on the site at any given time, so that’s 75 pages.

    As of this comment, the 3 sidebar items I mentioned total 2.24KB of text. That’s not much in and of itself, but:

    2.24KB * 75 visitors * page views per visitor * daily page views = Monthly Bandwidth $$

    Another suggestion would be to break the header graphic into two chunks, taking out the large black space underneath “Evil Bastard WTFIWWYP.” Testing the theory in Fireworks, doing that takes the header graphic down to a total of 15.7KB for both, rather than the 26.15KB the current graphic uses. That’s another 10.45KB per page view that doesn’t get served, and no one will ever miss it because it’s invisible to begin with.

    12.69KB per page view may not seem like much, but with an average of 75 users at any given moment, that’s almost a megabyte of unnecessary data served every few minutes. If the goal is to save on the monthly bandwidth, any data that doesn’t get served is data that Les won’t have to pay for.

    Just my 1.33KB’s worth.

  10. Grrr…preview is my friend…there’s an “at the” that doesn’t belong up there, and the equation SHOULD read:

    2.24KB * monthly page views = Monthly Bandwidth $$

    The point still stands, but the math is actually valid this way. raspberry

  11. Len, at this point SEB is CPU-bound and I don’t disagree about the need to tune and the points you raise. A bit here, a bit there, and eventually the impact becomes noticeable. 

    Having said that, the current plan has unmetered (if capped) output bandwidth – or so I understand. It’s well worth reducing the page footprint, though, if for no other reason than to improve the site’s responsiveness.

    I don’t speak for Les, but I know that he’s well aware of the need to optimize his templates.

  12. It sounds as if there are two separate issues; processor overhead from running EE, and the total bandwidth usage.  I have teased Les about his total graphic tranfer load before, especially the many incidental graphics.  It should be noted that if you break a large graphic into two smaller ones (by eliminating a large black area) you save total weight but there is overhead involved in moving two graphics instead of one so it may not improve load time.

    Another option would be to use .gif, which uses run-length limited compression, so large single-color areas carry almost no penalty.  I tried this with Les’ header and wound up with a larger file due to conversion from .jpg.  But if you stepped directly from the original .bmp or .tif to .gif it might work.

    On another matter, MrsDoF pointed out (to my horror) that one might think that where I said ‘put me down for one month’ I was volunteering to pose for a calendar.  I assure you that is an artifact no one would pay good money for.  What I meant was that I would be proud to contribute one month’s hosting at $53.  Probably there are others willing to do the same.

  13. My web design skills suck, but the sidebar is the least of my problems. That sidebar is actually trimmed down quite a bit from what it was on the old site. You need to keep in mind that EE has a pretty robust caching system in place that handles things such as the templates and database queries. The embedded template that makes up the sidebar is cached for 30 minutes at a time.

    As Elwed said, bandwidth isn’t my problem. Using too much CPU time is my problem. grin

  14. If anybody cares about all the gory details, we can take it offline. The current bottleneck appears to be CPU; there are at least two causes that immediately come to mind:

    Either EE is too compute intensive or the VPS is hosted on underpowered hardware.

    As it stands, I can’t make the site more responsive without risking it to crash and burn once the next major search engine crawls all over it.

    Out of curiosity, how would y’all rate the responsiveness of SEB compared to its previous home?

    Les, please note:

    The embedded template

    From what I can gather from pmachine’s knowledge base, embedded templates disproportionally drive up resource usage.

  15. I could probably do something like that. Templates are whatever I want to make them. If I want my index page to be nothing, but a login prompt I could do that.

    EE just added a static template type, but I’ve not looked into exactly what that means.

  16. First off, TekTonic sucks.  I wouldn’t trust anything there. is a great resource, I suggest you check the VPS forum there.

    A good VPS is expensive, there is now way around it.  If you are only paying $30 for 256 MB of RAM, then you are using a Mickey Mouse solution. 

    I have a 256 VPS (with PowerVPS) with three EE installations (commercial, personal, and core) and a few forums.  They all run fine, but all of them together do not come close to the bandwidth you are using.  Still, I bet PowerVPS would be able to handle it.  The problem is, you are again looking at $50 per month for the entry level accounts.

    You might try a shared account from a good provider.  The upside is that you are not getting a VPS limit on the CPU and RAM.  The downside is that you are limited by what is available after sharing the resources with everyone else on the server.  PowerVPS has shared accounts for $20 which gives you 40 GB of transfer.  You can get another 10 GB for only $1. 

    Someone mentioned Unixshell.  Unfortunately Unixshell is offered by the same people as Tektonic.  They get alot of complaints.  I have an account with them for development purposes.  There are, however, many other Xen providers out there.  The cool thing about Xen is that it uses less memory than the Virtuozzo software.  That means more resources for your applications.  You might take a look at vpsland (google it.)

    Another good solution would be to get a better VPS and share it with friends. 

    I have a PowerVPS account (256 MB of RAM) and a Unixshell account (192 MB.)  I could let you try either one if you want.  I am barely using any resources on them.

  17. Oh… and another tip… don’t use Cpanel.  It uses way to much resources.  Go for Directadmin or even Webmin instead.

  18. Heh… just wanted to add one more thing. 

    Case in point.

    Your shared hosting worked great.  The VPS sucks.  This illustrates my point that a VPS can be limiting.  A cheap VPS may be worse than a good reseller account. 

    Chalk up a couple of more points for the option of going with a PowerVPS reseller account.

  19. Hi manofsteel,

    I’m afraid the shared hosting did not work great, otherwise the sites wouldn’t have moved in the first place. I believe ‘crash and burn’ or ‘meltdown’ are appropriate descriptions of that situation.

    If TekTonic’s service is poor enough to necessitate another move remains to be seen. I have no stake in a decision to stay or go. PowerVPS is priced out of range, I’m afraid.

    Les’s VPS runs on a dual 2.4G Xeon, by the way. I wondered about that.

    The idea to further pool resources has been volunteered offline by another member. While he mentioned a dedicated server, I suspect that the projected budget would favor a robust VPS plan over a dedicated server, though. For that matter, following the initial tweaking I could probably fit SEB into my own VPS.

    Control panels are for wimps. What’s wrong with the command line? By the way, have you tried VHCS? I’ve known about it for quite some time, but never got around to toy with it.

    Anyway, SEB and the family sites needed to move. It’s probably a fair assessment to say that the choice of hosting provider was made in haste, but if a mistake was made it can be remedied. It certainly doesn’t hurt to explore options.

  20. Thanks for the tips, MoS. I checked the WebHostingTalk forums for info on TekTronic and thought that overall they seemed reasonable enough. I’ve yet to find a hosting provider that doesn’t have some complaints about it and so I tried to weight the good against the bad when making a decision.

    As Elwed said, though, I was pressed for time as my old host had severed my database connection twice taking us down for nearly a full week. And I had to do it as inexpensively as I could as I’ve just gotten back to work in the last month and a half after being unemployed for 10 months. I figured that if this didn’t work out I was only out for $28.

  21. Yeah, yeah, I was up late. *insert foot in mouth*

    I now see why your plan is so cheap.  You went with the unmanaged plan.  $30 a month is probably about right for unmanaged.  PowerVPS does not offer an unmanaged plan. 

    Sounds like a pickle!

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