Hosting & Tech Geekery

I’m going to talk technical neepery here, so if that doesn’t interest you, you’ll probably just want to wait for the next entry.

So, yesterday marked a year of using WordPress, and generally speaking it’s been a pretty positive experience. The last month I’ve been encountering problems with internal server errors, but I have a more than sneaking suspicion that this relates to my host provider not to WordPress itself. Some of you may recall that I found out some time ago that the reason I was having so many problems with Movable Type here last year was because 1&1 put a time limit on the length scripts could run, which inevitably caused problems with the software. I rather strongly suspect that something similar is happening again, as there’s no other reason the site should be choking and crawling as much as it is — the last month was down about 7% in terms of traffic from some of the earlier months, and had no “big posts” that would have caused congestion. So it’s not the software, I suspect. It’s the hardware.

This pretty much confirms that (dramatic but real sigh) I’m going to have to find another hosting home for Scalzi.com sometime in the near future. I do have some interesting options, which I will be pursuing, and which could possibly ultimately be of benefit to me and the site. But it’s still a pain in my ass, and it’s a shame, since up until the last month or so I’ve been generally happy with 1&1. But me having server errors every single day for the last month and them unable or unwilling to do anything about it is just not acceptable.

I don’t know that this should mean anything to you in the short run, since I don’t intend to make any moves on the site until I know where I’m going and until I can build out the backend so that when the domain transfers, you the reader have a fairly seamless experience with it (i.e., no wondering where all the content went, etc). That takes time and effort, and as long as I’m going to do all that, I might as well try to do some improvements on the site as well. So don’t expect massive changes instantly, but do expect some changes, possibly by the end of the year.

In the meantime, I’ll be doing what I can to lessen calls to the database, which will probably cut down the server errors a bit. The first step is that for the short term at least I’m going to close comment threads older than 14 days. 99% of comments on a post happen within the first three or four days anyway, so by and large I don’t think people will have a problem with this. But it will make a difference in the backend, since then people can see cached pages. There are other things I will tweak as well, if I can. Basically, I want to make sure you don’t have a problem getting to the site and working with it. In the short run, this means throttling the back end as much as possible. Alas.

So that’s where we are on the tech front of things.

22 thoughts on “Hosting & Tech Geekery

  1. I like having my own domain, for various reasons. Also, I own more than one domain, so I like keeping them all in one basket.

  2. John, I’m with 1and1 as well, and was having the same problems. Within the last month or so they’ve been messing with which version of php is used by default, and wordpress doesn’t like that. Setting my sites to use JUST php5 fixed 99% of the errors on the site.

    The other 1% was just alcohol induced errors on my own end ;)

  3. Yeah, but I’ve already done that, and the errors have largely popped up since then. It’s not the php5 thing.

  4. I had a website that got a fair amount of hits back in the day. Nothing like yours, but enough to kill the shared servers of a less useful host. I eventually settled on buyHTTP, which was a pretty good host. My info’s about a year and a half out of date, but I still get newsletters from them and they seem to be on top of their game.

    However, I was using a thing called Joomla, quite different from WordPress. You’d have to call buyHTTP and find out if they can support WordPress for you. I don’t see why not, but it pays to be careful. Yes, they do pick up their phones, and you do get a human who is technical and speaks English well.

    http://www.buyhttp.com/

  5. Hi John,

    Have you looked at the WordPress plugin “Comment Timeout” (http://jamesmckay.net/code/comment-timeout/)?

    It will automatically close comments on posts, but has some intelligence to see that post is still active, thus allowing comments to remain open. It might help so that you aren’t manually closing posts after a certain time period.

    (I’m not associated with the “Comment Timeout” project)

    I’ve also heard that 1&1 has been having some hardware troubles off and on (my wife hosts with them). She hasn’t had much luck getting them to respond, either.

    Hope this helps,

    Tim

  6. I know I’ve suggested this before, but if you’re lookin’ to move to another hosting service, I can’t speak highly enough of Birdhouse Hosting. It’s run by Scot Hacker (yeah, that’s his real name ;) whose day job is with the IT Dept. for the UC Berkeley Grad. School of Journalism. Scot is also a published author of some technical books from Peachpit Press and O’Reilly.

    Guy knows WordPress, and you’ll get a lot of personalized service from someone who is supportive of customers who have technical knowledge of their own. He’s also bright, interesting, and a genuinely nice guy.

  7. I use Pure Energy (and WordPress) and have NEVER had a problem in the 3 or so years I’ve been with them. Plus, any time there IS a problem, their customer service is very responsive. Super happy with them. You can check them out at http://www.purenrg.com. They’re also very affordable.

    And I agree – switching hosts is a total ass pain.

  8. If you’re looking for a new provider try drak.net. Small hosting company run by girl-geeks ::grin:: I’ve been with them since…2005 at least, and before 2005 I was considering using them, since I think 2001 or so. I have never, ever had a problem with them. I recommend them speaking as someone who has held a job as tech support for a webhosting company in Chicago before (And no, I don’t recommend the hosting company I used to work for. I quit for a reason.)

    The owner of Drak.net, Jen, is totally awesome. She once answered a ticket for me on Christmas Eve…I was very shocked, as I was expecting a day or two to pass before it got answered…it wasn’t exactly an urgent ticket. I have NEVER had any site problems that had to do with hosting that she wasn’t all over already, and she announces downtime for sever upgrades and stuff on the Drak.net Yahoo Group, so you know what’s up ahead of time.

    Drak.net also occasionally offers “lifetime accounts”, where you pay something like the equiv of 5 years (or something like that) of hosting, and then (as long as you’re on the same plan), you never pay for hosting again.

    So yes. Drak.net is totally awesome.

    If you’re interested, you might want to email Jen directly if you have questions about hosting a high-traffic site with them; support@drak.net is the email. Most of the sites with them that I’m aware of are smallish pagan websites (although since they now offer VPSs and dedicated servers, they probably have some higher traffic websites I’m not aware of). But I just can’t recommend drak.net enough.

  9. @John Scalzi: WordPress.com does have a premium option to map an existing domain name to a WordPress.com. So if the domain name thing was the only reason not to go with them, you could fix it easily enough. Though you might have other reasons for wanting a different company to handle your web hosting.

  10. If you’re looking for a new host, I always recommend Nearly Free Speech. It’s “pay as you go” which means you only pay for as much bandwidth as you use, and as a geek I think you can appreciate their calculus-based pricing scheme, starting at 1 GB for $1 and changing proportional to the base-10 log of the number of gigabytes your account has used. =D

    They like exposing the underlying technology of your site to you, rather than abstracting it away with cPanel or something, but you sound like someone who likes tinkering with this stuff. People commonly complain about their storage costs (1$ per MB-month), but for big static media you can always use something like Amazon S3. They also don’t do e-mail hosting, so you’d need a separate company for that. They do kick ass, though.

  11. Combining this with that other thread — if you’re planning on adding advertising support and hiring a staffer, and if your hosting problems are such that you can hang here for a few months, why not kill two birds with one stone? Run the ads, hire the staffer, and delegate the job of getting the new site running with all of your back-content. Has the significant added advantage that you then hire someone who migrates you somewhere that he or she knows inside out, rather than saddling them with your pre-existing decision.

    Basically, the question is whether you want to invest your time finding a server you can trust, or an employee you can trust.

  12. John Cole at Balloon Juice was having massive problems with his server, but he migrated his Word Press blog to Hosting Matters over the weekend. Now BJ is damn stable, screaming fast and filled with loons having way too much fun.

    Plus, Annette, the server goddess assigned to John, is freakin’ awesome.

  13. Are interested in advice or help regarding system performance tuning, service migrations or general architecture?

    Depending on the type of hosting you currently have, there may be a number of things you can do to improve performance without changing hosts other than changing your templates to query the DB less. Of course the not answering support cases would be a deal breaker for me. =)

  14. @Mark #11

    WordPress.com doesn’t let you install plugins, even on the premium account. WordPress.com does have common plugins everyone can use.

    And even with a paid account, you can’t install your own theme—and no, a CSS stylesheet option, while extremely flexible, is not something most people want to mess around with. And no CSS stylesheet can compensate for real changes that need to made to theme logic for practical purposes.

    That, for me, killed WordPress.com as a viable solution. You have about as much control as Blogger with its paid options. AND it costs more.

    — general —

    Consider finding a hosting company that will let you have a virtual server. Some hosting companies will conflate virtual server with shared host, and indeed, both are similar in that multiple webservers are running on one box.

    The difference is that a virtual server partitions resources between the virtual hosts on it. That means someone banging on their partition of the CPU can’t bang on yours. Similarly for disk and network traffic.

    Shared hosting, however, doesn’t partition resources, so you’re at the whims of your neighbors (and usually on crappy boxes).

    The best of all worlds is a dedicated server and someone who knows how to tend to it.

    — esosoft —

    These are the guys I use for hosting. They aren’t spectacularly different from a lot of other hosting providers, but on the other hand, they have no transfer cap. They’re also being used by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and when SBTB’s server was overwhelmed with fark-level traffic for days, Esosoft’s response was *not* to let the site go down, but to immediately bring up extra servers and support them through the high traffic period.

    They’ve always been responsive when I have questions.

    My site is not a high usage site, but SBTB is, and since they’re using ExpressionEngine, their site’s usage footprint is more like Whatever’s usage footprint.

  15. wordpress.com’s VIP service allows plugins and custom themes. We usually charge a bunch for this, but our favorite authors can have it for free. :-)

  16. blah blah blah.

    myabe maybe not. i know nothing.

    but i’ve had nothing but good times with dreamhost.com
    cheap, good, and ever expanding!

  17. Has this technical trouble also killed/damaged the RSS feeds here?

    I use Bloglines for RSS reading, and this is the last post that appears in my Bloglines window – which is not a good sign…

    Anyone else having issues with Whatever’s RSS/Atom/whatever, or is this Bloglines doing something dumb?

  18. Ah, got it sorted. The RSS 0.92 feed is the only one that actually works for me – Atom & RSS 2.0 are both kaput. WordPress claims the Atom feed doesn’t even exist, despite Firefox teasing me with it…

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