In my post on VPS Hosting experiences, I had mentioned that inspite of doing server configuration tweaking, I found that load times were gradually increasing and I was experimenting with an alternative server named Cherokee.
The whole migration took less than half a day – including learning Cherokee, trying out locally and then using it in my blog. So what are the steps I followed to move to Cherokee?
I use Ubuntu 10.04 LTS as my dev system as well as on the production server – so one of the things that I am confident about is that, if something works in my dev environment, it is bound to work in the production setup, with minimal pains during deployment. So I wanted to first try out the entire setup – make sure everything is fine, and then replicate the setup on the production server.
I started by installing Cherokee from the PPA and also php5-cgi:
apt-get install cherokee
apt-get install php5-cgi
So after the frustrating experiences with my shared hosting provider, I decided to move to VPS hosting once and for all. I knew that this would mean, spending more money, and having to spend more time and energy tweaking configurations and monitoring the site, I thought it will be worth the effort and price for the flexibility that I would get from it.
So sometime in late December, I made the move. After looking around and asking a few people, I finally decided to go with VPS.net. The movement from shared hosting to VPS was a breeze and I was up and running in under 2 hours. The experience with VPS.net until now has been pleasant.
Meanwhile, I am closely monitoring Google Webmaster Central and there are some very interesting observations and that is what I wanted to share here.
Gzipped Content The first observation is how, when I moved from shared hosting to VPS, the data download size reduced drastically with no significant change in the number of pages crawled per day. This is because I use GZIP encoding, while my shared host did not (when you pay for bandwidth there is no incentive to reduce the size, now is there?!)
Improvement in load times The second observation is how the time to download also reduce drastically when I moved to VPS hosting. This was expected. While my server now has only my services running, I am not sure how many umpteen other websites were being served on my shared host.
Server configuration tweaking Towards mid Jan, the load times started increasing. This is because I had a few other services hosted on the same machine and the server started thrashing. The biggest issue with most VPS providers is that they are very lenient on bandwidth and storage, but very stingy when it comes to memory. So I had 2 choices – either I upgrade my configuration and pay nearly twice the price, or I start playing with the Apache and PHP configurations and see if I can squeeze out more performance from the system. I decided to go for the latter. I cut down on the services hosted, disabled unnecessary modules, played with threads and child processes, and tweaking PHP configurations. But no matter what I did, the load times stayed up there, or worse, continued to increase and there was nothing I could think of.
Recently a friend of mine asked me to give Cherokee a try. Cherokee is considered to be blazingly fast and very lightweight compared to Apache. So I have moved my blog to Cherokee now and hope to monitor the performance closely over the next few days.
Google on steroids Another observation is how Google suddenly decided to give my site a real test – and decided to download virtually all the pages possible in a single day – this happened a couple of days back and I am yet to discover why this happened. What I am happy about is that the load times were decent when this happened.
Load times and Google Ranking I can confirm that there is some corelation between page load times and rankings in Google. In December, when my site was taking as many as 3 seconds to load (Google said my site was slower than 94% of the sites in the world!) – some of the keywords for which my posts used to appear in the first page moved to the second or third pages. It was only in January did I see them come back to their original positions.
Overall, it has been a good experience – you learn a lot when you moved to VPS!