Downtime on Thursday Afternoon

Apparently some of you had the doubtful pleasure of seeing my directory index between 4 and 5:30 pm yesterday. Apparently I set their server on fire by (check this out) flushing the WP-Cache to see the small tweaks in the css style sheet. I made a small change, flushed the chache, refreshed the page, fixed it, flushed, refreshed and etc. So for like 20 minutes the site was mostly un-cached. Then the shit hit the fan and I got locked out of my own fucking blog only to find this in my mailbox:

Hello Lukasz,

I apologize for the interruption, but I have had to temporarily disable your site. Unfortunately, this was causing a huge load on the machine:

popcorn: 01:21 PM# uptime
13:21:58 up 78 days, 21:26, 8 users, load average: 96.58, 73.29, 53.76

After disabling this, the load dropped significantly:

popcorn: 01:22 PM# uptime
13:25:32 up 78 days, 21:30, 8 users, load average: 29.25, 51.65, 49.33

You probably need to enabling caching for this blog or disable any extraneous plugins before re-enabling it. You can check out more about it here: http://wiki.dreamhost.com/WordPress_Troubleshooting

Thanks!

I know that you get what you pay for, but I was not really happy about them just rendering my website inaccessible without:

  1. Letting me know there is a problem, and allowing me to fix it
  2. Telling me how to restore my website to usable condition again

Fortunately all they did was to rename index.php to disabled_index.php so I was able to quickly get it back online. I also tried to comply with their whiny demands and made Caching much more aggressive. Let me know if you notice any weirdness on the page – especially stuff like CAPTCHA’s not working properly.

Here is my reply to them – note that I was a tad pissed off when I wrote this. In retrospect perhaps I was a bit harsh on them. What do you think:

First, how to I enable my site back? I’m getting emails, my readers are not happy and I’m losing advertising revenue. It would be nice if I got some instructions on how to do it. I’m guessing I just rename disabled_index.php back to index.php? Thanks for telling me that though.

Second, all I’m running on my account is a basic WordPress account with couple of plugins – chiefly WP-Cache, Akismet, and Bad Behaviour which aim to reduce the system load, and prevent spam. Two out of these were specifically listed on the troubleshooting site you linked to in your email. There is really not much else there.

You want to know what I was doing in the last few hours? I was tweaking my .css stylesheet and I cleared the cache few times to see the results. Could something as minor as that be the reason of such a huge spike? I will refrain from doing this in the future, but geez!

I haven’t added any plugins in the last 6 months. I haven’t changed the theme. I haven’t run any scripts. All I do on that account is blog. There is really nothing there that would be out of ordinary – just WordPress installed via the one-click install from the panel. The only changes I really did to it in the past 6 months were small css tweaks.

Third, over the last year or so, I frequently witnessed the system load on popcorn to spike up way above 200. Some of my readers joke around that the site often takes up to 3 minutes to fully load during peak activity hours. Why is that? Is WordPress really such a resource hog? Do I really get this many hits per second? I really doubt it. There is no way for me to control how much traffic do I get. I’m really not running some crazy scripts in there – it is just a fairly standard WordPress install with a default theme. I can mess around with it a bit and try to switch off plugins but I really don’t think that will reduce the load of this website that much – I mean there is not much to disable there.

Really, I understand that it is hard to run a shared hosting company. I was always with you guys. I have been always very tolerant, and a loyal customer. I even recommended you to some of my friends despite the apparent flaws. I dealt with the regular downtimes, and I didn’t really say anything when you guys accidentally charged me over $200 for the next 3 years of hosting few months back. It happens. But disabling my website for undisclosed time period on a whim without giving me any prior notice and any possible chance to fix the issue before the website goes down is just pushing it. It’s unprofessional, and very disappointing. I’m hurt, I’m angry and I’m annoyed. Perhaps it is time for me to start looking for a new home.

If you see an activity spike on popcorn later today it might be because I’m backing up all my files and preparing to move to a new host.

So please tell me, what am I supposed to do here? What can you offer me? I’m not really interested in running a website composed from static HTML pages – I actually do want to use WordPress and I do want to keep runing Akismet and other anti-spam plugins which keep it clean. I don’t really want to spend hours, hacking WordPress and trying to figure out how to optimize the plugins that I use. I just don’t have time for that. And I definitely want more people visit my website – not less.

So what are my options? Will my blog get disabled every time there is a traffic spike? I mean, what if (God forbid) one of my posts ends up on a front page of Digg tomorrow? I’m not saying it will but it happened before, and I hope it will happen again. What then? Will popcorn spontaneously burst into flames?

Why should I stay with dreamhost?

I’m not a happy customer right now.

Was I out of line? I really think I will need to find a new host soon. I know I say it all the time, but stuff like this might just be the thing that will push me to finally do it. So this is once again time to pimp your host. Who do you use? What are their prices? What plans do they offer? How is their support like?

Update – it seems that I actually got a relatively knowledgeable and thoughtful response:

Hi Lukasz,

I’m the resident WordPress nerd around these parts and I can understand how upset you could be. Still, your site was causing undue strain on the server. I don’t think it has anythig to do with clearing out WP-Cache tho. I do notice that you are running Bad Behavior as an anti-spam plugin. Normally. that’s okay – but for whatever reason Bad Behavior and our system don’t seem to play nice with one another when a site is being hit by a spam attack. That very well could have been what was happening here – but as I wasn’t the one who disabled you, I can’t tell.

I run the WordPress blogs on our here (blog.dreamhost.com and dreamhoststatus.com) and I’d be happy to give you a few pointers to keep things lean and mean. First up, you’re doing the right thing by running WP-Cache. Unfortunately, the programmer isn’t actively updating that plugin anymore. The successor to that plugin is currently WP-Super-Cache. More info about it can be found here:

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-super-cache/

As for spam fighting plugins, sticking with Akismet is good – but using WP-SpamFree in place of Bad Behavior is a bit kinder on CPU cycles. We use this as the one-two punch on our blog and the spam that Akismet has
to process has gone down considerably. Check it out when you have a moment:

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-spamfree/

Turning that on and getting rid of Bad Behavior will actually take your overall memory usage down quite a bit, so please try that out and let me know how it goes.

Also, I’ve poked around your database and have noticed that the table for Top Post By Category has eaten up 111.6 MB of your database. That’s more than 3/4 of your total MySQL database size right there. If you are no
longer using that plugin, it might be a good idea to clear that category out. In fact, it’d probably be best to stop using it as that will help speed things up as far as page generation goes.

If you’re curious as to why you should stay with us, hopefully the observations I’ve offered you on how to make your site run a bit better in our environment will make a convincing argument. Most companies would leave the ball in your court when it comes to optimization – but I honestly want you to get all the traffic you can. Outside of the WP blogs here, I have my own sites (hosted here) and I know the feeling of folks outside of your immediate social circle checking out what you’re doing. It’s pretty nice.

Anyhow, try my suggestions out if you’d like and please go ahead and let me know if you have any further questions. I’ll be more than happy to help you out in whatever way possible if you do.

The nice thing about Dreamhost – one of their few redeeming factors is that their support staff is usually quick to respond and usually knowledgeable and helpful. Well, with the exception of that tool who renamed my index.php and didn’t tell me about it that is. My past interactions with them were very positive. Can’t hurt to try his suggestions for now. The top posts plugin is gonzo for now! I liked having it in the sidebar, but I did not realize how database intensive it was. Oh well, good riddance. I will try to switch over to wp-super-cache and wp-spamfree over the weekend which may or may not speed up the site a bit. We shall see.

[tags]dreamhost, hosting, blogging[/tags]

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20 Responses to Downtime on Thursday Afternoon

  1. k00pa FINLAND Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I would like to know how much your webhosting costs?

    Reply  |  Quote
  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Next to nothing: ~$9/month and I have more space/bandwidth that I know what to do with… On paper that is.

    On one hand, I probably shouldn’t complain since I’m getting my hosting almost for free. On the other hand, since I’m a paying customer I guess I can demand some level of service and reliability, no?

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. Aaron UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I pay $10 for my hosting through MediaLayer (5 until I had to upgrade it) and although it isn’t unlimited or over-sold it covers even busy months, I’ve never had an issue and I’ve rarely noticed my site being slow.

    You have to be careful with top-post type programs because some lazy authors just put everything plus the kitchen sink into the database wiht no way to clean it. 111MB is obnoxious. Firestats logging plus the rest of my blog only adds up to 78MB.

    P.S. Just noticed the large caps in quotes, I like it.

    Reply  |  Quote
  4. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Your page only took 17 seconds to load, so clearly the popcorn is popping at microwave speed.

    I’m not sure if it’s funny, but it is slightly relevant: I disabled wp-cache on my blog however long ago it was when I upgraded to WP2.5 and forgot to reenable it after the upgrade (enabled it in the plugin page but not on its own page). I didn’t notice until a week or so ago that all of my blog pages were being generated dynamically in roughly .2 seconds. After turning it back on, I didn’t notice much difference, but I suspect it will help in the case of a traffic spike.

    It’s nice that you actually got a useful reply. I never had that much luck with them. They either gave me generic, unrelated replies or the “Oh sorry, that’s because X on the server broke, but we fixed it now” reply. And then there was the “Sorry, /tmp filled up again” excuse.

    Good luck straining every last bit of performance from them that you can.

    Reply  |  Quote
  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    [quote comment="9339"]P.S. Just noticed the large caps in quotes, I like it.[/quote]

    Yeah, I figured that my blockquotes were kinda boring so I decided to spice them up a bit. Naturally as will all good things, this won’t work in IE. Or rather can, but not without odd side effects.

    Full disclosure along with workaround and silly commentary shall be posted on monday.

    [quote post="2521"]It’s nice that you actually got a useful reply. I never had that much luck with them. They either gave me generic, unrelated replies or the “Oh sorry, that’s because X on the server broke, but we fixed it now” reply. And then there was the “Sorry, /tmp filled up again” excuse.[/quote]

    They do seem to have a lot of problems of that nature actually. You’d thing that a company of their size would figure out a way to do some intelligent load ballancing, or throttling to keep their fleet of servers afloat. :/

    Reply  |  Quote
  6. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    It’s always nice to get a quality response, and even though he offered some good advice re: your table, shouldn’t he have not been poking around in your database anyway? I mean, if it were mine I wouldn’t really care, but I’m just curious at the expected level of privacy – I’m not a blogger, but I would have thought hosting staff shouldn’t be delving into hosted sites databases without permission.

    Reply  |  Quote
  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Good point. Then again, I sort of don’t have illusions about this sort of privacy on a shared host. If this was a co-located server, or a virtual server I might be bit more touchy about the sysadmins poking through my shit. On a oversold shared host… I don’t know.

    Should I be upset? It’s possible they are well within their TOS to do this. I may need to look into this. I don’t really care, but now that you said it, I wonder if they were out of line. Hmm…

    Anyway, I think my next home will be virtual hosting of some sort. I sort of want that root access, ability to reboot when needed and etc.

    Any awesome hosting company suggestions BTW?

    Reply  |  Quote
  8. Semidigerati UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Just my two cents: You should definitely check out their ToS for any line that reads “We reserve the right to do whatever we please at any time.” If there’s nothing like that, then they were in the wrong (and vice versa, of course).

    In my opinion, Dreamhost wasn’t completely over-stepping their boundaries. You were using, what they considered, to be over your limit of whatever plan you’re using. Now I’m not saying you should look into a larger hosting plan, but I AM saying that Dreamhost was, more or less, looking out for the well being of whatever other sites that run on that particular machine.

    It’s a bit odd that they hopped into your directory and changed something without letting you know about it first, but at least their tech support was kind, as you mentioned in your post. Sometimes that’s enough to make me, personally, stick with a certain company. It’s getting harder these days to find a company with good tech support.

    In my past experience, GoDaddy has served well, as well as Netfirms. I recommend the latter over GoDaddy, just because their plan for $8.95/month is RIDICULOUSLY nice.

    Reply  |  Quote
  9. Fr3d UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’m so glad I’ve never had to deal with shared hosting (at least for my own websites) – I’ve been hosting myself (and a few friends) for years :)

    As far as moving hosts goes, you could go in any number of directions… It’s hard to say which would be best without knowing what kind of budget you have to spend on hosting every month.

    That said, I could host you on my colo box (specs/uptime: 16:30:52 up 178 days, 1:10, 1 user, load average: 0.27, 0.27, 0.26) very cheaply – feel free to send me a mail if you’re interested. I can’t do 24/7 support… but then again you probably wouldn’t need it :)

    PS. It took over a minute for this page to load :(

    Reply  |  Quote
  10. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I thought about the privacy issue too, I but don’t expect any real privacy on someone else’s server (particularly shared hosting) either. They might claim that your “what am I supposed to do” question gave them permission to check out your data. Or your “excessive usage” gives them the right…

    If you’re going VPS, I still recommend Slicehost. They’ve been excellent since I’ve been with them. Uptime has been fabulous and the servers are speedy. I was so used to Dreamhost “multitasking” (e.g., start unzipping a file, go do something else while that takes forever) that I am sometimes startled with how fast processes are at Slicehost. Tell them I sent you and I think I might get something, haha.

    Just remember that you’ll probably want to spend at least a few days playing with and tweaking the server, so be sure to give yourself extra time for the changeover if your account at DH is going to be running out soon.

    Reply  |  Quote
  11. took me a bit to load this post (ironically i typically don’t have a speed issue)…

    I (think i) speak on behalf of both Craig, and myself when I say fused network has the best support and hosting packages out there… he is NOT the cheapest, but he is the best.

    FusedNetwork.com tell ‘em coltra sent you ;)

    Reply  |  Quote
  12. SO you know, I just got email updates on posts that were already made

    Reply  |  Quote
  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    [quote comment="9356"]SO you know, I just got email updates on posts that were already made[/quote]

    Huh? What happened? Care to explain in more detail?

    Reply  |  Quote
  14. I got these two emails:

    There is a new comment on the post “Downtime on Thursday Afternoon”.
    http://www.terminally-incoherent.com/blog/2008/06/13/downtime-on-thurs day-afternoon/

    Author: Semidigerati
    Comment:
    Just my two cents: You should definitely check out their ToS for any line that reads “We reserve the right to do whatever we please at any time.” If there’s nothing like that, then they were in the wrong (and vice versa, of course). (rest cut for length)

    and

    There is a new comment on the post “Downtime on Thursday Afternoon”.
    http://www.terminally-incoherent.com/blog/2008/06/13/downtime-on-thurs day-afternoon/

    Author: Ian Clifton
    Comment:
    I thought about the privacy issue too, I but don’t expect any real privacy on someone else’s server (particularly shared hosting) either. They might claim that your “what am I supposed to do” question gave them permission to check out your data. Or your “excessive usage” gives them the right… (rest cut for length)

    However, these two comments were made BEFORE I even posted….

    Reply  |  Quote
  15. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Ah, yes. Dreamhost email queues are usually backed up so usually there is like a 1-2 hour delay on the notifications. Sometimes less, sometimes more. Yet another reason why Dreamhost sux.

    Reply  |  Quote
  16. That sucks… usually i get them very fast… since you have been with dreamhost for so long, I am sure that you have built up a lot of space that you can use (and bandwidth)…
    Why not “sell your account” under the table? I don’t have the money, but I am looking for a jabber server… I am sure someone else you know wants a good hosting thing with them, just sell them the rest of your time, move your domain name over, and move a new domain name on this one, noone would ever know you sold it… the billing information would have to be changed over some how… but other than that… This could also solve your problem of breaking even even after paying for a certain amount of time.

    Oh and I am retrying out flock, I am really liking the new features.

    Reply  |  Quote
  17. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Nah, I have never been good at doing stuff “under the table”. Besides, just as every other company out there, Dreamhost often has promotions for new users – so you are probably better off opening a fresh account with N months free and etc. I doubt anyone would be interested in a “slightly used” account.

    Reply  |  Quote
  18. Jake UNITED STATES Mozilla SeaMonkey Linux says:

    I really don’t understand why you stick with Dreamhost when there are so many better alternatives.

    Reply  |  Quote
  19. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I ask myself the same question sometimes… My usual excuses are:

    - laziness
    - fear of the unknown
    - no time for a big move right now

    This sort of stuff. :P

    Reply  |  Quote
  20. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    [quote comment="9375"]I really don’t understand why you stick with Dreamhost when there are so many better alternatives.[/quote]

    I think Luke is scared of what would happen if he clicked on things in WordPress and it actually loaded fast. When would he make popcorn or go to the bathroom if the computer was always fast to respond?

    Reply  |  Quote

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