Speed: How We Got There

About two weeks ago, we moved our pet project Gone Raw from a hosting plan at one host (Slicehost) to another (Linode). The primary reason for doing so was to take advantage of the easy installation of a pile of server software called Pantheon Mercury. We had read about it recently being a much faster way to run a Drupal website, and since we were not that happy with our current setup, we decided it was worth a try.

The driving factor in this decision was a recent essay that reminded us that speed is the most important feature of your application. If we could get that much more speed out of our application, it was worth a shot, since we could theoretically get more advertising revenue as a consequence. Also, it would be a learning experience. And of course it’s more fun for us to use a website that’s faster.

We decided to use another host at the same time, and going with Linode offered an easy way to get up and running. We could also be sure that we had made the right decision, because if the new setup didn’t seem like an improvement, we could easily leave the old one in place. A programmer was hired for $150 to do the move, and he did so very quickly. We were up and running in a few days, and decided along the way that we didn’t need quite as much of a hosting plan on the new server. So we ended up only paying $40 a month instead of $70. That was enough of a savings to make up for hiring a programmer within five months, resulting in a net savings.

Turns out, even on more modest hardware, the new site runs far faster. We have a graph to prove it. Up until we switched over on April 27th, page load times averaged a full second, often more. We were at that point only using the built-in optimization that Drupal provides, nothing more. After we switched, you notice faster times in every sense. The occasional spikes were from work that we were doing, but for the most part, you can see that the new site loads pretty much instantly. The feeling is night and day – it’s so much more enjoyable to browse and take part in discussions when you don’t have to wait a second here and a second there. And our users have been very happy with the change, as well.

While this isn’t exactly 100% scientific, we are happy with the results. It shows that it’s worth taking the time to take every so often to reevaluate your technology decisions. You might find a way to do it ten times faster, for less money, that you weren’t even aware of.

(I wrote this rather technical post because several folks asked for more detail, but if I haven’t answered your questions here, please let me know, and I can try to provide more information.)

Raymond Brigleb

Creative Director, dreamer, partner, father, musician, photographer. Has been known to ride the rails. Pulls one heck of a shot.