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The subject of this newsletter is “going big”. By that I mean how to transition from a Web site with little to moderate traffic, to one that can handle tons of traffic. (How you get the traffic itself is an entirely different issue.)

To be entirely forthcoming, “going big” is not my forte, which is to say that I don’t have a ton of direct, personal experience in this area. Among the X dozens of Web sites I’ve worked on over the past 14 years, only a smattering have the demands of a “big” or “big-ish” site. Which makes sense, as statistically, not that many sites are “big”. In the grand scheme of things, the number of “big” sites is such a small percentage as to be almost negligible. This is fact I’ll speak more about at the beginning of this newsletter.

That being said, I do know a fair amount about the subject, and I know, and have spoken in detail with, people that are directly responsible for heavily trafficked sites. So, although I’m not an expert in “going big”, I’m not just guessing here, either.

As I was writing this newsletter, it also became “big” (as in wordy), so I’ve split it into two. This, the first, looks at going big from the macro perspective: theory, implementation, hardware, and networking. In the next newsletter, I’ll look at the micro perspective: how to write code that scales well.

As always, questions, comments, and all feedback are much appreciated. And thanks for your interest in what I have to say and do!

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How to Pick a Data Center

November 9, 2012

My hosting company, ServInt, posted an interesting article back in June titled “How to Pick a Data Center“. The article discusses the two biggest factors on your site’s latency (how long it takes data to get from the server to the client, aka ping time):

  • Physical distance
  • Network quality

The article also includes a tool for testing connections to ServInt’s three data centers, the kind of tool your hosting company should also provide. For example, from my location in Pennsylvania, US, I can ping the Washington, D.C. location in 71ms. The LA location has a ping time of 111ms, which is 50% slower, and the Amsterdam location is slightly slower than that, at 123ms. My server happens to be in the DC location, so people in a rough geographic area similar to mine (say, eastern North America) are probably having an experience similar to me. People on the West coast are probably having a similar experience that I have in pinging LA.

The point of the article is that you should use a data center close to where your current, and future, clients are. For example, if I ran a Web site about Hollywood, I’d want to host that near Los Angeles; one on politics: near Washington, D.C. This is probably something many people don’t think about when choosing a hosting company, but you should.

Of course you can balance out the inequities using a Content Delivery Network (CDN), but even there, physical locations matter. I know, for example, that I get a lot of traffic from the eastern and southern Asia, as well as the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand. Because of that knowledge, I choose to use Amazon Web Services for my CDN, as they have more locations in the southern hemisphere than the alternatives.

SSH Key Authentication

May 25, 2012

The wonderful hosting company that I use, ServInt, recently published an article titled “SSH Key Authentication“. The article explains how to setup SSH key authentication for your server. By doing so, you can access your server without entering your password. Now, this may sound like a very bad thing, but here’s why it’s not: after setting up SSH key authentication, you can disable password authentication. By doing so, the only way to access the server would be to have the matching SSH key. Attempts to break into the server by guessing the password—or by even knowing the password—would not work. Taking this step effectively prevents anyone from breaking into your server, unless they’ve stolen your computer (in which case, you have many, many problems).

It’s a relatively simple procedure to follow and is highly recommended. If you plan on doing this, make sure you check out the comments section of the post, in which it’s pointed out that this will also impact SFTP. SFTP is just FTP through SSH, so the FTP client you use would need the ability to use the same SSH key in order for this to work.

Thanks, ServInt!

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