Kicking WordPress into submission and learning to tweak virtual machines

The opportunity to move my main websites out of DreamHost (no, I haven’t abandoned them; the shared server I’m leasing from them has shown stellar performance, like never before — even though my own websites have very little traffic, the awesome DH team have certainly been busy in cleaning things up) into a slice of a virtual machine gave me an opportunity to learn a lot of things. Among these, I loved the challenge to “go back to 1997” — which, back then, meant having to tweak everything to fit inside little available memory and slow CPUs, and still be able to serve dozens of concurrent users. Nowadays, every server seems to have 16, 32, or 64 GBytes of RAM — or possibly more! — and as few as 8 CPU cores, but more likely 16 or even more. Disk access is slowly moving towards SSD-only storage (like the guys from Digital Ocean are doing) — prices are getting cheaper, and that means you can spoil your customers by giving them more tech for the same fees.

This makes system administrators lazy. Oh, so Apache is spawning processes with 512 MB of RAM and eating 25% of a CPU? Who cares — we have 16 GB, and plenty of CPUs to spare. So “tweaking” the system is not an option any more. Being security-conscious is another matter, but one trades off tweaking time to get more performance for adding a few more GBytes of RAM and another handful of CPUs, and let the hardware deal with the problem. Simple. If you can afford it, that is.

Virtual machines — “slices” as some call it — are the cool new toy for geeks. Well, not really “new” — we have had virtual server hosting since 1999 or so. The advantage, of course, is giving end-users a “full” machine with root access, where you can install pretty much everything you wish, and not merely a shared environment, where the hosting provider’s sysadmins will pre-install the software and just give you a control panel to access all features. Obviously the latter are in much more demand: after all, these days, few people have time to learn how to install, configure, and maintain a full server. They just want it to work. I know a few web-designing companies, which have been in business for well over a decade, who have no clue what a “shell” is. They couldn’t care less, they just want good performance, high security, and a simple way to point and click on a panel and get things done. I can very well understand them; that’s why I love DreamHost, their control panel (which is custom-made by them, they had control panels years before cPanel or Plesk came out) pretty much does everything, and has plenty of options to keep even a seasoned sysadmin happy.

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