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(Warning: This is a geek post!)

Last weekend, I successfully moved my main Web site, www.jimcarroll.com, over to Linode.com, running on an Ubuntu virtual server. For years, I had been running it on a Mediatemple DV server based on CentOS.

My Web site now runs on a blazingly fast infrastructure over at Linode.com!

Why did I do this? Speed improvements. And then some!

Mediatemple was a great company with awesome support, but I found over time that my Web site just didn’t operate fast enough — some pages would render slowly — and it would often slow down under the weigh of a stream of a lot of oncurrent users. I’ve been using the handy tool at GtMetrix.com to test my page load times. Things were pretty slow with overall page load times and first byte times — which were always in the range of 3 or more seconds for the former, and 1 second at least for the latter.

As I understood it, the Plesk system used at this version of CentOS simply added a lot of processing overhead ; even if I had no visitors, my memory use was always at 80% plus.

So I started to look around for alternatives about six months ago. Two months ago, I discovered Linode. Great cloud service — pick your operating system, build, log into root, and away you go! Since I had a bunch of Ubuntu servers in my home at one point, I chose to go with that, since I knew how to configure most of what I needed.

And then I discovered Linode’s ‘Stackscripts” — where the user community has put together a variety of custom ‘scripts’ which will pre-intsall your operating system of choice along with your applications/configuration of choice. My blog is based on WordPress — so I needed that. But I also needed whatever I could get that would speed up the rendering of WordPress pages — some good memory cacheing, and cacheing of PHP code so that things would execute faster. And from everything I was reading, I knew I needed to have a Varnish cache.

That’s when I found Paulo Fagiani — an avid Linode fan — and his Optimized WP script. He’s put together a script that installs a Ubuntu server, and then, as he puts it, “installs a pretty, sweet and secure box with nginx + varnish + memcached + php5 fpm + mysql optimized for heavy load wordpress sites.” (I’ll note that I could have chosen a product from Mediatemple similar to Linode – but it was the Stackscripts which sold me!)

One button, and you’ve got a rip-roaring infrastructure that just flies!

It took me a few months, though, to get things right — this is a part time hobby after all. If I’ve got time to kill in an airport, and no pressing client demands, I’ll fire up Terminal and ssh into my Linode. If it’s later in the day and I’m at home in front of the TV on the couch and need to relax — I’ll fire up Terminal and ssh …. (I was just joking with a friend as to how we both suffer from this weird way of relaxing by working away as root on some box somewhere…)

And it took some help – Paolo was magical in how he walked me through various issues. My good friend Akshat Choudhary over at BlogVault.Net — a fabulous WordPress backup service — also patiently provided me some guidance.

And so I went live last Saturday AM, just before going out to do some yard work.

IT”S A BIG CHANGE. I’m getting page load times of <2s for most of my main pages, and first byte load times of .2ms or less. I’m getting hit rates of 99% on my APC cache (for WordPress page cacheing) and 50% for Memcache (which caches everything else – I’ve got to figure out how to improve that.)

Under load testing with the Ubuntu ab command, the site stands up extremely well. So I’m thrilled.

Next project? I’m going to play around with a WordPress PHPFog site over at www.phpfog.com — which promises to do what I’ve got now, but a hugely optimized infrastructure that strips away the last bit of overhead from use of PHP.

So now you know what one of the world’s leading futurists does to relax. But it’s not just that — I’m out speaking to organizations on leading edge trends. In many cases, this involves observations on the impact and evolution of technology. I’ve been a geek for 30 years – I started out with a Radio Shack Model III 30 years ago. I’ve always been deep into the core of systems and technology.

You can’t talk about the cloud, if you don’t play in the cloud!

(July 2016 update: Most of my servers are now on droplets on Digital Ocean. LEMP stack with Ubuntu is the current favourite. Raspbian on Pi’s with Ubuntu for #IoT projects. sudo-apt get update should apply to old blog posts!)

A big shout-out to the 10 companies that helped the most in keeping the JimCarroll.com Web site infrastructure in great operating shape throughout 2011. If you want to do a great Web site, you need to do it right. These are some of the technology companies that have supported my site in various ways through the year.

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Throughout 2011, my Web site has played an incredibly powerful role in supporting my speaking activities worldwide.

Quite a few clients have told me that they’ve found it through a Web search for a ‘futurist’ or ‘innovation speaker’, or have been sent there by one of my speaker bureau clients. They’ve told me they’ve watched the video clips throughout the site, and that with other background information, has convinced them that I’d be a great addition to their corporate leadership meeting or association event.

Keeping a Web site such as JimCarroll.com up and running with little downtime,  in a way that it is fast, responsive, and always available, takes a bit of effort. I do all the maintenance, blog postings and updates on my own. But it’s also through the help of a variety of partners that I’ve got a site in which the average Web page loads in under 3 to 4 seconds — pretty good for a media rich, complex site.

And so as we wind down the year 2011, I thought it would be a good time to give a shout-out to the many technology partners that I use to keep this Web site in tip top shape, or let me watch how well it is working. In no particular order, these partners include:

  • Blogvault: A fabulous WordPress backup service. Plug it in, pay a small fee, and you’ve got peace-of-mind knowing that your Web site is being backed up on a regular minute by minute basis. What’s better is their 1-button Web site restore. For example, I just had to move my son’s Web site over to my main Web server, and using the backup copy it worked like a charm – instantly!. Highly recommended!  
  • VaulltPress; another WordPress backup service that I am using. I started out with VaultPress before I met Blogvault, but I’m not one to easily leave a relationship that is working so well. Like Blogvault. this service does a regular minute by minute backup of my entire WordPress based Web site. Redundancy of backup can be a good thing – that’s why I’ve got two backup services!  
  • Woopra – Web site analytics software. With these folks, I’ve got a fabulous real time dashboard that shows me how people are using my Web site — how they found me, what they’re looking at, and what pages they are spending their time on. This has allowed me to continually redesign my site, ensuring that my clients can easily find the insight they are looking for. There are almost 1,000 blog posts — and I’ve discovered where people really spend their time. 
  • OpenTracker. These folks are a competitor to Woopra — and have their own unique strengths. I particularly like how I can do some pretty deep analysis of Web traffic as it is happening in real time – it gives me a real sense of what people were looking for, and what pages really draw significant attention. 
  • MediaTemple: extraordinary Web hosting with incomparable service — if you are willing to pay for a strong, reliable host, you’ll get stellar service. I had a support question on Thanksgiving Day — and it only took minutes for them to respond. I started the year out with a shared Web hosting service, and to be honest, you can take a significant performance hit if your site gets busy. In April I moved over to their DV (Dedicated Virtual) service, so that I’m the only one running as a server on the space I share. I’ve seen major performance improvements and fabulous reliability. Pingdom tells me I’ve only had 5 outages, and I know that each of those times has been due to something I’ve screwed up on my own. 
  • W3TC: a typical Web site / WordPress blog can slow down when it is serving up a variety of video, images and other information rich sources, particularly under heavy traffic loads. That’s where this service comes in — it spreads out the content to my “content delivery provider,” Amazon CloudFront …so that the images that you see on the Web site don’t actually come from my site, but from a variety of Amazon servers around the world. If you want to speed up a WordPress based Web site, W3TC is likely the best tool out there. 
  • CopterLabs: every once in a while, you need some custom programming done on a Web site. I found and hired Copter Labs to design the cool ‘image slider’ that you see on the top of this post. They do great work, are extremely professional, and truly do draw upon a team of WordPress experts worldwide – while my project was managed from Portland, Oregon, the actual work was done by a fellow in the UK. 
  • GTMetrix: to keep this complicated infrastructure moving and in great operating shape, you’ve got to able to do some deep analysis of where any bottlenecks might be emerging in your site. Every time you add a new feature, you run the risk of introducing some slow performance. GTMetrix lets me look into performance and continually fine tune its operations.  
  • easyDNS: the key component to any Web site is having a domain service that figures out just “where” jimcarroll.com happens to be located — and where and when images are being serviced from Amazon Cloudfront. Not just that, but a great domain service should automatically flip your Web site to a backup host in case things go wrong. That’s the role of easyDNS — I’ve been using them for 15 years — and could not recommend them more highly!  
  • Poll Everywhere: last but not least, but PollEverywhere ranks as my favourite tech tool of 2011. I was described in a blog post as a ‘raving fan’ of this service, and that is extremely true. I use PollEverywhere to do live text message polling while on stage – while they’re not really a part of my Web site, they are a very, very important partner! 

That’s my list of my key 10 providers for 2011. Obviously, there is a lot more at work here in terms of the technology infrastructure. I must mention Apple in light of the  : the home office consists of a Mac Pro, new Macbook Pro, iPad, iPhone, and just about everything-Apple. Between the home and the chalet, we’ve got 4 Apple TV’s and just about ever other whiz-bang iDevice possible. The fact is, Apple has helped to take my business to new levels — Pages, Number, and most importantly, Keynote have all replaced the Microsoft office tools that I was using up until 2007. Earlier this year, while on stage, I actually had to use Windows 7 when I wasn’t allowed to use my Mac on stage — and I was completely, totally lost!

Not to forget as well Keynote Pro: these folks designed the Keynote presentation template that I use on stage — one that has now probably been viewed by over 100,000 people in the last two years alone. It’s not a key part of what I do on my Web site, but from a stage perspective, it’s certainly a key part of my success! 

Thanks to all – and here’s to 2012!

Update: For those asking about how I manage to walk on stage and do what I do, and also manage the tech infrastructure — you can’t figure out the future if you don’t deeply into the technology that will drive it! For what it’s worth, I’ve been geeking out as a hobby since 1982, starting with a Radio Shack Model III. My latest project, in my ongoing effort to keep the Website humming along, is to utilize a MediaTemple VE server running on an “LEMP stack.”  (I’ve had a test site running with Apache and Nginx as a proxy, but there’s still a lot of Apache overhead.) So the next stage involves a barebones Ubuntu operating system (Linux), running Nginx (instead of Apache, for performance), Mysql and PHP. (Hence, LNMP, not LAMP). It’s based on this article here. Looks awesome!

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