Some hosts overload their servers. No, really, it’s true. I know some of you know this, but many people don’t and are quite surprised when they ask me see what I can do to improve the performance of their board. One of the first things I do before taking on a client with this type of request is run a check to see how many other sites are hosted on the same server. If the number is over 100, I don’t bother doing much other than telling the potential client to get a better host. How do you find this out? It’s not hard, really.
One of my current clients is building out a new site. While I was online editing (using vi directly on the server, as I like to do) I found that just saving the files would sometimes take several seconds. And this is for a 2K file, not something incredibly large. So the first thing I did was run the “top” command, and here’s what I saw:
load average: 4.29, 3.06, 2.92
On some boxes, a load of 3.0 might not be bad. The “big board” that I am frequently talking about runs on the same server as the phpBBDoctor blog. If I hit 2.0 I’m really surprised. And since I have a quad-cpu box, I don’t really get worried until I get closer to 4.0. Yet the client box I’m working on is regularly over 6.0 or even 8.0 during the day. The stats posted above were captured at 2am central time, so hardly a busy time of the day. Yet still the numbers are what I would consider quite high.
I gave that information to my client and suggested they needed to talk to their host about the server load. It should not take 3+ seconds to have a file saved from vi by any stretch.
Then, it’s on to my next tool. I take the IP address for the domain (easily found with a simple “ping” command in most cases). I then use a tool like that found at www.myipneighbors.com which will tell me how many other domains also respond to that IP. Generally hosts are using virtual hosting so they don’t run out of IP addresses. By doing this a host can essentially offer unlimited domains on the same box with only one IP address. Hmmm, unlimited domains. Does that start to sound like a bad omen?
I went through this with a different client who was at a host that will remain unnamed but rhymes with why-power-web. Their very active site was on the same server that had over 500 sites, and that was the most I had personally seen. However, when I did the IP lookup on the server I was talking about above, here’s what I got: there are 737 sites sharing this IP address. 737! That’s a fairly large airplane, and way too many sites to host on a single server.
Conclusion? You get what you pay for. I am afraid that my client is going to be quite disappointed when they launch their new site on this new host.
Oh, and the host response to the first concern, about the server load being so high? It was something like, “Our boxes have multiple CPU’s so a high server load is not an issue.” They may have multiple CPU’s, but a high load is certainly an issue. We’ll have to see how long it takes them to fuss at my client because phpBB2 is “overloading” their already overloaded box.