As folks may have noticed, things have been slow around STH for the end of 2014. I was finishing up three more trips in the last ten days of the year and there are a few projects that we have been working on. I do like to give periodic updates as to the state of the site so here is our happy new year version.
2014 was an interesting year to say the least. It was the sites fifth year and the second year STH measured unique visitors in the millions rather than thousands. That came with some resounding successes and some growing pains.
On the positive side, we had solid traffic growth. The main site has continued with well over 100 new pieces of content being the first to review products such as the new Intel Fortville 40GbE adapters, months before other sites.
The forums underwent a change from vBulletin to XenForo and then to HTTPS. That made the forums much easier to use on both desktop and mobile. Overall engagement is up significantly. We added new moderators this summer and invested in other new functionality. For those wondering, you can even change your color schemes, use Google+, Facebook and Twitter to login making the process extremely simple.
Linux-Bench is an awesome project to script several often used benchmarks. It has already been adopted by STH as a standard, but also Anandtech and Tom’s Hardware are using it for Linux benchmarking.
The STH community contributed considerably to the script’s development and profiling over many thousands of benchmark runs. We paid a few developers to help build a WebGUI that took results from benchmark runs and display it in a simple web page. That is much easier than having to read through around 10,000 lines of log code. It is extremely easy to run. See the howto guide or just watch this video:
On a personal note, I managed to get married in 2015, officially cementing another need on my time. Luckily, Mrs. STH has a masters in computer science so she is supportive of STH.
Probably the (by far) biggest fail of 2014 had to be the great failure in June 2014. We had 6 machines in 2 chassis in the colocation facility that we can use for compute nodes. While we were setting up the new Supermicro Xeon E5 Fat Twin, we moved the site temporarily to three nodes sitting in the Dell C6100 chassis. As I was walking out of a meeting one afternoon, I started getting alerts that something was awry. The pfsense nodes were still fine and the Hypervisors were all up. Three different nodes experienced disk failures at once. We shipped off the Kingston E100 400GB drives to DriveSavers but the results were not good. Instead, we had the process of manually rebuilding from individual article backups which took a long time. The forums were less lucky.
Key learnings: Our hypothesis is that there was some sort of power issue on the backplane serving all three physical nodes. The site no longer will run all machines, even temporarily on a single backplane. The new hardware we shipped now uses Intel, Samsung, Seagate Toshiba and SanDisk datacenter SSDs. We have a total of eight different SAS and SATA drive types all in RAID 1 with hot-spares in each machine and all now with power loss protection. In the next few weeks we will also have replicas in a different data center and a third set of backups at yet another location. Lessons learned.
For 2015, we already have a few items on the docket. The first is that we have been building a fairly substantial dataset of SSD results. We have been previewing some of our “quick benchmark” results but the full depth of the benchmarks is coming. Also on the storage front we now have a new 36-bay dedicated storage test bed which will see more use in 2015. Much more is in store but we now have over 1 million data points on over 30 drives tested.
Linux-Bench is currently seeing its WebGUI updated. The beta is being re-worked right now, there will be direct linking to benchmark run results. There will also be a full result set viewer that will have sortable results across hundreds of different configurations. We do have some other features planned but we have been re-writing the original web viewer code to be something that is more extensible going forward.
Infrastructure wise, we are moving to add additional switches, dedicated local backup storage machines and etc to the colocation facility necessitating a move to a larger rack. The machines are there, we are just awaiting a good time to make the physical move. Along with the aforementioned DR site, the next iteration will be way overbuilt. One of the fun parts about this is that we were able to take some data in terms of which SSDs and processors will make the site faster. 50ms may not seem like a lot per page view, but with millions of visitors and pages being generated, taking the opportunity to lower disk I/O wait and processor service time seems like a solid endeavor. 2014 saw load times decrease by over 75% from Jan 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014 so the work has already yielded significant results.
Certainly the forums are going to be a huge focus for this year. The STH community has been awesome and the goal is to give the community even more tools and functionality to use. We do have a few features in testing already, so keep an eye to the forums for more announcements.
Finally, a call to action. We have an awesome STH community. For all of those who read forums and do not get involved, take a few minutes and get involved. If you want to write articles for STH, drop me a PM in the forums around your area of interest. If you have a simple question, feel free to ask in the forums. If you find a great deal on ebay, let others know on the forums. We have made it extremely simple to register in the forums. If you have a Google, Twitter, or Facebook account you can get started in seconds. Join the conversation today!