September Updates

Hi guys! Once again another month has flown by and I’ve done barely anything I had planned to do. What I have been doing throughout September though is pretty incredible, with the focus once again being on speed.

Before I get stuck into that though, I started the month off getting a report from a customer that his emails from his website weren’t getting delivered. After doing a little investigation it quickly became apparent that almost every site on the platform was also experiencing the same issue, and had been for a few weeks with nobody saying anything. I narrowed the dates down to the day we got a dedicated IP in August, and a quick restart of the servers provided an instant fix. I then went through each site and re-sent every email in the backlog ensuring everything got delivered. Problem solved.

2 things to note from this:

  1. The sites that weren’t affected had their site email delivered through our third party partner SendGrid, and I definitely recommend everybody to sign up with them and then have me hook everything up (Reach me on Twitter or Email, or open a Support Ticket, you know the drill). You get up to 12,000 emails sent each month absolutely free, and you also get a dashboard to view all your stats like exactly when an email is sent, as well as open and click rates.
  2. It’s vitally important if you spot anything amiss with your site or the platform in general that you do reach out and report it.

Now back to business: Speed.

Last month I began testing various Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to try and find a suitable solution. A CDN works by storing all of your site’s static files on external servers which are strategically located around the world. The URLs to those files are replaced on your site to use the URLs of the CDN’s copy, and this provides several benefits.

  • Since the CDN servers are spread out around the globe, when somebody visits your site from somewhere – let’s say Norfolk in the UK – those static files are loaded from the CDN server in London, rather than our origin servers in the US, meaning those files will be served much faster and dramatically improve page load times.
  • Because the URL to those static files has a different hostname to your site’s main URL those files can also be downloaded by your browser in parallel with other resources rather than sitting in a queue which again means improved page load times.
  • As these resources are being served through a third party this means our origin servers don’t need to work nearly as hard to generate a page on your site, which means server resources are freed up to also generate pages faster and generally run much more smoothly. Everyone’s a winner.

After trialling several different CDN providers, I settled with MaxCDN for my own use. They offer great pricing, great features, and it was quick and easy to set up – after setting your site’s URL and clicking a few buttons on their dashboard, you just copy the URL they spit out and paste it in your site’s performance app settings panel for the new CDN setting, hit save and job done! A quick visit to your site’s front end should show you that any hosted images are now automatically being served through their CDN – it’s as easy as that.

To say thanks to everybody for putting up with me this far I’ve granted access to all my existing customer sites and set up all eligible sites to run with my MaxCDN account for no extra cost. This is all already set up and running, and if you have any questions at all or if you’re wondering if your site is using it or not just get in touch and ask away.

Next up: Cloudflare!

As well as running through MaxCDN’s content delivery network, I decided to try and take things a step further with Cloudflare.

Cloudflare offer a fantastic free service which also promises to speed up page load times as well as beef up security. Once hooked up they’ll automatically screen out known bad actors from reaching your site and either block or challenge their access with a captcha, while simultaneously speeding up access for everybody else. They also offer DDoS protection and a number of other great features too.

I’ve been trialling Cloudflare on several sites over the past year, and the results have been pretty mixed until now. Several times we experienced an issue where updating a page on the site wouldn’t immediately follow-through to the live site until we cleared every cache imaginable – Site cache from the performance app, browser cache, behind-the-scenes caches, and now also Cloudflare’s own cache. For sites that were frequently updated this was clearly not a viable option, and it didn’t seem to like sites with an SSL certificate installed either which ruled out much of my client base, but I persisted in my efforts.

I now believe I have finally fixed the dreaded long-standing “page updates not following through to the live site until all caches are cleared” issue with a little platform development update. This also fixes an issue that popped up with MaxCDN in the first few days of trialling it where they tried serving old styling no matter what caches I cleared unless I logged in to MaxCDN and emptied the stored files there too.

Due to this amazingly headache-relieving development update Cloudflare now also seems to be much more compatible with the platform, so I spent much of September enabling it on all non-SSL sites that were running the performance app while also fine-tuning the Cloudflare settings for all sites. Those sites now all seem to be loading at MUCH better speeds and so far I’ve not had any caching issues reported.

Within the first 24 hours of enabling Cloudflare on one of my largest client sites Cloudflare stopped 988 threats at the door. That’s 988 potential attempts to do some kind of damage – over 40 attempts per hour on average, which is incredibly scary to think about. Since then that number has jumped quite a bit and it just goes to show the importance of their service.

Seeing that number and realising the importance of Cloudflare I persisted in my attempts to get Cloudflare working with SSL-enabled sites, and I believe I’ve reached another breakthrough with that too! If all goes to plan I shall be going through and enabling Cloudflare on all remaining eligible sites on the platform throughout October.

All of these speed updates so far are related to sites using the performance app, but even if your site isn’t running the performance app with Cloudflare and a CDN there will be a knock-on effect due to the server’s freed-up resources. While your site on the platform might not be running quite as fast as it would be with these services enabled, it should at least be running faster than it was.

Finally, to end this post, the platform core has also undergone a small security patch update.

That’s all for September. Let’s hope I can get some more things checked off my to-do list in October.