October 21, 2022

How not to go on TV with your WooCommerce site if not properly configured on the Server and Hosting side.

Birredamanicomio.com and TV Spot Hosting. A case of failure announced, with a site offline during the passage on Sky, just before the start of X Factor.

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Introduction

There are situations that are difficult to explain from a technical point of view, and there are feelings that are even more difficult to explain from a purely emotional point of view. We should not talk about emotions on a purely technical blog where we talk about Web Performance and WooCommerce Hosting, however it is undeniable that it would be a real shame not to make the reader understand how frustrating and unsatisfactory from a human point of view it can be to feel Giovanna D. 'Turn arch.

Joan of Arc was famous in the popular imagination for having visions and making prophecies to which she was usually discredited and not believed, we fortunately have no visions and the "prophecies" are certainly not the fruit of the divine or the supernatural but simply from experience gained over more than a decade that has allowed us to make predictions about high-risk situations in sites such as other traffic.

How should we have behaved, for example, when reading about a very famous and talented communication, SEO and digital PR agency in the North that communicated the airing of a commercial on Sky Uno in prime time just before the very famous talent show X Factor ?

How much does such an event cost? Beyond the production costs of the Spot that goes far beyond our competence but which we imagine has a non-trivial cost if we consider actors, make-up, wigs, cameras, video editing, post-production, direction and so on. , probably the most important and impacting costs are not so much the costs of creating the spot, but the transmission costs on important networks such as, for example, SKY Uno in prime time.

We know that the world of television advertising is very varied and that in certain conditions, media buyers can boast of ad hoc commercial offers that are absolutely convenient and very far from what are the "standard" offers often advertised in the canonical price lists that in fact often have only the orientation functionality.

Regardless of the bargaining and extremely advantageous treatments that can be obtained, however it must be borne in mind that we are talking about important television channels, with impressive audience numbers and with list offers, however, very, very expensive.

For information, in fact, the above are the indicative costs to manage and pass commercials during an event like the one mentioned, that is XFactor 2022.

Without wishing to say anything, but only for indicative purposes, such a step has a very high cost, which is why it would have made sense to try to maximize profits by avoiding downtime and slowdown situations that are the fear of every online advertising campaign.

For the sake of completeness of information, it must be said that several of our customers (and customers of our customers) over the years have needed our services precisely to put commercials that would have brought a lot of traffic on national networks (RAI and Mediaset).

Campaigns such as Arquati Tende da Sole have found in us the high-performance Hosting solution for downtime and crashes, or the appearance of Martina Gold in the well-known Ciao Darwin program, launches for n26 under collaborations with our customers' football brands and so on.

It was therefore normal and perhaps even a duty in conscience to examine how the site that would have been subject to a lot of traffic was technologically structured, and noting a decidedly high TTFB, as well as the lack of static caches on the server side, the lack of optimized image formats such as Webp and a incorrect use of the Vary: User-Agent header, we had the good sense to communicate to the author of the post above that the site would likely go offline the way it was configured.

Having among the circle of friends (speaking in the past is objectively necessary) the author of the public post mentioned above, we had no hesitation in communicating without too many words that the site would go offline, taking care and diligence to communicate also the reasons (and related super partes analysis Google PageSpeed ​​Insight) to those who like Stefano (another expert in ecommerce development and insider) sympathetically minimized what in our opinion was now a final sentence.

In the miniature screen we went to attach with knowledge of the facts the results of the Google PageSpeed ​​Insight which showed in a rather clear and eloquent way values ​​very far from Google's expectations, which although they can constitute a "negligible" problem with little traffic, become problems of epic proportions if the site has to hold up a high traffic, like the one it would have gotten from a television broadcast before X Factor.

PageSpeed ​​Inisight Birredamanicomio

It is immediately evident that the high TTFB meant low server-side performance, as well as the use of non-recent multimedia formats (the old JPG and PNG instead of the new webp so to speak) could have saturated the uplink (normally at 1Gbit / s in the current provider), especially in the absence of a CDN like CloudFlare.

Overall, the reported values ​​are very poor for a Web project that aspires to obtain the due and deserved success.

From then on, nothing significant was done in terms of optimization except the addition of an optimization plugin and application side cache like WP Rocket which, as we have always reported, are not enough for a site with a lot of traffic: When WordPress Cache plugins aren't enough. Reverse Proxy and Object Caching: performance at the highest level.

The real effects of going online without server-side tuning

We therefore wanted to see live what would have been the alleged harmful effects of bringing on TV a site that was not sufficiently optimized to withstand an amount of traffic that was estimated to be important in any case.

We therefore tuned in to Sky Uno and waited with the smartphone in hand for the passage of the commercial on TV. As soon as the commercial started, we headed to the home page of the site and we refreshed it at a more or less regular frequency of one every two seconds.

After a few seconds (about ten or so), the site showed up as you can see in the following video, with problems of opening, a "wheel" in perpetual waiting and a progress bar that did not want to know to advance in the face of a website that did not load.

Even going to the .it site (a redirect to the main site .com) we were faced with the exact same situation, in no way was there any way of navigating it and being redirected to the main site.

After several minutes in which the influx of visitors who could not navigate the site probably decreased, the opening time of the site (of the Homepage in particular) was over 16 seconds (SEDICI), using the curl utility of Linux as clearly visible from the following image.

opening time home page curl birredamanicomio

 

Is the responsibility and the fault of the Hosting? Or maybe not.

It would be convenient for us to say with certainty that the fault was Hosting with server-side technologies that were not adequate to support an important amount of traffic. However, this may be an untrue statement as we don't really know how things went.

What is certain is that our CTO Marco Marcoaldi, speaking with the one who in Fattoretto Srl was responsible for making choices regarding Hosting (the one who says precisely that he is evaluating in the message above) has revealed the technical and technological problems that went certainly examined, pondered, deepened and analyzed with the support of the current Hosting provider.

Fattoretto Agency Sole24Ore

It is undisputed that it was taken for granted that there would have been a much greater peak in traffic than standard traffic, a traffic in all respects that cannot be determined a priori, an event that must be treated taking into account the worst possible situation, that is to find hundreds of online thousands of users per minute.

With this premise, the practice is to go to dedicated enterprise-class physical instances with the maximum number of cores and threads available and a network and software configuration to perfection with all the necessary precautions.

What is meant by "Enterprise Band"? We are not talking about the Star Trek spacecraft, but rather of a High / Very High range that are normally only allowed by large companies and companies defined as the Enterprise range.

Spending € 50 - € 150 for a dedicated server per month is within everyone's reach, including individuals, making an investment of € 1000 per month for servers is already beginning to be reserved for very few companies.

This would have allowed, for example, to rent for a month (or in any case the duration of the programming of the commercial) a very well armored machine with at least 32 cores / 64 threads of a latest generation processor and with fast nVME disks.

If this news of potential problems has not been investigated with technical support, revealing concern, as well as specifying that it would be aired with the spot that would have sent back to the site, in prime time, just before the start of a very popular program like X Factor , the problem and the responsibility is attributable exclusively to the person who in possession of technical information that should have alarmed about a probable downtime, has not diligently and responsibly considered detailed data from a trusted source.

In short, it was not the baker who told you that maybe you will go offline, but a technical figure who has been doing this since 2005 and has also specified the various reasons measured with official tools and superpartes such as Google PageSpeed ​​Insight, which should therefore have made you get the truth. of his utterances and the goodness of what is stated.

In short, if this extraordinary situation is not specified to the Hosting Provider, which can be managed extraordinarily with extraordinary hardware and software solutions (where extraordinary means extra - ordinary, or not ordinary, out of the ordinary), it is obvious and obvious that a Hosting Provider cannot take care of setting up their best hardware / software solution for the extraordinary event, also because it requires additional work from the Hosting Provider and out-of-pocket expenses on its part which will necessarily require a renegotiation of the contract or the billing of a part of the service.

However, we believe that even an extra investment of 1000 euros, to guarantee the best user experience, considering the economic investment that a commercial can require both in the realization and in the passage on a channel like Sky Uno, was certainly an investment in protection of its own. business.

If, on the other hand, the problem had already been reported to the Hosting Provider, taking care to specify in detail and with precision that the commercial would pass in prime time, during a very popular television program, and the Hosting Provider has minimized the importance of a ad-hoc tuning, specific for the eventuality, then at that point it is assumed that the responsibility is attributable exclusively to the hosting provider who was not able to scrupulously evaluate a situation that would have required at least the installation and a tuning of a static HTML cache like Varnish, LSCache, or NGINX FastCGI Cache, of which there is no trace by examining the HTML response headers.

If we also consider the server-side configuration has remained the same four days after the communication of the problem and the related downtime, it is quite evident that once again we tend to minimize the importance of what has already been communicated. That is, the site is not ready to withstand traffic peaks but despite everything it is already like this.

Conclusion and food for thought

As we usually repeat and repeat ourselves, after all in life it is never lost. Either you win or you learn.

From this story we have had the opportunity to draw, document and share a rather eloquent case study that shows and demonstrates (videos and tests in hand) how sometimes even the best Italian communication companies and the best projects can stumble ruinously on what they do not know enough.

Because between doing brilliantly, communication, digital PR, marketing and design, and knowing how to do server-side and system-side tuning, specifically for WooCommerce sites (as in this case), too much passes.

The manager had been made aware of the possible (and probable) consequences of exposing oneself on TV with a website not adequately optimized to manage "all" the traffic that would arrive., but perhaps the excessive enthusiasm of the moment has probably overshadowed the purely technological aspect, which certainly stemmed with makeshift means such as WP Rocket, at least avoided the worst, managing at least in part the traffic following that of the initial peak that we have shown and documented in the video.

It is undisputed to say and affirm that even the best initiatives and the best intentions can be in vain if you do not surround yourself with extremely technical figures capable not only of understanding the problem, but also of the future implications, which in this case have certainly impacted economically. , not allowing visitors (and therefore potential customers) to visit a site that did not open and that for a period of time was navigated at speeds certainly higher than those recommended to maximize sales.

Once again, therefore, the practical demonstration of how the worst could have been avoided by following the advice of specialized and verticalized professionals in the web performance field, who would have handled the situation in an extremely different way, sizing an enterprise-grade HW, specifically for the event. A 32 core / 64 thread at a minimum would have set up an Enterprise caching system like Varnish correctly and would have used optimized formats like webp instead of the very heavy jpeg and PNG.

Unfortunately, as happened to Giovanna D'Arco, our warnings were not heeded and the inevitable happened, impacting both in terms of image and in a missed economic return, a certainly winning and commendable marketing initiative.

When you underestimate the importance of a systems figure, remember this example and this case study to understand what should not be done when you intend to bring a website on TV.

For example, after a further 10 days from the event, more than adequate and sufficient time to run for cover and solve the problems already communicated to the property, we still find the site with the same technological stack that emerges from the analysis of the headers and of important and gross gaps such as, for example, the lack of Brotli compression.

Brotli Compression Test

As well as the lack of a very important feature or the HTTP2 protocol.

When we browse a website through the browser, we basically make a request to the server and the server responds by sending the data of that specific page. However, the data is not sent all together, but is unpacked into smaller pieces of information. The website page, in order to be loaded in the user's browser, must wait for each piece of information to arrive.
This also applies to the HTTP protocol (the one that has practically always been used on the Internet).

Il multiplexing, that is the new functionality used by HTTP2, allows you to "shred requests”So that more information can be sent back and forth at the same time. This makes the connection between browser and server much more flexible, efficient and - as a result - much faster.

On average it has been calculated that sites using the HTTP2 protocol are able to load pages faster than 50%!

Let's take an example: if it currently takes about 3 seconds to load the homepage of your site on a smartphone with 8G connection, with the Http2 you will have the home beautiful and loaded within 4.

It is undisputed to state without too many euphemisms in light of this latest serious deficiency (the lack of HTTP / 2) that there has probably been some lack of interest in optimizing the website and that the current hosting structure they are using has rather configurations. vetuste not able to guarantee and offer best practices to their customers.

Let's see, for example, the spread of HTTP / 2 in October 2022, helping us with the data of https://w3techs.com/technologies/details/ce-http2

As many as 42% of the world's websites make use of HTTP / 2, a very important protocol capable of at least double the data transfer and rendering speed of the web page as easily visible from the animated demonstration below.

HTTP2 Demo Animated Gif

Updated on November 3, 2022.

It seems that our work of monitoring and communicating the problems to one of the partners has produced the desired effect, that is, that attention was paid to the problems of performance and optimization of the server-side installation in order to properly host WooCommerce.

Checking on SecurityTrails. com, an online service able to show the IP and DNS variations, we noticed as from the following image that on October 31, 2022 the IP that responds to the domain birredamanicomio.com became 77.39.211.105, instead of the old 185.81.1.17 which it had been in use for nearly 5 years.

Historical Data DNS Birredamanicomio.com SecurityTrails

The motivation is not known, but we believe it is undisputed that they wanted to evolve their technological stack by opting for improvements on the hardware side (which we can only assume) and certainly on the Software side.

In fact, if until October 30th they used an Apache web server, from October 31st things have changed as we can see from the headers in the following screenshot produced by curl -I

We can see how the Web Server has now become NGINX, notoriously better performing than Apache , all on a server managed through the Plesk control panel.

However, we do not find any trace in the headers of server-side caching systems and Full Page Cache such as Varnish Cache which could certainly have improved the performance of the site in an absolutely decisive way, especially in the face of traffic peaks.

Has Pagespeed improved? And the performances?

To date (November 3 at 13:48) the result of the Google PageSpeed ​​Inside analysis, brings the following results which in terms of performance are nothing short of poor for a project that aims to present itself to the general public with television advertising campaigns of a certain level.

To be honest, the PageSpeed ​​score seems even worse, showing an unseemly 16, compared to the equally unseemly 20 it showed in the previous analysis that you can find above.

We will not go too far into analyzing the various items of the Google PageSpeed ​​Insight report, just think that already using Brotli compression, HTTP / 2 and webp images would certainly have done a lot with minimal effort.

It seems absurd and paradoxical that as of 2023 there are still websites that have not enabled HTTP / 2 or Brotli compression.

The new setup went on TV on November 2nd and went offline again.

The spot was aired again on November 2nd at about 21:30 pm, in conjunction with the X Factor Live on TV8, the digital terrestrial channel belonging to the Sky group.

 

 

And here's what our Uptime system tells us.

At 21:34 (the first signs start already at 21:33) the site takes 16,2 seconds (sixteen seconds) to be able to open the Home Page. The problem persists with this content until 21:37 with a hole of about 4 minutes, in which the site was in fact unusable (who would wait 16 seconds to open a single web page?).

Virtually the exact same problem and the exact same values ​​we diagnosed the previous time with a lot of curl -I and the time command to measure the slow opening.

opening time home page curl birredamanicomio

The data speak for themselves, same exact problem: 16,277 seconds against the previous 16,275 seconds which you can see in the screen above.

We are not. We are not.

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