5 Ways to Punish Your Server

Think you know how to punish your server? Think again.

Running a blog and related applications, is nowhere near the most taxing thing you can do to your server. If you are really interested in making a run at burning down your data center, check out this list:

(To be clear, I wanted to think of things that the average web hosting user might actually do. Developers can do far worse things to a server but they are usually more aware of the potential damage.)

5. Streaming Media

Streaming audio or video may not fry a server in the way that thousands of users pounding a database can, but there is no doubt that they can bring it to a crawl.

Hosting large media files on your server is a strange form of suicide. As more and more people access your media directly, it takes away bandwidth and resources from actually serving your site. In short, the “tubes” leading to and from your server can easily get so clogged with people trying access your media that they can’t reach your pages or cause them to load slowly. Worse still, if you have a bandwidth cap, there’s a realistic chance you’ll go over it.

Streaming media from a shared hosting account is asking for trouble. It’s better to avoid it altogether.

Alternatives: Use a CDN to host your static files. They are faster and, in the long run, usually cheaper. If that fails, find a good media host like YouTube or Talkshoe, both of which are free.

4. Shopping Carts

The reason why blogs can cause problems is that, in addition to running PHP, they make a lot of queries to a database. They pull the post, the author, the comments, the images and almost every element from the database.

Shopping carts have that same issue many times over. Descriptions, sizes, prices, images, titles, sales, reviews, comments and every little element is stored in a database and must be called on every page load. A moderately busy shopping cart can be worse than a very busy blog.

Shopping carts, especially older ones, can be very taxing and should be used with caution. Though a shared hosting account can withstand the load of a small store, as traffic grows you may find yourself having to move up sooner than expected to keep speed and stability high.

Alternatives: First, make sure you are using a modern shopping cart, such as Zen Cart, rather than OSCommerce, which it is based upon. The newer carts are more streamlined and easier to use (thus harder to screw up). Other systems, such as Store Sprite, are also leaner than their ancestors.

3. Full CMS Applications

Though content management systems like Drupal and Joomla certainly have their place, they can put quite a tax on a shared hosting account too.

The reason is that these sites have a lot of elements including forums, polls, download sections and other elements that require more work from the server, even if they aren’t being widely used. Templates for these sites tend to be much more complicated and all of the extra elements translate to more weight being put on the server.

Though many are able to run these systems on smaller shared accounts, it is something of a risk, especially as traffic begins to pick up.

Alternatives: If you are running a blog or a blog-driven Web site, you’ll probably do better with WordPress. Not only is it lighter but hosts are more familiar with it. If you must use Drupal or another full-fledged CMS, disable features you aren’t using and take advantage of their caching ability to try and lighten the burden.

2. Forums

Shopping carts, blogs and CMS applications can all be taxing, but they are all also one-way. The site owner posts material to the site, others read it. Other than comments, users don’t write much to the server and there isn’t too much activity at any one time.

Forums, however, are two-way streets. Users read forums and write to them almost constantly. This keeps databases very active and, in times of high stress, can send them crashing down.

If you get too many simultaneous users on your forum at the same time, you’ll likely be forced to upgrade your hosting just to keep up with the demand. Sharing hosting and even grid hosting accounts will likely buckle under the weight.

Alternatives: You can use a lighter message board system, like bbPress but that only helps some. Your best bet, usually is to just use caching, if available, and make sure that you have a server powerful enough to host your forum. Also, you can try using a hosted forum, such as Proboards, which are designed to handle the load.

1. Chat Rooms

Chat rooms are practically instant death to a shared hosting account. In fact many, if not most, Web hosts strictly forbid running chat rooms on their servers.

The reason is because the connection is constant. Every user is constantly connected to the server and sending/receiving information. Even just a few visitors in a single chatroom can sink an unprepared server.

Imagine having every visitor on your site refreshing a page every one to five seconds, that is very close to what a chatroom is like for a server and its easy to see how it can quickly add a lot of load to your account.

Alternatives: Don’t do it. It’s probably against your terms of service and, without a powerful server, it’s suicide. Instead, use an embeddable chat room, such as TinyChat, as they take the load off of you and are usually better quality self-hosted solutions.

Bottom Line

While it is true that a blog can be difficult on your server just about any application has the potential to under high load. However, some apps are far more demanding than others and you need to be aware of how taxing something is before buying your hosting so you know how much power to get.

That being said, it is very easy, especially for a newcomer, to not understand how taxing their intended use might be and make mistakes. This can lead to a very poor hosting experience, often one that the host gets blamed for.

Be aware of what you are trying to do and plan accordingly. Otherwise, you may be responsible for burning down your host’s datacenter, which isn’t likely to lead to a lasting relationship.

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Discussion

3 Comments to “5 Ways to Punish Your Server”

  1. that was nice post..now.how about a post about web tools that gets the job done without taxing the server..

    like lite on the wallet..lite on the pallet

  2. that was nice post..now.how about a post about web tools that gets the job done without taximg the server..

    like lite on the wallet..lite on the pallet;

  3. Good list. Would also like to point out wordpress plugins — some of them can really bog down a server.

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