With all the uncertainty in the world right now due to COVID-19, we are intentionally keeping things boring at Kernl. Bug fixes, new docs, and increased capacity are all we did this month.
Stay safe out there everyone!
Features, Bugs, Updates
NEW DOCUMENTATION! – After 5 years we finally moved to a real documentation generator! In the process of moving docs to the new system, all of the docs were updated and checked for accuracy. Check it out at https://docs.kernl.us.
Site Health – You can now change you wp-json root. Some people change this for security reasons. Site Health needs it for some of the more advanced functionality.
Site Health Timezone Bugs – Timezones are hard and our Site Health service wasn’t using them correctly.
Analytics VM Changes – The Kernl Analytics service was starting to get bogged down with increased traffic. It now has 2 vCPUs and 2GB of RAM (up from 1 vCPU and 1GB).
Analytics Bug – We were logging analytics data for customers that aren’t paying for it. This is no longer the case.
Plugin/Theme Git Status – The plugin and theme list pages were displaying inconsistent results for the Git status of plugins/themes. There was an error in our Mongo query that populated this data which has been resolved.
Load Testing Remain Resources – The remaining resources page can take a while to load sometimes because we have to call out to external services. An indeterminate loading spinner was added to let customers know that it’s still working.
System Updates – All operating system level packages have been upgraded to their latest available version.
I hope everyone had a great February! We didn’t too much feature development this month, but there was a lot of bug fixing and performance improvements, so let’s dive in!
Feature, Bugs, and Performance
Node.js – Kernl is now on Node.js 12.16.1. This release was all about security fixes.
Load Testing Machine Provisioning – We weren’t calculating the correct number of machines to provision on DigitalOcean. This lead to some serious over-provisioning when running load tests. This has been resolved, which means more customers can run more load tests at the same time.
Load Testing Secondary Node Behavior – Kernl uses Locust under the covers to run our WordPress Load Testing service. The Locust primary node has an argument called “–expect-slaves”. It tells Locust “Don’t start the load test until at this this many secondary nodes have connected.”. We weren’t calculating this number correctly which led to some weird behavior. This is now resolved so load tests should start in every situation now.
Easy Digital Downloads Domains – Kernl wasn’t passing the domain along to EDD. We now do this, which allows you to restrict updates to specific domains while using EDD.
Load Testing Snapshots – Kernl used to build up each load testing machine from the ground up every time a load test was started. We now start from a snapshot that gets us 50% of the way there. This has improved load test start times (especially on large tests) by an average of 30%.
GitHub Authorization Changes – The GitHub API is changing how it handles authorization headers. We’ve update Kernl to handle this change, so we’ll be good going forward when GitHub deprecates the old method.
High Traffic Endpoint Audit – We did an audit of our high-traffic API endpoints and cleaned some things up. Slight performance improvements were had (1%-2%), but mostly the improvements have been in code readability and comprehension.
GitLab Deployment Issues – In a recent release of GitLab they changed the required fields when asking for an access token via a refresh token. This broke all GitLab deployments for Kernl for a few days while we tracked down the issue. This has since been resolved.
Load Testing Unit & Integration Tests – When our load testing service was launched we weren’t sure if it was going to be successful. We’ve proven that it is a worthwhile feature, so now we’re focusing on reliability. We’re in the process of adding a suite of unit and integration tests around this functionality.
January was a pretty great month for Kernl. We got a lot of bug fixes, some performance improvements, and even a new beta feature out the door. Let’s dive in!
WordPress Site Health Beta
This month we released a beta of our WordPress Site Health service. The goal of this service is to help you determine where performance problems are and why they are happening. The dashboard below gives you a high level view of how performance looks on each of your sites.
Once you click in to any site you see data for the last 7 days.
The data here helps you diagnose performance issues. Using the plugin changes panel you can tie performance issues back to adding/removing/updating of plugins. Google Lighthouse scores show trends on you site’s performance, usability, SEO and more over time.
Improved performance of plugin/theme list pages – The API calls to /api/v1/plugins and /api/v1/themes were incredibly inefficient. They hadn’t really been touched since Kernl’s inception and needed some love. After doing some query optimization and stripping out unnecessary data, the payload and response time were reduced by a factor of 10. The worst case example was response size going from ~750KB to ~75KB and response time from ~4000ms to ~250ms.
Server resource increases – Kernl’s main Node.js application servers have been running with 1 vCPU and 1GB of RAM for about the last 2 years. Lately we’ve seen some resource exhaustion and decided it was time to upgrade. The new app servers now run with 2 vCPUs and 2GB of RAM.
Server disk space / inode exhaustion – The process of building plugins and themes can use up a lot of space and file system resources. We weren’t doing a great job of cleaning those resources up periodically which could cause some performance issue. We now clean up all temporary files once a day which should prevent this from happening anymore.
Easy Digital Download License Validation Error – There was a bug in EDD license validation where the source system wouldn’t send back valid JSON. This would break license validation instead of handling the error gracefully.
Profile page autocomplete – If you had form auto-completion on it would sometimes cause the profile page to reset your password. We’ve disabled autocomplete on this form to resolve the issue.
Theme tiles not showing correct build status – During the course of our performance improvement work we noticed that theme tiles were not showing the correct build status. This has now been resolved.
Welcome to the end of 2019! I hope that everyone has had as good a year as Kernl. Let’s dive in to the final update of 2019 to see what’s new.
Features, Bug Fixes, & Misc.
Improved License Management Search – License management now includes improved search functionality. The previous search functionality was flaky (at best) and not very discoverable. Search is now a first-class citizen, includes free-text search, and should greatly improve the overall usability of Kernl’s WordPress license management.
Load Testing Unit & Integration Tests – When we created the WordPress load testing service it was an experiment. Now that we have proved the viability of the service it’s time to work on stability and overall platform longevity. This month’s focus was on the authorization framework that our load testing service uses.
JS Bundle Size Reduction – Over the past year Kernl’s JS bundle size for our web app grew to over 2MB. We spent some time this month figuring out why and making changes to reduce it. In the end we were able to reduce the bundle size by over 50% down to 1.1MB.
Bug: Inconsistent Webhook & Deploy Key Behavior – After a few customer reported incidents with the automatic webhook and deploy key behavior, we discovered that Kernl wasn’t deleting local references to remote keys and hooks. If you have some issues with deploy keys or webhooks please contact us and we can help resolve the data inconsistency issues that this caused.
Node.js Upgrade to 12.14.0 – This month we upgrade all of our servers to use the latest LTS version of Node. This is includes stability and performance improvements.
Yoast SEO is a popular SEO enablement plugin for WordPress. It helps you avoid common mistakes when it comes to SEO on your blog and also handles things like social media “og:meta” tags. If your blog has a public audience, then it stands a good chance that you are using Yoast.
For this test we used the lowest-tier (1vCPU, 1GB RAM, $5) DigitalOcean droplet out of their SFO2 datacenter. Our server setup was as follows:
Ubuntu 19.04 with all updates installed.
The theme that was used was TwentyTwenty with no modifications and the content tested was 3 “What’s new with Kernl?” posts from earlier this year. We selected a small number due to the effort of filling out all of the SEO data in Yoast.
The WordPress setup was bare-bones. There were no plugins installed except for when we were running the Yoast test.
As with our previous post in this series, the load for this test was generated out of DigitalOcean’s NYC3 datacenter.
The tests were with 200 concurrent users over the course of 1 hour.
Max Requests per Second
One method for determining website performance is what is the maximum number of requests that in can field in a given second. For our purposes this is a pretty good indicator of the performance hit you take for installing plugins.
As you can see from the image above you lose about 25% of your maximum capacity from installing Yoast SEO. With no plugins installed we were able to hit 43 req/s, while with Yoast installed that number went down to 30 req/s.
It’s worth noting here that 30 req/s is 2.5 million requests a day.
First Error Occurrence
The next chart shows when we first started to see errors in our two tests.
Without the plugin installed WordPress was able to hit 38 req/s before seeing errors. Once we enabled Yoast that number went down to 28 req/s. Once again, this is consistent with the performance penalty we saw with the maximum requests per second of about 25%.
Average Response Time
The average response time with and without Yoast SEO tells a similar story to the requests per second measures we have done.
The chart above shows us that without any plugins installed, the average response time under load is around 3000ms. With the Yoast plugin installed the response time goes up to about 4300ms. We’re looking at a roughly 25% change in response time.
99th Percentile Response Time
The 99th percentile chart can be read as “99% of all requests finished in under this time”.
The chart above tells us that without any plugins installed 99% of our requests finished in under ~3600ms. With Yoast SEO installed 99% of our requests finished in ~4900ms. Once again, a roughly 25% penalty for having Yoast installed.
Yoast SEO Performance Conclusions
Yoast is a really good SEO plugin. If SEO matters to you it’s definitely a plugin you should have installed. However you should use caching if you do use it. This goes for WordPress in general, but every plugin you add to WordPress has a performance cost associated with it. If you run a site where caching is difficult you’ll have to carefully weigh the performance cost versus benefit of installing Yoast SEO.
If you are just starting with Cloudways it can be tough to figure out where your money is best spent! The prices are different for each platform and how they are sized isn’t them same either. This review gathers data using Kernl’s WordPress Load Testing tool and then massages that data into someone easy to digest.
Google Cloud – A “small” instance out of their Northern Virginia data center. $39.36 / month.
Amazon Web Services – A “small” instance out of their Northern Virginia data center. $36.51 / month.
Vultr – “2GB” plan out of their New Jersey data center. $23 / month
Linode – “2GB” plan from their New Jersey data center. $24 / month
Digital Ocean – “2GB” plan from one of the New York City data centers. $22 / month.
And we had the following load testing setup:
Content was an export of this blog
1000 concurrent users
30 minute duration
3 users per second ramp up
Load generating machines were in the San Francisco #2 Digital Ocean data center.
Overall Cloudways Performance and Value
Each provider performed extremely well in our tests. No errors were reported and they all reached over 700 requests / s sustained traffic. However not all hosts are created equal.
Costs / Month (cents)
$ / 1000 req (cents)
Given that each load test was exactly the same, you can see that some hosts performed better than others.
AWS and GCP are a bit more costly than Linode, Vultr, and Digital Ocean and they also performed worse than the lower cost providers.
Cloudways Provider Response Times
While cost per requests is a good metric we also care about the quality of those requests. Quality can be measured in a number of ways, but response time is often a “good enough” measure of how well a particular host performs. For the providers that you can get through Cloudways, the variance in request quality is extremely interesting.
The chart below shows the 99th percentile response time performance for each provider. It means that 99% of all requests during the load test finished at or below this time.
You can see that lower cost providers once again out-perform the higher cost AWS and GCP in pretty significant ways. The really interesting result here is that Vultr responded to 99% of requests in 240ms or less! Way to go Vultr!
If you aren’t sure which provider is the best value on Cloudways, from a raw cents per requests perspective you can’t go wrong with Linode, Vultr, and Digital Ocean. It’s the same story when you consider the quality (re: response time) of service: Vultr, Linode, and Digital Ocean are the clear winners here.
November was a great month for Kernl! After several years of trying, we finally launched team management and also made our pricing structure easier to understand. Let’s dive in!
Team Management – With our new Agency and Unlimited plans you can now grant users access to your account! The Agency plan allows for 3 team members and unlimited allows for unlimited team members.
Agency & Unlimited Plans – We introduced an unlimited plan for Kernl which has no usage limits (with the exception of load testing, but those limits have been increased substantially) and includes team management and Kernl Analytics. We also updated our agency plan to more closely match the old enterprise plan. The new agency plan has much higher limits than the previous agency plan as well as access to team management.
Bug Fixes & Other
Increased Load Test Generator VM Size – We’ve increased the load test generator machines from 1vCPU to 2vCPUs to allow us to scale our load testing up to 50,000 concurrent users.
Repository Sync – When we changed how you connected to your Git repositories we overlooked the ability to sync them from that same location. We’ve added that ability back in.
Load Test List Page Performance – With some clever SQL querying and awesome Postgres built-in functions, we’ve decreased the average load time on this page by 32%.
Bug: Invalid license if using licenses but no versions present – An odd edge case was found where Kernl would say your license was invalid if you didn’t have any plugin/theme versions uploaded. This has been resolved.
Bug: IPv6 Issue on Load Generators – The virtual machines that we spin up the Digital Ocean Singapore data center were having issues communicating over IPv6. We disabled IPv6 for all load generators for the time being.
Load Testing Service Node.js Upgrade – The WordPress load testing service backend and workers have been upgraded from Node.js 10.x to Node.js 12.x. All packages were upgraded to their latest with this change.
Analytics Service Node.js Upgrade – The WordPress analytics service backend was upgraded from Node.js 10.x to Node.js 12.x. All packages were upgraded to their latest with this change.
One of the most requested features that Kernl gets is Team Management. Team management can take on a lot of different forms, but for Kernl’s purposes it is the ability to share access via the Kernl interface with multiple people with different sets of credentials.
Starting today you can sign up for the Kernl Unlimited plan (see below) and start managing your team. Team management allows you to share your Kernl account with authorized users. When a user is part of your team, they have a slightly restricted view of Kernl but otherwise see the same things you do. What’s restricted?
Continuous Deployment – Adding connected Git repositories is the responsibility of the admin. Non-admin users don’t need to see this information.
Billing – Once again, this is an admin responsibility. The admin is able to change plans, add credit cards, etc.
Team Management – Only the admin can add and remove users from their account.
Aside from that everything is the same for admin and non-admin users.
The Unlimited Plan & Pricing Changes
In addition to team management we are also reducing the number of plans that Kernl has. Prior to this change we had 5 different plans (solo, agency, enterprise, huge, massive) which seemed like a bit much. To simplify Kernl’s pricing structure and give our customers better options we went down to 3 plans:
Solo – This $9 per month plan is our base plan. Most customers start here and then grow into larger plans as their needs change.
Agency – The $39 agency plan is essentially our former “Enterprise” plan but with increased limits for plugins, themes, licenses, load testing, and feature flags.
Unlimited – This new $79 unlimited plan allows you to have unlimited plugins, themes, licenses, feature flags and very high limited on load testing (50K concurrent users). This plan also includes team management so you can more easily control access to your Kernl account.
As always, current Kernl customers are grandfathered into the plan that they are currently on.
Now that Kernl has a more robust upper-level offering we hope to start rolling more features into it. For example:
In the near future we’ll include Kernl Analytics with Unlimited plan.
We’re also planning on rolling out limited team management into the Agency plan.
The database is the most important part of any WordPress site. If you aren’t adept at managing MySQL, it can be a serious risk for you and your clients. One way to de-risk this portion of your WordPress site is by going with a managed MySQL offering. There are ton of different options out there, but for this post we’re going to look at Digital Ocean’s Managed MySQL.
Why Use DigitalOcean Managed MySQL?
There are a lot of reasons to use Digital Ocean’s Managed MySQL (or some other offering) including:
Simple Setup – With a few simple clicks you can have a high quality MySQL cluster set up.
Horizontal Scalability – Site growing fast? You can spin up read-only nodes to help scale out read operations.
Automated Daily Backups – No need to set up your own backups. DigitalOcean takes care of it for you.
Automated Failover – If for some reason your primary database node fails, you will automatically fail over to your warm spare.
Security – MySQL best practices for security are automatically followed by DigitalOcean. In addition to that your database is isolated to your private network so that outside requests can’t access it by default.
Baseline Performance Test
To get things started let’s do a baseline performance test where the MySQL database is on the same box as the Nginx server. The server configuration is as follows:
For completeness, let’s also take a look at the response time distribution.
Given how many failing requests we had and zero caching, the ones that did manage to get through didn’t perform too poorly. 99% in 2 seconds or less.
DigitalOcean Managed MySQL
When setting up a managed MySQL database on DigitalOcean you get the option to select the underlying hardware that powers it. For this blog post we went with the minimum possible configuration (1GB RAM, 1vCPU).
Knowing that fewer resources were allocated, it was expected that performance would actually be a bit worse on the dedicated MySQL instance. These expectations were confirmed with the load test.
All things considered, 50 req/s against a WordPress site with no caching isn’t all that bad. Once we hit that level, the database charts were showing 100% CPU saturation and thats when we started to see the error rate increase. Now let’s look at the response time distribution.
As expected performance is slightly worse here due to fewer resources on the dedicated MySQL machine, but not in a huge way.
Cost & Why Managed MySQL is Important
For our test we used the most basic configuration that DigitalOcean offers:
1 GB RAM
10 GB Hard Disk
All of this and not having to manage MySQL for $15/month. Not too bad, but to really be getting your money’s worth (automatic failover) you need to spend more money.
2 GB RAM
25 GB Hard Disk
1 Standby node
With automatic failover you start to reduce the risk to yourself and your customers a lot. However, this level of availability isn’t free 🙂 DigitalOcean doesn’t support failover on their cheapest node, so you have to upgrade to the next level ($30/month). After that, the failover node costs you an additional $20/month. Now we’re looking at $50/month for a managed MySQL cluster with automated failover.
If you run a WordPress based business on DigitalOcean, $50/month buys you a lot of peace of mind. It’s also easy to scale up as traffic increases and the cost is competitive in the landscape of managed MySQL. If you happen to be an excellent DBA though, you can definitely manage your own cluster at a reduced monetary cost, but increased time cost.
Managing your own database cluster is probably fine if cost is a problem and you are good at it. In general though, if you can afford it we recommend using a managed MySQL host so you can push the complexity of operating a highly available MySQL cluster on to someone else.