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30 Apr 2010

Serving the Official Charts Website

by Robert King

With the release this week of The Official Charts website which is hosted on our Wickedweb CMS platform it's a good time to look at some of the CMS features that make it possible.

The Official Charts website is a busy site throughout the week but with the chart release at 7pm on Sunday we also have to serve an incredible peak of traffic.

One of my central design goals for the Wickedweb CMS was speed under load. Under load the weak point in any content management system is normally the database. Whilst it is reasonably straight forward to increase your ability to serve http requests just by adding hardware it is a lot harder to increase your ability to serve database requests in the same way.

A normal content managed page will contain a number of modifiable content areas, a number of modifiable menu structures and possibly some custom elements (for example the chart listings on The Official Charts site). A naive CMS implementation would fetch each item from the database and render them into the page on every page view. The Wickedweb CMS avoids this by integrating caching at every level. What this means is that we only have to fetch and render content once for any change. Even on page elements that change at the level of seconds this can be a big win for a busy site. If you are serving 50 pages a second and have content that changes once a second you will still be reducing the load for this element from 50 database calls per second to 1 per second. By integrating the caching at every level from individual database rows, to module page components up to entire pages we are able to not only reduce database load but also the work done for each page load. This means many more pages per second can be served by the same hardware.

Another way of reducing your server load is to move static content off of the server and onto a content delivery network (CDN). Using a CDN not only means freeing up your server to serve more dynamic content but also moves the static content nearer to your customers, improving their page load times. The Wickedweb CMS integrates CDN hosting seamlessly, you upload content to the CMS as if it was stored locally and the CMS publishes to the CDN for you.

It should go without saying that a quality hosting platform is essential to a quality CMS driven site, however many people are attracted to the low prices of bulk shared hosting providers. It is a false economy as your site will be at the mercy of the hundreds of other sites on the same server. This can mean not only a bad customer experience but also poor search engine ranking.

For the Wickedweb CMS we have partnered with leading managed hosting provider Rackspace who provide a powerful, highly reliable, secure hosting platform for our CMS. By serving the CMS on hardware dedicated only to that purpose we are in control of all the elements that affect performance from the server configuration, the code and the maximum load. Depending on the demands of your website the Wickedweb CMS is able to scale from shared hosting, to a dedicated server or multi-server solution.

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