On the surface this blog hasn’t changed that much. The right hand column had shifted around a bit as I added and subtracted various bits of social integration but for the most part the rest of the site remained largely static. Primarily this was due to laziness on my part as whilst I always wanted to revamp it I could just never find the motivation, nor the right design, to spur me on. However after a long night spent perusing various WordPress theme sites I eventually came across one I liked but it was a paid one and although I’m not one to shy away from paying people for their work it’s always something of a barrier. I kept the page open in Chrome and told myself that when it came time to move servers that’d be the time I’d make the switch.
And yesterday I did.
My previous provider, BurstNET, whilst being quite amazing at the start slowly started to go downhill as of late. Since I’d been having a lot of issues, mostly of my own doing, I had enlisted Pingdom to track my uptime and the number of reports I got started to trend upwards. For the most part it didn’t affect me too much as most of the outages happened outside my prime time however it’s never fun to wake up to an inbox full of alerts so I decided it was time to shift over to a new provider. I had had my eye on Digital Ocean for a while as they provide SSD backed VPSs, something which I had investigated last year but was unable to find at a reasonable price. Plus their plans are extraordinarily cheap for what you get with this site coming to you via their $20/month plan. Set up was a breeze too, even though it seems every provider has their own set of quirks built into their Ubuntu images.
The new theme is BlogTime from ThemeForest and I chose it precisely because it’s the only one I could find that emulates the style you get when you login to WordPress.com (with those big featured images at the top with a nice flat layout). The widgets he provides with the theme unfortunately don’t seem to work, at least not in the way that’s advertised, so I had to spend some time wrestling with the Facebook and Twitter widget APIs to get them looking semi-decent on the sidebar. Thankfully it seems the “dark” theme on both sites seems to match the background on here quite well otherwise I would’ve had to do a whole bunch of custom CSS stuff that I just wasn’t in the mood for last night. Probably the coolest thing about this theme is that it automatically resizes itself depending on what kind of device you have so this blog should look pretty much the same no matter how you’re viewing it.
I also took the opportunity to try and set up caching again and whilst it appeared to work great last night upon attempting to load my site this morning I found that I was greeted with an empty response back. Logging into the WordPress dashboard directly seemed to solve this but I’m not quite sure what caused W3 Total Cache to cause my site to serve nothing for the better part of 5 hours. For the moment I’ve disabled it as the site appears to be running quite fine without it but I’ll probably attempt to get one of them running again in the future as when they’re working they really are quite good.
Does this change in face mean there’s going to be a radical change in what this site is about? I’m not intending to as whilst my traffic has been flagging of late (and why that is I couldn’t tell you) this was more a revamp that was long overdue. I’d changed servers nearly once a year however I had not once changed the theme (well unless you count the Ponies incident) and it was starting to get a little stale, especially considering it seemed to be the theme of choice for a multitude of other tech blogs I visited. So really all that’s changed is the look and the location that this blog is coming to you from, everything else is pretty much the same, for better or for worse.
I’m always looking out for ways to improve my blog behind the scenes mostly because I’ve noticed that a lot more people visit when the page doesn’t take more than 10 seconds to load. Over the course of its life I’ve tried a myriad of things with the blog from changing operating systems to trying nearly every plugin under the sun that said it could boost my site’s performance. In the end the best move I ever made was to put it on a Windows virtual private server in the USA that was backed up by a massive pipe and everything I’ve tried hasn’t come close since.
However I was intrigued by the services offered by CloudFlare, a new web start up that offered to speed up basically any web site. I’d read about them a while back when they were participating in TechCrunch Disrupt and the idea of being able to back my blog with a CDN for free was something few would pass up. At the time however my blog was on a Linux server with all the caching plugins functioning fine, so my site was performing pretty much as fast as it could at the time. After the migration to my new Windows server however I had to disable my caching plugins as they assumed a Linux host for them to function properly. I didn’t really think about CloudFlare again until they came up in my feed reader just recently, so I decided to give them a go.
They’re not wrong when they say their set up is painless (at least for an IT geek like myself). After signing up with them and entering in my site details all that I needed to do was update my name servers to point to theirs and I was fully integrated with their service. At first I was a bit confused since it didn’t seem to be doing anything but proxying the connections to my site but it would seem that it does cache static content. How it goes about this doesn’t seem to be public knowledge however, so I got the feeling it only does it per request. Still after getting it all set up I decided I’d leave it over the weekend to see how it performed and come this morning I wasn’t terribly impressed with the results.
Whilst the main site suffered absolutely 0 downtime my 2 dozen sub domains seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. Initially I had thought that this was because of the wildcard DNS entry that I had used to redirect all subdomain requests (CloudFlare says they won’t proxy them if you do this, which was fine for me in this instance). However after manually entering in the subdomains and waiting 24 hours to see the results they were still not accessible. Additionally the site load times didn’t improve noticeably, leaving me wondering if this was worth all the time I had put into it. After changing my name servers back to their previous locations all my sites came back up immediately and soured me on the whole CloudFlare idea.
It could be that it was all a massive configuration goof on my part but since I was able to restore my sites I’m leaning it towards being a problem with CloudFlare. For single site websites it’s probably a good tool and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in their DDOS protection (I was on edge after doing that LulzSec piece) but it seems my unique configuration doesn’t gel with their services. Don’t let me talk you out of trying them however since so many people seem to be benefiting from their services, it’s just that there might be potential problems if you’re running dozens of subdomains like me.