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TAMU Webmaster's Blog

Information and insight from the A&M Webmasters


Lessons Learned

I think it’s important to use events like last week’s weather advisory posting as a report card for how we are doing.  In this case, the incident revealed a few weaknesses in our procedure and server configurations that we need to shore up.

Within two minutes of the weather advisory being posted on we noticed the TAMU News server start to page incessantly, and within another minute it failed altogether.  This was largely the result of not devoting enough RAM to the virtual machine hosting the site.  We quickly changed the settings and the site did fine for the rest of the day.  This did alert us that we needed to check all of our other sites, especially, and make sure that they all were set to withstand traffic spikes.

It also made us re-evaluate how some of our pages are stitched together.  The TAMU News site, for example, generates much of its content from RSS feeds from across campus.  Assembling all of this dynamically slows the page down enough without having to take into consideration high traffic volumes.  I have therefore changed a lot of the code to pull the information into the page through scheduled jobs rather than on each page load.  I have also started introducing caching to the site to speed the overall load time.  Hopefully these will have noticeable benefits for everyday use as well as keeping the site viable while under heavy load.

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Monday, March 1st, 2010 News, Ongoing Projects, Programming No Comments

Prioritizing New Features in Application Development Using Instrumentation

So today, after several weeks with clear, hot skies, we finally have some cloud cover and I’m hearing thunder outside. But nature’s thunder is not the only thing I’m hearing. When I developed the current production maps system, I put in some instrumentation to help me log errors and watch performance.

About 2 minutes after the first sounds of thunder I heard outside my window, I started getting emails from the maps system telling me that traffic was spiking (and with mobile phones no less). What does this tell me? The next version of the campus maps must have weather tracking!

What I’m seeing is spikes in usage and [unfortunately] mobile capabilities not being available when the weather starts changing. The current version of maps does not provide weather updates (or mobile friendly layouts), but you can bet that because I’m watching these requests roll in (along with the clouds), the weather feature just got a priority bump. Mobile features were already a priority for the next version, but weather was an afterthought.

I encourage every app developer to take the time to put good logging and instrumentation standards in place in their applications so they can justify one feature over another when it comes to the next sprint or upgrade. And don’t forget to save often… My APC just clicked…

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Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 Analytics, Campus Maps No Comments