With our Real User Monitoring service closing in on an official release, we’ve been especially keen to find out what the experience has been like for participants in the beta program. When we noticed a few tweets about real user monitoring by Mauricio Freitas in New Zealand, the admin of Geekzone, we had to find out more.
Expanded the “page load” answer for Geekzone. Is your company measuring these things too? gkz1.co/16FuMkW
— Mauricio Freitas (@freitasm) March 18, 2013
Oh, and those charts are created with @pingdom RUM – no, not the drinking one although donations accepted 🙂
— Mauricio Freitas (@freitasm) March 18, 2013
Geekzone started in 2003 simply as a place to post interesting things that Mauricio found around the web. He’s the site’s administrator and also does some coding and maintenance to its platform. According to Mauricio, Geekzone attracts somewhere around 500,000 unique visitors a month, with around 60% coming from New Zealand, and around 30% from the USA.
The site is hosted on a couple of Hyper-V Vms running on the site’s own HP hardware. Because 75% of its New Zealand traffic comes from Auckland, that’s where the server is located. It’s co-located with Datacom in one of their data centres. The site runs on Microsoft Windows Server 2012 and Microsoft SQL Server.
For optimization, the site runs Riverbed Stingray Aptimizer. The site also uses CloudFlare as CDN. However, it doesn’t use CloudFlare’s optimizations because, said Mauricio, the Aptimizer is already well tuned for the site. Mauricio added that SQL Sentry and SQL Monitor are used for database monitoring, and Pingdom for uptime monitoring.
Recently, Geekzone has also been a part of the beta program for Pingdom’s Real User Monitoring service.
Performance and reliability challenges
That’s a considerable amount of traffic that needs to be handled, and evidently Geekzone has the hardware, optimization, and monitoring in place to deal with it.
We asked Mauricio how he manages the performance and reliability challenges the site faces. He said, “As expected, we have to basically keep the site up and stable for our users. We worked months behind the scenes making sure our database was correctly indexed, long queries were debugged, scripts were appraised for performance, web pages were optimized.”
“The result is that we see a flat line in terms of response times, indicating to us that we managed to get the platform to a point where we know the impact of each component in the server side,” Mauricio added.
For end users visiting Geekzone this means that even when under heavier than normal load, said Mauricio, the site’s performance remains within an expected range.
Where does Real User Monitoring fit in?
Moving forward Geekzone has two challenges, said Mauricio. First, it needs to move the platform to a faster framework, and make sure each web page has only the elements it needs to make it faster. And Pingdom’s Real User Monitoring service will play an important part in that work going forward.
“The work on improving the Geekzone site now focuses on external providers, trying to reduce them to a minimum, but there is only so much we can cut,” said Mauricio. Examples he mentioned include Google DFP tags, Google Analytics, Google Meebo, and Quantcast. “These are, however, essential parts of the site now, and they provide valuable insight and support revenue opportunities. Any changes on this need to be planned well to prevent negative impact in other sides of the business,” he added.
One functionality in the Real User Monitoring service, which Mauricio said has been helpful, is the real-time display of load times and page views. They’ve used this to monitor the site’s performance during local events. For example, when a large telco announced a new product or service they were able to use the real-time view together with other tools to have a complete view of the platform’s performance behind the scenes.
Mauricio also said that it has been useful for them to cross-reference data from Pingdom’s Real User Monitoring with information from Google Analytics. Right now, he said, Internet Explorer seems to be the slowest of the top three browsers used to access Geekzone (Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer in order). But they see Internet Explorer 10 usage growing, which currently accounts for around 10% of all Internet Explorer users on the site. “We expect this usage to climb, and we monitor RUM to make sure this move impacts in a positive way for our users,” Mauricio added.
Public uptime status
Geekzone monitors its uptime status with Pingdom’s synthetic website monitoring service.
For them, as for others, synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring are the perfect compliments to each other. With both in place, you will know when your site is down as well as monitor the site’s performance.
They also publish the site’s uptime record with Pingdom Public Reports, and it scores a pretty good uptime record. We asked Mauricio what it offered them to publish the uptime status publicly as they do.
“First it’s a way to tell us the job is being done right,” he said.
“Keeping the site available is important because many users have come to rely on the [Geekzone] forums when a problem strikes a telecommunications provider,” Mauricio added.
Geekezone is also the place where many of these telecommunications providers interact with their customers, according to Mauricio. Because of that, Geekzone has to keep the site running for the benefit of both sides.
More fine-grained controls
Finally, we wanted Mauricio’s input concerning how he thinks our Real User Monitoring service should develop in the future. We asked him if he had any specific recommendations.
“Pingdom RUM is a great service. What I’d really like to see is some ability to ‘slice’ it. For example, getting the stats on a country basis but then refine it by network or time of the day, perhaps even comparing with a previous period,” he said.
Mauricio added that even the ability to create tags so that he could run A/B tests would be welcome. He said that could help him decide which test scenario provides better improvements when deploying changes or testing with a live audience.
How are you using Pingdom Real User Monitoring?
It was interesting to talk to Mauricio about Geekzone and its use of real user monitoring. We suspect that Geekzone is in a similar situation to many of you, trying to manage multiple, often conflicting, demands to keep your site fast and reliable.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Mauricio for taking the time to talk to us, and wish him and the Geekzone team all the best with the site.
We would very much like to hear from you as well, if you’re using the Real User Monitoring or some other Pingdom service. So, get in touch in the comments below or on Twitter.