Freewaregenius rises from the ashes!

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After being offline for most of the past week, Freewaregenius is finally back online. I am hoping at this point that all the issues are resolved. The site should be running faster than it was before. There is a blank space on the upper right where my Ajax navigation tabs used to be that is not looking too good, but that will be remedied soon. I am looking into new designs/Wordpress themes so the site’s look and feel may change in the coming weeks.

My site first went offline Dec 30th. At first I thought it was a vanilla, run of the mill outage most probably due to a traffic spike (my last posting, “Ten lesser known “must have” free programs, part 1” was generally well-received in the blogosphere and featured on Lifehacker). Alas the problem turned out to be some sort of server “meltdown” where the host computer’s hard drive (and my site data on it) were simply inaccessible. This all was taking place on Dec 30th and 31st, needless to say not the most convenient time. Nonetheless the guy from my previous hosting company (hi Greg), bless his heart, was working late into New Year’s eve trying to get my data out (the last backup we had was taken in October). He finally managed to retrieve a snapshot of my site as it was on Nov 17th, with approx 20 postings and comments wiped out. If you find that a comment that you made is gone, that would be the reason.

My first response was to kick into gear re-creating the missing postings from saved files on my desktop (and at least some comments from cached versions of the pages saved by Google). This was much more time consuming than I thought, but I was thinking that at least its doable and that when all content is recreated the problem would be solved. Alas, this was not to be. Although it was missing some content, my site was now back but it was consuming too much of the shared server’s resources, resulting in it being bumped offline again. This was not a new issue, but we had previously solved it by using WordPress’s “Super Cache Plugin“. Except this time the caching did not seem to work for some reason. Murphy’s law in action. Most annoying of all, whenever my site was pulled offline it was replaced with a message that said something like “contact billing department”, making it seem like all of this was happening because I hadn’t paid the bills. Grrrr!!!

I therefore needed to go into my site’s code and either optimize it or remove whatever was using so much of the server’s CPU resources – a time consuming task which I am certainly not the best candidate to perform, but I was determined to get the problem fixed. After making the site inaccessible to the outside world I went about disabling unnecessary plugins, but this was not going to solve the problem. I realized that the culprit may be my Ajax navigation (which I had paid someone to implement for me about 6 months ago), and decided to remove it altogether. In any case I had been doubting its usefulness/efficacy since its inception, and was not sad to see it go. Many hours later I was able to take it out, and my site did indeed seem to load up much faster than before. I was certain that there would be no more problems and informed my host company that the problem was 100% solved (the guy had understandable concerns at this point that my site was again going to hog the resources of the shared server and slow down other customers’ sites). Less than 24 hours after the site was re-instated it was pulled down again for the same reason: was still using too much resources.

It was also at this point that my previous host told me that he couldn’t host my site on a shared server anymore. This was not so bad because in actuality I had been researching hosting options for days and had come to the conclusion that I probably needed to move to a host that was better able to deal with traffic spikes like the ones I occasionally got. I chose Media Temple, which in fact was recommended by one of my readers the first time that I switched hosts (thanks Devon). These guys apparently use a “grid” structure where servers are inter-connected and idle servers can chip in and help servers that are in need of resources if the need arises. They also host a lot of high-traffic blogs that were familiar to me and, moreover, I figured that if I ever needed to move to virtual private hosting their package was extremely reasonably priced.

I hope that all the issues are resolved now; during the past few days I have made many changes, including changing hosts, removing inefficient elements from the site (including the Ajax navigation), upgrading WordPress to the latest version and disabling unnecessary plugins. I realize that a lot more can be done to make it more efficient; hopefully will get there sooner rather than later. Thanks to reader Alfred for recommending Yslow in a previous postings comment section. Yslow is a Firefox plugin that analyses a site’s performance and provides recommendations to make it better; the analysis was very interesting, although it would have been more useful to someone who knows more about building websites than I do.

A part of me still thinks that the problem will somehow manage to reappear and continue to haunt me, but still, I am hopeful. I am also looking to change the site template and to reinstate some sort of navigation widget in that black space in the upper right, but one that was not a resource hog and did not slow the site down. Keeping my fingers crossed!