I have been running this blog on this domain for over ten years now but the “hardware” has changed a bit. I have always done a VPS but where it lives has changed over time. I started with Rackspace and then later moved to Digital Ocean back when they were the new kid on the block and offered SSD based VPS instances with unlimited bandwidth. I started on a $5 droplet and then upgraded to a pair of $5 droplets so that I could get better separation of concerns and increase the total amount of compute I had at my disposal. This setup has served me very well for the past five years or so. If you are interested in checking out Digital Ocean I have a referral code you can use – https://m.do.co/c/5016d3cc9b25

As of this writing, the site is hosted on two of the lowest level droplets Digital Ocean offers which cost $5 a month each. I use a pair of instances primarily because it is the cheapest way to get two vCPU worth of compute. I made the change to two instances back when I was running xboxrecord.us (XRU) as well as a NodeJS app. Xboxrecord.us and the associated NodeJS app (which also powered guardian.theater at the time), combined with MySQL, used more CPU than a single instance could provide. By adding a new instance and moving MySQL to it I was able to spread the load across the two instances quite well. I have since shutdown XRU and the NodeJS app but have kept the split server arrangement mostly because I haven’t wanted to spend the time moving it back to a single instance. Also, how I run WordPress is slightly different now because in addition to MySQL I am also running Redis. Four services (Nginx, PHP, Redis and MySQL) all competing for CPU time during requests is just a bit too much for a single core.

Making the dual server arrangement work is simple on Digital Ocean. The instance that runs MySQL also runs Redis for object and page caching for WordPress. This means Nginx and PHP gets its own CPU and MySQL and Redis get their own CPU for doing work. I am now effectively running a dual core system but with the added overhead, however small, of doing some work across the private network. Digital Ocean has offered private networking with no transfer fees between instances for awhile now so I utilize that move data between the two instances. Digital Ocean also has firewall functionality that I tap into to ensure the database server can only be reached by my web server. There is no public access to the database server at all.

The web server is, of course, publicly available. In front of this server is a floating IP, also provided by Digital Ocean. I use a floating IP so that I can create a new web server and then simply switch where the floating IP points so make it live. I don’t need to change any DNS and my cut overs are fairly clean. Floating IPs are free and I highly recommend always leverage floating IPs in front of an instance.

Although the server is publicly available, I don’t allow for direct access to the server. To help provide some level of protection I use Cloudflare in front of the site. I have used Cloudflare for almost as long as I’ve been on Digital Ocean and while I started out on their free plan I have since transitioned to using their Automatic Platform Optimization system for WordPress. This feature does cost $5 a month to enable but what it gives you, when combined with their plugin, is basically the perfect CDN solution for WordPress. I highly recommend this as well.

In all, hosting this site is about $15 a month. This is a bit steeper than some people may be willing to pay and I could certainly do it for less. That said, I have found this setup to be reliable and worry free. Digital Ocean is an excellent choice for hosting software and keeps getting better.

Running WordPress

WordPress, if you’re careful, is quite light weight by today’s standards. Out of the box it runs extremely quickly so I have always done what I could to ensure it stays that way so that I can keep the site as responsive as possible. While I do utilizing caching to keep things speedy you can never ignore uncached speeds. Uncached responsiveness will always be felt in the admin area and I don’t want a sluggish admin experience.

Keeping WordPress running smoothly is simple in theory and sometimes difficult in practice. In most cases, doing less is always the better option. For this reason I install and use as few plugins as necessary and use a pretty basic theme. My only requirement for the theme is that it looks reasonable while also being responsive (mobile friendly). Below is a listing of the plugins I use on this site.

Akismet

This plugin comes with WordPress. Many people know what this plugin is so I won’t get into it too much. It does what it can to detect and mark command spam as best it can and does a pretty good job of it these days.

Autoptimize

Autoptimize combines js and css files into single files as much as possible. This reduces the total number of requests required to load content. This fulfills my “less is more” requirement.

Autoshare for Twitter

Autoshare for Twitter is a plugin my current employer puts out. It does one thing and it does it extremely well. It shares new posts, when told to do so, directly to Twitter with the title of the post as well as a link to it. When I started I would do this manually. Autoshare for Twitter greatly simplifies this task. Twitter happens to be the only place I share new content to.

Batcache

Batcache is a simple page caching solution for WordPress for caching pages at the server. Pages that are served to anonymous users are stored in Redis, with memcache(d) also supported. Additional hits to server will be served out of the cache until the page expires. This may seem redundant since I have Cloudflare providing full page caching but caching at the server itself ensures that Cloudflare’s many points of presence get a consistent copy from the server.

Cloudflare

The Cloudflare plugin is good by itself but required if you are using their APO option for WordPress. With this plugin, API calls are made to Cloudlfare to clear the CDN cache when certain events happen in WordPress, like saving a new post.

Cookie Notice and Compliance

Cookie Notice and Compliance for that sweet GDPR compliance. Presents that annoying “we got cookies” notification.

Redis Object Cache

Redis Object Cache is my preferred object caching solution. I find Redis, combined with this plugin, to be the best object caching solution available for WordPress.

Site Kit by Google

Site Kit by Google, another plugin by my employer, is the best way to integrate some useful Google services, like Google Analytics and Google Adsense, into your WordPress site.

That is the complete set of plugins that are deployed and activated on my site. In addition to this smallish set of plugins I also employ another method to keep my site running as quickly as I can, which I described here. These plugins, combined with the mentioned trick, ensure the backend remain as responsive as possible. New Relic reports that the typical, average response time of the site is under 200ms even if the traffic to the site is pretty low. This seems pretty good to me while using the most basic droplets Digital Ocean has to offer.

Do you host your own site? Leave a comment describing what your methods are for hosting your own site!

Chris Wiegman asks, what are you building? I thought this would be a fun question to answer today. Like a lot of people I have a number of things in flight but I’ll try to limit myself to just a few them.

PiPlex

I have run Plex in my house for a few years to serve up my music collection. In 2021 I also started paying for Plex Pass which gives me additional features. One of my favorite features or add-ons is PlexAmp which gives me a similar to Spotify like experience but for music I own.

Although I’m very happy with the Plex server I have I wondered if it would be feasible to run Plex on a Raspberry Pi. I also wanted to learn how Pi OS images were generated using pi-gen. With that in mind I set out to create a Pi OS image that preinstalls Plex along with some additional tools like Samba to make it easy to get up and running with a Plex server. I named the project PiPlex. I don’t necessarily plan on replacing my existing Plex server with a Pi based solution but the project did serve its intended goal. I learned a bit about how Pi OS images are created and I discovered that it is quite possible to create a Pi based Plex server.

ProxySQL Helm Chart

One of the most exciting things I’ve learned in the past two years or so is Kubernetes. While it is complex it is also good answer to some equally complex challenges in hosting and scaling some apps. My preferred way of managing apps on Kubernetes is Helm.

One app I want install and manage is ProxySQL. I couldn’t find a good Helm chart to get this done so I wrote one and it is available at https://github.com/dustinrue/proxysql-kubernetes. To make this Helm chart I first had to take the existing ProxySQL Docker image and rebuild it so it was built for x86_64 as well as arm64. Next I created the Helm chart so that it installs ProxySQL as a cluster and does the initial configuration.

Site Hosting

I’ve run my blog on WordPress since 2008 and the site has been hosted on Digital Ocean since 2013. During most of that time I have also used Cloudflare as the CDN. Through the years I have swapped the droplets (VMs) that host the site, changed the operating system and expanded the number of servers from one to two in order to support some additional software. The last OS change was done about three years ago and was done to swap from Ubuntu to CentOS 7.

CentOS 7 has served me well but it is time to upgrade it to a more recent release. With the CentOS 8 controversy last year I’ve decided to give one of the new forks a try. Digital Ocean offers Rocky Linux 8 and my plan is to replace the two instances I am currently running with a single instance running Rocky Linux. I no longer have a need for two separate servers and if I can get away with hosting the site on a single instance I will. Back in 2000 it was easy to run a full LAMP setup (and more) on 1GB of memory but it’s much more of a challenge today. That said, I plan to use a single $5 instance with 1 vCPU and 1GB memory to run a LEMP stack.

Cloudflare

Speaking of Cloudflare, did you know that Cloudflare does not cache anything it deems “dynamic”? PHP based apps are considered dynamic content and HTML output by software like WordPress is not cached. To counter this, I created some page rules a few years ago that forces Cloudflare to cache pages, but not the admin area. Combined with the Cloudflare plug-in this solution has worked well enough.

In the past year, however, Cloudflare introduced their automatic platform optimization option that targets WordPress. This feature enables the perfect mix of default rules (without using your limited set of rules) for caching a WordPress site properly while breaking the cache when you are signed in. This is also by far the cheapest and most worry free way to get the perfect caching setup for WordPress and I highly recommend using the feature. It works so well I went ahead and enabled it for this site.

Multi-Architecture Docker Images

Ever since getting a Raspberry Pi 4, and when rumors of an Arm powered Mac were swirling, I’ve been interested in creating multi-architecture Docker images. I started with a number of images I use at work so they are available for both x86_64 and arm64. In the coming weeks I’d like to expand a bit on how to build multi-architecture images and how to replace Docker Desktop with a free alternative.

Finishing Up

This is just a few of the things I’m working on. Hopefully in a future post I can discuss some of the other stuff I’m up to. What are you building?