Servers With A Smile

Nothing more than a housekeeping miniblog today, I’m afraid, but it might interest those of you who like contemplating the astonishing power of volume.

I have for some time now been very wary of tweeting or retweeting URLs, however worthy the cause. The high (and entirely gratifying) number of followers that I have accumulated on Twitter means that when I point them towards a site it can often get almost instantly stampeded and flattened, swamped and strangulated. Only news pages and similar big name sites can withstand such a rush. I feel like the most awful bully and vandal when, within seconds, a tenderly cared for, loved and valued site goes down. It has taken me a long time to learn the lesson. Distributed Denial Of Service style slashdotting assaults and instant clamouring of this nature is akin to thousands of people all trying to get into a medium-sized shop at the same time. The weary shop-keeper, brushing away the broken glass into the street, turns to me and shakes his head. “But you asked me to alert people to your place, you insisted that it would be fine…” I say. He shakes his head and turns his back on me. Isn’t there some sort of cartoon character or figure in children’s literature who tries to be friendly but can’t help being clumsy and breaking everything and gets run out of town? Seems to ring a bell. Anyway, that’s me.

Over the past few days these miniblogs, which I have alerted my Twitter followers to, have nearly closed down my own site, Hoist by my own petard, as plenty of you have observed. Four thousand hits a second all diving down the pipeline at the same time for minutes on end. Do the math, as they say here in America.

I hope you’re reading this happily and that the site has let you in with speed, fluency and ease today. @simonwheatley, @sampsonian and the indefatigable Positive Internet Company have worked hard over the last few days to supercharge the server clusters with extra RAM. I hope this new capacity will prove sufficient. Bear in mind that this is virgin territory we are all exploring here. Without sounding too boastful I have to emphasise that these are astonishing numbers we are talking about and it is unsurprising that even a spaciously hosted server like mine feels the strain when you all ring the bell at once.

The iPhone and Android mobile versions of my site (which are essentially web apps) allow me to blog and upload and you to access the site in a really impressive new way, I think, which looks good and also (by virtue of its convenience and portability) contributes to extra volume. If you haven’t an iPhone, iPod Touch or Android phone, borrow one off someone for five minutes and go to – I think you’ll be impressed by the way the web app works and the social networking toolkit at the bottom of each page and other unique features. There’s much more to come.

As individual and corporate sites develop apps and embedded relationships with the APIs of Twitter and other services so the journey through cyberspace becomes richer and – I hope – more reciprocal. Zesty (but never tediously abusive) commenting and on-the-fly contributions are always welcome.

But none of this works without the invisible infrastructure of servers and the brilliant and dedicated people who maintain them, so if you’re reading this and arrived here instantly, raise a cheer to them. But not all at once….

This blog was posted in Miniblog Related topics: , and

46 comments on “Servers With A Smile”

  1. michael says:

    YOU IS THE B.F.G.!!

    there. did it work?

  2. nonoyesyes says:

    Hello at this ungodly hour! You see! Here I am on the other side of the world…a shattered night’s sleep and I am able, in a remarkably short space of time, to come read your miniblog and COMMENT TOO!
    WOW.. awesome absolutely awesome!
    And, I do salute these fine folk who keep the show on the road!
    They are fabulous and no doubt about it!
    Their efforts are tremendously appreciated by the huge numbers of humanity who are loyal followers on this site and Twitter as well.
    What ever would we do without their constant service?!
    Well Stephen another fabulous miniblog and it’s simply marvellous!
    Thanks to all who make the communication lines so open for us to be a part of here…
    One of these days…(re IPhone etc)
    HUGS nahatsu

  3. citricsquid says:

    I’d be interested in knowing the exact traffic you’re pushing.

  4. sphinxvictorian says:

    Hip, hip, hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!!!!! Yay for the brilliant and dedicated people who keep Stephen’s wonderful site going and going. Woohoo!!!

  5. RyanHurst says:

    Consider a cheer raised. I’ve experienced nothing but the zippiest of service to Bravo!

  6. LudditeWebDeveloper says:

    First post here.

    As you can see by my username, I’m a web developer. One of the things I’ve done as part of my job is stress test servers, with the use of measuring tools. Stephen, has anyone actually measured how powerful your “human DOS attacks” are? I’ve got a server in my lounge – it’d be interesting to set up a dummy website on it and get you to point at it, then measure your bizarre new superhuman ability…

  7. JanetIsserlis says:

    thanks for this. I love that you do everything you do, that the actor is a person, and a person with an iPhone and a sense of language. whilst I crave my own iPhone and resist the forces of ATandT, it’s true that I would like my own cell phone to entertain me after all.

    failing that, there’s your blog, twitter, and of course, my day job.

  8. Tartanslass says:

    Power and Volume to me equate with Mass which also means Physics which means brain hurty thing. I do however appreciate the ability to be able to enter into your wonderful website with thousands of other followers and still have room to roam and breath. Thank you so much for your profound look upon the every day things of life.

  9. JoePineapples says:

    Oh, that’ll be why you didn’t post the URL to The Daily Mail Headline generator. I posted it trying to be helpful, woops.

    But then again I’m not going to drive a shedload of traffic anywhere, even if I’ve got @stephenfry at the front of my tweet…

  10. Gavin Fox says:

    Fry power!

  11. Fryphile says:

    What if you don’t tweet when you have a miniblog? The regular forum visitors will notice the newness when you have one ready. Then word will seep out through Twitter and wherever. No sudden deluge, only a steady trickle of a sprinkle.


  12. WizzardPrang says:

    Your website elves are to be congratulated. Such well intentioned self induced “DOS attacks” must cause havoc. Hats off to them! Except I don’t wear a hat. Give the man a cigar instead. Hang on, no smoking in the server room…. :-)

  13. Stephen Fry says:

    citricsquid says:
    26 August, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    I’d be interested in knowing the exact traffic you’re pushing.

    Well, citricsquid – the numbers are so astounding (to me anyway) that we will publish details for you in a short while. First we need to make the system even more capacious and robust…

  14. Twirrim says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I work as a Linux specialist Systems Architect for another web hosting company. Can I proffer a few suggestions that the chaps at Positive Internet might be able to run with?

    First one is from a WordPress angle. I’m sure you probably are, but be sure to use either WP-Cache or WP-Super Cache modules, so that the server caches the pages.

    The second is a little harder to implement but most definitely worth it.
    According to the HTTP headers for your site you’re using Apache to host the web pages, but I would strongly recommend switching over to either Lighttpd or Nginx, both of which are free alternative web servers, combined with FastCGI for php processing,

    The more users that hit Apache the more processes it spawns and the more memory it eats up on a server. Neither lighttpd nor Nginx suffer from that problem as they approach connections in a far more efficient manner. You will find memory usage will stay low on the server even under heavy load. They also serve any static content (images and the like) far faster than Apache will.

    On tests and live solutions I’ve been involved in use of either of those web servers results in significant performance improvements.


  15. inckognito says:

    Agree. The web app of the web site is REALLY impressive!

    It’s a specifically sheer delight to use it in this way, too! I really enjoy!

    HUGE THANKS to Andrew & Simon and the whole good smart team! And to YOU, of course, for such a nice and promising mini blog! xxx

  16. hodgsonb says:

    I’ve noticed a Turbo button on my PC, is there one on yours you could try?


  17. lizhurley says:

    Good Evening Stephen, as a “weary shop keeper” myself I would be more than happy to be deluged. As it happens I’m still spinning from a frantic day in Mevagissey, tired and weary but happy. Being busy is the best and not being talked about the worst! Whoops burning my sausages (again) have to go…

  18. ptomblin says:

    Stephen, I took your advice and looked at the site on my iPod touch, and it’s very nice. Is there any way I can get to that version of the site on my Palm Pre. (Yes, I’m one of the tiny minority that choose the Pre over the iPhone – blame my wife, I wanted the iPhone, but she wanted physical keys.)

  19. truthtrap says:

    you talk about using your iphone and android to manage your side of the ‘infrastructure’. and you also express your gratitude to the people taking care of ‘the other side’.

    it so happens that we (some friends and i) are working extremely hard to finish an android app before sep 1st (the deadline for submission of the android developer challenge II.)

    this android application lets the people you thank in your post manage ‘the other side’ on their android. at least, if ‘the other’ side is in amazon ec2. we call it decaf:!

  20. moshuajoody says:

    I do believe you mean Paddington Bear, trying to so hard to get things right (oh, has that parallel been mentioned before? :) I’d love to see you in the hat, giving someone a hard stare.

  21. Reepham says:

    Perhaps a new term for websites crashed due to Lord Fry’s popularity – ‘fry’d’.

  22. AndrewRuss says:

    Very nice, like the ipodtouch plugin – Think I’ll leave it a while next time – I hate to Q!

  23. R.W. says:

    Send missives of thanks to your computer elves – no probs getting through at all.

    Glad to see you found the Daily Mail headline generator. The tweeps on my page had entirely too much fun with that last week – sorry if we filled up Twitter with a little too much nonsense – I set a little contest for people to come up with the stories behind the headlines. It was jolly funny stuff.

    Unfortunately, the porn-bots grabbed some of the headlines and now they’re doing the rounds falsely attributing fake Daily Mail quotes to me. The one about unemployed people impregnating Conservative talking heads seems to have gone down v well. ‘Gone down’ may have been an unfortunate expression given their business.

    The irony of The Daily Mail being in any way responsible for porn-sellers making money is pretty amusing. I call that level of irony ‘valadiumy’for reasons I probably don’t need to explain.

    Toodle pip,

    Rebecca W x

  24. Andy_R says:

    Ahh, I spy at last, the perfect opportunity to finally thank Mr Fry for tweeting about the formal registration of the Pirate Party UK.

    We were already in the middle of being slashdotted at the time, and thanks to Mr Fry’s very wise choice to link to the slashdot article and not our actual site, and the heroic efforts of our volunteer web team frantically static caching things on the fly, we survived with server unmelted.

    I had the great publicity coup of *nearly* being able to say Mr Fry had made encouraging noises about the Party. His exact noise was “W00t”, very definitely a very encouraging noise indeed, but clearly singluar not plural.

    So, thank you Mr Fry, and if you ever feel the need to make a second encouraging noise about us, I think that with lessons learned from the slashdot effect, our server is robust enough to withstand a direct hit.

  25. exoskeleton says:

    I was a bit delayed early on, but as a daily visitor to the site, I still thank Andrew and Simon for all the work they’ve put in.

    I am pleased to see the iPod Touch recognized as a device that displays the mobile site. Too often my favorite little gadget is overlooked.

    By the way, while the quoting feature looks very sharp on the iPod, it is a bit difficult to follow on the regular version of the site. The “so-and-so says” is repeated and there is no font or background differentiation between the quote and the response. I don’t know anything about WordPress, though, so I have no suggestions.

    Also, if this goes through, it will be the first time in three or four tries that I’ve been able to “publish” a comment on this site’s blog from my iPod. I don’t know why it’s failed every other time. I wouldn’t rule out user error.

  26. chumley says:

    Many thanks to Mr. Wheatley and Mr. Sampson. They must, at times, feel like Atlas with the universe resting on their shoulders. Servers with such sampsonian strength. Cheers.

  27. StevenC says:

    Web app razor-sharp on G1. Responsive even on vanilla GPRS connection.

  28. marybeth.hp7 says:

    Thank you so much to Andrew, Stephen, and everyone connected and also to you Stephen Fry, because without around none of this would be possible as you put it so eloquently in your miniblog. I only check-in every few days so that I don’t do what you say happens when everyone crashes a site at once. But thanks for your faith in us as a group, we will try to live up to it.
    By the way, just got ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ & ‘ Stormbreaker’ in the States as I was never able to see them before ordered them from the UK, love them both but especially your part in ‘Tom Brown’.

  29. Elifant71 says:

    Glad to see that all is resolved! I already have too much to worry about (sic)! Keep the blogs coming! Love the tweets too! Cheers!

  30. Ed Prior says:

    Maybe you could use your new-found power to take down evil websites? I can’t actually think of any evil websites off the top of my head, but surely someone will be able to think of something worthy of being Fry’d?
    Also, seems like an obvious suggestion, but regarding the children’s character who causes calamity through well-meaning efforts…sounds kind of like Paddington Bear to me.

  31. sc00by79 says:

    Really enjoying the miniblogs. Any chance those of us without iPhones or Androids (ie Blackberry) will be able to enjoy your site on the move soon?!!

  32. puckersthepig says:

    Hooray for all the wonderful people that manage to keep Mr Fry’s website going! I am ever grateful for these wonderful blogs that are posted so regularly. Thank you so much Mr Fry! And sorry for the slightly crazed mass of people that are your fans. We can’t help it!
    Hmmmmm… I really must steal one of my friends iphones…

  33. enthusemarc says:

    stephen, you might nudge your masses (er, that would be the masses that hang on your words, rather than your personal masses) towards the RSS feed for your blog, and thereby ease the load on the site itself? that way, upload once, and the gazillions will receive as and when?

    always worked for me.

    best, marc at enthusiasm

  34. yeahyeahyeah909 says:

    Hooray! Well done hard workers!

  35. Latella says:

    Those who do not consider this should deal and look at the bright side…. You see how well your server holds up.


  36. martpol says:


    I love your “medium sized shop” analogy. I suppose your victims will now have to consider their own needs for additional robustness. However, as we all know, the locals (who were there first) hate it when their Spar store temporarily shuts down in order to expand into the backyard to accommodate newcomers.

  37. JustJim says:

    >if you’re reading this and arrived here instantly, raise a cheer to them.


  38. Stepharia says:

    More hits are better than less. I’m certainly not empathising with regards to my own site!

    Techy people are worth their weight in gold.

  39. Smifflette says:

    Perhaps you could persuade your readers to use an RSS feed to read your blog? Can’t suggest anything for the sites you link to though. Bet you could never have dreamed you’d be this popular when you were weeeeee :o)


  40. marylooaustria says:

    As a lawyer I would have to say..actually not such a good idea leaving your signature so freely at the end, so that everybody can copy it and paste it anywhere they would like to…

  41. Ghost Code says:


    Astonishing and dedicated rush
    Develop tender hope
    Invisible convenience
    Valued individual zest

    Capacity hosted
    Emphasise that these are unique
    Hoist towards clamour
    Observed welcome


  42. rasmaestro says:

    Let it henceforth be known as the VIPDoS, of which you are perhaps the grandest champion.

  43. Stephen Fry says:

    Believe me we are INSANELY grateful. As for the SQL enquiries… we’re doing our best. Thanks (and to bro)
    Stephen x

  44. tony42 says:

    Beautiful, interesting and funny. Lovely writing Stephen, thank you.

    I particularly enjoyed the DNA quote, how easy it is to forget his wonderful turn of phrase; so witty, what a terrible loss to the world. A timely reminder too as Last Chance… is almost upon us, lucky us.


  45. SallyA says:

    This is the first time I’ve come to your blog Stephen. Brilliant post. I’m a full time writer (and have been for just over a year) – writing is like vomiting up your soul. Almost impossibly difficult. What gives me such heart in the dark times is knowing that almost all writers also find it impossibly difficult. The hugely prolific Tony Jordan has a wonderful saying that I come back to time and again – “I hate writing but I love having written”. So true I think. There’s nothing like hitting a deadline and “having written”.

  46. vinceblogg says:

    I raise a cheer for the advertising revenue that pays for the infrastructure, server gurus and the end of month server cocktail parties. You must be able to nonchalantly keep slinging boxes or better yet compute cycles at this blog. Obviously planting a small tree with each server installed.

    The only pity in this is that the medium sized shop keepers don’t get their acts together swift enough to benefit. Especially if they are forewarned. That’s the time to get the team outside selling drinks to the customers while they wait to get in. Maybe your team could do some staged advertising (an interim advertising hop) that contributes to improving the shop keeper’s infrastructure. The Stephen Fry better hosting for better blogs foundation.

    So the question is have you used your traffic to smite a website yet? There must be a few out there you don’t like….take that! You can add that to your ability to crush gadgets if the BBC’s technology blog is anything to go by.

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