Geeking out with WordPress, CDNs, and Amazon CloudFront

It is truly amazing how powerful and sophisticated WordPress is becoming. Even better, much of this functionality is available from free plugins and themes. (The developers of such products can make money by doing support, custom work, etc., after giving away the main product and building a user base.)

Here’s an example, using the disk cache program and theme that Polizeros uses. This blog was hitting compute cycle limits at Laughing Squid, where it is hosted. They said it was due to excessive database hits on the server while loading pages. I deactivated various plugins. monitored the results, but that didn’t help much.

Then, I discovered that the theme I use, the highly configurable Atahualpa, has an option to put CSS and JavaScript inline rather than external, plus you can compress CSS. I turned these options on. Google Page Speed went to 94 from 90. Okay, now we’re starting to get somewhere.

Home of W3 Total Cache

I then contacted W3 Total Cache and paid them to examine my cache settings. I had also just implemented Amazon S3 for storing data and images. They tweaked a few settings then advised me to use Amazon CloudFront on top of S3. W3TC has full support for both.

This is where it gets really powerful. Amazon S3 stands for Simple Storage Service. W3TC uploads all the images, CSS, JavaScript, and theme files from Laughing Squid to Amazon S3 where they are hosted, thus dropping load on Laughing Squid. CloudFront is a layer on top of S3 which takes the files from S3 and distributes them to servers across the planet. So, if someone in Scotland views Polizeros, much of it will be coming to them from the Amazon CloudFront site in London and not coming from the US. This obviously speeds things up for them.

S3 and Cloudfront are part of Amazon Web Services

Best of all, Amazon Web Services are pay as you go with no minimum fees. Everything I’ve just described might cost me 20 cents a day. Blogging has come a long way.

The Atahaulpa theme is amazing. It has 28 pages of configuration items. You can make hundreds of changes to the theme from the Dashboard. There’s no need to go mucking around in code. The entire look and feel of a blog can be changed in three minutes without touching code. But, and this is crucial, you do need to know what you are doing! You may not have to change code but understanding what it does and how a WordPress theme works is crucial.

W3TC has nine pages filled with complex configuration choices. It was written by Frederick Townes originally as the cache for giant tech site Mashable and then turned into a WordPress plugin.

Both of these fine products are free. That’s what makes open source so powerful and vibrant, large communities building software for the betterment of all.

As for those compute cycles, they dropped sharply after I went to S3 and CloudFront.