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Note to readers: Thanks to a link from Andrew Sullivan, our server is maxed out at around 2250 visitors/hour, and things are a little slow. If you come back in an hour or two, response times for browsing or commenting should be better, as we return to our more normal mid-day average of around 1,000 visitors/hour:

(Status as of 3:05 p.m.)


  1. richard howland-bolton said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 2:12 pm

    So I probably shouldn't post a comment

  2. Dan T. said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

    It apparently doesn't take all that much beyond normal usage to max out your servers… let's hope you never get Slashdotted!

    [(myl) We've actually been slashdotted several times, and most likely those events also maxed out the server (though things were a bit different under Movable Type, which I think made lighter per-visitor demands). This is the first time that I've ever verified that we actually hit a hard limit (maximum number of allowed apache2 processes) rather than just grinding slowly to a non-responsive state.

    Anyhow, you're right that this shows that our current normal load is not too far from the maximum capacity of the current (somewhat underpowered) server. So this gives me a bit more motivation to actually put in the time needed to upgrade to a newer, bigger, faster machine, and also to current versions of Linux and WordPress.)]

  3. Chris said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

    I'm disappointed you didn't follow the recent snowpocalypse and snowmagedon trends, so I'll do it for you:

    …erg, okay, I might be prepared to defer to Andrewlanche on pure pronouncability grounds.

    [(myl) Wouldn't that be "Andrewpocalypse" and "Dishpocalypse"?]

  4. Sili said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

    If you need an upgrade, will you take reader donations? It seems only fair.

    [(myl) Thanks for the suggestion, but the kind of computers involved are pretty cheap these days, and I have access to enough discretionary funds through the University of Pennsylvania to pay for one. The biggest investment, frankly, is the time and energy involved in doing the upgrade. The chances are that things will go smoothly, but if they don't, I might need to learn more about mysql and php than I really want to know.]

    Alternatively, would you consider participating in the Donors Choose Social Media Challenge when that rolls around sometime this Autumn (I think)? There are (unfortunately) oodles of impoverished schools out there who lack even basic reading materials.

  5. Rubrick said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

    So this gives me a bit more motivation to actually put in the time needed to upgrade to a newer, bigger, faster machine, and also to current versions of Linux and WordPress.

    Yeah, Mark. You're clearly not pulling your weight around there. Sometimes whole days go by without a long, carefully-researched post from you, and when you do post you drop the ball by not crafting a thoughtful reply to every single comment. The least you could do is take up some slack as a sysadmin.

  6. Arjan said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

    How about a VPS? Easy to scale.

    [(myl) That's what Andrea Mazzucchi, the LDC's IT manager, has suggested, and it might well be the right solution. I've been somewhat resistant, out of some kind of left-over and probably misplaced cyber-individualism.]

  7. Mr. Fnortner said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

    Re: "I've been somewhat resistant", you could have been relustant, a la Ms Palin.

  8. Jon Lennox said,

    July 20, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

    The biggest investment, frankly, is the time and energy involved in doing the upgrade.

    Isn't that what grad students are for?

    (Speaking as one who has been there.)

  9. Jen said,

    July 21, 2010 @ 5:36 am

    I pay only $5-$7 per month for unlimited bandwidth and storage for my webhosting from a dedicated hosting site (not a reseller) with 99.9% guaranteed website uptime. for that price. At that price, there is no need to ask for donations. Hosting a website is cheap nowadays; only if you want a ton of domain names do costs add up.

    [(myl) Interesting. Things must have changed since the last time I looked into this kind of thing. But I'm somewhat skeptical that anyone can afford to offer genuinely "unlimited" storage and bandwidth for less than $7 a month. I have some interesting ideas for new services that could make use of that deal — to start with something simple, we've got a couple of hundred terabytes of data that need backing up, and $7/month would be a sweet price for leasing off-site storage on that scale.

    In any case, the problem here was neither bandwidth nor storage, but rather processor cycles and processor memory. I suspect that those would NOT be unlimited for $7/month, and that most of my new service ideas would run aground on that reef. Logically, you shouldn't be able to leave a very large fraction of a machine for that price, give the costs of initial purchase, siting, power, and administration. ]

  10. Nick Lamb said,

    July 21, 2010 @ 7:15 am

    The various suggestions I would characterise as "let someone else run it" have my sympathy

    However the reality is that Mark's cyber-individualism does have some point to it. Staying in control means you get to set your own priorities, e.g if the LL regulars decide that letting commenters language tag their writing is a priority (you can get the right glyphs for Chinese vs Japanese this way for example), they can hack that into just their blog. Whereas if they were reliant on some bulk service that's just never going to get to the top of the todo pile for its maintainers.

    Of course if you never get around to working on those priorities either then it doesn't matter. That's the tricky thing to guess.

  11. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    July 21, 2010 @ 7:30 am

    @Nick Lamb: I think you misunderstand those suggestions. The idea isn't to move to some managed blogging service; rather, it's to move the current setup to a Web hosting service. If the service is at all decent, Dr. Liberman would still have as much and as little software control as he has now.

  12. Nick Lamb said,

    July 21, 2010 @ 9:35 am

    @myl it's sort of sleight of hand. The "unlimited" is just a way to avoid pointless arguments about which of these services offers "most" of what is obviously a finite resource but shared across so many users that it hardly matters. They rely on the fact that at any time the vast majority of their customers use little or no resources. You are correct that available CPU is limited, and so in practice a very popular site run on these systems will be slow. There are often other "fair use" rules which preclude obvious ways to (ab)use the cheap service.

    The service I'm familiar with (Dreamhost) explicitly forbids abusing their (vast) web storage space for backups. Their rule is, you have to make the web data available over the web. Which might be OK for some types of scientific data, but if the data isn't licensed for universal distribution or you have any duty of confidentiality etc. then it's no good. Separate "real" backup storage service has its own pricing structure.

    Guaranteed nines (99.9% or 99.99% etc.) are of little to no value. When the guarantee has any weight behind it at all it's usually a pro rata credit, ie after a week with no Language Log you might get $2.38 credited to your next bill. Since you will probably leave anyway this costs them nothing.


    They're all degrees of the same thing, hence my characterisation. Cheap webhosts may let you run code in a scripting language, but they dictate the runtime environment. Once again, your priorities are not their priorities. It's the same even if you rent whole racks in a DC. The DC will let you run whatever you want, but they decide how you're routed to the outside world. If you want to create GRE tunnels and that's not really part of their business, you're out of luck.

  13. Jen said,

    July 21, 2010 @ 1:01 pm

    Agreed with the comment about "unlimited" storage and bandwidth most likely not being unlimited in reality.

    I am not a computer expert and am not trying to advertise, but for anyone's information, here are the two U.S.-based hosts I use for under $7 a month for each one:


    I have had excellent customer service with both hosts within the past five years, although I had an extended email outage in 2004 with the former plan (due to a server switch and me using a subdomain of theirs rather than my own domain name, which they weren't able to solve for a week, since I apparently was the only person at that time too cheap to buy her own domain name and they had never seen the issue before). And with the latter plan, they used to have support from India in 2004(which consisted of the techs there merely googling for my answer!), but they changed after a year and now service is much better and support appears to come from the US (not that there is anything wrong with India, but I have had trouble with Indian tech support in the past). When I signed up in the early 2000's, I did quite a bit of research, and both webhosts were rated in the top three by a number of reviews and I have very pleased with both and all of the features and free domains they offer. And when they lower their price by a dollar or two a month, and I complain, they give me the deal too!

    [(myl) I'm glad that you're happy with the service you get. But what you're talking about is not even in the ballpark for the application under discussion. From the first hosting service that you cite, we'd need to start with the Linux Pro VPS service, which is $62.95 per month. But that would only have a quarter of the memory that our current server does, so we'd have to add 3 GB more at $19.95 per month per GB — except that 2 GB is the maximum available, so that would limit server performance. We'd have to set up some provision for backups — it's not clear what that would cost. I'm not clear whether the user gets root access and the ability to install and configure arbitrary system software.

    So to sum up, the cost for this solution would be more like $100/month than $7, and the solution probably wouldn't have the power (at least in terms of memory) even of our current (rather inexpensive) server.

    There's a non-VPS dedicated hosting service, where a server comparable to what we have now would be (as I add it up) $235.89/month. One comparable to what we plan to move to would be substantially more, though I haven't priced it out.

    There's nothing wrong with these prices — they're what it logically costs to amortize $2-4K worth of hardware over 3-5 years, and to pay for space, power, cooling, and administration.

    But anyone who could provide equivalent functionality for $7/month (much less genuinely unlimited storage and bandwidth) would be some kind of magician.]

  14. Jen said,

    July 21, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

    Ok, that makes sense. Thanks for the explanation. As I said, I didn't know too much about the web, computers, hosting, etc., but I see now how expensive thigns can get. I use my webhosting plans for just simple things like some personal pages andpics uploaded, email accounts, and maybe a message board in the future.

  15. Baylink said,

    July 23, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

    Well, it is worth noting here that the way hosting services offer such low prices is the same sort of statistical multiplexing by which ISPs offer really fast *peak* access speeds: you're "surfing", gambling that not all of your users will need to max out {bandwidth,horsepower} at the same time, wherefore those are actually the *easier* parameters to give people "unlimited" access to; disk space, on the other hand, is a zero sum game

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