About This Case


13 Oct 2013, 11:59PM PT


16 Sep 2013, 12:00AM PT


  • Enterprise Software & Services
  • Hardware
  • IT / IT Security
  • Internet / Online Services / Consumer Software
  • Start-Ups / Small Businesses / Franchises
  • Telecom / Broadband / Wireless

Performance Matters: Share Your Insights On Web & Mobile App Hosting For A Chance To Win


Closed: 13 Oct 2013, 11:59PM PT

The top insight will receive a one-year Watercooler Subscription on Techdirt

No matter how useful, unique or fun and online application is, nobody's going to use it if it doesn't perform well. But as these applications scale, it gets harder and harder for developers to keep track of their performance and identify bottlenecks before they become critical. On today's web, noticing a problem only after users have reported it is too late.

New Relic, a powerful application performance monitoring tool, aims to make this challenge easier, and is seeking input from developers and startups involved in the design and operation of web and mobile services. In a series of Insight Community cases, we'll be gathering insights from Techdirt readers, with prizes for the best responses.

This month, we're starting with an open question: what are your experiences with app hosting online? We're interested to know where, how and why various apps for web and mobile are hosted, what works and what doesn't, and what the biggest ongoing challenges are when it comes to deploying a reliable, high-performance app or service. If you try out the New Relic service and share specific insights based on what you discover, even better!

In exchange for your insights, we're offering some perks. Firstly, anyone who signs up for New Relic and installs the service will receive a free Nerd Life t-shirt. The basic account is free and comes with a 14 day trial of the pro service, and there's no commitment or credit card required.

Additionally, one best response chosen by New Relic and the Techdirt editorial team will receive a free one-year Watercooler subscription on Techdirt (regular price $50). The subscription includes access to the Crystal Ball and the Insider Chat, plus five monthly First Word/Last Word credits, and can be applied to your own Techdirt account or gifted to someone else.

The case will be open for four weeks, with the best response announced shortly afterwards. We look forward to your insights!

2 Insights


An app developer should ideally spend very little time worrying about where and how to host their apps. This is still not the case today, even though we are getting closer to that goal with cloud services that abstract a lot of the grunt work in tech ops.

With what we have today, I'm going to list the missing services that could leverage current technologies/services to make things easier for app hosting:

(a) A service that installs, configures and packages your stack into a virtual machine that can be hosted by different popular cloud computing offerings, like EC2, Google Compute Engine, Rackspace etc. I think a positive development towards that goal is the emergence of Docker. Docker is still early in development, and there's also question if it will become the de-facto standard for cloud/vps images.

(b) A service that would monitor the performance of your service, and scale up and down your infra resources (CPU, storage, RAM, bandwidth) to optimize your hosting costs.

(c) If VPS images can be portable, then you could essentially switch hosting providers with very little friction. Combining service (b), one could potentially optimize the cost and reliability of hosting (and scaling) of your app via a 3rd-party service that constantly monitors the performance and costs of your instances on a real-time basis. This service would dyamically configure and shift your VPS instances among different hosting providers based on price, reliability, and app usage/traffic patterns.

In the early days of my IT career, we had to actually physically own the hardware and contract with a colocation facility to host your servers. My fingers were worn numb by crimping cables to wire up our cage with connectivity. And, not that it happened that often, we would sometimes actually call our hosting facility and ask them to manually reboot servers.

We have come a long way since then.

With services like Heroku, procuring servers and deploying apps is now as easy as typing in a few commands on your computer, and increasing the number of machines that you need is as easy as clicking and dragging your mouse.

That said -- since it's so easy to scale up the size of your cluster at a service like Heroku, it's also really simple to quickly scale up your monthly Heroku bill.

At some point, instead of continually throwing resources (eg. money) at the problem, it's probably a good idea to try and optimize and tune your application. The first step that most people take is to add some basic availability monitoring. We use Pingdom to monitor the availability of our site -- which is a great layer on top of the de facto monitoring system of someone calling you and complaining that "the website is down." However, Pingdom monitors your website from the frontend, which means that their availability & performance metrics are measuring the whole stack, which would include, most notably, network latency and AWS issues. While this is really important to understand, when trying to optimize the app itself, we found that we needed a little more insight.

So, we decided to add two more add-ons to our Heroku app, Papertrail and New Relic. If your application generates a lot of console logs, like ours does, then Papertrail is a great way to store that output and make it actually useful. Papertrail makes your logs searchable -- and as long as your console logs actually write informative messages, then it can be very, very helpful in tracking down errors or performance issues in your app. Specifically with Heroku, it can be very frustrating when you encounter the dreaded "H10" error code, that is thrown not by your app, but by Heroku's system. But, at the very least, with Papertrail, you'll be able to see when these errors occur 

Once you isolate the network issues, AWS issues and Heroku issues, you're finally able to start working on optimizing your own app. And for this, we installed New Relic. After integrating 

Our application is written in node.js, so the New Relic tools are still officially in beta, but we still found them to be quite useful in providing a modicum of reporting about our applications' performance. Once we integrated the newrelic agent, we began getting helpful metrics describing the performance of our app. Their "Apdex" was a decent measure of our app's performance, and it definitely helped us figure out what and when performance issues were happening.

The difficult part, however, was trying to figure out the why. The process behind figuring out the cause of any performance issue was a weighty challenge. Every time the Apdex told us that we were performing sub-optimally, we would diagnose and solve the issue. Sometimes it would be external, like a network issue, that would cause our app to slow down, and other times it would really be caused by an error in our code. One very helpful integration between Heroku and New Relic is that deployments are clearly marked in the dashboard -- that way, we could clearly see when deployments happened, and if it positively (or negatively) affected performance. One helpful thing to add would be indications of AWS, network or Heroku issues.

That said, determining the "why" continues to be a constant chore in performance tuning -- especially with a language like node.js where external packages are constantly upgraded and changed. I understand how difficult it would be to make an agent that would identify the reason behind performance issues, but, just a few years ago, it would have been unfathomable to procure, set up and deploy clusters of servers with only a single command. So, I'm hopeful.