The Ultimate Guide to Website Speed – Part 2; Speed Is Comfort

November 6, 2020

We are on track.

If you are reading this, then you have followed through from Why Speed Makes a Better Server. We ran the speed train through the basics of the internet till we took the track of a deep dive into the various types of web servers.

This track will lead us to an even deeper dive; a look into the OpenLiteSpeed Web Server.

Sit back and immerse yourself in the world of speed!

First, an Overview

The development of the world of web servers has come a long way since CERN httpd. Later known as W3C httpd, it is the first web server software. It was developed in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee, Ari Luotonen and Henrik Frystyk Nielsen with subsequent updates. The software was implemented in C language.

While CERN httpd is now discontinued, many more sophisticated web servers have risen over the years and have done an excellent job of bringing us web information at the speed of comfort. The race to be the best has somewhat pushed companies to develop sturdier and faster servers, generation after generation.

These developments have been anchored around two critical factors. Speed and Load. There may indeed be a million and one more factors, some specific and others general, that are considered when judging the credibility of a webserver. However, analysis are always more focused on these two.

A lot has been said on speed but load management matters just as much. The ability of a website to hold its ground against the weight of data and site traffic determines its credibility ratings. A sudden flood of site traffic should not affect the operation mode of your website. A good website is built with intent to handle all this.

These two factors are not so independent of each other. Bad speed can lead to terrible load management and vice versa.

The result of the developments is an advent of web servers that have been tailored to match the modern needs of clients and the evolving technological world over the years.

A Vast Land of Web Servers

The web server, Apache, was the only commercial-worthy webserver for a while since the initial 1990 CERN. With time, other open source webservers have been brought up to speed with some even outperforming Apache.

Let’s explore these options of webservers in no particular order.

Apache

Released under the terms of Apache License 2.0, the Apache HTTP server is a free and open-source web server. It was first released in 1995 under the Apache Software Foundation and has grown to be a dominant and popular HTTP server. It is implemented in C language.

It played a major role in the initial growth of the World Wide Web and has remained quite popular. Statistics have it that as of April 2020, Apache served 29.12% of the million busiest websites (Netcraft). According to W3Techs also, Apache served 39.5% of the top 10 million sites.

The compiled modules which extend functionality enables Apache support a variety of features. These modules provide multi-protocol support like IPv4 and IPv6 support and widely used HTTP, HTTP/2, and HTTPS protocols.

The webserver also allows multiple domains or websites hosting.

Nginx

Nginx is always pit against Apache in terms of popularity and usability. It has garnered the attention of the web community just as much too.

Nginx (pronounced “engine X”) is an open-source webserver with multiple functionalities such as being a reverse proxy, load balancer, mail proxy and HTTP cache. It was created by Igor Sysoev and released publicly in 2004. It is released under the 2-clause BSD license.

A large percentage of web servers use Nginx frequently as a load balancer. Overturning tables against rivals, it has pushed onwards to become one of the most stable and reliable web servers.

Armed with grand features like its ability to handle more than 10,000 simultaneous connections with low memory footprint, handling static files, index files and auto-indexing, scalability and high concurrency, it is very prominent. If tweaked properly, Nginx can handle up to 500,000 requests per second with low CPU utilization.

It is the ideal webserver for handling high website traffic and grossly outperforms Apache in this section.

With its lean configuration, it easy to tweak and supports multiple protocols also, basic HTTP authentication, virtual hosting, load balancing and many more.

According to Netcraft, Nginx served 36.48% of all active websites ranked, making it number one above Apache. Facebook, Twitter, Adobe, and LinkedIn are some popular sites running on Nginx.

OpenLiteSpeed

And then, there was speed!

As the name implies, OpenLiteSpeed is an open-source webserver created for speed, simplicity, security and optimization. It is built on the LiteSpeed Enterprise Web Server and provides the same essential features.

It has an event-driven architecture just like Nginx. It is good at serving static files and uses drastically less memory. When pit against Apache, it can handle more than four times more requests per second. It is resource and user friendly with WebAdmin GUI that helps manage domain/websites and monitor a bunch of metrics.

It boasts of an ability of high-performance caching, handling thousands of concurrent connections, IP-based access control, bandwidth throttling and many more.

It operates a wide range of scripts like Perl, Python, Ruby and Java. It supports IPv4 and IPv6 with SSL/TLS support.

Asides from being a webserver, it acts as a load balancer and reverse proxy. It is also a drop-in Apache replacement as both can read and load .htaccess files.

The popularity of Apache is mind blowing, with Nginx as a close second in the web community. Many companies use them and this may or may not be because they have been in the webserver business for so long. We at Rarefy Hosting however offer our customers OpenLiteSpeed.

We have gone beyond the generality and popular opinion to really look into the details of how much speed means to any website and come up with the ideal solution, OpenLiteSpeed Web Server. The reason is in the details. 

The Deep Dive

The OpenLiteSpeed Web Server is better appreciated in details of just how much it offers. While still behind in popularity as compared to Nginx and Apache, it offers a broad range of services cutting across the functionalities of all popular web servers even a java functionality.

The details of how competent it is in terms of speed and load management is showcased in the test done by the site, WP Speed Matters. It is a practical comparison between Nginx and OpenLiteSpeed. The test cuts across various criteria.

With the OpenLiteSpeed website already boldly showing that their web server handles approximately 15883.40 requests per second (100 users) as compared to the 3203.00 of Nginx and 1203.50 of Apache, let’s delve into the test.

Some of the configurations used to test both webservers are DigitalOcean server with the same resources, same server location (San Francisco), Nginx via EasyEngine, OpenLiteSpeed via DigitalOcean, Cache plugin –WP Rocket on Nginx and LiteSpeed cache on OpenLiteSpeed.

The test was taken in three categories; TTFB, Fully Loaded Time, and Load Test:

TTFB (Time to First Byte) is the total time of our journey on our hypothetical train to Biz City, receiving a response and coming back to WebEx station.

It is the time taken for a web browser to get a response from the server. It is a measurement used to indicate the responsiveness of a webserver or other network resources.

It is a factor of both the webserver response time and the network latency.  

After an array of tests from 14 location because of the dependence of TTFB on network and location, OpenLiteSpeed had better TTFB compared to Nginx. It saved from about 50ms to 150ms to remote regions. A difference of 50ms is enough to matter in TTFB.

It is important to note that Google recommends having a TTFB of less than 300ms. Also, having the server and audience in the same region blurred the line of difference between both webservers in this case. 

Another criteria is the Fully Loaded Time.

Now instead of just our total journey time, add the time it takes for you to see the response you got from Biz City, say like opening an envelope and reading the letter. All that time is the FLT.

It is the time taken to download and process all requests on the web page, this is inclusive of the HTML response from the webserver as we saw in The Web Express 1.

The test was done using GTmetrix.

Nginx webserver gave a PageSpeed Score of 87%, a YSlow (YSlow is an open-source tool that analyzes web pages and suggests ways to improve performance based on a set of rules for high performance web pages.) Score of 87%, a FLT of 0.7s with a Total Page Size of 444KB and 17 Requests.

The OpenLiteSpeed webserver gave a PageSpeed Score of 82%, a YSlow Score of 87% also, and a FLT of 0.8s with a Total Page Size of 482KB and 21 Requests.

By comparison, Nginx had an advantage of 0.1s which can be due mainly to the fewer requests made by the WP Rocket cache plugin. However, it’s hard to pick a winner here.

The final criteria is Load Test. This is also known as stress test. It is a test where a huge amount of traffic is sent to a website just within a short period of time.

This helps test the resilience of a website to high site traffic or a sudden wave of visitors due to viral posts or other factors.

Both webservers got the load test by sending up to 10k requests per second over a period of 1 minute (starts from 0 req/sec to 10k req/sec).

Sending these requests, almost 50% of the requests in Nginx were timed out (did not get a response within 10 seconds) and only less than 6% in OpenLiteSpeed.

The average response time was also better for OpenLiteSpeed with 2.8 seconds and Nginx with 5.7 seconds.

The test results show that OpenLiteSpeed webserver has performance advantages over Nginx.

With better TTFB and the ability to handle concurrent users, it uses fewer resources when compared to Nginx stack which in turn is reduced server costs.

 For full statistics and info-graphics check out the full test and data at wpspeedmatters.com

With high performance by default, free powerful cache plugin, an understanding of Apache Rewrite rules and great security, OpenLiteSpeed is a top notch webserver. Just in case you are wondering why it hasn’t garnered as much traction as Nginx and Apache even with such great functionalities, follow the speed train to our Blog post as we delve more into the world of webservers and OpenLiteSpeed.


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