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Our platform just got a whole lot faster, twice as fast actually.

On Tuesday, January 20th, we deployed an infrastructure update that dramatically increases our WordPress application speed with HHVM.

What is HHVM?

In the early days of Facebook, rapid traffic increases and bandwidth usage were becoming an increasing problem. The existing technologies at the time weren't enough to fit their level of scale. To solve these challenges, Facebook developed their own software called HHVM, which basically makes PHP code super fast. HHVM is quickly becoming the preferred PHP compiler for the biggest sites on the Web, including Wikipedia.

200% Performance Improvement

With HHVM, dynamic page generation speed has increased ~2x. We’re seeing these times change from ~600ms to ~300ms and below. Where HHVM really shines in performance is under high traffic situations. It actually speeds up as the number of concurrent users increases.

Now that our backend application servers can generate pages this fast, there is virtually no page generation lag for end users that hit a page that isn’t already stored in our frontend Varnish caching layer. We’re also seeing a significant reduction in server resource usage when compared to PHP-FPM (a more traditional high performance PHP compiler).

Fault Tolerant Setup

We’ve taken extra precautions with the introduction of this new technology into our application stack. We’re now using HHVM as the primary PHP compiler with fallback to PHP-FPM, a secondary compiler that we have been using for a few years. We’ve also set up monitoring and automatic restarts for HHVM in the case of an unexpected failure. All of this means transparent failover and zero downtime for the end user if anything goes wrong.

What does this all really mean?

  1. Pronto sites will have faster load times. Faster is always better.
  2. Our clients may see Google rankings boost with lower Time to First Byte application response time. Source Moz
  3. Our platform’s application servers can easily handle much higher traffic spikes.
  4. We’re much more resilient to bot attacks, site scanners, and other automated traffic spikes that tend to wreak havoc with web platforms similar to ours.
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