I took a bit of a break for the usual Magento development last weekend and had a crack at making a simple webstore monitoring app using Google App Engine. The application was made to monitor our webstores from a reliable, US network – and who more reliable than Google? So this blog post will detail the site monitoring app, and my thoughts on the Google app engine platform. I’d also invite anyone to try my app and let me know any thoughts you have on it, or how I could improve it.
UPDATE July 2011: I have since created a much more fully features Magento monitoring tool called magespeedtest.com – it checks speed and performance regularly and emails you if it differs from your preset tolerance. I won’t be adding new features to this monitor, it’s still free and I’ll keep it up and running for as long as it makes sense to, but any future development will be on MageSpeedTest.com.
I wanted to add a small selection of products to the Magento homepage, and I thought I’d quickly write up how I did it, because it brings together a few little tidbits from around the net. This solution will use a specific category which can either be an actual category with a few products in it (e.g. specials), or one you created specifically for displaying on the home page (let’s call it ‘home page featured’). It takes only 3 simple steps as shown below. Continue reading 3 easy steps to add products to the Magento Home Page (or any CMS page)
It’s been a while since I have done any of my Magento Hosting Reviews but I’ve finally gotten around to reviewing Crucial Web Hosting. Ages ago (I mean months) a reader specifically requested I review Crucial for their Magento hosting capability, and they were very keen to participate.
In this Magento Hosting review, just as with my others I’ll be looking at the hosting proposition itself, the value and the price and how they stack up. I’ll also look at the responsiveness of their data centers and comment on the general access levels the hosting provides.
I noticed that my last Magento Hosting Review became a bit of a monster and probably put a lot of people off because it was too long and not that well structured. This time I’ll try and give the whole review a little mini-index so that you can jump to the parts you actually want to read about, if you are not interested in the whole thing.
In this section I’ll discuss the actual hosting solution offered by Crucial. I’ll look at the hardware they’re operating, explain the notion of split-shared hosting and how that relates to other shared hosting solutions. I’ll try to weigh up the offering with other similar solutions for value.
Right off the bat the hardware offering is definitely high-end. The Crucual website claims “Quad Core Intel Xeon Harpertown 3.0 GHz, 32 GB DDR-2 RAM, 15K.5 RPM hard drives, and a Gigabit uplink”. I checked this out on the command line and sure enough 8 3GHz processors from cat /proc/cpuinfo! A look at the output of top on the box reveals the beast is hardly even raising an eyebrow at the work it’s doing, an avg 0% cpu usage and over half the RAM is free. Although this is a shared hosting solution, it is definitely not a machine that is being over worked or put under any pressure by too many clients having to share the same hardware.
Split-shared hosting is a way to divide up the available computer resources (the hardware) among more users without having to share the resources with so many people.
In a traditional shared hosting arrangement all of the users on a server are in the same ‘system’. That means they are basically all users on the same Linux box. If everyone is playing nice then there’s not too much of a problem with that. Provided the host is not overselling. The problem is that with so many clients on a box, if one of them has security problems, or get’s ‘slashdotted’ then the entire system is put at risk.
With split-shared hosting the single Linux box is virtualized into several small Linux boxes. Each is not a real server, but a virtual one isolated from the others by a special underlying piece of software. Each virtual server has it’s own allocated resources which means that if someone in a neighboring virtual server is slowing a server down, it will not affect your virtual server.
Does this really help? Well, yes and no, there is much less chance that you’ll be affected by the shenanigans of one of the clients you share with, when there are fewer of them, but you are fundamentally still sharing a server with others and exposed to the problems that can accompany that. So it’s better than pure shared hosting, but still no match for a VPS or an actual dedicated server.
Now that we know how the hosting works and how grunty the servers are, what do you get for your money? For $25/ month (less if you pay in advance) you get 50GB of bandwidth and 5Gb of storage space. With ecommerce I always think that if someone is doing 50GB of bandwidth they probably have tens of thousands of visitors and should be making enough sales to warrant a much bigger hosting solution, so bandwidth is probably nothing to worry about. With disk space, 5 gigs is probably more than enough for most webstores, even if you used ultra high-res product photos (say 300kb) and had 3 such images per product, that would be 4500 products (with leftover for the actual Store install etc). In general for small Magento stores the disk space and bandwidth will be adequate. For larger ones, do not look at shared hosting!
To put the price in context, for the same monthly amount you could get the SIP account from Nexcess which in my review I do really rave about. How does Crucial’s Magento hosting option stack up in the performance stakes against Nexcess’s Magento optimized SIP? Read on 🙂
I normally look at page load time and latency when deciding how well a Magento host performs. To test latency I use the free and excellent service just-ping.com. The results of the test against the Crucial Demo server show that the ltency to large parts of the world in in and around that 100ms sweet spot. Us poor antipodeans in NZ, Aus and SA get a bit slow communication, but hey, no-one cares about that right?!
What’s interesting is that even though this is a shared host and there is no advertised performance optimizations carried out on the Magento install, the response times are snappy (around or under 1 second) in most places the tests are run from. That’s really good to see, and if you actually browse around the demo you’ll get a feel for how punchy the pages show up.
Access and Support
Of all the hosting companies I have dealt with I’d have to say I have never had any real problems with the service. Crucial is no exception, the contact I dealt with at Crucial has been polite and really helpful, setting up Magento and installing sample data, responding really quickly to emails and tickets and generally being the good host everyone says they are.
The server access is top notch as well. SSH access is granted by default, and the initial support ticket had all the access details required. Anyone who has approached me for Magento installation help/advice will know that as soon as someone tells me they only have cPanel or (far far worse) only Plesk access, I normally run for the hills and advise others to do the same. As far as I am concerned if you are serious about running a webstore and you want at any time to get a professional involved in support or customizing your store, you need to have the ability for them to access your server using SSH.
Geez this is really tough for me to say! On paper I’d say Nexcess’s SIP looks the better plan for the same money, it’s been optimized for Magento and offers slightly more value. But, I’ve tried out the Crucial demo, I’ve looked at Crucial’s server and I have to say it is as fast or faster, the support is great and I can’t really fault them either. In the end it will probably come down to preference. Both companies offer a money back first month, so perhaps you should sign up for both and decide for yourself based on your interaction with their support and sales team!
PS: As with my other reviews I’m inviting feedback from my readers on personal experiences with the hosting company, because often (as was the case with Simple Helix) the negative experiences that come out of the woodwork can be a real influence in the hosting choices we make.
I wanted to share this, it made me laugh when I noticed it. Every now and then I take a look through Google analytics at the Magento keyword searches that get people to my site but cause bounces, in case there is some useful content I could add. I spotted this little gem of a keyword search amongst the far more boring Magento searches and I though it was pretty funny.
For those of you that develop/design with Magento, the first few weeks of frustration when you’re first learning can be tough, I bet this is a common feeling!
Ironically if it hadn’t been for this really rude commenter then this search would have never found me, so in a way it’s a good thing!
It got me thinking, it’d be a kind of fun trick/game to play to find the most obscure search that would still actually find someone’s site and then visit them using it – just in case they’re looking through their keyword lists.
So if I spot any more funny ones, I’ll post them up – if it’s yours, feel free to claim responsibility in the comments. You can’t do “fuck aschroder” though, because I just tried that already (and it works), be creative!
I was asked this week by a reader about using Google Apps email with Magento. There are solutions available that will allow you to configure the Magento SMTP server settings, or even your linux server SMTP settings so that you can use Gmail or Google Apps email to send outbound emails with Magento. In this post I will quickly cover a simple little open source Magento extension I made that makes setting up Gmail and Google Apps Email child’s play.
The Google Apps and Gmail Magento extension
You might be wondering firstly why you would want to use Google Apps or Gmail for your outbound emails from Magento.
Easier to set up a stable, secure and robust solution than if you try to run your own SMTP server.
Easy to administer with either the Gmail or Google Apps interface. You can set up auto replies, and auto forwards.
Excellent search capability for finding messages that have been sent to customers.
Acts as a log or archive of all emails sent by Magento, which means you can make sure it’s not sending any you do not want sent, and easily track any that are sent.
So hopefully everyone knows how sweet it is using a hosted ‘in the cloud’ email service, now on to how to do it!
You can install the module from Magento Connect by getting the extension key. Then using your store backend Magento Connect manager, you’ll need to change your settings to accept alpha modules (on the settings tab) and then just paste in the extension key and click install. Too easy. You can change the alpha back to stable afterwards, by the way.
The Module is configured in the System -> Configuration -> System section. There are only three things to choose, so it’s very easy to setup.
It’s hopefully redundant, but for completeness here is some documentation:
The Enable Google Apps Email option allows you to turn the extension on and off easily. When enabled the extension will use your supplied Google Apps or Gmail credentials to send email from the Magento store.
The Email Address field is where you type the full address of you Gmail account or Google Apps account. It is important you type the whole address, even for Gmail where you might be more familiar with just entering a username.
Finally the Password field is where you type you Email account password. There is currently no way to test the connection (i.e. to make sure you have the right password) but that is planned functionality for a later release.
The Technical Details
The module is very simple, it’s just two Model files that overwrite the email sending functionality with Magento.
The key is in the setup of the Zend transport object as shown below:
It’s annoying that for all the flexibility Magento allows, the way that the email sending has been coded really doesn’t allow much scope for extending the functionality without re-writing a sizable amount of Magento code. This means that maintenance becomes more difficult and the value of the inheritance structure is lost.
Setting up your Google Apps account
Sign up for a Google Apps account and then you’ll be able to create a ‘user’ to do your Magento email sending. In my current configurations I use email addresses like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ or ‘email@example.com’. This means that to the end user the from email address will appear like a sophisticated CRM mailer, when in fact it’s just a free Google Apps account!
I also recommend setting the account up to forward a copy of all email to your own personal Gmail or Google Apps account. This way if any users do actually try to reply to the mailer address, the message will still make it to someone. If you wanted to you could even set up an auto responder that informed users to contact you in a preferred manner.
I’d appreciate some feedback on this little module – I know the functionality exists elsewhere, but sometimes just making a good solution really easy for everyone, can be beneficial, hopefully you agree. If you spot any bugs or would like to suggest some new functionality, I’m all ears. Keen readers who check out the source code (which is totally open by the way) may notice I have some code in there for sending test emails, I just haven’t wired it up to the admin interface (backend) yet.