Doing More with Less (Warning: Major Nerdiness Within– This Is Not Your Run-Of-the-Mill Cheapskate Idea List)

by Jordan Spencer Cunningham on

A long while back, I mentioned in a Podcast Apparatus that running a full-fledged rackmount server at home for a print/media server was more expensive and clunky than I had anticipated, though it was certainly fun. I vowed then and there that I was going to sell my two servers and purchase a NAS. I didn’t end up selling them just yet, though I did nab me a Synology DiskStation 209, which has made me fall in love with Synology.

Recently for fun I set up the DNS on the Bluehost server that runs this blog to point deathstar.nerdology.org to a test version of this blog on my DiskStation at home (which is named Death-Star, incidentally), meaning that all of the sudden my DiskStation has become a true-blue web server, hosting live pages to the open web (though there have been a few hackers who’ve automatically been blocked when they tried to SSH into it with the wrong username/password combination one too many times).

“Hmm…” I said to myself. I said, “Self, what if you ran your blog from a DiskStation at home?”

So I began running tests.

Now, remember that this is an old DS209 with 256 MB RAM (probably DDR or DDR2 per its age), a 1.6GHz ARM processor, and a hodgepodge of two economical (AKA “cheap”) 1TB and 2TB 7200RPM drives, connected via a residential Centurylink 12/0.75mbps (down/up) connection.

Running the page load test at tools.pingdom.com, I found that deathstar.nerdology.org, a ~2.2MB page, loaded on average within 6-8 seconds from all Pingdom locations. Friends I have around the state of Utah and around the US confirmed that this was about the same for them.  www.nerdology.org loads at Pingdom servers in roughly five seconds. I expected Bluehost’s server to be faster, of course, but I didn’t expect my DiskStation to be anywhere near the same speed. I thought maybe 10-20 seconds minimum. This began my mind’s wheels turning.

I ran further tests. Having 10-15 instances of the page loading at once slowed down both servers considerably: nerdology.org began taking 20-30 seconds to load, and I even got deathstar.nerdology.org to hit over 50 seconds. I also expected this exponential increase of load time, but I didn’t expect Bluehost’s server to get quite that slow. More turning wheels.

Looking at the detailed waterfall graph of each page load provided by Pingdom, I noticed that deathstar.nerdology.org’s main problem was the ridiculous wait time of 4-5 seconds when initially connecting. Nothing was loading. Nothing was happening. It was just waiting. Otherwise, it loads about as fast as Bluehost loads despite my mediocre internet connection. Looking at my DiskStation’s activity, upload speed barely reaches 20 kilobytes per second for a couple of seconds for each page load (most of the larger pictures on that page are still being grabbed from Bluehost’s server), but the processor hits 100% momentarily.

More wheels turning, spinning– faster and faster.

I know for sure that my DiskStation’s easily overwhelmed processor is a factor in that ridiculous wait time at the beginning of each page load. I am also led to believe that hard drive seek time also has a lot to do with it, not to mention that my drives go to sleep after no activity for 20 minutes. It could be Centurylink’s latency on my residential connection, too, though I know it’s not that alone since page load wait times are still in the 3-5 second range when loading the page from within my local network at home.

So after more testing to be sure of my hypothesis, I did some research on Newegg, priced out a new DiskStation model which I also installed where I work to run an internal web server and eight 1080p security cameras (with beautiful results), priced out a few new hard drives, figured out on Excel how I could recoup most of the money by selling all sorts of hardware and bits I’ve had sitting around for months, found some excellent coupon codes that were expiring that day and saved $108, and ordered.

My incoming setup (click on the images for the Newegg page responsible):

Synology DiskStation 412+

Synology DiskStation 412+

SanDisk 256GB SATA III Solid State Disk (to host web pages, email, and other bits from– mainly for the internet)

SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB SSD

Western Digital Red (NASware) 1 TB SATA III 7200 RPM hard drive with 64MB Cache, specially designed for NASes (I’ll host all of my archived pictures, documents, DVDs, and so forth here– mainly for the internal gigabit network at home)

wdred1tb

With all of this, I expect to at least nearly match Bluehost’s page loading speed, or maybe even surpass it for those living in the Salt Lake valley and surrounding areas! I’ll be saving roughly $86 a year not paying Bluehost for me to rent out space on their server, and I’ll be recouping more than what I just bought with everything that I’ve sold/am selling. What’s also neat is that Bluehost’s download speed– for large files, for example– seems to cap at around 150-200 KBps. That’s about the same speed as my residential upload connection with Centurylink, so I still won’t be missing out there. And Centurylink doesn’t care what you do with your internet connection so long as it’s not illegal and you don’t hog the bandwidth from your neighbors versus some ISPs who will end your service if they find out you’re running any kind of server connected to the internet via their connection. Upload bandwidth also has no cap, so I could technically serve terabytes of data every month (not going to happen, of course), and they theoretically wouldn’t care as per the previous link. If Google Fiber ever comes to the Salt Lake Valley, my internet connection will no longer be an issue. I have a gigabit network at home, so my site could then theoretically have speeds of up to a gigabit per second. Ridiculously beautiful.

What’s more is Bluehost will refund my ~$200 I have yet to use on my account (I paid for three years in advance earlier this year), so I won’t be losing any money. Also, the new domain registrar I intend to switch to is cheaper than Bluehost by a couple of dollars. Not too shabby. I have actually really liked Bluehost– they’ve given me great service and have a wide open system for me to do almost anything I want as long as it’s not illegal or breaks their server. But since I can over time save money, own my own data at home, and have about the same quality with even more control, I figure it’s best for me to switch.

So all in all, I am able to do more-ish with less– both in my expenditures as well as in comparison of the DS412+ to whatever beastly servers Bluehost is running. Of course, each server instance is running hundreds if not thousands of websites, so Bluehost definitely beats me there. Still. For my purposes, this is going to work great.

One thing I will be looking for is someone who wants to exchange CrashPlan backup data— I backup to your drives over the internet, you backup to mine, all using the free and excellent CrashPlan backup software. All of our data is heavily encrpyted so that even if one of us went AWOL, he or she couldn’t use the data. Then I can save an additional ~$65 a year, and so can you, since we’d be backing up to one another for free. Then if one of our houses/businesses burns down along with our primary and backup drives, we still have an offsite backup to bring us back to life.

One last thing: if you’re interested in hosting your own website for cheap but want a lot of flexibility and privacy or want someone to manage it for you, I am opening up that option also. If you’re planning to launch something huge like Google, you had probably buy your own datacenter, but if you want to run something small like nerdology.org or intreada.com or unitedtypewriters.org or innovationstelegraph.org (all my sites)– something that likely won’t get more than seven hundred pageloads every day maximum (I get between 30 and 300), I can help you with that. Free offsite backup. Maintenance included. Maybe $2.50 a month? That’s $30 a year. Think about it.