Plone Production Deployment: Secrets & Tricks (Steve McMahon)

A special version of this talk: no secrets or tricks. It discusses the things that are in mainstream use.

The target audience is a (Linux, BSD, OS X) sysadmin or friend of sysadmin. Steve is a sysadmin and person who talks to sysadmins. There won’t be very advanced stuff or code in this talk.

Simple deployment

The simple deployment: Zope/Plone running on port 80 directly connected to the internet. It’s really easy for development, but lacks versatility, SSL and this setup does not work well with other web applications. So we add a web server and use it as a reverse proxy. A web server can:

  • Handle SSL.
  • Efficiently queue request.
  • Handle URL rewrites.
  • Battle-hardened logging and request sanitizing.
  • Plays well with others (e.g. a Django/PHP application).

Don’t optimize to early. First measure and find the bottlenecks in your system. Measure before and after to see if the optimisation was successful and doesn’t just make your setup more complex than needed.

Load Blancing

Load balance by having several ZEO clients connecting to a single ZEO server. The rendering process (taking the parts of the page and turning them into HTML) takes most processor time. The load the database related stuff generates (in the ZEO server) is mainly IO. With ZEO clients you can use the multiple cores on a single CPU, or even put the ZEO clients on several machines.

Steve advises to have a ZEO setup installed anyway even if you don’t need to load balance. That way you can fire up another client to do some debugging on the production environment. You don’t really want to do this, but sometimes you need to do so. Then it’s better to be prepared and have that ZEO client ready to go.

To use the ZEO clients, you need an actual load balancer that sends the incoming requests to the different ZEO clients. Note that the balancing scheme matters. Round robin is the simplest. Binding requests from a certain source to a certain ZEO client (a sticky session) can be useful.

Proxy caching

You can place a reverse proxy cache between the web server and the load balancer (this is the most typical setup anyway). That way you don’t have to have Zope render a page, CSS or spit out a file over and over again—the cache can just serve the requested resource which is always faster.

Caching is hard though and there are tradeoffs. Cached content may not be as current as you’d want. However, currency may not matter as much as actually being able to stay up when your site suddenly becomes popular.

Plone is—in theory—smart enough to send a message to e.g. Varnish to tell it that a resource is out of date (cache invalidation). But pages are a composition of different pieces of content (e.g. via portlets). So it’s very hard to determine what resources need to be invalidated when some object gets changed. Steve suggests to start conservative and turn it up when possible. He also distinguishes between authenticated and unauthenticated users. Authenticated users need current information while unauthenticated users can probably get by with a bit older pages. As Dylan Jay said yesterday: caching pages for one minute can make a huge difference.

Tools

Web server: Nginx makes better use of your server’s memory than Apache. (Although it may not be te best for you if you e.g. need to mix with other web applications.)

Proxy cache: Varnish is currently the best choice.

Load balancer: Steve finds HAProxy the easiest to configure and has good results with it. However older versions have problems with SSL (IP forwarding doesn’t work, but Steve says that they can also be worked around). There is an addon for HAProxy to add and remove clients from the command line. This can be useful because HAProxy can be fooled by Zope startup.

Note that you could collapse these three into the web server: Apache and Nginx can behave as load balancers and proxy caches. They do not do as good a job as the specialised tools, but it is less complex because it’s just one tool instead of 3.

Backup

Steve: “If you haven’t tested your backup scheme, you don’t have a backup!” So how do you backup? Create a backup and rsync it to a separate system. Use collective.recipe.backup for the backup.

Log files

Log rotation is very important. Otherwise your server could die because they fill up your hard drive. The zope2instance recipe can rotate the logs automatically. You can also use the traditional way by using the logrotate package of your operation system. If you use logrotate, don’t forget to send a signal (kill -USR2) to Zope after the rotate so it starts using new logs.

While on the topic: read your event logs regularly! There will be ‘known issues’, but something new might also pop up.

Database packing

If you use a ZEO setup, use bin/zeopack (available via plone.recipe.zeoserver). Additional hint: if you cannot pack your database, something is wrong with it.

Advice

Steve uses system packages as much as possible. Distributions are so good nowadays you can use a lot from your OS. This way you can just use the package management system of your OS to keep up to date with security fixes.

Never use buildout as root. Use separate accounts! Otherwise if there is hostile code in a setup.py it will be run by buildout—as root—and then you have a big problem.

Tips from the audience

An extension for Apache and Nginx (xsendfile?) can help you server large files directly from file system so you can bypass Plone.

Fewer components are not necessarilty better. Three simple tools might be better than one complex one.

Using mailinglog(?) or Senty can help you detect uncaught exceptions.

Resources

How to learn this all? Have a look at the hosting documentation. If there’s anything that has not been documented, please add it to the hosting documentation. And also put a pointer to those details in the deployment documentation.

View the slides or watch the video.