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Feb 282013

pulling hairLII Associate Director Sara Frug is having a bad day. It’s twelve in the afternoon, East Coast time, and the LII web site has slowed to a crawl. It’s taking 16 seconds to get a page of legal information that you could normally get in 6. The LII’s West Coast audience is just getting to the office. Between now and 5 o’clock both East and West Coast people will make heavy use of the site. Things are going from bad to worse, and they will get even worse than that before they get better.

How bad is bad? The typical load average on the LII’s production server is supposed to hover somewhere around 4; that’s what you see on a fully-utilized machine that isn’t straining. Dan Nagy, the LII’s systems administrator, is seeing 39. Dan is not eager to tell you how he knows, but a bad decision made in the course of a tune-up could take it to 300 in about 45 seconds. If that happens, the LII is about as useful as a wet brick. And the LII crew knows: the slow get slower. Anybody who has ever driven on the Boston freeways during the morning rush can see how that works. I-93’s running at capacity, some bozo drops a soda can out the window, and hey-presto, traffic jams solid all the way south to New Bedford.

Sara runs the LII’s crew of engineers. Right now, she is talking to Dan and to Wayne Weibel, the LII’s Drupal developer. They’re looking at the output from WebPageTest.org, a free service that gives a lot of web-performance diagnostics (see below). A couple of things are obvious. The server isn’t clearing connections fast enough. They try a couple of quick alterations to the server configuration. The first shoots the load numbers through the roof, and locks up the server. Oops. Definitely not an improvement. A second is successful. Now the server’s clearing connections fast enough to not bog down completely, so the site’s visitors are getting what they want. But it’s still slow. Time to go under the hood.

A single web page at the LII is made up of a lot of pieces. The home page has 65 separate components. Around 20 of them come from the LII, and the remainder are things like that little Facebook logo with the number of “likes” on the page, which has to be fetched from Facebook every time a visitor shows up. Each LII component can involve multiple database queries that look up text, provide additional links to related information, and so on. Every component comes with a “set-up charge” — the cost in time of setting up a connection from the user’s browser so that the component can be retrieved. There are a lot of moving parts. The LII uses a variety of strategies that reduce the need to regenerate pages, either holding preassembled pages in a cache to be served up directly, or telling the user’s browser that it’s OK to hang on to pieces that get used repetitively and not reload them. Either approach cuts down on the work the server has to do. Right now, it’s not enough.

Over the next three days, Sara, Wayne, and Dan will spend a lot of time staring at complex “waterfall” diagrams that give a timeline for the loading of each component that goes into the page. The waterfall also shows them what’s waiting for what; some components need others before they can load. They’ll identify bottlenecks and either eliminate them or find a way to make the component smaller so it takes less time to load. The server will be tweaked so that it doesn’t clog up as quickly. Components will be combined so that they can be loaded from a single file, reducing the number of data connections needed and the setup time involved. They’ll get the average page loading time from 7 seconds down to under 4, even during the afternoon rush. Three seconds doesn’t sound like much, but for users, it’s an eternity. During the rush, it’s critical. An average load time of 7 seconds quickly ramps up to 16 seconds or more, because, well, the slow get slower. An average load time of 4 seconds is stable at 4 seconds. The crew think they can get it down to 3. The Director wants 2. The LII audience wants something instantaneous, or even better, telepathy. Sara and the crew will turn this crisis into an opportunity. Suddenly, everybody’s got a lot of good ideas about how to make things even faster and they’re starting to compete with the clock. The team is drag-racing now.

There’s more to all this than speed. Because the server is now on the right side of the loading curve, it can serve around 150 more simultaneous users during rush hour, when there are typically around 1350 simultaneous visitors on the site. That’s an 11% increase. There are also implications for our donors. Throwing hardware at a problem like this can be expensive. None of the changes they’ve made involved upgrading hardware or buying more computing cycles. That’s a good thing; the next biggest server ( a “double extra large”, in cloud-computing-speak) would cost about twice what we’re paying now.

So, more people in the LII audience getting more legal information twice as fast at no increase in cost. What’s not to like about that?

 

Picture 25

 

 

supremeleft1.jpgThe Supreme Court hears 6 cases next week. Topics include: Antitrust and the Federal Arbitration Act, DNA and the Fourth Amendment, AEDPA and Habeas Corpus, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the Voting Rights Act, the Death Penalty and ineffective assistance of counsel.

 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The week of February 19 the Supreme Court hears 4 arguments. Topics include: the Commerce Clause, the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Federal Tort Claims Act, Prisoners’ Rights, Sovereign Immunity, Foreign Tax Credit, Income Tax, Internal Revenue Code, First Sale Doctrine, Patent, and Patent Infringement.

 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

 Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Next week the Supreme Court hears arguments including  firearms, sentencing and the Sixth Amendment. Cases also being discussed are the Communications Act, the Medicaid Act, probable cause and search and seizure.

 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

  • 11-1547    CABLE, TELECOMMUNICATIONS & TECH v.FCC, ET AL.

Next week the Supreme Court hears arguments involving the Armed Career Criminal Act, the Discovery Rule, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, and the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

This week the Supreme Court hears 5 cases including Child Abduction, the Clean Water Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and Equitable Tolling.

 

Monday, December 3, 2012

  •  11-347    GEORGIA-PACIFIC WEST, ET AL. v.NORTHWEST ENVTL. DEFENSE CENTER

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Introduction to Basic Legal Citation eBook CoverOur friends at CALI / eLangdell have just released “Introduction to Basic Legal Citation,” a free eBook version of Peter W. Martin’s popular online resource.

The new version was recently revised in the fall of 2012 to take account of changes in the citation rules of a small number of U.S. jurisdictions and the format of currency information furnished for statutes by LexisNexis and Westlaw. It is indexed to the fourth edition of the ALWD Citation Manual and the nineteenth edition of The Bluebook, both published in 2010.

Professor Martin requests that you donate to the Legal Information Institute if you would like to show your support for this free work. We happen to think that’s a fine idea.

This week the Supreme Court hears arguments involving Antitrust, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure Rule 52(b), ERISA Insurance and Reimbursement to Employer, Employment Discrimination and Harassment.

Here’s the schedule with links to the LII Bulletin Previews. Subscribe to get the LII Supreme Court Bulletin delivered straight to your email.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

 

SCOTUS hears six cases this week involving trademark, securities litigation, antitrust, attorney’s fees, criminal law, directed verdict and double jeopardy (I’ll take Legal Information for 100, Alex).

Here’s the schedule with links to the LII Bulletin Previews. Subscribe to get the LII Supreme Court Bulletin delivered straight to your email.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

 

This week, the court hears six cases on topics ranging from firearms, deportation, and surveillance, to copyright and drug-detecting dog sniffs (!). Here’s the oral argument schedule with links to the LII Bulletin Previews. Subscribe to get the LII Supreme Court Bulletin delivered straight to your email.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012