West Coast Mirror

This year we’ve invested in our own mirror – maintained by us – on the west coast of the US. This was mainly because assessing the web return time for our users showed a consistent additional 3 to 4 seconds if you were lucky enough to live out on the west coast (worse still if you are in Australia!). Although we did alot last year to improve the general response time of our web pages (for example, compressing our CSS and Javascript down to single files for the whole site, so these are only loaded once and then cach’ed locally), the Ensembl site delivers alot of dynamic content – and nothing but getting closer to the users can help this.

You can reach the site directly at uswest.ensembl.org or alternatively there is a little “world” icon on the top right of the page which switches to the star-and-stripes when you’re on the west coast. Having the mirror not only helps our users who are on the west coast but also provides resilience when our main site goes down. As we’re responsibile for provisioning it in-sync with our main site (its part of our release process) this mirror will stay current with the main site.

In some sense the mirror should be a low cost “per user” for us having the mirror – if users go to the mirror, it means less load on the main site, and so it’s really how we distribute the “web farm” that sits behind Ensembl geographically. However, there are overheads from hiring rack space in the US to making our own release cycle more complex. This means we will need to assess whether running a US mirror makes sense in the long term. Our instinct is yes, but we need hard data on this.

These things need time to pick up, but already we’d be interested in feedback on this – for US users, is this site faster for you – in particular for East coast people who we think are probably still best off on the main site. Does it change with time of day? For Pacific rim users – Japan, Singapore, Korea, Australia – is the west coast site snappier for you? We’ll be putting in place our own monitoring schemes, but user feedback is always good…