TL; DR: Behind a lightweight, yet ultra-fast web server, LiteSpeed Technologies accelerates site performance and lowers infrastructure costs. Instead of adding more hardware to alleviate load problems, LiteSpeed Technologies uses event-driven architecture and cutting-edge caching to squeeze out more performance from existing hardware. Founder George Wang and Software Engineer Michael Alegre shared how the company’s open-source and commercial products increase efficiency for both hosting companies and site owners.
The owner of two popular WordPress sites had a daunting challenge for medium-sized Greek hosting provider SigmaWeb: The websites averaged 1 million page views per day and served 80,000 unique visitors roughly 70 requests per second.
The site owner had been disappointed in previous hosts’ performance — the sites would need between eight and 12 CPUs to manage traffic — and hoped SigmaWeb could withstand the websites’ growing traffic.
SigmaWeb Owner Stratos Vougas set up the sites on different versions and configurations of Apache, in an attempt to solve the load problems to no avail. A friend eventually recommended the web server from LiteSpeed Technologies, and the results were remarkable.
After just a few minutes of installation, the load fell to less than one CPU. Memory usage fell from 14GB to below 4GB. Using LiteSpeed’s event-driven architecture and optimized coding, the number of processes decreased dramatically, from nearly 200 to fewer than 10.
“I have been in the hosting business since 2003 and have tried various solutions,” Stratos said in a case study. “This is the first time I’ve seen something like this. Thanks to LiteSpeed Web Server, I will seriously consider entering the heavy-traffic market here in Greece, a market that I had been afraid to approach.”
How LiteSpeed Helps Hosts and Enterprises Get the Most From Hardware
Founder George Wang launched the company in 2002 after writing a high-performance, highly available monitoring system for AT&T’s IP network.
While Apache and NGINX control the lion’s share of web server usage, LiteSpeed servers power more than 2% of the internet — enough for fourth, behind Microsoft IIS.
“LiteSpeed, Apache, and NGINX all put out our products at about the same time, but we all took different routes,” George said. “Our niche is Apache compatibility and helping hosting businesses and users easily manage infrastructure performance.”
1. Apache Compatibility Offers Drop-In Replacement Option
By being able to read Apache’s configuration file, LiteSpeed users can immediately capitalize on performance advantages without the headaches of transitioning to a new server platform.
“Pretty much all the popular Apache features are already built into our product,” George said.
LiteSpeed reads and runs off Apache’s httpd.conf and .htaccess files, meaning users don’t have to configure LiteSpeed servers with the same settings. The platform can be installed and switched in less than 15 minutes with no downtime.
The company further simplifies the transition to LiteSpeed servers by offering a one-click installation script and control panel plugins for WHM, Plesk, and DirectAdmin.
2. Event-Driven Architecture Uses Fewer Resources to Boost Speed
The company’s website describes the difference between event-driven and process-based web servers through a coffee shop analogy. In a process-driven coffee shop, such as Apache, one employee serves one customer; the barista takes the customer’s order, fills it, and processes the payment before moving on to the next customer.
LiteSpeed’s event-driven coffee counter, however, is more familiar to coffee drinkers: one person takes the orders, while others make the drinks.
Instead of creating a new process or thread for each connection, as Apache does, LiteSpeed servers handle all connections with only a few processes that stay open and handle multiple requests. LiteSpeed utilizes external processes for dynamic web applications and database requests while continuing to field static requests.
Even though LiteSpeed delivers static content up to five times faster than Apache, users will notice the biggest difference on dynamic information: LiteSpeed’s event-driven configuration serves applications and databases up to 40 times faster than Apache.
3. Efficient CPU and RAM Usage Increases Multitenancy Capabilities
LiteSpeed’s event-driven architecture frees up hardware resources for other processes such as those serving dynamic content from web applications or MySQL databases. LiteSpeed’s efficiency means the servers can deliver faster page loads while using 98% fewer resources.
LiteSpeed’s major clients, according to Software Engineer Michael Alegre, are shared hosting providers that appreciate how the web servers manage resources more effectively.
“Some companies put 200 or 300 clients on one box and have to provision another box if they get any more,” Michael said. “Once they switch to us, however, they can easily fit 2,000 to 3,000 clients on that same box without any extra hardware.”
OpenLiteSpeed: Web Interface Helps Users Avoid Configuration File
In addition to the commercial web servers, LiteSpeed offers an open-source version touting the same lightweight performance.
Although the open-source server includes built-in page caching and unlimited processes, it will not read Apache’s configuration files or fully support .htaccess.
“It’s a little more work, but it’s for a different target audience,” George said. “It’s for people who want to manage configurations themselves without a control panel.”
Instead, OpenLiteSpeed users can configure the architecture with a user-friendly web interface. “You don’t need to add a configuration file to your plate, so it’s much easier for non-technical people,” George said.
Built-In Page Caching and ESI Support Serves Dynamic Content Faster
According to George, LiteSpeed began developing caching solutions quickly after launching the web server. Focused on application-specific acceleration, the team first started by developing a plugin for Magento because of the eCommerce platform’s complexity.
“The page always has something that’s different for each user, depending on how many items are in the cart, what items they’ve already viewed, and what you want to compare,” he said.
The company uses Edge Side Includes, or ESI, which enables site administrators to designate different types of content. The markup language designates the fragments of a webpage as static or dynamic — fixed content is served from a public cache, while information that changes is extracted and cached separately.
“Our product wants to stay cutting edge,” George said, adding that LiteSpeed was the first mainstream web server to support HTTP/2 — a full year ahead of NGINX. “We really care about the code and write it out in a much more efficient way. Whatever we do, we’re going to be the fastest of whatever is available.”
LiteSpeed’s Small, Agile Team Contributes Across the Company
In the roughly two years Michael has worked at LiteSpeed, he’s gone from a technical writer to dabbling in support and now develops the control panel plugins.
“We wear many hats,” he said with a laugh. “One day I’ll be coding, the next day I’ll be doing HTML, the day after that I’ll be reviewing marketing materials.”
Behind the entrepreneurial culture, the LiteSpeed team can deliver the world’s fourth-most popular web server with fewer than 50 employees.
“A lot of our focus is on being agile, so being a smaller company helps us accomplish that,” Michael said. “There’s nothing happening in the company that we don’t know about.”