We’ve been doing a lot of close support for a few customers recently, and part of that work involves doing diagnosis and performing measurements on various parts of their web stack. Some of that support is also just plain giving advice on how things can be done better.
It struck us that there’s a pretty big set of these tools in the shed, but they’re often not as well known as we thought. That’s why we think they’re worth sharing with you.
Giddyup! is a tool for simplifying code rollouts. If you’re a Rails person you’ll be familiar with Capistrano; this is like that, but more general.
Push to a git repo, receive rollout. Just like that. The actions and smarts are taken care of by hook scripts that you supply. Don’t have a git repo? There’s your first problem, you should be using git.
Not so much a dev tool as a way of having a poke at other people’s sites, BuiltWith is a cool way of inspecting the technologies being used by a website.
At heart BuiltWith is really about business intelligence and providing reports that’d be useful for corporate strategy, but it’s also a quick way to get a rundown of how a website gets things done. This is a boon for support staff when dealing with a site they’ve never seen before, as it helps give them a good idea of what they’re up against or where to start looking.
Are You Still There?
In the same vein as the popular Down For Everyone Or Just Me, Are You Still There? tests whether your website is working from multiple locations around the world, but also reports the details of each test, including geographic location and response times.
If you’ve ever done support you’ll have heard “my website is down!” countless times. It’s sometimes handy to have an external perspective, and this is just the place to start. It’s great to give to customers because they don’t have to believe you, they can see the results for themselves.
Sometimes customers will want monitoring for themselves. If you can’t hook them up with your monitoring systems, like we do, the next best thing is for them to arrange their own. For a pretty modest fee, Pingdom provides around-the-clock monitoring for web-facing services and can send alerts the moment it spots a problem.
We’ve found that customers love this sort of output, so it’s definitely worth suggesting if they want more insight.
Serious business customers often want to know just how much of a load their website can take without keeling over. While there’s no shortage of tools to do this (eg. Apache bench, Jmeter, Siege), it’s hard to do well. Customers sometimes ask if we can provide load-testing as a service; we could, but it’s not something we specialise in, and we wouldn’t be able to produce representative results from inside the datacentre.
This is where tools like Blitz come in. Blitz leverages Amazon’s EC2 infrastructure to perform distributed load testing and aggregated results and metrics. One of their key selling points is that it’s easy to integrate into the development lifecycle, which makes it appealing for web devs.