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Getting the Most out of Varnish Cache

Posted in Tech on February 28th 2014
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COO and Co-Founder

Varnish Cache has been around for years now, but surprisingly there’s still many who haven’t taken advantage of this wonderful web accelerator.

In this article we’ll take a look at what Varnish Cache is, its capabilities and many benefits for your website, and finally how to implement it.

Varnish Cache and Its Capabilities

Simply put, Varnish Cache is a web accelerator—it speeds up access time for a website by acting as a proxy server. Typically, it’s the web server that handles HTTP requests and HTTP responses. The average person might not be aware of it, but this back and forth HTTP requesting and returning is actually a long, complicated sequence of steps. Technically speaking, this is what happens when we navigate to a URL. It only looks instantaneous and split-second fast since modern day Internet speeds have greatly improved connection speeds, and at the same time we now have faster and better processors too.

Sometimes though, the web server becomes overloaded (Server Busy, sounds familiar?), as it tries to handle too much traffic, especially when processing repeat requests from the same page. The web server laboriously starts from Step 1 of the whole process since it cannot possibly remember all the proper HTTP responses.

This is where Varnish comes in. It stores a copy of the page served by the web server when a visitor accesses a page for the first time, so that next time they access that same page, Varnish will simply serve the copy directly from its cache instead of the web server having to do it. Naturally, this takes a big load off from the server. Response times becomes faster, and the server is freed up to serve more requests per second.

For this reason, Varnish Cache is also called an HTTP accelerator or a reverse HTTP proxy.

The Benefits of Varnish Cache

According to its very own website, Varnish “will speed up the delivery of your web content by up to 80%, depending on your architecture.”

One obvious benefit of having a faster website is that it significantly improves user experience. In a world that is always craving for faster speeds, a slow-loading web page is a sure business killer— impatient people don’t want to wait a second longer and are prone to clicking somewhere else. Fast websites, on the other hand, invite and engage more users to stay longer, and at the same time give a professional image to a business.

Installing Varnish Cache

The Internet abounds in lots of resources and DIY guides (like this and this) for installing Varnish software depending on where you’re hosting your website (Ideally, it should be on a Unix or Linux-based environment). For the technically-challenged however, IT Consultis is more than glad to help with all the details of the process, i.e. configuring the size of the varnish cache, and preventing duplicate objects from being cached, setting up Varnish with Magento etc.

Varnish Cache is certainly a much-needed upgrade to any website looking to improve its user experience. Of course, a website’s speed and loading times depend on a host of other factors too, not just on having a web accelerator/proxy server. Again, our agency can help you with all the behind-the-scenes efforts to set up, optimize, and maintain your site.

Without further ado, let’s get to work and speed up your website!