I have a Drupal-powered site that seems to have neverending performance problems. It was butt-slow about 5 months ago. I brought in some guys who installed nginx for anonymous visitors, ajaxified a few queries so they wouldn't fire during page load, and helped me find a few bottlenecks in the code.
For about a month, the site was significantly faster, though not "fast" by any stretch of the word. Meanwhile, I'm now shelling out $400/month to Slicehost to host a site that gets less than 5,000/uniques a day. Yes, you read that right. Go Drupal.
Recently the site started crashing again and is slow again. I can't afford to hire people to come in, study my code from top to bottom, and make changes that may or may not help anymore. And I can't afford to throw more hardware at the problem.
So I need to figure out what the problem is myself. Questions:
When apache crashes, is it possible to find out what caused it to crash? There has to be a way, right? If so, how can I do this? Is there software I can use that will tell me which process caused my server to die? (e.g. "Apache crashed because someone visited page X." or "Apache crashed because you were importing too many RSS items from feed X.") There's got to be a way to learn this, right?
What's a good, noob-friendly way to monitor my current apache performance? My developer friends tell me to "just use Top, dude," but Top shows me a bunch of numbers without any context. I have no clue what qualifies as a bad number or a good number in Top, or which processes are relevant and which aren't. Are there any noob-friendly server monitoring tools out there? Ideally, I could have a page that would give me a color-coded indicator about how apache is performing and then show me a list of processes or pages that are sucking right now. This way, I could know when performance is bad and then what's causing it to be so bad.
Why does PHP memory matter? My apparently has a 30MB memory foot print. Will it run faster if I bring that number down?
Thanks for any advice. I spent a year or so trying to boost my advertising income so I could hire a contractor to solve my performance woes. I didn't want to have to learn all this sysadmin voodoo. I'm now resigned to the fact that might not have a choice.