I'm trying to manage a server on Amazon for a network of sites that receives about 100 million pageviews per month. Unfortunately, nobody out of my team of 5 developers has much server admin experience.

Right now we have the MaxClients set to 1400. Currently our traffic is about average, and we have 1150 total Apache processes running, which use about 2% CPU each! Out of those 1150, 800 of them are currently sleeping, but still taking up CPU. I'm sure there are ways to optimize this. I have a few thoughts:

  1. It appears Apache is creating a new process for every single connection. Is this normal?
  2. Is there a way to more quickly kill the sleeping processes?
  3. Should we turn KeepAlive on? Each page loads about 15-20 medium-sized graphics and a lot of javascript/css.

So, here's our Apache setup. We do plan on contracting a server admin asap, but I would really appreciate some advice until we can find someone.

Timeout 25
KeepAlive Off
MaxKeepAliveRequests 200
KeepAliveTimeout 5

<IfModule prefork.c>
StartServers         100
MinSpareServers      20
MaxSpareServers      50
ServerLimit          1400
MaxClients           1400
MaxRequestsPerChild  5000

<IfModule worker.c>
StartServers         4
MaxClients           400
MinSpareThreads      25
MaxSpareThreads      75
ThreadsPerChild      25
MaxRequestsPerChild  0

Full top output:

top - 23:44:36 up 1 day,  6:43,  4 users,  load average: 379.14, 379.17, 377.22
Tasks: 1153 total, 379 running, 774 sleeping,   0 stopped,   0 zombie
Cpu(s): 71.9%us, 26.2%sy,  0.0%ni,  0.0%id,  0.0%wa,  0.0%hi,  1.9%si,  0.0%st
Mem:  70343000k total, 23768448k used, 46574552k free,   527376k buffers
Swap:        0k total,        0k used,        0k free, 10054596k cached

 1756 mysql     20   0 10.2g 1.8g 5256 S 19.8  2.7 904:41.13 mysqld
21515 apache    20   0  396m  18m 4512 R  2.1  0.0   0:34.42 httpd
21524 apache    20   0  396m  18m 4032 R  2.1  0.0   0:32.63 httpd
21544 apache    20   0  394m  16m 4084 R  2.1  0.0   0:36.38 httpd
21643 apache    20   0  396m  18m 4360 R  2.1  0.0   0:34.20 httpd
21817 apache    20   0  396m  17m 4064 R  2.1  0.0   0:38.22 httpd
22134 apache    20   0  395m  17m 4584 R  2.1  0.0   0:35.62 httpd
22211 apache    20   0  397m  18m 4104 R  2.1  0.0   0:29.91 httpd
22267 apache    20   0  396m  18m 4636 R  2.1  0.0   0:35.29 httpd
22334 apache    20   0  397m  18m 4096 R  2.1  0.0   0:34.86 httpd
22549 apache    20   0  395m  17m 4056 R  2.1  0.0   0:31.01 httpd
22612 apache    20   0  397m  19m 4152 R  2.1  0.0   0:34.34 httpd
22721 apache    20   0  396m  18m 4060 R  2.1  0.0   0:32.76 httpd
22932 apache    20   0  396m  17m 4020 R  2.1  0.0   0:37.34 httpd
22933 apache    20   0  396m  18m 4060 R  2.1  0.0   0:34.77 httpd
22949 apache    20   0  396m  18m 4060 R  2.1  0.0   0:34.61 httpd
22956 apache    20   0  402m  24m 4072 R  2.1  0.0   0:41.45 httpd
  • You might want to add the screen output from top.
    – mdpc
    Jun 23, 2011 at 23:41
  • Not really an answer, but it might help. Apache is great at lots of little requests, if each page is really serving "15-20 medium-sized graphics" I'd strongly suggest offloading those to something like NGINX, or even a CDN like CloudFront. Are you using a small, medium or large EC2 instance? Having that many workers will use a LOT of memory and quite a bit of CPU, even on idle
    – Smudge
    Jun 23, 2011 at 23:43
  • @mdpc I updated with the full top output. Jun 23, 2011 at 23:45
  • 1
    Are you using pconnect for mysql? Also, I see the system is taking 25% of your cpu time - there's a chance that could be thread contention. At 100 million -pageviews-, your requests per second is pretty decent. Maybe look at increasing MaxRequestsPerChild to double that. Also, do you know if you're using prefork or worker?
    – thinice
    Jun 23, 2011 at 23:50
  • 2
    @andrewtwebber You might also want to look at something like upstream VARNISH servers to cache your dynamic pages to further reduce load on your Apache nodes. When it comes down to it, Apache is a terrible webserver for large sites (compared to say, NGINX). Unfortunately there's not really a good way to fully escape it if you're working with PHP (I'm guessing you are) so you just have to try and remove as much load as possible from Apache and offload it to other, better suited software
    – Smudge
    Jun 23, 2011 at 23:56

2 Answers 2


Looks to me like you're using the prefork mpm. Most of this answer assumes as much.

It appears Apache is creating a new process for every single connection. Is this normal?

For prefork? Yes.

Is there a way to more quickly kill the sleeping processes?

Are you sure these processes are not doing anything? With your MaxSpareSevers setting you should only have up to 50 idle processes. Enable mod_status and set ExtendedStatus on should allow you to view the Apache scoreboard and allow you to see what is going on.

Should we turn KeepAlive on? Each page loads about 15-20 medium-sized graphics and a lot of javascript/css.

Turning on KeepAlive is a good idea. It will allow clients to pipeline requests and allow you to reuse Apache processes more efficiently.

As with most tuning. Measure first to create you baseline, then change one thing and then re-measure to try determine what effect you change may have had. Using (and graphing) mod_status is handy for this.

You may be able to use the worker mpm, which tends to help with performance. However, some libraries (notably some PHP libraries) do not operate well with the worker mpm. YMMV

To determine which mpm you're using run: apache2 -V (or httpd -V depending on the distro)

  • Yes we are using prefork. Thanks for the reply! I've learned a lot about Apache just from your response. See my comment on mechcow's response about KeepAlive - it didn't seem to work with our particular solution, at least not in the short term. But once we setup separate DB and CDN servers, we'll be able to support more apache processes and turn it on. Jun 24, 2011 at 15:22

There are entire books written on this topic, but to keep it simple:

Run the database in a separate tier

Your database workload and webserver workload are entirely different and will be thrashing resources in competing ways. Its best to keep them separate, this will help you scale out in the future.

Isolate static and dynamic content

Consider running a faster webserver like nginx for static content and ditching apache entirely. If you can, run nginx everywhere.

KeepAlive will definitely help

A lot of your resources are being burned by tear-up and tear-down of connections.


For more good advice, I highly recommend : http://www.webpagetest.org/ . This will show you why the site is taking a long time to load and has a number of best-practice tips to fixing performance: enabling gzip compression, minifying javascript and css, etc. etc. Give it a read.

  • Thanks a lot! Do you have any specific book(s) you'd recommend? Jun 24, 2011 at 13:50
  • When we enabled KeepAlive, it seemed to help page load times - if you could get a connection. Unfortunately nearly every block in the mod_status page was a "K", so 90% of the time my connection would timeout waiting for one of the "K" blocks to free up. So for now we've left KeepAlive off and decraesed MaxClients from 1400 to 500. That seems to be helping a lot, but I understand that it's a temporary solution. We're looking into using a separate db server and using a CDN with nginx. I'm accepting another answer because their rep is much lower, but I truly appreciate your response! Jun 24, 2011 at 15:19
  • Wow. We set up an RDS for our mysql server, and things are running 1000x faster! Thanks again :) Jun 24, 2011 at 21:29
  • Check out "Scalable Internet Architectures" by Theo Schlossnagle, its a good book on the topic. Perhaps using Firebug would help you debug why KeepAlive hurt you so much, I guess it depends on your traffic workload. Jun 24, 2011 at 22:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.