Performance is a product that’s never finished at WP Engine, and in 2019, we focused on this mantra with increased intensity.

Throughout the year, we made numerous improvements to the backend software of our platform, which speeds up response-time for any page that isn’t already fully cached. This gives our customers the best platform for building WordPress sites at scale and helps their sites run faster, more securely, and with the ability to grow.

Our most recent update in this area was the removal of the PHP extension uopz, which resulted in a 10% performance improvement to backend latency, the metric related to how quickly we can serve web requests. Uopz was used to add security and reliability to our platform. When platform architects discovered that it was also adding runtime overhead, we invented alternative security solutions, and uopz was removed.  

That improvement to backend performance came on the heels of a decision we made in early November to convert ~300,000 compatible customer installs to PHP 7.3— a step we initiated to make sure our customers had access to the new features and higher performance found in the more recent versions of PHP. This decision put WP Engine customers in a much higher performance cadre than most WordPress users, the majority of whom are running on  PHP 7.0 or below.

Based on the results we received soon after that conversion was completed, many of our customers saw backend response times improve by ~20% without any effort or action on their part:

In the graph above, which is illustrative of a typical customer install, you can see the average response time drop from more than 750 milliseconds to around 550 milliseconds when converting to PHP 7.3. 

A few months prior, in August, we became the first WordPress Experience Platform to move customers on our Premium Plans to next-generation hardware from Google Cloud Platform. This was done after evaluating the new hardware and determining that it would, in fact, represent a massive boost to our customers’ overall site speeds. 

We found that when combined with the existing high-performance our platform provides, customers’ web pages began loading even faster—often times 40% faster or more—again, without any action required from customers themselves, and at no extra charge. 

The graph above is just one of the many examples we compiled of customers experiencing a major drop in web transaction time—the amount of time it takes for a server request to be completed—which in turn allows sites to load faster and provide a better experience for the end-user.  

Converting dedicated customers over to this new, next-gen hardware was an ongoing focus for us in the second half of 2019, and we now have more than 4,000 enterprise customers using it to power their digital experiences. With current availability in the central U.S., the UK, and Western Europe, we plan on expanding access to this game-changing infrastructure in 2020.  

Earlier in August, we also completed several improvements that customers were able to see in both the WordPress administrative and content-editing screens, and on sites where pages are often uncachable, such as eCommerce and membership sites. 

Those optimizations, which lowered median backend render time by ~15%, included: 

  • Using statistical data, available to us because of our large scale, and aggregating data across more than 500,000 WordPress installations, to tune our PHP opcode caching parameters better than the typical “best practices” values. 
  • Increasing the speed of both reading and writing to the WordPress Object and Transient Cache by tuning low-level protocols. 
  • Tuning our PHP v7.3 docker container to eke out more speed.

In the graph above, the median time to render an uncached page dropped from ~700 milliseconds to ~500 milliseconds, representing a more than 25% performance improvement. 

The above covers many of the sizable changes we made in 2019, but dozens of other tweaks were made throughout the year, all in the name of providing the best performance possible to our customers. When you look at all of the combined optimizations that occurred in 2019, the improvements to many of our customers’ businesses have been truly remarkable. 

The graph below shows an improvement of more than 50% in server latency for our Premium Plans, which includes the impact of Google’s next-gen hardware. 

While we’re certainly excited about the performance improvements we made in 2019, performance is a product that’s never finished at WP Engine, and oftentimes, when we make inroads in one particular area, it illuminates other things we can do to move the performance needle even further. The above improvements were no exception, and we’ll be delivering more improvements throughout 2020.  

Stay tuned—early next year we’ll share more exciting performance updates with you as we continue to fine-tune and optimize our WordPress DXP.