Ever have one of those days when you just don't feel like working?
Well today's been that kind of day. So instead of doing any
serious work, I'm going to play around with a new product demo we've
been sent. The product is XTune 2.0 from XCache Technologies (the makers of
XCache and XBuilder).
You may have noticed that I mentioned its release in last week's NewsFlash.
Shortly afterwards they contacted me asking if I'd like an NFR copy to
review and, based on how good version 1.0 was, I jumped at the chance.
If you're not familiar with the product, here's the quick description
taken from their newsletter announcing its release:
XTune version upgrade! XTune 2.0 is the most powerful tuning application for IIS 4 or IIS 5 ever conceived. Indispensable to the enterprise and straightforward, this new version allows you to configure hidden operating system, network, Active Server Pages and Internet Information Server settings that will make your machine run faster, without any additional hardware or software.
This new version scans your system more deeply, offering more performance-enhancing recommendations and greater insight into your web architecture. The Performance Wizard guides and teaches you through the complete tuning process to get your box running better than ever.
Once they sent me a username and password, I logged into the site and
downloaded the installation files. They give you the option of a
self-extractor or a zip file so you can use whichever you prefer.
You can also optionally download the SDK (a set of scripts that
illustrate how to use the product programmatically) and Windows
help file formatted version of the documentation. These are actually
both included in a full install of the product, but the separate
download is a nice option if you want to get them separately to
refer to while developing or if you did a minimal install and didn't
The other thing that you'll need to get while logged in is your license key.
With the previous version, they sent this to you via email, but now it's
stored on their site so you can get to it from anywhere. This is really nice
if you need to refer to it while you're not at your own machine (for example: while
you're installing XTune on your server!) or if you can't find the original email.
Installation from the .exe download went off without a hitch and gave
me the normal options of path, start menu group, etc. I immediately uninstalled
it and tried the zip file version. Again... no problems.
Having gotten it installed, I fired off the XTune Manager. Built to use
MMC, it's interface should be strikingly familiar... it's the same as Internet Service Manager (ISM).
Actually, as far as I can tell, there's really no reason you can't do everything directly from
ISM. XTune's tabs are sitting right there next to all the other settings.
So... I right clicked on my computer from ISM and chose properties. A screen
flashed saying something about backing up settings... a nice touch -- it stored
the server's original settings in case I accidentally mess things up.
I then naturally clicked on the XTune tab and a registration wizard popped up.
It led me through the registration process (pretty simply process... entering
the registration code!) and returned me to the computer configuration page.
So I decided to take a look at the settings you can change at the computer level.
Each of those buttons you see reveals another screen chock full of
settings like this threading configuration screen:
Now, if you're like me, you probably have an idea what these settings all mean, but
unless you've got way too much time on your hands, you're probably not up on all of
them or what these values actually mean. This is where the excellent
documentation comes into play. It's available from the help button on each page,
in the windows help file I mentioned earlier, as well as on their
web site. In the documentation, each setting is associated with its corresponding
IIS Metabase or Registry setting and their meaning and range of values are clearly
So far, I've only talked about being able to tweak IIS at the server level.
Well you can also configure settings at the web site level and
this is where the screen which is of particular interest to us is located.
What screen is that? Why the ASP settings... of course!
I'm not going to go into what all these things mean and why you
should or shouldn't change them... that's really up to you and
what XTune is all about to begin with.
If giving you access to these settings was all this product did;
however, it'd still be a great product to have in your toolbox,
but wait till you see what's next!
Note: I was just reading that and it sounded exactly like an
infomercial, so I'd like to take this opportunity to mention that this is not
a paid advertisement and that my views are exactly that... my views.
XCache Technologies had no say whatsoever in the contents of this article
and didn't even see it until it was posted on our site.
The XTune Performance Wizard
Those of you who know me know that I hate wizards. They take perfectly simple
things and make them complicated. Perfect example: that stupid "Internet Connection Wizard"
that Microsoft makes you jump through on every PC. So going into this I was a little
(okay... more then a little) skeptical. But boy was I wrong... here's finally a wizard
that does more then simply split a big dialog box into lot of little screens.
As I mentioned earlier, it's quite possible that you may not know what some of
the settings XTune allows you to change actually mean. I know I certainly
didn't. This is where the addition of the wizard, which was not available
in XTune 1.0, comes into play.
After backing up your current settings, the wizard takes you step by step through each setting,
tells you what it does, what it's setting currently is, and what setting XTune recommends.
Even better, since nothing in life is really free, it also tells you what the
possible downside of each change might be.
Some changes require more memory, may cause extra work for the processor,
may favor people on faster or slower connections, or may cause some users
to see Server Too Busy errors, but each is clearly explained and the benefit
and possible detriment of each is clearly laid out so you can make an informed
decision before changing anything.
None of these changes are made until the end of the wizard, at which point
you can either let it make the changes or it you're not sure cancel the
process. Oh and the wizard also works at both the computer and web site
level asking different questions and making different recommendations at each.
One thing you should be aware of before running this wizard is that it is
written strictly to increase performance. As such, it points out a lot
of things that should be changed to get the maximum level of performance.
Before you just accept all of it's recommendations, you should note that
some of the things XTune recommends disabling are things that you are
probably using (like log files and sessions). I just thought
I should mention this so that you will really take your time while going through
the wizard. If you're not certain about a setting then it's probably safer to not
change it until you've done more research or you might
find your site not working at all!
Another thing to be noted is that a number of the recommended settings result
in IIS and associated processes using more system resources (memory, processing, etc.).
While this will help IIS perform better, other services may not fare as well
if they need access to those resources. On a dedicated web server giving these
resources to IIS is desirable, but before you make all the recommended changes
on a machine running other services be sure you've given some thought to their needs.
If you're running a dedicated web server and are worried about performance then
by all means get a copy of XTune 2.0. It lets you get at performance
settings you probably never knew existed. While it's no longer free (like version
1.0 was), when you start comparing it to the other available options
to increase your web server's performance, it's a steal.
The product does take a bit of a heavy handed approach and recommends some things
that won't work or aren't
acceptable options for a lot of people, but at every step along the way, you're
in control of the process and are given the pertinent information so that you
can make an informed decision about whether to accept or decline each
recommendation it makes.
While I didn't have a chance to performance test the different
settings for this review (default settings vs. XTune's recommendations),
based on our experiences using XTune 1.0, you should be able to expect noticable
speed improvements, especially on high traffic sites and servers.
Update: Price Drop
Here's the deal straight from their newsletter:
XTune - five for the price of one!
In the quest to provide more value to you - our valued customer - we've liberalized the licensing structure of XTune.
The entry fee is still $89 USD, but now you can create up to FIVE keys instead of just one! Think of the possiblities...
For all of you who paid $89 USD for a single license - contact XCache sales to get your extra licenses. Everybody wins!