Ok, it goes without saying: “A2Billing is one of the most complete Calling Card systems in the Asterisk market today.” – on the other hand, it is also true that: “A2Billing is one of the most complex and convoluted pieces of code ever written!”.

The combination of the above makes for a fairly combustible mixture, especially if you have a big system. Now, I recently ran into an issue, where PHP was litterally eating up almost 512MB of ram, in order to run the A2Billing reports. In it self, that didn’t make much sense to me. However, after inspecting the code, and realizing that A2Billing uses GD in run-time to generate images out of thousands of CDR records, it made perfect sense that it may just be eating up memory.

So, increasing the memory on PHP to go up to 512MB of RAM helps, but creates an interesting probelm. Whenever Apache will invoke a script, it will automatically consume a shitload of RAM, and for each time I intiate a new query, it will spawn a new Apache instance, and consume the same amount of memory. That said, after 6 queries of 512MB, about 50% of the machines RAM was already eaten up – and Apache will not free it!

At this point, I had 2 choices:

  1. Go into the A2Billing code, change the GD code to work right or simply change it completely to something else (maybe flash).
  2. Work around the problem with a mix of proper IT practices.

I admit that I hate quite a lot of things (I won’t list these here); however; nothing ranks up the list as modifying someone elses code, when I know for fact that it will be unmaintainable in the future. So, I choose option number 2.

I’ve being playing alot with Lighttpd lately, and got some really nice performance from it. So, I said to myself, this would be a great test to see if Lighttpd+FastCGI can solve the problem here. I had to work my way around lighttpd to do what I wanted and verify that my FastCGI server in Lighttpd doesn’t consume all memory, however, here is what I got working with A2Billing, and really nice.

Step 1: Enable the required modules:

server.modules              = (
                               "mod_accesslog" )

Step 2: Enable the FastCGI Server

fastcgi.server             = ( ".php" =>
                               ( "localhost" =>
                                   "socket" => "/var/run/lighttpd/php-fastcgi.socket",
                                   "bin-path" => "/usr/bin/php-cgi",
                                   "idle-timeout" => 30,
                                   "max-procs" => 1,
                                   "min-procs" => 1

Step 3: Modify user permissions (required if you are using FreePBX)

server.username            = "asterisk"
server.groupname           = "asterisk"

Step 4: Setup authentication and authorization (optional)

#### auth module
## read authentication.txt for more info
auth.backend               = "htpasswd"
auth.backend.htpasswd.userfile = "/var/www/.htpasswd"
auth.require               = ( "/" =>
                                 "method"  => "basic",
                                 "realm"   => "A2Billing Management",
                                 "require" => "valid-user"

The above configuration made the interface spwan a single FastCGI, insuring that memory usage is never over utilized. I still need 512MB of RAM to run the scripts, but at least now it’s limited to only 512MB of RAM, out of a machine that has 16GB of RAM.

For a while now I’ve been toying around with the idea of utilizing Lighttpd for various web based applications. One of these application is my Automatic Dialer framework, also known as the GTD-API. The main issue with the GTD-API (besides that it is highly reliant on a MySQL database), is the fact that all requests have to be processed via XML-RPC HTTP post requests.

The main issue that I had was this: in a production scenario, a dialer management system will generate over 100 requests to the XML-RPC server. While Apache is fully capable of rendering services at such a speed, its increasing size and boilerplate automatically introduce a management issue. In addition, as I was trying to build a dialer appliance that can be used in any enterprise, the ever expanding Apache wasn’t a good choice.

While I was looking at both NginX and Lighttpd, the latter captured my eye, thanks to a simple advantage – The integration of FastCGI based PHP was so easy, that it almost troubling that I used Apache all these years.

At this point, once I got Lighhtpd working with my Dialer, I said to myself: “It would be really cool to go about and send status reports back from the dialer, directly to the web client activating the call. In addition, I really don’t want to go about and perform these updates to the database, then query the database – that would, literally, kill the MySQL server.

So, I implemented a local session storage area for each call, which updated the call status as it traverses. The information was stored on the hard drive, which allowed a better response time than the ever indexing MySQL server. The status reports were picked up from the Lighttpd server via an Ajax client (which I didn’t write – I suck at JS) – and it works quite well.

I wonder, can Lighttpd completely replace Apache? … time will tell…