Category Archives: Performance

A look at revocation repository uptime

It is no secret that in the last two months GlobalSign was affected by outages at relating to our use of CloudFlare. I won’t go into the specifics behind those outages because the CloudFlare team does a great job of documenting their outages as well as working to make sure the mistakes of the past do not reoccur. With that said we have been working closely with CloudFlare to ensure that our services are better isolated from their other customers and to optimize their network for the traffic our services generate.

I should add that I have a ton of faith in the CloudFlare team, these guys are knowledgeable, incredibly hard working and very self critical — I consider them great partners.

When looking at these events it is important to look at them holistically; for example one of the outages was a result of mitigating what has been called the largest publically announced DDOS in the history of the Internet.

While no downtime is acceptable and I am embarrassed we have had any downtime it’s also important to look at the positives that come from these events, for one we have had an opportunity to test our mitigations for such events and improve them so that in the future we can withstand even larger such attacks.

Additionally it’s also useful to look the actual uptime these services have had and to give those numbers some context look at them next to one of our peers. Thankfully I have this data as a result of the revocation report which tracks performance and uptime from 21 different network worldwide perspectives every minute.

For 05/2012-12/2012 we see:

Service Uptime(%) Avg(ms)
GlobalSign/AlphaSSL OCSP 100.00 101.29
VeriSign/Symantec/Thawte/GeoTrust/Trustcenter OCSP 99.92 319.40
GlobalSign/AlphaSSL CRL 100 96.86
VeriSign/Symantec/Thawte/GeoTrust/Trustcenter CRL 99.97 311.42


For 01/2013 to 04/2013 we see:

Service Uptime(%) Avg(ms)
GlobalSign/AlphaSSL OCSP 99.98 76.44
VeriSign/Symantec/Thawte/GeoTrust/Trustcenter OCSP 99.85 302.88
GlobalSign/AlphaSSL CRL 99.98 76.44
VeriSign/Symantec/Thawte/GeoTrust/Trustcenter CRL 99.22 296.97

NOTE:  Symantec operates several different infrastructures – which one you hit is dependent on which brand you buy from and some cases which product you buy. We operate only two brands which share the same infrastructure. I averaged the results for each of their brands together to create these two tables. If you want to see the independent numbers see the Excel document linked to this post.


As you can see no one is perfect; I don’t share this to say our downtime is acceptable because it is not, but instead I want to make it clear this is data we track and use to improve our services and to make it clear what the impact really was.

By the way if you want to see the data I used in the above computation you can download these spreadsheets.

Why we built the Revocation Report

For over a year I have been monitoring the industry’s largest OCSP and CRL repositories for performance and uptime. I started this project for a few reasons but to understand them I think it’s appropriate to start with why I joined GlobalSign.

If you’re reading this post you are likely aware of the last few years of attacks against public Certificate Authorities (CA). Though I am no stranger to this space, like you I was watching it all unfold from the outside as I was working at Microsoft in the Advertising division where I was responsible for Security Engineering for their platform.

I recall looking at the industry and feeling frustrated about how little has changed in the last decade, feeling like the Internet was evolving around the CA ecosystem – at least technologically. The focus seemed almost exclusively on policies, procedures and auditing which are of course extremely important when you’re in this business but by themselves they are not a solution.

When I looked at the CA ecosystem there were a few players who I thought understood this; the one I felt got it the most was GlobalSign. Instead of joining the race to the bottom they were developing solutions to help with key management, certificate lifecycle management, and publishing guides to help customers deploy certificates cost effectively.

As a result when they approached me with the opportunity to join them as their CTO and set the technology direction for the company I was intrigued. Those of you who know me know I love data, I believe above all things successful businesses (if they recognize it or not) leverage the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control cycle to ensure they are solving the right problems and doing so effectively.

To that end when I joined GlobalSign as their CTO and I wanted market intelligence on what the status quo was for technology, operating practices and standards compliance so that I could use to adjust my own priorities as I planned where GlobalSign was going to focus its investments.

It was more than that though, as many of you know I am not new to PKI and especially not to revocation technologies having developed several products / features in this area as well as contributing to the associated standards over the years. I was always frustrated by many public certificate authorities’ inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the inadequacy of their revocation infrastructure and its contribution to slow TLS adoption and bad user agent behavior when it comes to revocation checking.

More directly the reliability and performance of major CA operational infrastructure was why browsers had to implement what is now called “soft-fail” revocation behaviors; the treating of failures to check the status of a certificate the same as a successful check. Yet it is these same people who point fingers at the browsers when the security implications of this behavior are discussed.

I wanted to see that change.

This is why from the very beginning of this project I shared all the data I had with other CAs, my hope was they would use it to improve their infrastructure but unfortunately short of one or two smaller players no one seemed concerned – I was shouting at the wind.

With the limited feedback I had received for the data I had been collecting I decided to put together what is now the revocation report. As part of this project I switched to a different monitoring provider (Monitis) because it gave me more control of what was being monitored and had a more complete API I could use to get at the data.

In parallel I began to work with CloudFlare to address what I felt was one barrier to optimally using a CDN to distribute OCSP responses (inability to cache POSTs). The whole time chronicling my experiences, thoughts and decisions on my blog so that others could learn from my experience and the industry as a whole could benefit.

When I set up the Monitis account I licensed the ability to monitor the top responders from 21 locations worldwide every minute. At first I just published the graphical reports that Monitis had but they had a few problems:

  1. They did not perform very well (at the time).
  2. It was not laid out in such a way you could see all the data at once (also now fixed).
  3. It did not exclude issues associated with their monitoring sensors.
  4. It gave no context to the data that was being presented.

This is what took me to working with Eli to build the revocation report we have today, the internet now has a public view into approximately eleven months (and growing) of performance data for revocation repositories. Eli and I are also working on mining and quantizing the data so we can do something similar for responder uptime but this has taken longer than expected due to other priorities — we will finish it though.

So the question at this point is “was the effort worth it?” — I think so, both of us put a lot of time into this project but I believe it’s been a success for a few reasons:

  1. It allowed me to figure out how to improve our own revocation infrastructure; we now perform at about the same speed as for a similarly sized object which is what the bar should be.
  2. Both StartSSL and Entrust have now followed suit and made similar changes to their infrastructure improving their performance by about 3x (besting our performance by a few ms!).
  3. Symantec has improved their primary revocation repository performance by almost 40% and I understand more improvements are on the way.
  4. We are a closer to having data based argument we can present to browsers about why they can and should re-enable hardfail revocation checking by default.
  5. It gives customers visibility into the invisible performance hit associated with the decision of who you choose as your certificate provider.

What do you think? Do you find this valuable? Are there any other elements you think we should be tracking?

Priming the OCSP cache in Nginx

So recently GlobalSign, DigiCert, and Comodo worked together with Nginx to get OCSP stapling supoported in Nginx 1.3.7, unfortunately architectural restrictions made it impractical to make it so that pre-fetching the OCSP response on server start-up so instead the first connection to the server primes the cache that is used for later connections.

This is a fine compromise but what if you really want the first connection to have the benefit too? Well there are two approaches you can take:

  1. Right after you start the server you do a SSL request to prime the cache.
  2. You manually get the ocsp response and plumb it where Nginx is looking for it.

The first model is easy, right after you start your server use the OpenSSL s_client to connect to the server with OCSP stapling enabled  just like I documented in this post, the first request will trigger the retrieval of the OCSP response by Nginx.

The second model can be done before you start the server, you need to find the URI for the OCSP responder, do a OCSP request and populate the Nginx cache manually, this would look something like:


URL=$(openssl x509 -in $SERVER_CER -text | grep “OCSP – URI:” | cut -d: -f2,3)

openssl ocsp -noverify -no_nonce -respout ocsp.resp -issuer \

Where “ocsp.resp” is whatever file you have configured in Nginx for the “ssl_stapling_file“.

Each approach has its pros and cons, for example with the first approach your execution of the s_client call may not be the first request the server sees, with the second approach if you are using a certificate that doesn’t contain a OCSP pointer and have manually told Nginx where to fetch certificate status from then it won’t work.

It is worth noting you can run this same script in a cron script to ensure your server never needs to hit the wire (and potentially block when doing so) when it tries to keep its OCSP cache up to date.



A quick look at SSL performance

When people think about SSL performance they are normally concerned with the performance impact on the server, specifically they talk about the computational and memory costs of negotiating the SSL session and maintaining the encrypted link.  Today though it’s rare for a web server to be CPU or memory bound so this really shouldn’t be a concern, with that said you should still be concerned with SSL performance.

Did you know that at Google SSL accounts for less than 1% of the CPU load, less than 10KB of memory per connection and less than 2% of network overhead?

Why? Because studies have shown that the slower your site is the less people want to use it. I know it’s a little strange that they needed to do studies to figure that out but the upside is we now have some hard figures we can use to put this problem in perspective. One such study was done by Amazon in 2008, in this study they found that every 100ms of latency cost them 1% in sales.

That should be enough to get anyone to pay attention so let’s see what we can do to better understand what can slow SSL down.

Before we go much further on this topic we have to start with what happens when a user visits a page, the process looks something like this:

  1. Lookup the web servers IP address with DNS
  2. Create a TCP socket to the web server
  3. Initiate the SSL session
  4. Validate the certificates provided by the server
  5. Establish the SSL session
  6. Send the request content

What’s important to understand is that to a great extent the steps described above tasks happen serially, one right after another – so if they are not optimized they result in a delay to first render.

To make things worse this set of tasks can happen literally dozens if not a hundred times for a given web page, just imagine that processes being repeated for every resource (images, JavaScript, etc.) listed in the initial document.

Web developers have made an art out of optimizing content so that it can be served quickly but often forget about impact of the above, there are lots of things that can be done to reduce the time users wait to get to your content and I want to spend a few minutes discussing them here.

First (and often forgotten) is that you are dependent on the infrastructure of your CA partner, as such you can make your DNS as fast as possible but your still dependent on theirs, you can minify your web content but the browser still needs to validate the certificate you use with the CA you get your certificate from.

These taxes can be quite significant and add up to 1000ms or more.

Second a mis(or lazily)-configured web server is going to result in a slower user experience, there are lots of options that can be configured in TLS that will have a material impact on TLS performance. These can range from the simple certificate related to more advanced SSL options and configuration tweaks.

Finally simple networking concepts and configuration can have a big impact on your SSL performance, from the basic like using a CDN to get the SSL session to terminate as close as possible to the user of your site to the more advanced like tuning TLS record sizes to be more optimum.

Over the next week or so I will be writing posts on each of these topics but in the meantime here are some good resources available to you to learn about some of these problem areas:

Reading ocspreport and crlreport at

As you may know I have been hosting some performance and up-time monitors at: and

I started this project about six months ago when I walked the CAB Forum membership list, visited the sites of the larger CAs on that list, looked at their certificates and extracted both OCSP and CRL urls and added them into custom monitor running on AWS nodes.

Later I tried Pingdom and finally settled on using Monitis because Pingdom doesn’t let you control which monitoring points are used and doesn’t give you the ability to do comparison views. That said as a product I liked Pingdom much better.

As for how I configured Monitis, I did not do much — I set the Service Level Agreement (SLA) for uptime to 10 seconds which is the time required to be met by the CABFORUM for revocation responses. I also selected all of the monitoring locations (30 of them) and set it loose.

I put this up for my own purposes, so I could work on improving our own service but I have also shared it publicly and know several of the other CAs that are being monitored are also using it which I am happy to see.

OK, so today I found myself explaining a few things about these reports to someone so I thought it would be worthwhile to summarize those points for others, they are:

  1. Why is it so slow to render? – Unfortunately despite numerous requests to Monitis there is nothing I can do about this – Monitis is just slow.
  2. Why does it show downtime so often? – I do not believe the downtime figures, most of the time the failures show up on all of the urls. The times I have looked into theses it turned out the failures were at Monitis or due to regional network congestion / failures. Unfortunately this means we cannot rely on these figures for up-time assessment, at best they are indicators when looked at over long periods of time.
  3. Why do some tests show at 0-1 ms? – This is likely because the Monitis testing servers are located in the same data center as the OCSP servers in question. This skews the performance numbers a little bit but the inclusion of many perspectives should off-set this.

At this point I suspect you’re wondering, with these shortcomings what is this thing good for anyways? That’s a good question; OCSP (and CRLs) are a hidden tax that you and your users pay when they visit your site.

This is important because studies have found a direct correlation between latency and user abandonment and seriously who doesn’t just want their site to be fast as possible.

My hope is these resources help you understand what that tax is; if you’re a CA operator it can also help you tweak your performance as well as get an idea of what the global user experience is for the relying parties of your certificates.

On a related note I do think someone could make a pretty penny if they made an easy to use, yet powerful monitoring site 🙂