A Guide to Implementing Performance Testing and Monitoring
Modern organizations have moved from serial or linear development of monolithic applications — assembling and releasing once or twice a year — to an agile, DevOps, and CI-CD motion, where applications are developed rapidly and deployed constantly.
While there's a plethora of internal and external advantages of such a rapid release cycle, oftentimes performance can be put at risk. Pursuing the goal of rapid delivery in all points of the lifecycle demands accelerated code review, shorter testing cycles, and rushed scripting monitors for production, leaving room for the possibility of disaster performance in production.
No matter how seasoned the development team is, less than 30% of software projects using the more traditional software development processes actually end on time.
Rapid delivery processes can certainly help, but
only when continuous performance improvement is planned and implemented at each iteration. Imple- menting a process for improving the performance of your applications requires the right tools to help you do it. These tools go beyond the responsibilities of your development team to ensure that applications are tested in pre-deployment and monitored after your application is live in production.
Like any process change, continuous performance improvement can come with challenges. Common roadblocks are often related to budget or bandwidth:
“We don’t have time allotted for this.”
“We don’t have the infrastructure or tools to help achieve this.”
“There is no budget to hire additional people.”
However, once continuous improvement is made a priority, these can be resolved with simple tactical steps. This eBook will provide the tactical advice you need to implement a strategy that works for your organization.
How to define performance
Overcoming performance testing and monitoring roadblocks
An introduction to the continuous performance improvement model
Using continuous performance improvement to transform user experience
Choosing the right performance tools
We’ll also take a look at how you can test and monitor for performance issues with tools like LoadNinja and AlertSite.
Quality and performance are both terms that can be a bit tricky to define.
How you view performance as an application consumer can be vastly different from how you view performance if you’re responsible for building and maintaining an application. Then there are differences within your own teams — for example, those who work as developers or in operations will each have their own perspective on performance, with actionable metrics they're looking to achieve.
Performance is typically defined by a number of key factors:
But even these factors need to be examined beyond face value. For example, if you have two applications, both showing 99% availability you may say, “Don’t these both have similar stability?” But that might not always be the case.
For one application, the 1% downtown could be attribut- ed to just one outage. But if the application is running perfectly otherwise, it could be considered to be highly stable. Compare that to another application with the same downtime, but that downtime is spread out over many days, and is constantly up and down. They may have the same availability, but one application is far more stable than the other one.
Another important factor in performance is functional correctness. Even if the application is up and available, if it’s not functionally correct it’s as good as unavailable for the consumer. For example, let’s say you’re using a Weather app to look at weather in Boston, Massachusetts and it’s showing weather from Mumbai, India. If the application is available but functionally incorrect, it’s as good as unavailable.
For a lot of people, availability simply means: is that URL available? Is it up? Can a consumer really interact with that application?
Not unless they log in or put something in the shopping cart. That’s why we look to functional correctness now as another term to help de ne if the application available. Is it performing? Can it be consumed as it was designed to be consumed?
Bottom line: Application performance is not just one thing; it’s a collection of all the different factors that go into making sure your application correctly, regardless of device, location, or number of end users.
Why do we continue to see performance failures?
Major retailers like Target, Neiman Marcus, and Best Buy all faced downtime during recent holiday seasons. Social networks like Twitter have also experienced outages, which impact users but also cause issues for applications that rely on a social network’s API. And more recently, the breakout Pokemon Go game experienced multiple outages because its servers weren’t prepared to handle the volume of load that resulted from its explosion in popularity.
All of these companies have ample resources. They have people. They have tools. They have money to ensure that their applications are completely guarded from all the di erent directions, but then there are still unforeseen issues that happen in production.
Why haven’t we mastered the art of application performance? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons teams fail to implement some of the key safeguards to protect from performance problems.
We’ve touched upon some of the pain points team face when implementing a continuous performance improvement strategy, like time constraints and budget. However when you take a closer look at these challenges, there are solutions that many teams often overlook.
When a software development project nears completion, it's likely the project has gone through numerous tests, particularly in an Agile testing environment where testing and development happen concurrently. But no matter how many tests you’ve run, once your application is nearly complete, there’s really only one way to know whether or not your software can handle the actual demands your army of end users will soon be placing on it. This is where load testing comes into play.
Load Testing is a type of performance testing. (Other two types being stress testing and capacity testing). Load testing is used to verify your application’s behavior under normal and peak load conditions. This allows you to verify that your application can meet the desired performance objectives; which are often specified in a service level agreement (SLA). Load testing also enables you to measure response times, throughput rates, resource utilization levels, and to identify your application’s breaking point, assuming that breaking point occurs below the peak load condition. Load testing helps you check your web server’s performance under a massive load, determine its robustness, and estimate its scalability.
But while most teams understand the importance of testing for performance, a large percentage still fail to make performance checks a top priority for their applications. Here are some of the common challenges we've heard from SmartBear Customers during the evaluation process:
One of the most common challenges teams face when implementing load testing into their software delivery process is understanding the skills needed for effective load testing.
We often hear:
We tried a few tools, they require coding skills that our test teams simply don't have, or have time to learn to keep up with the speed of our deployments.
While there are certainly some level of expertise needed to do effective load testing, today there are tools that can simplify the process and provide the features you need to be successful. A tool like LoadNinja, makes load testing simple and convenient. You can simulate users and create realistic load tests in real browsers without writing a single line of code. LoadComplete allows you to easily generate traffic using the cloud, virtual machines, or even through on-premise computers. For monitoring tools, some tools on the market, like AlertSite, make it easy to get up and running rapidly without having to code scripts for new montiors - whether it's reusing functional test scripts, or codeless web-recorders that record user transactions and automatically generate a monitor.
You’re already doing a lot of tests to ensure the quality, performance, and functionality of your applications. Do you really need to invest additional time into running performance tests?
Sound familiar? Many teams choose to not make load testing a priority because they’re testing resources are already spread too thin and they don’t think they have the time to do performance testing effectively.
While timing and bandwidth will always be considerations when deciding how to prioritize testing responsibilities, it’s important to understand the cost of poor performance that can result from not doing performance tests. It takes a lot longer to have to identify and resolve performance issues after there’s a problem. This is time you could have saved by doing testing upfront when there’s time to remediate issues.
The biggest hurdles team face when implementing performance testing is that it’s not part of their established workflow. We’ll go into more detail on how to implement a process that fits into your organization’s workflow later in the eBook.
We typically hear that:
One thing to bear in mind is that a lot of times when you find a problem through performance testing, those problems can take a long time to remediate. Some of them are quick fixes. It might be turning on caching. It might be changing some settings. It might be changing some queries that are reaching out to the database to bring back information.
There are other times when the problem might be that you have to refactor a large portion of code, or that additional hardware is necessary. We all know that acquiring hardware and then configuring it and then putting it into the mix can take a while. It’s better to do these things early, and make changes over time rather than being hit at the last minute with all these changes that you have implement all at once.
There are a lot of companies that do not invest in a proper staging environment because budget doesn’t exist. For these teams, the cost of ramping up enough load to get a valid test seems to be more than it would be worth.
Even without a staging environment, you can still run tests on a live environment for your application. To do this effectively, it’s important to run tests on off hours to limit the impact on actual end users. With the right strategy, you can get a lot of information from the actual environment and do it at a planned, strategic time that will have the least amount of impact on your customers and daily business transactions.
Performance monitoring lets you find problems before they impact your end user, and when you're able to test and monitor in parallel, you can gain invaluable insight to improve performance. If the right techniques are employed, monitoring can provide a view from the same perspective as end users, to tell you what the is going on with your application, API, or website – and whether customers will be satisfied with the experience.
A robust performance monitoring solution will enable you to set up monitors to watch for performance issues in real time. These tools should provide the scalability you need to monitor different devices, from different locations around the world. It should also provide intelligent reporting, so whether there’s a delay in response time from a third party API, or your site crashes during a user transaction, you’ll be reported so you can act quickly to resolve the problem.
When we talk to customers who are getting started with our synthetic monitoring tool, AlertSite, they tell us the decision to invest in a monitoring solution came after addressing some of the following common roadblocks.
One of the top roadblocks we hear is that availability montioring is sufficient to understanding real-time performance- as long as it's available, "we're good." However, down the road, many organizations come to the realization that this really isn't the case. Availability monitoring is easy, simple, and cheap to conduct, so many organizations rely on that crutch as the baseline for their performance. There's an idea that advanced monitoring tools are expensive and complex, and individuals feel like they need to learn a legacy monitoring tool that requires coding expertise.
We have availaiblity monitoring so we know when something is down
We don’t have the skills or budget for advanced monitoring
We don't have time to code new scripts for new monitors for every release
Too much confidence in their application
Knowing that your application is available is important, but if that is the only metric you're tracking to get visibility into what is happening with end-users, it perpetuates blindspots in performance. If your application or website or even API is available but is slow or returning the wrong information, or simply returning nothing at all, you would have no idea that something is wrong. Your end-user experience begins to deteriorate fast, and you'd have no idea. We like to call this the Illusion of Availability. Making sure you’re monitoring every important gear in the machine, and making sure that the warning systems in place reflect the metrics, thresholds, and standards you value is key in knowing about issues before your users encounter them.
Some modern performance monitoring solutions do not require experience with writing code. In fact, these tools are designed to make it quick and easy to setup monitors on your application with limited setup time or cost. If you’re using a tool like AlertSite for example, you can use our DejaClick solution to perform and record an action on your site and then setup a monitor on the different steps of that action.
If your culture is indifferent to optimizing and maintaining performance, it will be challenging to invest the tools you need to ensure performance. So start by making performance a top priority.
It’s a common practice to believe that a software vendor, CDN, or another third party that you’re integrated with will take care of performance issues. After all, if they are doing monitoring on their end, why should you be concerned with monitoring the backend of your applications?
We sometimes hear:
Blindly trust on third party service providers, such as CDNs or platform provider
No way to measure SLAs
But if your application depends on third party APIs, then their performance is directly tied to how your users view your application. Even if third party partners may provide regular reports, it’s your responsibility
to hold them accountable and make sure they are meeting the SLAs you’ve agreed on. Setting up these monitors will also benefit you when it comes time to negotiate with third parties.
So many companies today rely on third-parties or CDNs to deliver the end-user experience they've crafted, as they have a variety of different benefits, however, there are instances when performance issues occur that impact their websites, applications and APIs. If the companies are not monitoring their assets, they may not know when their end-user experience is broken. Say for example, a company relies on an CDN to deliver web content. If
Their website would be down, and they would not know. This is a real example one of our AlertSite customers was able to remediate quickly and efficiently because they had real-time, first hand visibility into their end-user experience. Sometimes relying on others to tell you when something is wrong is simply not enough.
In many cases teams rely on customers to report performance problems. If customers are going to notify you when a site is slow or an application crashes, do you really need to invest in a monitoring solution? Similarly, we hear that teams who conduct performance tests don’t believe monitoring is necessary.
Use customers as the front line monitoring tool
Rely on performance testing
It’s easy to think that relying solely on the feedback of your users is enough to catch and resolve performance problems. But what if that performance problem is something that requires a major fix and results in a lengthy outage for your application? What if that issue is tied to a transaction within your application that results in a bigger issue than just a slow response from your application?
Consumers expect your applications to be functional and responsive at all times, regardless of their location or the device or operating system they are using. Failing to monitor your application’s performance can put your organization at a major disadvantage.
Believe it or not, there are teams where performance isn’t viewed as a necessary area of focus. As discussed above, these teams don’t make performance checks or monitors part of their process and don’t have established metrics they use to measure performance.
Again, we hear:
Not a part of the process
We don’t have performance KPIs in place
While performance itself may not be a major focus for your team, software quality likely is. No one wants to push out a buggy feature or spend hours of their day dealing with issues reported by users. Quality and performance are deeply intertwined, and by adopting a strategy for continuously improving performance throughout the the development lifecycle, releasing quality products becomes automatic.
We’ve seen a number of examples of organizations, across a variety of industries successfully transform performance strategies within their organizations. Implementing a performance strategy requires the right tools, but also starts with adopting a culture of performance.
Everyone has a role to play in the whole performance picture from a different perspective from different parts of the software development lifecycle, but then it’s a shared responsibility across the board. This is the main reason why it evolved from the Waterfall software development method, and we moved to a more iterative, more agile software development methodology.
Agile in itself is all about continuous testing. Applications are broken down into smaller parts. You do frequent iter- ations and multiple iterations and integrations, which give the developers, testers, as well as everyone involved in the Agile or DevOps process. It gives multiple chances to vali- date and review the application performance. It also gives multiple chances of finding and fixing application issues as the come.
Even with widespread adoption of Agile and DevOps initiatives, we still see performance issues. There are a number of reasons for this, but some of the primary roadblocks include:
Continuous performance improvement (CPI) normally takes the following structure, which is iterative and fits well with both Agile and DevOps software development methodologies.
Define what performance means to you. We’ve discussed how that can be subjective, based on the applications you deliver and the audience you serve. Take the time to es- tablish a shared definition of what performance looks like on your team. What are the performance thresholds your application needs to meet to be deemed “high performing?” On the other side, how do you define a performance issue and when should your team be alerted?
Next step is setting up the right matrix to show and measure performance. Here the goal is to set up realistic met- rics to analyze the performance data. After that, once you get the data from all the different directions — it could be from your tools, your applications, or a third party — the next step is to establish some data-driven, actionable in- sights from it.
Most of the time we see organizations spend a lot of time and resources on testing and monitoring tools, and not so much time analyzing the data that they’re generating to improve on performance. It’s all about finding the balance between data gathering and making sense of the data. At this stage the goal is to find tweaks that you can implement in your application and do those changes. Is it just simple things such as changing the settings, adding more cache, or is it adding more hardware? All of these activities you can do at this stage.
Measurement, analysis, and improvement go hand in hand at this particular stage. We all know that what gets measured, gets improved, and what gets improved sticks with the customers. It’s very important to measure everything from the business side as well as from the technology and application side what matters to your application, and then analyze that data and improve upon it.
Control means identifying the key criteria which control the overall performance of your application. It could be your CDN. It could be a third-party API, or it could just be a plugin you use to add payment processing activity to your card. Identify these control elements and then set up some service level objectives, or SLA, if it’s your third-party provider, and control those. Changing these levers allows you to make sure that performance is stel- lar across all the different stages. This the overall structure of this continuous performance improvement cycle.
Testing is not an event. It’s not a one-time thing. You have to keep going through this cycle again and again to make sure that you are uncovering some issues that got missed in the past stages, in the past execution of the cycle. Every time that you go through, you’re going to have one culprit rise to the top as being the performance problem. Once you remediate that something else will show up.
There’s no end to the tweaks and adjustments that you can make to improve performance. You can customize them based on your particular needs, but all of those stages are absolutely important. It’s all about finding the balance
How do you actually implement a strategy, following these steps?
Continuous Performance is about ensuring that end users have excellent performance all of the time, regardless of their location, ISP, or device that they’re using.
Implementing a continuous performance improvement strategy enables you to achieve these performance goals by utilizing the right tools to test and monitor your appli- cation’s performance. As you implement your strategy, there are a few important considerations you’ll want to keep in mind.
Establish a Global and Local Perspective
Your application doesn’t exist in a silo, and your performance strategy shouldn’t be limited to how you want your application in a controlled situation. Consider how differ- ent users will be using your applications across a variety of locations.
Even if the majority of your users are located in a specific region today, it’s likely that you’ll be expanding to different geographies as you scale your application.
Talk to business stakeholders to understand where they want to go with the company and get there ahead of time rather than finding out after the fact the application’s slow in another state or country. Also keep in mind that your application may already depend on servers that are located across different geographies. If the images that are being served up in your application are hosted in Europe but your users are located in North America and Australia, it’s likely users in different geographies will have differ- ent experiences with your application. For example, if users in the US are experiencing slower load times, you may determine that images need to be hosted locally rather than on an external server. Without testing based on specific geographies, you’ll never understand the global experiences people are having with your application.
Organizations run on internal applications, whether that’s a CRM solution, ERP solution, or intranet solution. For these types of internal application, it’s absolutely important to ensure the performance internally, from within your network as well.
Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, it will be just the one copy of the application that resides in one geography, and a lot of the other satellite offices will complain about how long it takes to bring up the application and use it, whereas the customers in the home office, are getting it very quickly and don’t understand what everybody’s complaining about.
Most APIs today are internal facing only. Companies rely on those APIs to be successful. Unfortunately, since they’re not front and center they often get forgetten. We’re seeing more and more customers not only monitoring the application, but also monitoring the APIs supporting that application.
A synthetic monitoring tool, like AlertSite, gives you visibility to those internal facing APIs. Are they available, performing, and functionally correct?
Instead of relying on end users to report performance problems, you can use virtual and synthetic users to test and monitor your application’s performance.
Virtual and synthetic users can help:
In load testing, use virtual users to represent actual users. Think about all the different ways real users use and interact with your application. The key is to be able to model what the various use cases are.
You’re going to have people that are running reports almost exclusively. You’re going to have people that are coming in and making a purchase and actually checking out. You’re going to have others that come in to look at your site and decide to go somewhere else.
For e-commerce companies for example, 95% of customers come in, take a look, and leave, and only 5% will make a purchase. You want to be able to represent those various types of users by creating virtual users in your scripts and scenarios to represents those types of users. Then mix them up in such a way that the model, the actual traffic, to your site.
It wouldn’t make sense, for example, to have a 100% of your virtual users going to checkout. It makes a lot more sense to have 5% go to checkout and have the other 95% just do a search, or maybe put something in the cart, and then abandon it, which is a lot more realistic. In that way, you’re getting a clearer picture of what’s going to happen when those members or users are on your site.
When the functional tester hands off the application, you know at that it’s working, but we monitor it to understand if something’s working at a later date. A later date is five minutes from now, 10 minutes from now. It’s a random point in the future. Always monitor.
Implementing the strategies outlined above, means selecting the right tools for your organization. As you begin your search for a solution, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:
There are so many tools in the market which are very simple but that comes with a price. These tools are not sophisticated enough to get those data driven insights and make changes into the application. Having the simple tool is always good, but don’t sacrifice the sophistication for the sake of simplicity.
Sometimes they’re internal. Most of the time they’re external. It’s absolutely essential for you to test or monitor your application from where your users are.
Users will browse a bunch of different pages before going on to your revenue generating page, or they will drop off and log in again, and do their activity. It’s absolutely essential that the tool lets you design all of these actual end user transactions and help you set test cases or monitors based on these transactions.
This helps you get the actionable insights to get beyond just monitoring and gathering data. You have to complete it with actually analyzing the data and improving your application.
Ultimately, make sure you choose a tool that will give you the data you need and fit into your teams workflows. The best results come from comprehensive data and continuous use, which you will be able to leverage if you select the right tool.
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