|By Steve Weisfeldt||
|March 28, 2012 05:00 AM EDT||
Many companies have moved applications to the cloud as a way to reduce capital expenditure while improving IT focus and effectiveness. End users see the cloud as a way to access their documents and applications remotely from anywhere and from any device. IT managers see the cloud as a means of rapidly adapting their infrastructures as needed via virtualization and a pay-per use-model. But what about load testing engineers? Can they seize the opportunities afforded by the cloud to better test the performance of web applications?
As with past overhyped trends in IT, it is important to see past all the talk and look for concrete ways to take advantage of this new technology's flexibility and scalability to save time, reduce costs, and improve the way your organization works.
This article describes how the cloud is revolutionizing load testing and the advantages it provides in many situations for ensuring your web applications perform well in production. It also covers key capabilities to look for in a load testing solution. Without the right tools in place, simply moving your testing activities to the cloud will likely not deliver the results necessary to justify the move. Understanding how to apply the right tools and practices to make the most of the cloud is fundamental to cloud-based testing and vital to ultimately going live with total peace of mind.
Benefits of Load Testing in the Cloud
Load testing with the cloud enables testing teams to take a big step forward in conducting more efficient and more realistic large-scale tests. In addition, it enables organizations to realize significant savings in cost and time made possible by cloud technology.
Perform Large-Scale Tests
More and more, today's web applications are experiencing sporadic surges in traffic. These traffic spikes can have many causes, including a new advertising campaign, an online article, a seasonal sale, and buzz on Twitter or other social media. If your application is unable to handle the increased load, you run the risk of lost business opportunities and potential damage to your brand.
Generating the load for large-scale tests to mimic these unanticipated spikes in production traffic, however, typically requires tens or even hundreds of machines. Purchasing and configuring these systems requires a significant investment of time and money. Once acquired and used for the immediate load testing need, the machines may sit unused for long stretches until they are needed for the next large-scale load testing project. With the cloud, you can rapidly set up as many load-generating machines as you need, on demand.
Perform More Realistic Tests
When testing a web application using machines inside your firewall, you're not testing the entire delivery chain. Unless all of your end users will also be within your firewall, such tests are inherently limited and may fail to reveal all performance issues.
With the cloud, you can execute load tests that access your web application as your users will - from outside of your firewall - and validate all components of the delivery chain, including the firewall, DNS, network equipment, and ISP. These tests are more realistic, and they enable you to evaluate the real-world effects of third-party components, such as content delivery networks, analytics servers, and ad servers.
Your users won't all be accessing your app from the same fixed location across the same network, so a realistic load test cannot be completed from a single location. That's why it's important to test your application and its components from different locations and geographic regions and assess its performance as network bandwidth and latency changes.
Save Time and Reduce Costs with Pay-as-you-go
When load testing with the cloud, there is no need to spend weeks setting up and configuring dozens of real machines. You can create and configure the machine image you need once and then replicate it in the cloud as many times as needed. Often, the cloud testing provider will automate this process as well, saving you even more time.
Further, the substantial up-front costs of purchasing and maintaining machines that may be used only infrequently are eliminated with the cloud. Using the pay-as-you-go model, you can rapidly set up the testing infrastructure you need, when you need it, and only for as long as you need it. From a business standpoint, the cloud lowers total cost of ownership, while increasing flexibility.
How to Choose a Cloud Testing Solution
While all cloud load testing solutions will enable you to make use of the cloud in some way, comparatively few enable you to follow all of the best practices outlined here and capitalize on the opportunities that load testing with the cloud offers. A highway lets you travel faster than a side street, but the vehicle you use makes a big difference in how quickly and how reliably you arrive at your destination. In much the same way, load testing with the cloud offers clear advantages over traditional load testing, but the tools you use are even more important to the quality of your tests.
When considering a cloud testing solution, ask the following questions:
- To what extent does the solution integrate with the cloud?
- Will the solution enable us to conduct realistic tests?
- Does the solution support unified tests inside and outside the firewall?
- Is the solution easy to use, or will we spend weeks learning and configuring it?
- Does the solution include full-featured reporting and decision-making modules to help our team make the most of the results?
- Does the solution support the technologies we used to build the application?
Integration with the Cloud Platform
If you opt for a solution that is not integrated with one or more cloud platforms, you'll need to handle several time-consuming tasks on your own. First, you'll need to learn how each platform you'll be using works, including its limitations and constraints. Second, you'll need to build, test, and maintain your own virtual machine images.
Load testing solutions that offer integration with the cloud simplify and accelerate the steps needed to use the cloud infrastructure. These solutions offer one or more of the following advantages over non-integrated alternatives:
- Fast provisioning using preconfigured images. You can set up the infrastructure you need in minutes.
- Simplified security. All required protections are set up by default, including firewall, certificates, and encryption.
- Improved scalability. Leading load testing solution providers have negotiated with cloud providers to allow users of their software to employ more virtual machines (for the purpose of load testing) than are allowed by default.
- A unified interface for multiple cloud providers. Load testing solutions can hide provisioning and billing details, so you can take maximum advantage of the cloud in a minimum of time.
- Advanced test launching. You can save time and effort by defining and launching load generators in the cloud directly from the load testing interface.
- Advanced results reporting. Distinct results from each geographic region involved in the test are available for analysis.
Of course, few solutions include every one of these integration capabilities. Most solutions fall somewhere on the spectrum between little or no integration and full-featured integration with multiple cloud platforms.
Although testing from the cloud is, in many cases, more realistic than testing in the lab, simply moving to the cloud is not enough to ensure the most realistic tests. Real users often have access to less bandwidth than a load generator in a cloud data center. With a slower connection, the real user will have to wait longer than the load generator to download all the data needed for a web page or application. This has two major implications:
- Response times measured as-is from the cloud with virtually unlimited bandwidth are better than for real users. This can lead test engineers to draw the wrong conclusions, thinking that users will see an acceptable response time when in reality they will not.
- The total number of connections established with the server will increase, because on average, connections for real users will be open longer than connections for the load generator. This can lead to a situation in which the server unexpectedly refuses additional connections under load.
When choosing a load testing solution, look for one that provides a bandwidth simulation feature that limits bandwidth to ensure that the virtual users download the content of the web application at a realistic rate. This capability is particularly important when testing mobile applications, because mobile devices typically operate with less bandwidth than laptops and desktops.
Similarly, look for a solution that can parallelize requests. Modern browsers have the ability to parallelize HTTP requests as they retrieve a web page's static resources. These parallel requests require more connections with the server and can lengthen response times. Load testing solutions that do not parallelize requests are incapable of producing truly realistic performance tests for web applications.
Unified Lab Testing and Cloud Testing
Organizations that use only lab testing or only cloud testing are at a disadvantage. So are companies that use different tools for these activities.
A solution that supports lab testing enables test engineers to begin verifying the performance of an application internally, before it's ready to be made available via the Internet. This makes it possible to find and fix performance problems earlier in the application lifecycle. Such a solution also lowers cloud costs by enabling teams to conduct internal performance tests on existing hardware when available.
More important, a single solution that supports lab testing and cloud testing enables test engineers to reuse scripts for both kinds of tests, which saves time and effort. Reusing scripts also helps pinpoint performance problems that show up in cloud testing but not in internal tests. Last, a unified solution lowers licensing and training costs, and enables test engineers to use their existing skill set for both types of load testing.
Ease of Use
Testing, with its natural position toward the end of the application lifecycle, is almost always performed under tight time constraints. Delays in the requirements or implementation phases of a project usually result in less time for the test engineers to do their jobs. The pressure is on to deliver results as quickly as possible. This environment is no place for a tool that is difficult to use and configure.
In developing and executing performance tests (either internally or via the cloud) several key features go a long way in improving test engineer productivity, including support for:
- Easily launching the recording of a virtual user profile (preferably in one click).
- Automatic handling of dynamic parameters. This includes a set of correlation rules for well-known server frameworks. Ideally, the solution will dynamically detect and handle custom parameters specific to your application.
- Sharing common script parts, such as login or logout transactions, between multiple virtual user profiles.
- Comparing results. Sifting through results to determine the effect of a particular application or infrastructure change can be a time-consuming and arduous task without a dedicated comparison tool.
This is a not exhaustive list of usability features that can help test engineers work more efficiently; rather it should be considered as a baseline of minimum required capabilities for an efficient load testing solution.
Analysis, Monitoring, Scheduling, and Reporting
Recording a virtual user profile and playing it back to get raw results is only the beginning of an effective performance test. You need tools to help you analyze the results (in real time when possible), find the root cause of problems, and produce actionable results.
Real-time analysis enables you to detect and understand issues while the test is running. With real-time analysis, you don't have to wait for the test to finish detecting an issue, correcting it, and restarting the test. When testing in production, real-time analysis enables you abort a test if it threatens to affect the performance experienced by real users.
A comprehensive monitoring system is essential when you need to find the root causes of a problem. Predefined performance counters and threshold alerts based on industry best practices make it easy to define and analyze counters. For a nonintrusive solution that is easier to set up, look for a tool that supports agentless remote monitoring.
If your organization performs regular regression tests - and even if it doesn't - you may want to schedule performance tests and execute them automatically via the command line to complement functional testing. Regularly scheduled load tests with automatically generated reports can help organizations detect performance regression as soon as it starts to occur, which makes it easier to pinpoint and correct.
Last, reporting is a key capability and essential for communicating test results to others on the team, including management. Because reporting needs change, it is a good idea to keep your options open with a tool that supports multiple formats, including PDF, Word, HTML, and XML for integration with other systems.
Support for Web Technologies
To test Siebel applications or applications built with Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight, Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), Oracle Forms, or AJAX push technologies you need a load testing tool with built-in support for the technologies you're using. Without this specialized support it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to effectively test the performance of your applications.
Similarly, the load testing solution you choose should provide support for the authentication mechanism employed by your applications, whether it is Basic, Digest, NTLM, or Kerberos. Otherwise, you won't be able to set up a virtual user profile that tests the application as a real person would use it.
Summing It Up
The cloud is opening new opportunities to improve the scale and realism of load testing while saving time and lowering costs. When selecting a cloud testing solution, keep in mind that the primary factor in your success will not be simply the move to the cloud, but rather the tool you use and how well it uses cloud technology.
Today’s enterprise is being driven by disruptive competitive and human capital requirements to provide enterprise application access through not only desktops, but also mobile devices. To retrofit existing programs across all these devices using traditional programming methods is very costly and time consuming – often prohibitively so. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO, President, and Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., discussed how you can create applications that run on all mobile ...
Jan. 27, 2015 05:00 AM EST Reads: 4,045
The move in recent years to cloud computing services and architectures has added significant pace to the application development and deployment environment. When enterprise IT can spin up large computing instances in just minutes, developers can also design and deploy in small time frames that were unimaginable a few years ago. The consequent move toward lean, agile, and fast development leads to the need for the development and operations sides to work very closely together. Thus, DevOps become...
Jan. 27, 2015 03:00 AM EST Reads: 4,038
Code Halos - aka "digital fingerprints" - are the key organizing principle to understand a) how dumb things become smart and b) how to monetize this dynamic. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robert Brown, AVP, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant Technology Solutions, outlined research, analysis and recommendations from his recently published book on this phenomena on the way leading edge organizations like GE and Disney are unlocking the Internet of Things opportunity and what steps your o...
Jan. 27, 2015 02:00 AM EST Reads: 4,469
“DevOps is really about the business. The business is under pressure today, competitively in the marketplace to respond to the expectations of the customer. The business is driving IT and the problem is that IT isn't responding fast enough," explained Mark Levy, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Serena Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Jan. 27, 2015 01:30 AM EST Reads: 3,754
15th Cloud Expo, which took place Nov. 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, expanded the conference content of @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit to include two developer events. IBM held a Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held a Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of Bluemix, its services and functionalit...
Jan. 27, 2015 01:30 AM EST Reads: 4,590
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial C...
Jan. 27, 2015 01:00 AM EST Reads: 4,107
SYS-CON Media announced that Splunk, a provider of the leading software platform for real-time Operational Intelligence, has launched an ad campaign on Big Data Journal. Splunk software and cloud services enable organizations to search, monitor, analyze and visualize machine-generated big data coming from websites, applications, servers, networks, sensors and mobile devices. The ads focus on delivering ROI - how improved uptime delivered $6M in annual ROI, improving customer operations by minin...
Jan. 27, 2015 12:30 AM EST Reads: 5,424
IBM has announced a new strategic technology services agreement with Anthem, Inc., a health benefits company in the U.S. IBM has been selected to provide operational services for Anthem's mainframe and data center server and storage infrastructure for the next five years. Among the benefits of the relationship, Anthem has the ability to leverage IBM Cloud solutions that will help increase the ease, availability and speed of adding infrastructure to support new business requirements.
Jan. 27, 2015 12:00 AM EST Reads: 2,238
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, addressed the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. Rodney Rogers, chairman and CEO of Virtustream; Brendan O'Brien, co-founder of Aria Systems, Bart Copeland, president and CEO of ActiveState Software; Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn; Dave Wagstaff, VP ...
Jan. 27, 2015 12:00 AM EST Reads: 3,998
"SOASTA built the concept of cloud testing in 2008. It's grown from rather meager beginnings to where now we are provisioning hundreds of thousands of servers on a daily basis on behalf of customers around the world to test their applications," explained Tom Lounibos, CEO of SOASTA, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Jan. 27, 2015 12:00 AM EST Reads: 3,739
SYS-CON Media announced today that PagerDuty has launched a popular blog feed on DevOps Journal. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. DevOps Journal brings valuable information to DevOps professionals who are transforming the way enterprise IT is done.
Jan. 26, 2015 11:45 PM EST Reads: 2,285
SYS-CON Media announced that Cisco, a worldwide leader in IT that helps companies seize the opportunities of tomorrow, has launched a new ad campaign in Cloud Computing Journal. The ad campaign, a webcast titled 'Is Your Data Center Ready for the Application Economy?', focuses on the latest data center networking technologies, including SDN or ACI, and how customers are using SDN and ACI in their organizations to achieve business agility. The Cisco webcast is available on-demand.
Jan. 26, 2015 11:30 PM EST Reads: 2,201
“The year of the cloud – we have no idea when it's really happening but we think it's happening now. For those technology providers like Zentera that are helping enterprises move to the cloud - it's been fun to watch," noted Mike Loftus, VP Product Management and Marketing at Zentera Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Jan. 26, 2015 11:00 PM EST Reads: 3,217
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, ...
Jan. 26, 2015 07:45 PM EST Reads: 3,940
Companies today struggle to manage the types and volume of data their customers and employees generate and use every day. With billions of requests daily, operational consistency can be elusive. In his session at Big Data Expo, Dave McCrory, CTO at Basho Technologies, will explore how a distributed systems solution, such as NoSQL, can give organizations the consistency and availability necessary to succeed with on-demand data, offering high availability at massive scale.
Jan. 26, 2015 07:30 PM EST Reads: 2,431
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, discussed the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. He also discussed how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics discussed were barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what th...
Jan. 26, 2015 06:15 PM EST Reads: 5,175
The Internet of Things (IoT) is rapidly in the process of breaking from its heretofore relatively obscure enterprise applications (such as plant floor control and supply chain management) and going mainstream into the consumer space. More and more creative folks are interconnecting everyday products such as household items, mobile devices, appliances and cars, and unleashing new and imaginative scenarios. We are seeing a lot of excitement around applications in home automation, personal fitness,...
Jan. 26, 2015 06:00 PM EST Reads: 4,602
Security can create serious friction for DevOps processes. We've come up with an approach to alleviate the friction and provide security value to DevOps teams. In her session at DevOps Summit, Shannon Lietz, Senior Manager of DevSecOps at Intuit, will discuss how DevSecOps got started and how it has evolved. Shannon Lietz has over two decades of experience pursuing next generation security solutions. She is currently the DevSecOps Leader for Intuit where she is responsible for setting and driv...
Jan. 26, 2015 06:00 PM EST Reads: 2,404
Dale Kim is the Director of Industry Solutions at MapR. His background includes a variety of technical and management roles at information technology companies. While his experience includes work with relational databases, much of his career pertains to non-relational data in the areas of search, content management, and NoSQL, and includes senior roles in technical marketing, sales engineering, and support engineering. Dale holds an MBA from Santa Clara University, and a BA in Computer Science f...
Jan. 26, 2015 06:00 PM EST Reads: 4,893
SYS-CON Events announced today that CodeFutures, a leading supplier of database performance tools, has been named a “Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. CodeFutures is an independent software vendor focused on providing tools that deliver database performance tools that increase productivity during database development and increase database performance and scalability during production.
Jan. 26, 2015 06:00 PM EST Reads: 2,700