Welcome!

Cloud Expo Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Dana Gardner, Lori MacVittie

Related Topics: SOA & WOA, Java, PowerBuilder, .NET, Web 2.0, Cloud Expo, Apache

SOA & WOA: Article

The Importance of Accurately Modeling User Interactions in Performance Testing

Take a closer look at the factors that go into creating a realistic load that will yield more accurate results

Load testing, perhaps more than any other form of testing, is one of those activities that you either choose to do well or risk a result that leaves you worse off than not doing it at all. Half-hearted attempts at load testing yield "results," but too often those results are inaccurate, leading to a false sense of security for anyone who trusts them. This, in turn, leads to the release of applications that are not adequately tested and that experience performance problems soon after entering production.

I was reminded of this not long ago, when I worked with a customer who related an experience that may sound familiar to many of you. This customer was a test engineer for a bank that had recently merged with another bank, effectively doubling their customer base. He was part of a team responsible for load testing a new web application that would serve customers from both of the original banks. Before the application was rolled out, they performed load tests and confirmed that the application could handle the expected number of users with acceptable response times. When the system went live, however, it was slow as molasses - even under user loads less than what the team had tested.

The problem, as you may have guessed, was that the team had not accurately modeled the load. The virtual users used in the testing were a homogenous group that interacted with the system in roughly the same way, from roughly the same geographic locations, at the same network speed. In reality, the customers who came from Bank A tended to perform certain transactions much more frequently than those who came from Bank B. Most of Bank B's customers lived in a different part of the country than those from Bank A. More important, customers from both banks were accessing the application at widely differing connection speeds across a range of browsers. None of these factors were modeled accurately in the load tests the team had performed. In some cases it was because the team simply had not considered them, in others it was because the load testing tool they were using provided no way to handle these differences. In either case, the result was the same; the team had given the "go live" signal to an application that was not ready, basing their decision on inaccurate load test results.

Too often, organizations take a short cut to load testing. They are focused on a single number: how many concurrent users their application will support. As a result they put little effort into script development, and they end up with an unrealistic test - one of little value. I encourage all load testers to think beyond the concurrent users metric and take a closer look at other factors that go into creating a realistic load that will yield more accurate results, including:

  • Modeling user activity
  • Modeling different connection speeds
  • Modeling different browsers and mobile devices
  • Modeling geographically distributed users

Parameterizing Scripts to Better Model User Activity
Scripts that simply record a typical user's interaction with a web application and then play it back are not going to yield accurate performance data. As an example, a script that emulates a user logging into a site, searching for a product, placing it in the cart, and checking out does little to test the performance of other user activities such as checking product reviews, accessing detailed specifications, or comparing products.

More important, if the script always logs in as the same user and orders the same product, caching effects will often skew the performance measurements, making response times shorter than they would be under a real-world load. Caching on the web server, application server, and database server all come into play, compounding any caching that is done on the client side.

To minimize caching and similar effects, scripts must be parameterized. In my example above, the script would play back different users searching for different products, and purchasing them via different methods. Ideally the script would use randomization or data customization to fill in every user editable or selectable element on each form of the web application. This script parameterization, combined with creating multiple scripts to address a variety of user interactions, produces a much more realistic user load, and it's a good idea to have a load testing tool that simplifies these tasks.

Generating a Load with a Mixture of Connection Speeds and Network Characteristics
Many testing teams use the fastest available network connections when load testing a server. The belief is that if the application performs well under those connections, it will be guaranteed to work well in production when many real-world users will have slower connections. This is a faulty assumption that leads to performance problems when the application is subjected to real-world users accessing it at a variety of network bandwidths.

Testing with only high-speed connections can mask performance problems that occur only when lower speed connections are used. Slower data speeds will require connections to the server to stay open longer, and eventually the server may reach its limit for the maximum number of open connections.

Of course, testing with only low-speed connections is equally problematic. What's needed is a reasonable mixture of virtual users accessing the server at connection speeds representative of everything from 56K modems for dial-up users to T3 lines.

With more and more users accessing the web via mobile devices, it makes sense to include 3G and 4G connection rates in the mix as well. It's also important to take into account disparities in signal strength that can cause packet loss and increased network latency. Built-in support for incorporating these factors in performance testing is increasingly important, particularly for web applications that serve a high percentage of mobile users.

Emulating Different Browsers and Native Mobile Apps
Interestingly enough (and often surprising to some), not all browsers support the same number of concurrent HTTP connections. This obviously needs to be thought of as well - if a load test models the entire user population accessing a web application with a single browser that supports four connections per server, it neglects the effects of browsers that use twice that number.

This leads to a situation similar to the one that arises with inaccurate modeling of connection speeds - with more concurrent connections, it is not unusual to see slowdowns as a server reaches its limit for simultaneous connections. To minimize these effects, load tests should apply a variety of browser profiles during playback, so that the tests identify the traffic as originating from a realistic mixture of different browsers, including mobile browsers.

Mobile devices, in fact, present a new set of challenges for load testers (see Best Practices for Load Testing Mobile Applications, Part 1 and Best Practices for Load Testing Mobile Applications, Part 2), aside from the network connection issues I've already covered. Many companies now have a separate mobile version of their site, with content tailored specifically for mobile users. Again, to perform a valid load test on such sites, a test engineer must be able to override the browser identification during playback so that the virtual user appears to be using a mobile browser.

What about native mobile applications? There is no browser involved, so you'll need a testing solution that can record, parameterize, and play back the network traffic originating from the mobile device. For some cases this can be done via a proxy, but for some apps this is not an available option. These apps may call for a tunneling approach in which the testing tool acts as a DNS server. Even if you're not facing this situation today, you may want to see if your testing tool supports this feature so you're prepared when you do need it.

Generating a Geographically Distributed Load
Unless your end-user community is accessing your application from a single location, initiating tests solely from inside your datacenter is unlikely to represent a realistic load. Such tests fail to take into account the effects of third-party servers and content delivery networks that may sit between your users and your web application.

Using the cloud to generate load as part of your testing can better model a geographically distributed user base, one that may include users from around the world, enabling test engineers to generate realistic, large-scale tests across multiple regions. Cloud testing complements internal, lab-based tests and ideally test scripts from one domain are reused in the other. With separate performance metrics for each geographic region in hand, engineers can see where performance issues are likely to arise on a region-by-region basis.

If users are accessing your web site from all over the world, load testing from the cloud helps you model that reality. When this capability is combined with tests that incorporate parameterized scripts, browser differences, support for mobile apps, and a variety of connection speeds and network effects, you can trust the accuracy of your test results.

More Stories By Steve Weisfeldt

Steve Weisfeldt is a Senior Performance Engineer at Neotys, a provider of load testing software for Web applications. Previously, he has worked as the President of Engine 1 Consulting, a services firm specializing in all facets of test automation. Prior to his involvement at Engine 1 Consulting, he was a Senior Systems Engineer at Aternity. Prior to that, Steve spent seven years at automated testing vendor Segue Software (acquired by Borland). While spending most of his time at Segue delivering professional services and training, he was also involved in pre-sales and product marketing efforts.

Being in the load and performance testing space since 1999, Steve has been involved in load and performance testing projects of all sizes, in industries that span the retail, financial services, insurance and manufacturing sectors. His expertise lies in enabling organizations to optimize their ability to develop, test and launch high-quality applications efficiently, on-time and on-budget. Steve graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell with a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Computer Engineering.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
BMC Software plans to acquire assets of CDB Software, Inc., a mainframe data management company that has developed utilities for managing IBM DB2 databases with virtually no outage. Focusing on the availability of mission-critical applications is strategic for BMC as it continues to help its customers transform IT into a competitive advantage for their business. CDB's technology complements BMC's existing mainframe data management portfolio, which includes software utilities for DB2 administrat...
“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.
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 ...
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...
"ElasticBox is an enterprise company that makes it very easy for developers and IT ops to collaborate to develop, build and deploy applications on any cloud - private, public or hybrid," stated Monish Sharma, VP of Customer Success at ElasticBox, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
In her General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Anne Plese, Senior Consultant, Cloud Product Marketing, at Verizon Enterprise, focused on finding the right mix of renting vs. buying Oracle capacity to scale to meet business demands, and offer validated Oracle database TCO models for Oracle development and testing environments. Anne Plese is a marketing and technology enthusiast/realist with over 19+ years in high tech. At Verizon Enterprise, she focuses on driving growth for the Verizon Cloud platfo...
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series dat...
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...
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 ...
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...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using ...
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...
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...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happe...
"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.
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. ...
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...
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...
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,...
“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.