How To: Determine Performance Testing Objectives

J.D. Meier, Carlos Farre, Prashant Bansode, Scott Barber

Applies To

  • Performance Testing

Summary

Determining and recording performance testing objectives involves communicating with the team to establish and update these objectives as the project advances through milestones. Although it is not always easy to schedule time with each team member —especially when you consider that the project team includes executive stakeholders, analysts, and possibly even representative users — they are generally receptive to sharing information that will help you establish valuable performance-testing objectives. Such objectives might include providing business-related metrics, obtaining resource utilization data under load, generating specific loads to assist with tuning an application server, or providing a report of the number of objects requested by each Web page. While it is most valuable to collect performance-testing objectives early in the project life cycle, it is also important to periodically revisit these objectives and ask team members if they would like to see any new objectives added.

Contents

  • Objectives
  • Overview
  • Summary of Steps
  • Step 1. Determine the objectives of the performance-testing effort
  • Step 2. Capture or estimate resource usage targets and thresholds
  • Step 3. Capture or estimate resource budgets or allocations
  • Step 4. Identify Metrics
  • Step 5. Communicate results
  • Step 6. Stay aware of changing objectives, targets, and budgets
  • Step 7. Case Studies – Identifying Performance-testing Objectives
  • Resources

Objectives

  • Learn how to identify and capture performance-testing objectives.
  • Learn how to capture or estimate resource usage targets and thresholds.
  • Learn how to capture or estimate resource budgets or allocations.
  • Learn how to review and update various types of performance-testing objectives and communicate the updates to the team throughout the project as more information becomes available.

Overview

The key to determining the objectives of a performance-testing effort is to identify change, potential risks, and opportunities for improvement. One way to determine and record performance-testing objectives is simply to ask each member of the project team what value you can add or risk you can mitigate for him or her while you are conducting performance testing at a particular point in the project, or immediately following the accomplishment of a particular milestone. Such objectives might include providing data on resource utilization under load, generating specific loads to assist with tuning an application server, or providing a report of the number of objects requested by each Web page.

Although it is most valuable to start collecting performance-testing objectives early in the project life cycle, it is also important to periodically revisit these objectives and ask team members if they would like to see any new objectives added.

Keep in mind the following high-level considerations when determining performance-testing objectives:
  • Performance-testing objectives represent the starting point of performance validation and verification activities.
  • Performance-testing objectives start with the business entry points: business volume, future growth, and so on. With this information, you can articulate technological objectives mapping to the entry points.
  • Performance-testing objectives correlate to business needs and therefore should represent real-world business scenarios involving real customers.
  • After you have determined the high-level objectives, you can refine the objectives to map more specifically to the technology.

Summary of Steps

Determining performance-testing objectives can be thought of in terms of the following activities:
  • Step 1. Determine the objectives of the performance-testing effort
  • Step 2. Capture or estimate resource usage targets and thresholds
  • Step 3. Capture or estimate resource budgets or allocations
  • Step 4. Identify metrics
  • Step 5. Communicate results
  • Step 6. Stay aware of changing objectives, targets, and budgets

These activities have been discussed in detail in the following sections.

Step 1. Determine the Objectives of Performance Testing

The methods described in this How To have proven effective in performance-testing projects. Whether you apply these methods precisely as stated or adapt them to fit your specific project and work environment is unimportant. What is important is to remember that objectives are intentionally collaborative; that is, they are a tool for helping to ensure that the performance-testing effort provides great value to the team — in particular the architects, developers, and administrators — as early as possible in the project life cycle.

Determine Overall Objectives

The first task is to determine the overall objectives for the performance-testing effort. Some common objectives include:
  • Determine if the application complies with contracts, regulations, and service level agreements (SLAs).
  • Detect bottlenecks to be tuned.
  • Assist the development team in determining the performance characteristics for various configuration options.
  • Provide input data for scalability and capacity-planning efforts.
  • Determine if the application is ready for deployment to production.

Review the Project Plan

Review the project plan with individual team members or small groups. Remember that a project plan does not have to be in the form of a document; for example, it may be a whiteboard sketch, a series of e-mail messages, or a vague idea in the minds of various team members. The point is that no matter how informal the project plan might be, every project has some sort of underlying plan. While reviewing or extracting the plan, whenever you encounter something that looks like a checkpoint, iteration, or milestone, you should ask questions such as:
  • What functionality, architecture, and/or hardware will be changing between the last iteration and this iteration?
  • Are there performance budgets or thresholds associated with that change? If so, what are they? Can I test them for you? What are the consequences if the budgets or thresholds are not being met?
  • Is tuning likely to be required as a result of this change? Are there any metrics that I can collect to help you with the tuning?
  • Is this change likely to impact other areas for which we have previously tested/collected metrics? If so, which areas? What tests can I run or what metrics can I collect to help determine if everything is working as expected?
  • What risks or significant concerns are related to these changes? What will the consequences be if the changes do not work?

Review the Architecture

Review both the physical and logical architecture with individual team members or small groups. Again, keep in mind that this information may not yet be documented, but someone will at least have a conceptual model in mind — or if they do not, it is probably valuable to find that out as well. As you review or extract the architecture, ask questions such as:
  • Have you ever done this/used this before?
  • How can we determine if this is performing within acceptable parameters early in the process? Are there experiments or architectural validations that we can use to check some of our assumptions?
  • Is this likely to need tuning? What tests can I run or what metrics can I collect to assist in making this determination?

Ask Team Members

Ask individual team members about their biggest performance-related concern(s) for the project and how you could detect these problems as early as possible. You might need to establish trust with team members before you get the best answers. Reassure the team individually and collectively that you are soliciting this information so that you can better assist them in building a high-quality product.

Step 2. Capture or Estimate Resource Usage Targets and Thresholds

This activity is sometimes misapplied. Remember that targets and thresholds are specific metrics related to particular resources. For example, it is generally agreed that a server’s performance degrades significantly if the processor utilization regularly exceeds 80 percent. Based on this, many teams will set a processor utilization target of 70 percent and a threshold of 80 percent. By doing so, you know to alert the team if you observe readings of more than 70-percent processor utilization sustained for more than a few seconds, and to register a defect if a processor utilization rate of more than 80 percent is observed for more than a few seconds. It is worth noting that developing these targets and thresholds can be very time-consuming. Do not continue to set targets and thresholds after their value becomes questionable.

Except in extremely rare circumstances, it is not appropriate for the performance tester to determine targets and thresholds, but only to capture data and compare test results to the targets and thresholds. Even if the performance tester is the most qualified individual to set the targets and thresholds, s/he is not the individual responsible for ensuring that they are met; rather, s/he is responsible for providing information to the team members responsible for ensuring that these targets and thresholds are met so that those persons can make informed decisions. It is important to resist the urge to set targets yourself. Consider the following when performing this activity:
  • Talk to the production support team. Determine what they measure and where they set their thresholds. This is their job; they have been doing this for years and they know where the problems occur.
  • Ask the architects, or other team members who may be responsible for enforcing and/or making decisions regarding targets and thresholds, to share those decisions with you.
  • Find out what the rest of the industry is doing. Even though it is not your job to set targets and thresholds, it is always a good idea to do a Web search or refer to other documentation to find the latest recommendations. If these recommendations seem relevant to your project, make a note of them. This target- and threshold-related data may provide a useful context for the actual data you collect during your testing.
  • Work with key performance indicators (network, disk, memory, and processor) for the technology.
  • Work with key performance indicators that map to the business requirements. This will help to bridge engineering with the business.
  • Work with both key performance indicators and business metrics to better understand the current volume and future growth indicators of the business and the infrastructure.
  • Work with the business metrics. Many performance metrics have a strong semantic relationship with the business metrics; for example, database transactions per second and number of orders per second, or number of searches per second with Web hits per second.
  • Work with stakeholders when articulating and understanding performance metrics. While most stakeholders are not experts on performance testing, diagnosis, debugging, or analysis, most of them do have expertise in the performance metrics requirements of the business. These stakeholders can articulate metrics around their systems that correlate with the operations. This will facilitate exposing performance metrics in a more intuitive way.

Step 3. Capture or Estimate Resource Budgets

As mentioned in the previous section, remember that the performance tester’s job is to collect and provide information about budgets and allocations, not to enforce them. Determining resource budgets or allocations is one way that teams work together to ensure that targets and thresholds are realistic. For example, if one of your targets is to keep the total RAM usage of a particular server under 1 gigabyte (GB) and that server hosts both a database and application server software, the database software may be given a RAM allocation of 600 megabytes (MB) and the application server software 400 MB. It is the responsibility of the developers and administrators of those software components to stay within those budgets. By making sure that you are aware of these budgets or allocations as a performance tester, you can let the team know when a resource is approaching or exceeding its budget almost immediately, thus giving the team more time to react. Consider the following proven practices when performing this activity:
  • Ask the architects, or other team members who may be responsible for enforcing and/or making decisions regarding targets and thresholds, to share those decisions with you.
  • Review project documents. Performance testers are not always specifically invited to review design and architecture documents, so remember to ask.
  • Attend developer and architect meetings. Take note of comments such as “see if you can get that object under X memory consumption.” Although instructions such as these rarely appear on paper, and thus would not be known to you if you didn’t attend the meeting, the developer still might appreciate another set of eyes watching his object’s memory consumption.
  • Work with key performance indicator thresholds that indicate the health of the technologies being used.
  • Work with business metrics that indicate whether you are meeting the business requirements; for example, orders per second, number of failed order requests, and so on.

Step 4. Identify Metrics

Most of the time, this activity is rather transparent. For example, if an objective states that the processor utilization of the Web server should not exceed 80 percent for more than 1 second in 10, it is clear that one metric you should be monitoring is the processor utilization of the Web server, polled at not less than 1-second intervals. You may not want to do this during every test, but there is no question what you need to measure. However, sometimes the associated metrics are not so clear or are not so simple to collect. In these cases, consider the following approach:
  • Create a grid or a simple spreadsheet that maps each of the collected objectives to the metric(s) that will indicate if the objective is being met.
  • If it is not obvious how to collect each metric without skewing the test or any of the other data you hope to collect at the same time, do some research or work with the development team to determine the optimal approach.
  • Collaborate with the developers, architects, and administrators. These parties know which metrics are valuable for their specific purposes and how to capture most of them. Their input will ensure that you know how to put the application in the state that makes those metrics most valuable.
  • Consider where you will keep this information and how you will label it so that it is accessible after the tests.

Step 5. Communicate Results

Communicating the results of tests that capture data related to performance objectives is different than communicating results related to overall performance goals and requirements. Objective-related results are intended to be useful information for the team rather than to determine an application’s overall fitness for release. Therefore it is beneficial to share the information freely. In most cases, the fact that an objective is not being met is not something that gets recorded in a defect-tracking system but is simply information to help the team do its job better.

Consider the following techniques when performing this activity:
  • Report results versus targets, budgets, and previous measurements as well as your own research. You never know what the team will find most valuable.
  • Share reports with the entire team.
  • Make the raw data available to the team and invite them to parse it in other ways and to suggest more helpful ways of presenting the data.
  • Be ready, willing, interested, and able to re-execute and/or modify the tests as needed.
  • Do not send raw data outside the team unless instructed to do so by someone willing and able to take responsibility for any consequences that might arise from doing so.
  • Avoid reporting potential causes of poor performance. Instead, report symptoms and conditions. Reporting a cause incorrectly may damage your credibility.

Step 6. Stay Aware of Changing Objectives, Targets, and Budgets

It is important to remember that objectives are bound to change during the life of a project. As requirements change, features are moved into or out of a particular build, hardware decisions are made, code is refactored, and so on. Performance-testing objectives are bound to change as well. Maintain a running dialogue with your team. Ask the team what is changing and how it impacts the objectives. Whether you do this in person or electronically is up to you; just remember that you will be wasting your own time if you are testing against an old, no-longer-relevant objective.

Step 7. Case Studies – Identifying Performance-testing Objectives

The following case studies help illustrate the approach to identifying performance-testing objectives.

Case Study 1

Scenario

A 40-year-old financial services company with 3,000 employees is implementing its annual Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software upgrade, including new production hardware. The last upgrade resulted in disappointing performance and many months of tuning during production.

Performance Objectives

The performance-testing effort was based on the following overall performance objectives:
  • Ensure that the new production hardware is no slower than the previous release.
  • Determine configuration settings for the new production hardware.
  • Tune customizations.

Performance Budget/Constraints

The following budget limitations constrained the performance-testing effort:
  • No server should have sustained processor utilization above 80 percent under any anticipated load. (Threshold)
  • No single requested report is permitted to lock more than 20 MB of RAM and 15-percent processor utilization on the Data Cube Server.
  • No combination of requested reports is permitted to lock more than 100 MB of RAM and 50-percent processor utilization on the Data Cube Server at one time.

Performance-Testing Objectives

The following priority objectives focused the performance testing:
  • Verify that there is no performance degradation over the previous release.
  • Verify the ideal configuration for the application in terms of response time, throughput, and resource utilization.
  • Resolve existing performance inadequacy with the Data Cube Server.

Questions

The following questions helped to determine relevant testing objectives:
  • What is the reason for deciding to test performance?
  • In terms of performance, what issues concern you most in relation to the upgrade?
  • Why are you concerned about the Data Cube Server?

Case Study 2

Scenario

A financial institution with 4,000 users distributed among the central headquarters and several branch offices is experiencing performance problems with business applications that deal with loan processing.

Six major business operations have been affected by problems related to slowness as well as high resource consumption and error rates identified by the company’s IT group. The consumption issue is due to high processor usage in the database, while the errors are related to database queries with exceptions.

Performance Objectives

The performance-testing effort was based on the following overall performance objectives:
  • The system must support all users in the central headquarters and branch offices who use the system during peak business hours.
  • The system must meet backup duration requirements for the minimal possible timeframe.
  • Database queries should be optimal, resulting in processor utilization no higher than 50-75 percent during normal and peak business activities.

Performance Budget/Constraints

The following budget limitations constrained the performance-testing effort:
  • No server should have sustained processor utilization above 75 percent under any anticipated load (normal and peak) when users in headquarters and branch offices are using the system. (Threshold)
  • When system backups are being performed, the response times of business operations should not exceed 8 percent, or the response times experienced when no backup is being done.
  • Response times for all business operations during normal and peak load should not exceed 6 seconds.
  • No error rates are allowable during transaction activity in the database that may result in the loss of user-submitted loan applications.

Performance-Testing Objectives

The following priority objectives focused the performance testing:
  • Help to optimize the loan-processing applications to ensure that the system meets stated business requirements.
  • Test for 100-percent coverage of the entire six business processes affected by the loan-manufacturing applications.
  • Target database queries that were confirmed to be extremely sub-optimal, with improper hints and nested sub-query hashing.
  • Help to remove superfluous database queries in order to minimize transactional cost.
  • Tests should monitor for relevant component metrics: end-user response time, error rate, database transactions per second, and overall processor, memory, network, and disk status for the database server.

Questions

The following questions helped to determine relevant testing objectives:
  • What is the reason for deciding to test performance?
  • In terms of performance, what issues concern you most in relation to the queries that may be causing processor bottlenecks and transactional errors?
  • What business cases related to the queries might be causing processor and transactional errors?
  • What database backup operations might affect performance during business operations?
  • What are the timeframes for back-up procedures that might affect business operations, and what are the most critical scenarios involved in the time frame?
  • How many users are there and where are they located (headquarters, branch offices) during times of critical business operations?

These questions helped performance testers identify the most important concerns in order to help prioritize testing efforts. The questions also helped determine what information to include in conversations and reports.

Case Study 3

Scenario

A Web site is responsible for conducting online surveys with 2 million users in a one-hour timeframe. The site infrastructure was built with wide area network (WAN) links all over the world. The site administrators want to test the site’s performance to ensure that it can sustain 2 million user visits in one hour.

Performance Objectives

The performance-testing effort was based on the following overall performance objectives:
  • The Web site is able to support a peak load of 2million user visits in a one-hour timeframe.
  • Survey submissions should not be compromised due to application errors.

Performance Budget/Constraints

The following budget limitations constrained the performance-testing effort:
  • No server can have sustained processor utilization above 75 percent under any anticipated load (normal and peak) during submission of surveys (2 million at peak load).
  • Response times for all survey submissions must not exceed 8 seconds during normal and peak loads.
  • No survey submissions can be lost due to application errors.

Performance-Testing Objectives

The following priority objectives focused the performance testing:
  • Simulate one user transaction scripted with 2 million total virtual users in one hour distributed among two datacenters, with 1 million active users at each data center.
  • Simulate the peak load of 2 million user visits in a one-hour period.
  • Test for 100-percent coverage of all survey types.
  • Monitor for relevant component metrics: end-user response time, error rate, database transactions per second, and overall processor, memory, network and disk status for the database server.
  • Test the error rate to determine the reliability metrics of the survey system.
  • Test by using firewall and load-balancing configurations.

Questions

The following questions helped to determine relevant testing objectives:
  • What is the reason for deciding to test performance?
  • In terms of performance, what issues concern you most in relation to survey submissions that might cause data loss or user abandonment due to slow response time?
  • What types of submissions need to be simulated for surveys related to business requirements?
  • Where are the users located geographically when submitting the surveys?

Resources


Last edited Sep 14, 2007 at 5:42 PM by carlpf2, version 2

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