27 September 2016

Performance Testing Vs. Performance Tuning


Performance testing is often mistaken for performance tuning. The two are related, but they are certainly not the same thing. To see what these differences are, let’s look at a quick analogy.

Most governments mandate that you bring your vehicles to the workshop for an inspection once a year. This is to ensure that your car meets the minimum safety standards that have been set to ensure it is safe for road use.

A website performance test can be likened to a yearly inspection — It ensures that your website isn’t performing terribly and should perform reasonably well under most circumstances.

When the inspection shows that the vehicle isn’t performing up to par, we start running through a small series of checks to see how to get the problem solved in order to pass the inspection.

This is similar to performance tuning, where we shift our focus to discovering what is necessary to making the application perform acceptably.

Looking in depth at the performance test results helps you to narrow down the problematic spots so you can identify your bottlenecks quicker. This in turn helps you to make optimization adjustments cost and time efficient.

Then we have the car enthusiasts. This group constantly works toward tuning their vehicle for great performance. Their vehicles have met the minimum performance criteria, but their goal now is to probably make their car more energy-efficient, or perhaps to run faster. Performance tuning goals are simply that - You might be aiming to reduce the amount of resources consumed to decrease the volume of hardware needed, and/or to get your website to load resources quicker.

Next, we will talk about the importance of establishing a baseline when doing performance tuning.

Tuning your website for consistent performance

Now that we know the difference between performance testing and performance tuning, let’s talk about why you will need a controlled environment and an established baseline prior to tuning web applications.

The importance of a baseline

Tuning your web application is an iterative process. There might be several factors contributing to poor website performance, and it is recommended to make optimization adjustments in small steps in a controlled performance testing environment. Baselines help to determine whether an adjustment to your build or version improves or declines performance. If the conditions of your environment are constantly changing or too many large changes are made at once, it will be difficult to see where the impact of your optimization efforts come from.

To establish a baseline, try tracking specific criteria such as page load times, bandwidth, requests per second, memory and CPU usage. Load Impact’s server metrics helps to combine all these areas in a single graph from the time you run your first performance test. Take note of how these changes improve or degrade when you make optimization improvements (i.e. if you have made hardware upgrades).

Remember that baselines can evolve over time, and might need to be redefined if changes to the system have been made since the time the baseline was initially recorded.If your web application is constantly undergoing changes and development work, you might want to consider doing small but constant tests prior to, for instance, a new fix being integrated or a new version launch.

As your product development lifecycle changes, so will your baseline. Hence, doing consistent performance testing prior to a release helps save plenty of time and money by catching performance degradation issues early.

There is an increasing number of companies adopting a practice known as Continuous Integration. This practice helps to identify integration difficulties and errors through a series of automated checks, to ensure that code deployment is as smooth and rapid as possible.

If this is something that your company already practices, then integrating performance tuning into your product delivery pipeline might be as simple as using Load Impact’s Continuous Delivery Jenkins plugin. A plugin like this allows you to quickly integrate Jenkins with our API to allow for automated testing with a few simple clicks.

By Chris Chong (@chrishweehwee)

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