Microservices Expo Authors: Elizabeth White, Lori MacVittie, Derek Weeks, Liz McMillan, David Sprott

Related Topics: Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, IoT User Interface

Java IoT: Article

Why Response Times Are Often Measured Incorrectly

Response time measurements and how to interpret them

Response times are in many – if not in most – cases the basis for performance analysis. When they are within expected boundaries everything is ok. When they get to high we start optimizing our applications.

So response times play a central role in performance monitoring and analysis. In virtualized and cloud environments they are the most accurate performance metric you can get. Very often, however, people measure and interpret response times the wrong way. This is more than reason enough to discuss the topic of response time measurements and how to interpret them. Therefore I will discuss typical measurement approaches, the related misunderstandings and how to improve measurement approaches.

Averaging information away
When measuring response times, we cannot look at each and every single measurement. Even in very small production systems the number of transactions is unmanageable. Therefore measurements are aggregated for a certain timeframe. Depending on the monitoring configuration this might be seconds, minutes or even hours.

While this aggregation helps us to easily understand response times in large volume systems, it also means that we are losing information. The most common approach to measurement aggregation is using averages. This means the collected measurements are averaged and we are working with the average instead of the real values.

The problem with averages is that they in many cases do not reflect what is happening in the real world. There are two main reasons why working with averages leads to wrong or misleading results.

In the case of measurements that are highly volatile in their value, the average is not representative for actually measured response times. If our measurements range from 1 to 4 seconds the average might be around 2 seconds which certainly does not represent what many of our users perceive.

So averages only provide little insight into real world performance. Instead of working with averages you should use percentiles. If you talk to people who have been working in the performance space for some time, they will tell you that the only reliable metrics to work with are percentiles. In contrast to averages, percentiles define how many users perceived response times slower than a certain threshold. If the 50th percentile for example is 2.5 seconds this means that the response times for 50 percent of your users were less or equal to 2.5 seconds. As you can see this approach is by far closer to reality than using averages

Percentiles and Average of a Measurement Series

Percentiles and Average of a Measurement Series

The only potential downside with percentiles is that they require more data to be stored than averages do. While average calculation only requires the sum and count of all measurements, percentiles require a whole range of measurement values as their calculation is more complex. This is also the reason why not all performance management tools support them.

Putting all in a box
Another important question when aggregating data is which data you use as the basis of your aggregations. If you mix together data for different transaction types like the start page, a search and a credit card validation the results will only be of little value as the base data is kind of apple and oranges. So in addition to ensuring that you are working with percentiles it is necessary to also split transaction types properly so that the data that is the basis for your calculations fits together

The concept of splitting transactions by their business function is often referred to as business transaction management. While the field of BTM is wide, the basic idea is to distinguish transactions in an application by logical parameters like what they do or where they come from. An example would be a “put into cart” transaction or the requests of a certain user.

Only a combination of both approaches ensures that the response times you measure are a solid basis for performance analysis.

Far from the real world
Another point to consider with response times is where they are measured. Most people measure response times at the server-side and implicitly assume that they represent what real users see. While server-side response times are down to 500 milliseconds and everyone thinks everything is fine, users might experience response times of several seconds.

The reason is that server-side response times don’t take a lot of factors influencing end-user response times into account. First of all server-side measurements neglect network transfer time to the end users. This easily adds half a second or more to your response times.

Server vs. Client Response Time

Server vs. Client Response Time

At the same time server-side response times often only measure the initial document sent to the user. All images, JavaScript and CSS files that are required to render a paper properly are not included in this calculation at all. Experts like Steve Souders even say that only 10 percent of the overall response time is influenced by the server side. Even if we consider this an extreme scenario it is obvious that basing performance management solely on server-side metrics does not provide a solid basis for understanding end-user performance.

The situation gets even worse with JavaScript-heavy Web 2.0 applications where a great portion of the application logic is executed within the browser. In this case server-side metrics cannot be taken as representative for end-user performance at all.

Not measuring what you want to know
A common approach to solve this problem is to use synthetic transaction monitoring. This approach often claims to be “close to the end-user”. Commercial providers offer a huge number of locations around the world from where you can test the performance of pre-defined transactions. While this provides better insight into what the perceived performance of end-users is, it is not the full truth.

The most important thing to understand is how these measurements are collected. There are two approaches to collect this data: via emulators or real browsers. From my very personal perspective any approach that does not use real browsers should be avoided as real browsers are also what your users use. They are the only way to get accurate measurements.

The issue with using synthetic transactions for performance measurement is that it is not about real users. Your synthetic transactions might run pretty fast, but that guy with a slow internet connection who just wants to book a $5,000 holiday (ok, a rare case) still sees 10 second response times. Is it the fault of your application? No. Do you care? Yes, because this is your business. Additionally synthetic transaction monitoring cannot monitor all of your transactions. You cannot really book a holiday every couple of minutes, so you at the end only get a portion of your transactions covered by your monitoring.

This does not mean that there is no value in using synthetic transactions. They are great to be informed about availability or network problems that might affect your users, but they do not represent what your users actually see. As a consequence, they do not serve as a solid basis for performance improvements

Measuring at the End-User Level
The only way to get real user performance metrics is to measure from within the users’ browser. There are two approaches to do this. You can user a tool like the free dynaTrace Ajax Edition which uses a browser plug-in to collect performance data or inject JavaScript code to get performance metrics. The W3C now also has a number of standardization activities for browser performance APIs. The Navigation Timing Specification is already supported by recent browsers and the Resource Timing Specification. Open-source implementations like Boomerang provide a convenient way to access performance data within the browser. Products like dynaTrace UEM go further by providing a highly scalable backend and full integration into your server-side systems.

The main idea is to inject custom JavaScript code which captures timing information like the beginning of a request, DOM ready and fully loaded. While these events are sufficient for “classic” web applications they are not enough for Web 2.0 applications which execute a lot of client-side code. In this case the JavaScript code has to be instrumented as well.

Is it enough to measure on the client-side?
The question now is whether it is enough to measure performance from the end-user perspective. If we know how our web application performs for each user we have enough information to see whether an application is slow or fast. If we then combine this data with information like geo location, browser and connection speed we know for which users a problem exists. So from a pure monitoring perspective this is enough.

In case of problems, however, we want to go beyond monitoring. Monitoring only tells us that we have a problem but does not help in finding the cause of the problem. Especially when we measure end-user performance our information is less rich compared to development-centric approaches. We could still use a development-focused tool like dynaTrace Ajax Edition for production troubleshooting. This however requires installing custom software on an end user’s machine. While this might be an option for SaaS environments this is not the case in a typical eCommerce scenario.

The only way to gain this level of insight for diagnostics purposes is to collect information from the browser as well as the server side to have a holistic view on application performance. As discussed using averaged metrics is not enough in this case. Using aggregated data does not provide the insight we need. So instead of aggregated information we require the possibility to identify and relate the requests of a user’s browser to server-side requests.

Client/Server Drill Down of Pages and Actions

Client/Server Drill Down of Pages and Actions

The figure below shows an architecture based (and abstracted) from dynaTrace UEM which provides this functionality. It shows the combination of browser and server-side data capturing on a transactional basis and a centralized performance repository for analysis.


Architecture for End-To-End User Experience Monitoring

Architecture for End-To-End User Experience Monitoring

There are many ways where and how to measure response times. Depending on what we want to achieve each one of them provides more or less accurate data. For the analysis of server-side problems measuring at the server-side is enough. We however have to be aware that this does not reflect the response times of our end users. It is a purely technical metric for optimizing the way we create content and service requests. The prerequisite to meaningful measurements is that we separate different transaction types properly.

Measurements from anything but the end-user’s perspective can only be used to optimize your technical infrastructure and only indirectly the performance of end users. Only performance measurements in the browser enable you to understand and optimize user-perceived performance.

Related reading:

  1. Antivirus Add-On for IE to cause 5 times slower page load times The dynaTrace AJAX Community has been really active lately –...
  2. Troubleshooting response time problems – why you cannot trust your system metrics // Production Monitoring is about ensuring the stability and health...
  3. Why you can’t compare cross browser execution times of Selenium Tests // I am currently working on a blog where I...
  4. Application Performance Monitoring in production – A Step-by-Step Guide – Part 1 // Setting up Application Performance Monitoring is a big task,...
  5. Week 9 – How to Measure Application Performance Measurement is the most central concept in any performance-related activity....

More Stories By Alois Reitbauer

Alois Reitbauer is Chief Technical Strategist at Dynatrace. He has spent most of his career building monitoring tools and fine-tuning application performance. A regular conference speaker, blogger, author, and sushi maniac, Alois currently shares his professional time between Linz, Boston, and San Francisco.

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
In case you haven’t heard, the new hotness in app architectures is serverless. Mainly restricted to cloud environments (Amazon Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, Microsoft Azure Functions) the general concept is that you don’t have to worry about anything but the small snippets of code (functions) you write to do something when something happens. That’s an event-driven model, by the way, that should be very familiar to anyone who has taken advantage of a programmable proxy to do app or API routing ...
More and more companies are looking to microservices as an architectural pattern for breaking apart applications into more manageable pieces so that agile teams can deliver new features quicker and more effectively. What this pattern has done more than anything to date is spark organizational transformations, setting the foundation for future application development. In practice, however, there are a number of considerations to make that go beyond simply “build, ship, and run,” which changes ho...
Analysis of 25,000 applications reveals 6.8% of packages/components used included known defects. Organizations standardizing on components between 2 - 3 years of age can decrease defect rates substantially. Open source and third-party packages/components live at the heart of high velocity software development organizations. Today, an average of 106 packages/components comprise 80 - 90% of a modern application, yet few organizations have visibility into what components are used where.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive advantage. By offering a suite of proven hosting and management services, Enzu wants companies to focus on the core of their online busine...
With emerging ideas, innovation, and talents, the lines between DevOps, release engineering, and even security are rapidly blurring. I invite you to sit down for a moment with Principle Consultant, J. Paul Reed, and listen to his take on what the intersection between these once individualized fields entails, and may even foreshadow.
In many organizations governance is still practiced by phase or stage gate peer review, and Agile projects are forced to accommodate, which leads to WaterScrumFall or worse. But governance criteria and policies are often very weak anyway, out of date or non-existent. Consequently governance is frequently a matter of opinion and experience, highly dependent upon the experience of individual reviewers. As we all know, a basic principle of Agile methods is delegation of responsibility, and ideally ...
Monitoring of Docker environments is challenging. Why? Because each container typically runs a single process, has its own environment, utilizes virtual networks, or has various methods of managing storage. Traditional monitoring solutions take metrics from each server and applications they run. These servers and applications running on them are typically very static, with very long uptimes. Docker deployments are different: a set of containers may run many applications, all sharing the resource...
When we talk about the impact of BYOD and BYOA and the Internet of Things, we often focus on the impact on data center architectures. That's because there will be an increasing need for authentication, for access control, for security, for application delivery as the number of potential endpoints (clients, devices, things) increases. That means scale in the data center. What we gloss over, what we skip, is that before any of these "things" ever makes a request to access an application it had to...
Virgil consists of an open-source encryption library, which implements Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) and Elliptic Curve Integrated Encryption Scheme (ECIES) (including RSA schema), a Key Management API, and a cloud-based Key Management Service (Virgil Keys). The Virgil Keys Service consists of a public key service and a private key escrow service. 

The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, will discuss how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that eCube Systems, the leading provider of modern development tools and best practices for Continuous Integration on OpenVMS, will exhibit at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York, which will take place on June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. eCube Systems offers a family of middleware products and development tools that maximize return on technology investment by leveraging existing technical equity to meet evolving business needs. ...
Join Impiger for their featured webinar: ‘Cloud Computing: A Roadmap to Modern Software Delivery’ on November 10, 2016, at 12:00 pm CST. Very few companies have not experienced some impact to their IT delivery due to the evolution of cloud computing. This webinar is not about deciding whether you should entertain moving some or all of your IT to the cloud, but rather, a detailed look under the hood to help IT professionals understand how cloud adoption has evolved and what trends will impact th...
As we enter the final week before the 19th International Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo in Santa Clara, CA, it's time for me to reflect on six big topics that will be important during the show. Hybrid Cloud This general-purpose term seems to provide a comfort zone for many enterprise IT managers. It sounds reassuring to be able to work with one of the major public-cloud providers like AWS or Microsoft Azure while still maintaining an on-site presence.
operations aren’t merging to become one discipline. Nor is operations simply going away. Rather, DevOps is leading software development and operations – together with other practices such as security – to collaborate and coexist with less overhead and conflict than in the past. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 19th Cloud Expo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, will discuss what modern operational practices look like in a world in which applications are more loosely coupled, are deve...
All clouds are not equal. To succeed in a DevOps context, organizations should plan to develop/deploy apps across a choice of on-premise and public clouds simultaneously depending on the business needs. This is where the concept of the Lean Cloud comes in - resting on the idea that you often need to relocate your app modules over their life cycles for both innovation and operational efficiency in the cloud. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at19th Cloud Expo, Valentin (Val) Bercovici, CTO of So...
DevOps is a term that comes full of controversy. A lot of people are on the bandwagon, while others are waiting for the term to jump the shark, and eventually go back to business as usual. Regardless of where you are along the specturm of loving or hating the term DevOps, one thing is certain. More and more people are using it to describe a system administrator who uses scripts, or tools like, Chef, Puppet or Ansible, in order to provision infrastructure. There is also usually an expectation of...
DevOps is speeding towards the IT world like a freight train and the hype around it is deafening. There is no reason to be afraid of this change as it is the natural reaction to the agile movement that revolutionized development just a few years ago. By definition, DevOps is the natural alignment of IT performance to business profitability. The relevance of this has yet to be quantified but it has been suggested that the route to the CEO’s chair will come from the IT leaders that successfully ma...
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
As software becomes more and more complex, we, as software developers, have been splitting up our code into smaller and smaller components. This is also true for the environment in which we run our code: going from bare metal, to VMs to the modern-day Cloud Native world of containers, schedulers and microservices. While we have figured out how to run containerized applications in the cloud using schedulers, we've yet to come up with a good solution to bridge the gap between getting your conta...