Welcome!

SOA & WOA Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Rich Waidmann, Pat Romanski, Nitin Bandugula

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
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 mining large volumes of unstructured data, and how data tracking delivers uptime when it matters most.
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
Wearable devices have come of age. The primary applications of wearables so far have been "the Quantified Self" or the tracking of one's fitness and health status. We propose the evolution of wearables into social and emotional communication devices. Our BE(tm) sensor uses light to visualize the skin conductance response. Our sensors are very inexpensive and can be massively distributed to audiences or groups of any size, in order to gauge reactions to performances, video, or any kind of presentation. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Jocelyn Scheirer, CEO & Founder of Bionolux, will discuss ho...
“With easy-to-use SDKs for Atmel’s platforms, IoT developers can now reap the benefits of realtime communication, and bypass the security pitfalls and configuration complexities that put IoT deployments at risk,” said Todd Greene, founder & CEO of PubNub. PubNub will team with Atmel at CES 2015 to launch full SDK support for Atmel’s MCU, MPU, and Wireless SoC platforms. Atmel developers now have access to PubNub’s secure Publish/Subscribe messaging with guaranteed ¼ second latencies across PubNub’s 14 global points-of-presence. PubNub delivers secure communication through firewalls, proxy ser...
We’re no longer looking to the future for the IoT wave. It’s no longer a distant dream but a reality that has arrived. It’s now time to make sure the industry is in alignment to meet the IoT growing pains – cooperate and collaborate as well as innovate. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, will examine the key ingredients to IoT success and identify solutions to challenges the industry is facing. The deep industry expertise behind this presentation will provide attendees with a leading edge view of rapidly emerging IoT oppor...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
"There is a natural synchronization between the business models, the IoT is there to support ,” explained Brendan O'Brien, Co-founder and Chief Architect of Aria Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at the 15th International Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
The BPM world is going through some evolution or changes where traditional business process management solutions really have nowhere to go in terms of development of the road map. In this demo at 15th Cloud Expo, Kyle Hansen, Director of Professional Services at AgilePoint, shows AgilePoint’s unique approach to dealing with this market circumstance by developing a rapid application composition or development framework.

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
Building low-cost wearable devices can enhance the quality of our lives. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Sai Yamanoor, Embedded Software Engineer at Altschool, provided an example of putting together a small keychain within a $50 budget that educates the user about the air quality in their surroundings. He also provided examples such as building a wearable device that provides transit or recreational information. He then reviewed the resources available to build wearable devices at home including open source hardware, the raw materials required and the options available to power s...
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
The Internet of Things promises to transform businesses (and lives), but navigating the business and technical path to success can be difficult to understand. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sean Lorenz, Technical Product Manager for Xively at LogMeIn, demonstrated how to approach creating broadly successful connected customer solutions using real world business transformation studies including New England BioLabs and more.
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core of our infrastructures. At the same time, we have old approaches made new again like micro-services...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ryan Bagnulo, Solution Architect / Software Engineer at SOA Software, focused on desi...
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 devices as well as laptops and desktops using a visual drag-and-drop application – and eForms-buildi...