Monday, June 3, 2019

Book Review: How to Build a Performance Testing Stack From Scratch

Writing a technical book is a difficult undertaking. As a technical author myself, I know that writing well is both arduous and tedious. There are no shortcuts. Over the last 40 years or so, computer-based tools have been developed to help authors write printed textbooks, monographs and technical articles. LaTeX (pronounced lar-tech) reigns supreme in that realm because it's not just word processing software but, a full-blown digital typesetting application that enables authors to produce a single camera-ready PDF file (bits) that is fit for direct printing. Not only does LaTeX correctly typeset characters and mathematical symbols but it can generate the Table of Contents and the corresponding Index of terms, together with correctly cross-referenced callouts for numbered chapters, sections, figures, tables and equations.

In the meantime, over the past 20 years, the nature of the book itself has become progressively more digital. The ability to render the book-block on digital devices as an "e-book" has made printed hardcopies optional. Although purely digital e-books make reading more ubiquitous, e-book file formats and display quality varies across devices, i.e., laptops, phones tablets, and various e-readers. Any reduction in display quality is offset by virtue of e-books being able to include user interaction and even animation: features entirely beyond the printed book. In that sense, there really has been a revolution in the publishing industry: books are no longer about books, they're now about media.

Recently, I became aware of an undergraduate calculus textbook that makes powerful use of animation and audio. The author is a academic mathematician and he published it on YouTube! Is that a book or a movie? Somehow, it's a hybrid of both and, indeed, I wish I'd been able to learn from technical "books" like that. Good visuals and animations can make difficult technical concepts much easier to comprehend. Progressive as all that is, when it comes to technical e-books, I'm not aware of any single authoring tool that can match the quality of LaTeX, let alone incorporate user-interaction and animation. If such a thing did exist, I would be all over it. And Markdown doesn't cut it. But, digital authoring tools are continually evolving.

Matt Fleming (@fleming_matt on Twitter), the author of How to Build a Performance Testing Stack From Scratch, opted to use a static e-book format—not because it produces the most readable result, but because it is the best way to reach a wider audience at lower cost than a more expensive print publisher. The e-publisher in this case is (the relatively unknown) Ministry of Testing Ltd in Brighton, UK and is available on Amazon for the Kindle reader. I was also able to read it using iBooks on Mac OS X.

The range of topics covered is very extensive. I've included the Table of Contents here because is not viewable on Amazon:

Part 1
  • Step 1: Identify Stakeholders
  • Step 2: Identify What to Measure
  • Step 3: Test Design
  • Step 4: Measuring Test Success and Failure
  • Step 5: Sharing Results
Part 2
  • Understanding Statistics
  • Latency
  • Throughput
  • Statistical Significance
Part 3 The Benchmark Hierarchy Picking Tests Validating Tests Part 4
  • Use a Performance Framework
  • Ensure the Test Duration is Consistent
  • Order Tests by Duration
  • Keep Reproduction Cases Small
  • Setup The Environment Before Each Test
  • Make Updating Tests Easy
  • Errors Should Be Fatal
Part 5
  • Format
  • Use Individual Sample Data
  • Detecting Results in the Noise
  • Outliers
  • Result Precision
  • If All Else Fails Use Test Duration
  • Delivering Results
The overall e-book presentation of "Performance Testing Stack" seems underdeveloped. Most topics could have been greatly expanded. But, as Matt informed me, this is probably due to the content amounting to a concatenation of previously written blog posts. As I said earlier, there are no shortcuts to writing well. The paucity of detail, however, is offset by the shear enthusiasm the Matt brings to his writing: an aspect that deserves separate acknowledgement because performance testing is a very complex subject which can otherwise appear dry and mind-boggling to the uninitiated. And it's the uninitiated that Matt wants to reach. He has written this book in order to encourage the uninitiated reader to seriously consider entering the field.

Some points that could have been developed further, include:

  • Plots and tables can be expanded for legibility by double clicking on them
  • The term "benchmark" needs better explaination
  • Section 2.1 discusses the Harmonic mean but there's no discussion of the Geometric mean.
  • Section 3.3 on Distributions does not clearly distinguish between analytic (parametric) distributions and sample distributions (which usually have no analytic form).
  • Section 5 (p.85) on Result Precision needs to discuss the difference between accuracy, precision, and error.

Conversely, Matt's enthusiasm may have gone a bit overboard in his choice of title. The book promises:

This book will walk you through designing and building a performance testing stack from scratch; step by step from planning and running performance tests through to understanding and analysing the results. If you’re new to performance testing or looking to expand your understanding of this topic then this book is for you!
Unfortunately, this book doesn't provide enough details to actually build a test stack—which would've been very cool. Rather, it presents a comprehensive overview of all the major concepts that one needs to absorb in order to develop a running performance testing stack. But even with the more limited scope, this book is still important because, off hand, I don't know of any other source where one can be introduced to performance testing without drowning in a sea of terminology, procedures and architectures.

Ultimately, this e-book is a great starting point for newbies, as well was being a good reminder for seasoned testers about what should be done in good performance tests.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Monday, June 25, 2018

Guerrilla 2018 Classes Now Open

All Guerrilla training classes are now open for registration.
  1. GCAP: Guerrilla Capacity and Performance — From Counters to Containers and Clouds
  2. GDAT: Guerrilla Data Analytics — Everything from Linear Regression to Machine Learning
  3. PDQW: Pretty Damn Quick Workshop — Personal tuition for performance and capacity mgmt

The following highlights indicate the kind of thing you'll learn. Most especially, how to make better use of all that monitoring and load-testing data you keep collecting.

See what Guerrilla grads are saying about these classes. And how many instructors do you know that are available for you from 9am to 9pm (or later) each day of your class?

Who should attend?

  • IT architects
  • Application developers
  • Performance engineers
  • Sysadmins (Linux, Unix, Windows)
  • System engineers
  • Test engineers
  • Mainframe sysops (IBM. Hitachi, Fujitsu, Unisys)
  • Database admins
  • Devops practitioners
  • SRE engineers
  • Anyone interested in getting beyond performance monitoring

As usual, Sheraton Four Points has bedrooms available at the Performance Dynamics discounted rate. The room-booking link is on the registration page.

Tell a colleague and see you in September!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Chargeback in the Cloud - The Movie

If you were unable to attend the live presentation on cost-effective defenses against chargeback in the cloud, or simply can't get enough performance and capacity analysis for the AWS cloud (which is completely understandable), here's a direct link to the video recording on CMG's YouTube channel.

The details concerning how you can do this kind of cost-benefit analysis for your cloud applications will be discussed in the upcoming GCAP class and the PDQW workshop. Check the corresponding class registration pages for dates and pricing.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

USL Scalability Modeling with Three Parameters

NOTE: Annoyingly, the remote mathjax server often takes it's sweet time rendering LaTex equations (like, maybe a minute!!!). I don't know if this is deliberate on the part of Google or a bug. It used to be faster. If anyone knows, I'd be interested to hear; especially if there is a way to speed it up. And no, I'm not planning to move to WordPress.

Update of Oct 2018: Wow! MathJax performance is back. Clearly, whinging is the most powerful performance optimizer. :)

The 2-parameter USL model

The original USL model, presented in my GCAP book and updated in the blog post How to Quantify Scalability, is defined in terms of fitting two parameters $\alpha$ (contention) and $\beta$ (coherency). \begin{equation} X(N) = \frac{N \, X(1)}{1 + \alpha \, (N - 1) + \beta \, N (N - 1)} \label{eqn: usl2} \end{equation}

Fitting this nonlinear USL equational model to data requires several steps:

  1. normalizing the throughput data, $X$, to determine relative capacity, $C(N)$.
  2. equation (\ref{eqn: usl2}) is equivalent to $X(N) = C(N) \, X(1)$.
  3. if the $X(1)$ measurement is missing or simply not available—as is often the case with data collected from production systems—the GCAP book describes an elaborate technique for interpolating the value.
The motivation for a 2-parameter model arose out of a desire to meet the twin goals of:
  1. providing each term of the USL with a proper physical meaning, i.e., not treat the USL like a conventional multivariate statistical model (statistics is not math)
  2. satisfying the von Neumann criterion: minimal number of modeling parameters
Last year, I realized the 2-paramater constraint is actually overly severe. Introducing a third parameter would make the statistical fitting process even more universal, as well as simplify the overall procedure. For the USL particularly, the von Neumann criterion should not be taken too literally. It's really more of a guideline: fewer is generally better.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Geometry of Latency

... AKA hyperbolae.

Here's a mnemonic tabulation based on dishes and bowls:

Hopefully this makes amends for the more complicated explanation I wrote for CMG back in 2009 entitled: "Mind Your Knees and Queues: Responding to Hyperbole with Hyperbolæ", which I'm pretty sure almost nobody understood.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Virtual cloudXchange 2018 Conference

Our abstract has been accepted for presentation at the FREE cloudXchange online event to be held by CMG on June 19th at 10am Pacific (5pm UTC). [Extended slides]

Exposing the Cost of Performance
Hidden in the Cloud

Neil Gunther
Performance Dynamics, Castro Valley, California

Mohit Chawla
Independent Systems Engineer, Hamburg, Germany

10am Pacific Time on June 19, 2018

Whilst offering lift-and-shift migration and versatile elastic capacity, the cloud also reintroduces an old mainframe concept—chargeback—which rejuvenates the need for performance analysis and capacity planning. Combining production JMX data with an appropriate performance model, we show how to assess fee-based EC2 configurations for a mobile-user application running on a Linux-hosted Tomcat cluster. The performance model also facilitates ongoing cost-benefit analysis of various EC2 Auto Scaling policies.