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Performance Engineering Explained

Just like DevOps went mainstream over the last decade, Performance Engineering is now revolutionizing the Non Functional Software Testing space. In this blog we will discuss what Performance Engineering is, how it differs from Performance Testing, and what are the benefits of implementing it in your organisation. As we will see in this blog, Performance Engineering has a much wider mandate when compared with Performance Testing, we will learn what this scope includes and how this blooming methodology is changing the way companies think and act.

 

performance engineering explained

 

Performance Testing is critical as it enables you to deliver the best user experience to your customers, regardless of the load or network conditions. However, Performance Engineering has a much broader scope. It’s about injecting performance into your corporate DNA, implementing a performance mindset into your culture, and integrating performance at every opportunity throughout the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC).

A key aspect of Performance Engineering is the inclusion of Performance Tuning. Historically, Performance Testing and Performance Tuning have been distinctly separate and often competing realms. However, several pockets of testers and developers are now adopting the Performance Engineering concept, which combines these techniques. This unified approach is helping reduce overhead and create more streamlined testing processes.

Before diving into the concept of Performance Engineering, it’s important to understand what Performance Testing and Performance Tuning are all about.

 

What is Performance Testing?

Performance Testing is a technique that measures the speed, response time, scalability, stability, and responsiveness of software under varying workloads. This testing serves an important role in the software development lifecycle. Performance Testing helps assess processing and data transfer speeds, maximum number of concurrent users, workload efficiency, and more. 

It’s also important to understand that Performance Testing is an umbrella term that has many Non Functional Software Testing sub-categories. These include:

  • Load Testing – This testing is performed to reveal the system’s bottlenecks when under a larger user load. Think peak shopping times. 
  • Stress Testing – This testing detects the system’s breaking point by putting it under extreme workloads.
  • Endurance Testing – This testing measures the system’s endurance by loading the application over an extended period of time. 
  • Spike Testing – This kind of testing determines the application’s response to unexpected spikes in the load. Think Black Friday and eCommerce. 
  • Volume Testing – This testing allows to check the software’s performance under different database volumes. A key DBA tool. 
  • Scalability Testing – This testing measures the system’s ability to scale up or down in response to increasing or decreasing user load. 

Related: Demystifying Scalability Testing

 

But why is Performance Testing so important today and what added value does it bring to the organizations implementing it?  

Firstly, it helps measure your system’s performance requirements. Secondly, Performance Testing is a great way to detect possible issues and bottlenecks that might harm your system’s performance in the future. Also, by putting your application under higher traffic loads, you will determine its stability. It can also be used to compare different apps and determine which one performs better.

Research shows that 40% of users are likely to leave the website if it takes too long to load – over three seconds. Also, 47% of consumers expect a website to load under two seconds. By adding Performance Testing to your development process, ideally in an automated manner, you get a chance to make the adjustments needed to ensure optimal quality and customer satisfaction levels. 

Performance Testing involves the following steps:

  • Identifying the testing environment by learning the tools you have at your disposal, hardware, and software configurations. 
  • Establishing the testing performance metrics and criteria: memory usage, CPU usage, response time, throughput, etc. 
  • Choosing the parameters you are going to evaluate and setting the acceptance criteria that will help you draw conclusions. 
  • Planning and designing test scenarios that will trigger the parameters you are set to challenge as per the previous steps.
  • Implementing the test designs and running the tests. Then, analyzing the results and making the necessary adjustments to the system. 

 

What is Performance Tuning?

Performance Tuning is essentially the step that is taken after identifying performance issues during the Performance Testing phase. After detecting the exact problems that the system has and getting to their root cause, you can start fixing these bottlenecks. In other words, Performance Tuning is the modification of the system to perform better and faster. 

Performance Tuning is primarily the rewriting of application code, but can also involve load balancing and distributed computing to caching strategies.

How does it work? Let’s assume you have discovered a performance problem that needs to be addressed. Performance Tuning starting by evaluating the issue and calculating the numeric value that will correspond with an acceptable performance level or as per your SLA. Now it is time to make the coding and/or infrastructure changes based on the performance requirements.

Finishing resolving the issue? You will need to perform Performance Testing again to determine whether your changes worked. Once done, you can assess the results to identify whether the bottleneck is fixed and the system is showing better performance. In a nutshell, Performance Tuning and Performance Testing are related processes that Performance Engineers need to embrace.

Performance Tuning is a great way to take action once you have assessed the system’s performance thresholds. Keep in mind that your app might fail due to overloads or unexpected scalability issues. Nothing grows and changes more frequently and rapidly like the world of technology. Keep this in mind and prioritize Performance Tuning best practices to stay ahead of the curve.

 

Performance Engineering: A Cultural Shift That Goes Beyond Performance Testing and Tuning 

However, Performance Engineering is a cultural shift that goes beyond performance testing and performance tuning. Here are additional aspects of Performance Engineering and best practices you must adopt to integrate the performance mindset into every facet of your software development life cycle, from beginning to end:  

  • Integrate Performance Into Your User Stories – Performance cannot be an afterthought today. With Performance Engineering, you can bake in the required metrics and acceptance criteria early in the development process, right from the initial design. Also, these requirements need to be integrated into user stories and to your Definition of Done (DoD).
  • Test Early / Shift Left  – When it comes to testing, try to test everything early so that your performance can be evaluated early. There are some performance tests like Load Testing that cannot be shifted left. However, you can plan some tests for the earlier part of the development process.
  • Focus on Functionality – Another recommended best practice that you should adopt is shifting your focus to the future functionality of your features. When creating a new feature, think about its functionality and performance in advance in order to avoid unnecessary damage control.  
  • Calculate Future Workloads – During development, try to estimate the degree of the workload your system is going to handle in the future. Think about the performance when the system gains more traction and its parameters grow – will it be able to handle the scaling up?
  • Monitor Performance / Shift Right – Your performance testing and tuning should be in full sync with your Application Performance Monitoring (APM). You also should ideally implement a strategy for testing performance in production, that combines synthetic and real-time monitoring for maximum insights. 

There is also Chaos Engineering. More and more Performance Engineering setups are incorporating this methodology to make sure there are no inconsistencies. With this approach, you are essentially breaking things on purpose directly in the production environment to detect (and fix) weaknesses before your users. This shortens your feedback loop, just like in DevOps.

Related: Performance Testing vs Load Testing vs Stress Testing

 

Performance Engineering: The Next Big Thing

Performance Engineering is embedded throughout the development process, unlike Performance Testing which traditionally occurs as a part of quality assurance after the software development process is over. Performance Engineering ensures continuous assessment of performance metrics from the get go, by onboarding all stakeholders that are involved in the DevOps process. 

Performance Engineering ensures end-to-end optimization by providing constant monitoring and testing, just like DevOps introduced incremental deployments and testing. This fulfills the aforementioned best practices – Shifting Left and Right. This upcoming methodology allows you to test earlier, make adjustments on the go, and release more robust products; faster.

To make matters simpler, we can look at Performance Engineering answering the Four Big W’s that organizations face in today’s dynamic market.

  • Why? According to the research conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, fixing bugs can cost you up to 30 times more in the production phase than in the initial requirements setting phase. Performance Engineering brings better business value and saves you money by early recognition of potential performance issues. 
  • What? Performance Engineering includes advanced and innovative engineering approaches that improve the performance of the application in an automated manner. The most common techniques involve continuous KPI monitoring, running tests, visualization, and so on. 
  • When? Performance Engineering is an ongoing process that occurs throughout the entire development cycle. Unlike Performance Testing that has specific timeframes, Performance Engineering is an ongoing task that accompanies takes place from design to production. 
  • Who? Everybody is involved, not just QA specialists. Developers, Operations teams, business analysts, and testing experts become active members of the performance assurance team. This cross-functional team of experts works together to enhance performance across all factors: customer experience, business goals, and technological excellence. 

 

Performance Center of Excellence

With Performance Engineering, you are essentially creating a Performance Center of Excellence (Performance CoE). This is a framework that offers automated tools, QA processes, formal metrics, and testing and DevOps professionals. Performance CoE supports the most prominent testing methods such as Agile and DevOps, while improving the quality and efficiency of your testing processes for optimal results.

 

The main stakeholders in the Performance CoE include: 

  • Performance Engineers – The Performance Engineer is the head of the Performance Engineering team. He has extensive knowledge about scripting, designing, executing tests, and analyzing results. He has access to every factor involved in the development process to ensure optimal application performance even before it is deployed to production. 
  • Software Developers – Developers’ tasks usually revolve around coding. However, with a little help from a Performance Engineer and some special tools, they become active stakeholders. Performance Engineering implies continuous testing procedures that occur after each increment. In a Performance CoE, developers do not release the code without testing it against the pre defined performance metrics. 
  • Dev Testers – DevTesters fill the technological gap between Performance Engineering and software development. Due to their diverse skill set, they do not have enough experience to be dedicated software developers. However, they can run performance tests with ease and evaluate the quality of the code before determining what needs to be fixed.
  • Operations and Monitoring Team – The success of your Shift Right plans hinges on the involvement of operations and monitoring teams.  This helps you expand the horizon of your performance testing, something that enhances customer satisfaction and improves your brand performance in the long run. This is a huge business revenue booster.

Needless to say, Business Analysts are also deeply involved in Performance Engineering pipelines. If you build an application that performs well but does not fulfill your monetary expectations, you have failed. This is why business analysts make sure that application performance requirements match the business goals of the organization, which can fluctuate a lot as well. 

 

Performance Engineering is the Future of Non Functional Software Testing

The benefits of Performance Testing have been well documented, with Load Testing being its most common subset. It will help you test your applications with a substantial number of simultaneous users to understand its robustness and versatility. Add in Performance Tuning to the mix and you get a pretty effective way to optimize your product quality and performance.

However, Performance Testing and Tuning are far from ideal as stand-alone methods due to the dynamic nature of today’s Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Every code change will have some kind of effect on your performance metrics. Even the best tools will not be enough for you to stay on top of things. That’s why you need Continuous Integration (CI) Performance Testing.

Performance Engineering, which takes the best elements from both aforementioned methodologies, instills proactive thinking into your development environment. Everybody is a part of the process and all play a part in fixing performance issues as they arise. Cross-department collaboration is the best way to ensure optimal performance standards today.

Just like DevOps helped create faster development pipelines with integrated testing, Performance Engineering is helping elevate Performance Testing. Applications are performance-optimized even before they are released. This eliminates the need for post-release patching, performance updates, and stability fixes, things that boost brand satisfaction and drive revenue.

You need to make sure that your performance and load testing platform is designed for all types of stakeholders in the performance engineering ecosystem – from developers to other connected professionals such as manual testers, business analysts, DevOps teams, Operations teams, and Monitoring squads. Performance Engineering is all about cross-department collaboration. In addition, the performance load testing tool should be able to accommodate both Performance Testing and performance Tuning, so that you can both identify issues and get to their root cause, and start fixing these bottlenecks.  Finally, all of this needs to be integrated seamlessly into your CI/CD pipeline to get real-time production data from servers and monitoring and APM tools. 

 The Time to Shift Left is Now

Take Your Performance Metrics to the Next Level with Continuous Integration (CI) Performance Testing

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