Just like blood pressure is known as the silent killer in medical circles, Server Overload is becoming a globally recognized performance threat. Server Overloads are system issues that occur due to conditions that exhaust its resources, following which the server fails to handle incoming requests. They are created by sudden spikes in traffic, infrastructure downtime, or malicious Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks (DDoS) attacks. Server Overloads can lead to error codes, performance issues, and a plethora of stability inconsistencies. Lets learn more about this growing pain point and how to tackle it.
What is a Server Overload?
Server Overloads are system issues that occur due to conditions that exhaust its resources, following which the server fails to handle incoming requests. These issues occur when external conditions such as traffic anomalies or malicious attacks affect incoming request handling. Even if you have never heard about Server Overload, there is a chance that your company has experienced it in the past. As a result of an overload, you receive partial content, see error codes on your screen like 500, 502, 503, as well as experience significant request delays. In the end, your business reputation suffers due to poor user experience leading to considerable money losses. Research by the software company Pingdom has shown that 37% of users abandon websites if loading pages takes too long. Nowadays, even 5 seconds is too long, especially when you are looking at smartphone users. The Server Overload as we know it today occurs when a web server exceeds its capacity and exhausts its resources due to technical and traffic-related reasons.
What are the main reasons for a server overload? Here are just five.
Unexpected User Traffic Spikes
It is the most common cause of server failure since it can happen to anyone. For example, your company has launched a new product or started a sale, therefore on the first day of the promotion you will experience a significant spike in user visits that might overload your system.
Issues with Servers
You might also experience a web server malfunction or even urgent or planned maintenance. Other reasons a server failure occurs are hardware or software bugs, database issues, etc. All of the above will lead to traffic redirection to the remaining functional servers and, consequently, server overload.
Malicious worms can cause uncoordinated traffic spikes across systems and result in server overload. Viruses will also increase the server traffic and trigger sudden network spikes which will inevitably lead to an overloaded server. All of these can go undetected for weeks, months, or even years.
Denial-of-Service (DOS) Attacks
DOS attacks are a common hacking strategy that forces a server to deny intended users due to an increased number of fake requests. When a system is overwhelmed by a flood of requests, it starts denying them, including the real requests from existing users. These attacks can also be distributed (DDoS).
In case of a network slowdown, the average request processing time increases and leads to longer queues. As a result, the number of connections grows and exhausts web server limits. This issue is common in the holiday season and on weekends where more people tend to get online.
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Best Practices to Combat Server Overloads
While this danger is very serious, the good news is that you can introduce a few best practices to reduce the risks and dangers significantly. These techniques will not give you instant freedom from Server Overloads, but they will help you “clean the table” before diving into more proactive techniques like Non Functional Software Testing, specifically Load Testing.
Constantly Collect Performance Data
The very first step to server overload prevention is the collection of important real time server information and other relevant metrics, leveraging APM tools and Performance and Load Testing tools (more about it below). Without data, you cannot analyze, make predictions, and solve issues. Especially considering the availability of various tools, you should start gathering essential information from every channel, including data centers and web servers.
Besides collecting performance data, you need to make it accessible across all departments – DBAs, IT teams, operations staff, and all related stakeholders. 85% of consumers state they will be likely to support a brand during a crisis if it has a reputation of being transparent. Thus, transparency is the key to success, and being honest about your performance data will help your business grow.
Automate and Optimize
With the huge variety of modern technologies that accelerate our work and eliminate routine tasks, every business should consider implementing some of the analytics tools, AI and Machine Learning mechanisms to improve efficiency. Machine learning helps these tools to learn from mistakes and implement better strategies, eventually leaving fewer maintenance tasks to you.
Assess the Physical State of Your Servers
Factors like air distribution at the facility, short-circuiting, or high temperatures also often affect web servers and create overloads and malfunctions. If the temperature is too high, it might lead to overheating. If it’s too low, you are at risk of having an excess of moisture that will corrode the systems. Also, keep your facilities clean. Dusty hardware will eventually overheat.
Auto-scaling is a method of cloud computing whereby the system automatically scales up or down depending on the current needs. Not only does it make the large traffic spikes easier to handle but also saves you a substantial portion of the budget. Since you don’t have to assess how much capacity you will need for the following period, you cannot go wrong anymore.
What is Load Testing All About?
Load Testing is the bread and butter of every Performance Engineer today. Load Testing essentially tests your server behaviour with large user spikes and what is the response time under various scenarios. Gaining these performance insights help you make the required adjustment and prepare better for unexpected scenarios without sacrificing performance.
Load Testing is a part of performance testing measures and allows you to execute simulations of scenarios that might occur and see how the system reacts to them. The goal of this type of testing is to see how the application or website reacts to a rapid increase in traffic. This is the only way you can gage the flexibility of your application, website or infrastructure.
With a properly implemented Load Testing solution you can:
- Identify your system’s weaknesses and show you where it will break first in case of an unexpected spike or fluctuation
- Determine the number of simultaneous users your system can handle
- Measures the maximum amount of load a website or application can process without decreasing performance
Load Testing Best Practices
A good Load Testing program will help you determine your Quality of Service (QoS) performance, after which you can draw your conclusions and act accordingly. While this is not a cheap methodology to implement, the downtime costs are much higher. You may be looking at losses of $650,000 and above per hour of downtime, that’s before we look at brand damage and customer churn.
Run realistic scenarios
If you strive to create real-life scenarios, you enhance your chances of eliminating bottlenecks. Use your previous knowledge of development and user information you have gained during the discovery phase to determine actual scenarios that might occur in the production phase. However, keep in mind that people are unpredictable, so add a component of randomness in your testing.
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Always Try to Shift Left
Just like with DevOps, you need to test early and frequently to continuously achieve the best results possible. The more feedback and data you collect, the more chances you have to eliminate bottlenecks and ensure the ultimate user experience under varying conditions. Integrate load testing into your development and post-production cycles to always deliver the best products.
Identify The Right Performance KPIs
You cannot evaluate the results of your tests without having a comprehensive set of performance standards. You should establish the KPIs for response time, throughput, a number of requests per second, and other aspects to measure your test results against them. This will give you an objective comparison of the performances and show you where you fail.
Eliminate Server Overloads with Load Testing
There are many load testing tools on the market, some of which are open-source and free of charge, while others are licensed and come with a price tag. While free tools have an obvious advantage, commercial testing solutions will support many protocols. These out-of-the-box solutions allow you to execute tests on different types of applications and websites.
It is not easy to predict the behavior patterns of the modern website or applications user. Load Testing is no longer an option. It is a proven and tested (pun intended) methodology that will help you elevate your product’s versatility and elasticity for better customer satisfaction levels that have a direct effect on your bottom line. The time to adopt a proactive mindset is now.
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