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Preface to Foundations of Software and System Performance Engineering: Process, Performance Modeling, Requirements, Testing, Scalability, and Practice

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In this preface to Foundations of Software and System Performance Engineering: Process, Performance Modeling, Requirements, Testing, Scalability, and Practice, André B. Bondi talks about the scope and purpose of his book, which discusses the practice of the performance engineering of software systems and software-controlled systems.

The performance engineering of computer systems and the systems they control concerns the methods, practices, and disciplines that may be used to ensure that the systems provide the performance that is expected of them. Performance engineering is a process that touches every aspect of the software lifecycle, from conception and requirements planning to testing and delivery. Failure to address performance concerns at the beginning of the software lifecycle significantly increases the risk that a software project will fail. Indeed, performance is the single largest risk to the success of any software project. Readers in the USA will recall that poor performance was the first sign that healthcare.gov, the Federal web site for obtaining health insurance policies that went online in late 2013, was having a very poor start. News reports indicate that the processes and steps recommended in this book were not followed during its development and rollout. Performance requirements were inadequately specified, and there was almost no performance testing prior to the rollout because time was not available for it. This should be a warning that adequate planning and timely scheduling are preconditions for the successful incorporation of performance engineering into the software development lifecycle. “Building and tuning” is an almost certain recipe for performance failure.

Scope and Purpose

The performance of a system is often characterized by the amount of time it takes to accomplish a variety of prescribed tasks and the number of times it can accomplish those tasks in a set time period. For example:

  • A government system for selling health insurance policies to the general public, such as healthcare.gov, would be expected to determine an applicant’s eligibility for coverage, display available options, and confirm the choice of policy and the premium due within designated amounts of time regardless of how many applications were to be processed within the peak hour.
  • An on-line stock trading system might be expected to obtain a quote of the current value of a security within a second or so and execute a trade within an even shorter amount of time.
  • A monitoring system, such as an alarm system, is expected to be able to process messages from a set of sensors and display corresponding status indications on a console within a short time of their arrival.
  • A web-based news service would be expected to retrieve a story and display related photographs quickly.

This is a book about the practice of the performance engineering of software systems and software-controlled systems. It will help the reader address the following performance-related questions concerning the architecture, development, testing, and sizing of a computer system or a computer-controlled system:

  • What capacity should the system have? How do you specify that capacity in both business-related and engineering terms?
  • What business, social, and engineering needs will be satisfied by given levels of throughput and system response time?
  • What metrics do you use to describe the performance our system needs and the performance it has?
  • How do you specify the performance requirements of a system? Why do you need to specify them in the first place?
  • How can the resource usage performance of a system be measured? How can you verify the accuracy of the measurements?
  • How can you use mathematical models to predict a system’s performance? Can the models be used to predict the performance if an application is added to the system or if the transaction rate increases?
  • How can mathematical models of performance be used to plan performance tests and interpret the results?
  • How can we test performance in a manner that tells us if the system is functioning properly at all load levels and if it will scale to the extent and in the dimensions necessary?
  • What can poor performance tell us about how the system is functioning?
  • How do you architect a system to be scalable? How do you specify the dimensions and extent of the scalability that will be required now or in the future? What architecture and design features undermine the scalability of a system?
  • Are there common performance mistakes and misconceptions? How do you avoid them?
  • How do you incorporate performance engineering into an agile development process?
  • How do you tell the performance story to management?

Questions like these must be addressed at every phase of the software life cycle. A system is unlikely to provide adequate performance with a cost-effective configuration unless its architecture is influenced by well-formulated, testable performance requirements. The requirements must be written in measurable, unambiguous, testable terms. Performance models may be used to predict the effects of design choices such as the use of scheduling rules and the deployment of functions on one or more hosts. Performance testing must be done to ensure that all system components are able to meet their respective performance needs, and to ensure that the end-to-end performance of the system meets user expectations, the owner’s expectations, and, where applicable, industry and government regulations. Performance requirements must be written to help the architects identify the architectural and technological choices needed to ensure that performance needs are met. Performance requirements should also be used to determine how the performance of a system will be tested.

The need for performance engineering and general remarks about how it is practiced are presented in Chapter 1. Metrics are needed to describe performance quantitatively. A discussion of performance metrics is given in Chapter 2. Once performance metrics have been identified, basic analysis methods may be used to make predictions about system performance, as discussed in Chapter 3. The anticipated workload can be quantitatively described as in Chapter 4, and performance requirements can be specified. Necessary attributes of performance requirements and best practices for writing and managing them are discussed in Chapters 5-7. To understand the performance that has been attained and to verify that performance requirements have been met, the system must be measured. Techniques for doing so are given in Chapter 8. Performance tests should be structured to enable the evaluation of the scalability of a system, to determine its capacity and responsiveness, and to determine whether it is meeting throughput and response time requirements. It is essential to test the performance of all components of the system before they are integrated into a whole, and then to test system performance from end to end before the system is released. Methods for planning and executing performance tests are discussed in Chapter 9. In Chapter 10, we discuss procedures for evaluating the performance of a system and the practice of performance modeling with some examples. In Chapter 11, we discuss ways of describing system scalability and examine ways in which scalability is enhanced or undermined. Performance engineering pitfalls are examined in Chapter 12, while performance engineering in an agile context is discussed in Chapter 13. In Chapter 14, we will consider ways of communicating the performance story. Chapter 15 contains a discussion about where to learn more about various aspects of performance engineering.

This book does not contain a presentation of the elements of probability and statistics and how they are applied to performance engineering. Nor does it go into detail about the mathematics underlying some of the main tools of performance engineering, such as queueing theory and queueing network models. There are several texts that do this very well already. Some examples of these are mentioned in Chapter 15, along with references on some detailed aspects of performance engineering, such as database design. Instead, this book focuses on various steps of the performance engineering process and the link between these steps and those of a typical software lifecycle. For example, the chapters on performance requirements engineering draw parallels with the engineering of functional requirements, while the chapter on scalability explains how performance models can be used to evaluate it and how architectural characteristics might affect it.

Audience

This book will be of interest to software and system architects, requirements engineers, designers and developers, and performance testers, and product managers, as well as their managers. While all stakeholders should benefit from reading this book from cover to cover, the following stakeholders may wish to focus on different subsets of the book to begin with.

  • Product owners and product managers who are reluctant to make commitments to numerical descriptions of workloads and requirements will benefit from the chapters on performance metrics, workload characterization, and performance requirements engineering.
  • Functional testers who are new to performance testing may wish to read the chapters on performance metrics, performance measurement, performance testing, basic modeling, and performance requirements when planning the implementation of performance tests and testing tools.
  • Architects and developers who are new to performance engineering could begin by reading the chapters on metrics, basic performance modeling, performance requirements engineering, and scalability.

This book may be used as a text in a senior- or graduate-level course on software performance engineering. It will give the students the opportunity to learn that computer performance evaluation involves integrating quantitative disciplines with many aspects of software engineering and the software life cycle. These include understanding and being able to explain why performance is important to the system being built, the commercial and engineering implications of system performance, the architectural and software aspects of performance, the impact of performance requirements on the success of the system, and how the performance of the system will be tested.

About the Author

Photo by Rixt Bosma, www.rixtbosma.nl

André B. Bondi is a senior staff engineer working in performance engineering at Siemens Corp., Corporate Technology in Princeton, New Jersey. He has worked on performance issues in several domains, including telecommunications, conveyor systems, finance systems, building surveillance, railways, and network management systems. Prior to joining Siemens, he held senior performance positions at two start-up companies. Before that, he spent more than ten years working on a variety of performance and operational issues at AT&T Labs and its predecessor, Bell Labs. He has taught courses in performance, simulation, operating systems principles, and computer architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Bondi holds a Ph.D. in computer science from Purdue University, an M.Sc. in statistics from University College London, and a B.Sc. in mathematics from the University of Exeter.

 

 

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