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Performance and Disease

Conspicuously broken bones are among the least challenging of medical problems from a diagnostic perspective. Similarly, component failures in computer systems do not usually present great diagnostic challenges. Clear markers from routine tests can sometimes reveal disease (for example, high blood pressure and high cholesterol), even though the patient has no current complaint. Similarly, good configuration management and capacity-planning practices can prevent complaints from arising with computer system performance complaints.

A bigger challenge for doctors is when the patient complaint is simply "I don't feel well," which is analogous to computer-user complaints of a system being "too slow." In either case, the underlying problem could range from grave to trivial or could even be psychosomatic. A disciplined approach and a wide breadth of knowledge are particularly valuable for getting to the root of the problem.

For medical complaints, the top diagnostic priority is to exclude potentially lethal or dangerous conditions. Events such as crashes, hangs, or other disruptive events correlate with the medical notion of lethality. Past that, medical diagnostic processes proceed in a predictable way, leading to a diagnosis and a treatment plan. Given that the elements of computer systems are far less complex and diverse than those found in the human body, there is no reason to believe that practices in troubleshooting computer systems cannot match or exceed those found in medicine—without requiring multiple millennia to mature.

Performance Forensics

The term forensics means "The science and practice of collection, analysis, and presentation of information relating to a crime in a manner suitable for use in a court of law." Ultimate resolution of a performance issue2 can involve tuning, bug fixing, upgrading, product enhancement, or re-architecting the entire solution, but first, there needs to be a working diagnosis. The analytical process of diagnosis can resemble the process by which medical scientists and detectives explore the evidence, looking for clues.

When an issue is diagnosed for which there is no ready workaround or patch, the process of getting it repaired can require nothing less than proving the case, rigorously as one would in a court of law. Even the task of attributing the problem to a specific vendor or component can require rigorous methodology.

In thinking about where to start in the quest for improved process and efficiency in resolving performance issues, the place to start and end is clear: business requirements.

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