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Load and Performance Testing in a DevOps Delivery Pipeline

November 29, 2023
8 min read

Performance testing is increasingly becoming part of the continuous delivery pipeline in DevOps settings. Here, we talk about performance testing and the best ways to include load and performance testing in the delivery of applications.

Modern software applications must rapidly respond to changing business requirements as well as quickly fix bugs, performance issues, and security issues to stay competitive. However, in a traditional development environment the time it takes to thoroughly test a software application before its release comes conflicts with the pace with which the application needs to evolve.

DevOps methodologies have proven effective in reconciling these conflicting requirements of rapidly releasing and delivering high software quality. For this reason, they’ve gained wide adoption in forward-looking software development organizations.

DevOps widely uses the concept of continuous process, which applies to all stages of the application lifecycle, including modifying code, application testing, and deployment and production monitoring. While continuous unit and integration testing practices have gained wide adoption, continuous performance testing has been notably lagging behind, largely because of organizations’ struggle to fit traditionally manual performance testing into a highly automated DevOps pipeline. In this article we’ll describe how performance testing needs to change to become an integral part of the DevOps environment.

Why Is Performance Testing Vital for Server Applications?

Applications can fail in multiple ways. To catch errors, software development and QA employ multiple types of tests. The most common include the following.

  • Unit tests
  • Integration tests
  • Security tests
  • Performance tests
  • Distribution tests

Each of these test types addresses a specific category of failures an application can experience in production. Performance tests, which are the subject of this article, target a set of failure types that occur when the application is put under a load of concurrent requests. Below are the six most common of these failure types.

  1. Slow response times. Response times falling below the acceptable level due to application or infrastructure bottlenecks.
  2. Partial unavailability. A state when some client requests do not receive responses. This can happen due to insufficient resource allocations, resource leaks, concurrency issues (race conditions, deadlocks), and so on.
  3. Complete unavailability. Application crashes can happen when effects that cause partial unavailability build up to the levels where they affect the entire application.
  4. Error responses. Application responses indicate that it failed to process client requests, by returning for example HTTP 500 responses. This can be caused by the same reasons that cause application partial unavailability but result in different behavior due to the application logic.
  5. Wrong content in responses. The application returns well-formed responses with the wrong content. For example, intermittent wrong content in responses can be caused by race conditions.
  6. Potential security implications caused by performance issues. An example of this is not properly handling DOS (denial of service) attacks or giving away application internal details, which can leak into server responses as error descriptions when the application gets into a bad state due to overload.

Each of these failures is capable of causing financial losses and damaging the organization’s reputation as a reliable service provider. Below, we’ll look at steps on how to integrate performance tests into the DevOps pipeline to catch these issues early.

Integrate Performance Tests Into the Continuous Delivery Pipeline

You can start integrating performance tests into the continuous delivery pipeline by adding selected performance tests to Jenkins, or a continuous integration tool of your choice, and having them run regularly.

Depending on your needs, you can run performance tests at one or more of the following points during the build or test of the infrastructure.

  • After each build with a reduced set of performance “smoke” tests.
  • Once a day with a more comprehensive set of performance tests.
  • Once a weekend or based on infrastructure availability with a set of long-running tests for endurance testing or high-volume load tests for stress testing.

This by itself, however, is not enough.

Manually analyzing load test reports can be time-consuming and may require special skills not every developer possesses. Without the ability to automate load test report analysis, reviewing performance test results becomes a tedious time sink. Vital performance information may also get overlooked. In such scenarios, you may be running performance tests continuously, but the benefit of them will be limited.

Automate the Collection & Analysis of Performance Test Results

To get the full benefit of continuous performance testing, you need to set up an effective mechanism to analyze performance test results. Parasoft LoadTest and its LoadTest Continuum, a module of Parasoft SOAtest, provide you with tools that help automate the collection and analysis of performance test results and give you insights into the performance of your application.

How to Set Up Your Environment for Continuous Performance Test Execution

The following steps will help you set up your environment for continuous performance test execution with Parasoft LoadTest and LoadTest Continuum:

  1. Review and configure LoadTest project QoS metrics for automation.
  2. Deploy and configure LoadTest Continuum for load test report collection.
  3. Configure LoadTest projects into batches for execution.
  4. Start running LoadTest project batches as a part of continuous integration and use LoadTest Continuum to regularly review and analyze performance test results.

Let’s go through these steps individually in more detail below.

Step 1 – Review and Configure QoS Metrics for Automation

Parasoft LoadTest Quality of Service (QoS) metrics are one of the key features for automating the analysis of performance test results. QoS metrics reduce large amounts of data in a load test report to a set of success/failure answers about your application performance. Parasoft LoadTest offers a rich set of QoS metrics that range from ready-to-use threshold metrics to custom-scripted metrics that allow you to use the LoadTest API for advanced load test data analysis.

To prepare your performance tests for automation, you need to review the QoS metrics in your LoadTest projects. Run a LoadTest project and examine the report: all success and failure criteria that you use to manually analyze a load test report should be represented as QoS metrics. Convert as many metrics as you can into “numeric” metrics. A numeric QoS metric not only returns a success/failure result, but also quantifies a key performance indicator for that metric. For instance, a metric that validates a CPU utilization threshold would also provide the actual CPU utilization value as a numeric metric.

Numeric metrics are widely used in LoadTest Continuum to plot metric performance over time:

Graph showing Numeric metric results plotted in a LoadTest Continuum report. X axis shows date Jun - Apr. Y axis shows CPU percentage in intervals of 10 starting with 0 at bottom and 100 at top.
Numeric metric results plotted in a LoadTest Continuum report.

Once you’ve configured the QoS metrics for your LoadTest projects, it’s time to set up the LoadTest Continuum for performance data collection and analysis.

Step 2 – Deploy and Configure LoadTest Continuum

Deploy and configure the LoadTest Continuum ltc.war Web application archive (available in the SOAtest/LoadTest install directory starting with version 9.10.2), as described in the “LoadTest Continuum” section of the LoadTest documentation.

Step 3 – Configure LoadTest Projects Into Batches for Execution

Combine your LoadTest projects into .cmd scripts for batch execution. LoadTest .cmd scripts are how you can specify groups of projects that will make up different sets of performance tests, such as the “smoke” tests, daily tests, or weekend tests mentioned previously.

Configure the .cmd scripts to send report data to LoadTest Continuum as described in the “Sending Reports to LoadTest Continuum” section of the LoadTest documentation. Set up your continuous integration tool to run LoadTest .cmd scripts as a part of a build process or at regular intervals. For instance, in Jenkins you can run a LoadTest .cmd script using Execute Windows batch command build step as follows:

%SOATEST_HOME%\lt.exe” -J-Xmx4096M -cmd -run “%WORKSPACE%\ltcontinuum.cmd

Step 4 – Set Up a Dashboard in Parasoft DTP

Parasoft DTP contains reporting and analytics dashboards that enable you to monitor the health and progress of your software project with a variety of widgets and reports.

A Parasoft LoadTest Continuum DTP widget allows you to add the most recent LoadTest results summary to your DTP project dashboard and offers a quick way to evaluate the state of the performance test results in your daily project state review routine.

The widget displays the number of total, passed, and failed tests and metrics for the most recent LoadTest runs. To view the results in more detail, click on the project link in the widget, and the LoadTest Continuum page will open in a new tab.

Screenshot of LTC Dashboard showing build load and daily load test results.
LoadTest Continuum widgets in a DTP dashboard.

To set up a LoadTest Continuum Custom HTML Widget in DTP, you can simply follow these steps:

  1. In the Parasoft DTP Report Center, create a new Dashboard or open an existing one.
  2. Press Add Widget. In the Add Widget dialog, select Custom -> Custom HTML Widget.
  3. Copy the content of the following file from the LoadTest Continuum installation into the HTML text area of the dialog: %TOMCAT_HOME%\webapps\ltc\dtp\ltc_dtp_widget.html
  4. Modify the HTML with your custom settings:
    1. Locate the getServerURL() function. Modify the return value with the host and port of your LoadTest Continuum installation.
    2. Locate the getProjectName() function. Modify the return value with the name of the project that you would like to track in the widget.
  5. Press Create.

Step 5 – Review & Analyze Performance Test Results

Parasoft LoadTest Continuum serves as both a collection point for your LoadTest reports and an analysis tool that organizes load test data from multiple runs. LoadTest Continuum organizes the data into a pyramid of information that allows you to review your performance test results at various levels of detail, from high-level daily summaries at the top, to QoS metrics results at the core, to detailed load test reports at the bottom:

Screenshot of reporting dashboard showing analytics for API performance testing.
The LoadTest Continuum daily summary and test metrics view.

Consider the following workflow as an example of a regular (daily) test review:

  1. For failed tests, go through the following steps:
    1. Open the test History view, check if the test has been failing regularly or sporadically. The first case would likely indicate a regression; the second case an instability.
    2. Inspect the failed metrics of the test:
      1. For a numeric metric open the Metric history graph view. Use metric history graph for insights. For instance, if a test to which the metric belongs is unstable small fluctuations of the metric graph usually indicate that metric threshold needs adjustment. Large fluctuations indicate problems in code or infrastructure.
      2. Open the All graphs of this test link. Check the graphs of other numeric metrics for the same test for fluctuations that did not cross the metric threshold.
  2. If you have not set up the LoadTest Continuum DTP widgets, start with checking success/failure summaries of tests and metrics in the main LTC project page.
  3. For projects that have failures, follow the link to the LTC project page to examine the details.
  4. Start with checking the state of your most recent load test runs in the LoadTest Continuum DTP widgets.
  5. Do the same for the All graphs of this metric link to check if similar metrics of other tests were affected. If yes, this indicates a systemic issue with your application or infrastructure not limited to a single test (See Fig. 4).
  6. For a more in-depth analysis open the HTML or binary Load Test reports of the failed test.
Screenshot of LoadTest Continuum showing Rest API performance testing graphs of selected dashboards and query optimization.
Load Test Continuum All graphs of the same metric view show performance improvement of the CPU% metric across multiple tests.

Integrating a performance testing process into the continuous delivery pipeline is essential to ensure software quality. To get the full benefit of this process you need to set up an effective mechanism for performance test results analysis automation.

Be Continuous With Parasoft

Achieve all of your lofty test result analysis automation goals with Parasoft LoadTest and LoadTest Continuum inside of Parasoft SOAtest. These tools offer sophisticated automation within functional testing, so you can deliver higher quality software.

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