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Invest in performance engineering or risk costly failures

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Todd DeCapua, Technology leader, speaker & author, CSC

Smooth rollouts. Lower overhead. Higher revenue. These are just some of the motives for performance engineering cited in a new survey.

What if you don't invest? Expect damaged brands, lower revenue, and lower employee morale.

[ Is it time to rethink your release management strategy? Learn why Adaptive Release Governance is essential to DevOps success (Gartner). ]

Making headlines—the bad way

Consumers looking for great deals on Black Friday, November 28, 2014, were disappointed when their collective buying frenzy crashed Best Buy's website for an hour and a half. Another outage followed on Saturday.

Increased mobile usage was one of the major publicly released causes: "A concentrated spike in mobile traffic triggered issues that led us to shut down BestBuy.com in order to take proactive measures to restore full performance," a Best Buy spokesperson said.

The crash could not have come at worse time of day—10:00 am to 11:30 am—especially on this "morning after Thanksgiving" annual shopping event. Consumers accessing the site received the sort of message no online retailer ever wants to post: "We're sorry. BestBuy.com is currently unavailable. Check back soon."

CNBC reported that Best Buy's troubles were even more severe than initially indicated: "After a litany of shopper complaints engulfed the retailer's Facebook and Twitter feeds late Friday afternoon, the company initially attributed the blackout to heavy traffic. However, consumers were still complaining about the lack of service early Saturday, suggesting the problem could be more serious," the report said.

Web servers, networks, databases, and more are now key parts of the essential infrastructure and core enablers of a business. The individuals and teams who design, build, and maintain these systems are becoming some of the most valuable parts of the organization. A storm or a fire can close one store, but a failure in crucial computer systems can shut down an entire company.

In many cases, businesses continue to invest in both a capability and a culture as they work to build-in the practices of performance engineering. These practices enable their businesses to grow faster and become more stable. Done well, performance engineering avoids the large-scale catastrophes like the one that hit Best Buy in 2014, as well as the soft failures that come when slow services frustrate employees and turn away customers. The big failures may get all the media attention, but it's the gradual slowdowns that can be even more damaging, as they erode revenue and brand value.

"Performance engineering" refers to a group of capabilities and practices, and sometimes a specific job role, focused on the organizational and transformational activities required to build-in performance throughout the product lifecycle across an enterprise. The goal is to focus on the end-user experience from the beginning.

These skills and practices are gradually being understood across various teams, helping organizations achieve higher levels of performance in their technology, their business, and for their customers. Organizations that do this well will see their brand value rise as they focus on a customer base that grows smoothly without setbacks or failures.

To understand organizations' perceptions of performance engineering across various industries, Hewlett Packard Enterprise commissioned YouGov, an independent research firm, to conduct a blind survey of 400 business leaders with 15 minutes worth of questions. (Hewlett-Packard was not identified as the sponsor.)

The participants were chosen from organizations with at least 500 employees in the United States. Fifty percent of respondents were performance engineers or performance testers, 25 percent were application development managers, and 25 percent were IT operations managers. The results show how organizations are changing to embrace the capabilities associated with performance engineering.

[ Get Report: The Top 20 Continuous Application Performance Management Companies ]

Performance engineering is an evolving discipline

Respondents cited a wide range of reasons for the continuing evolution of performance engineering. The top reasons cited by IT managers included a desire to smooth the deployment of software, because performance problems often slow or stop releases. Seventy-seven percent said that they relied on performance engineering to reduce the "operational overhead" for debugging and fixing system production issues.

Objectives for performance engineering

Some of the other reasons were focused directly on the customers. Sixty-eight percent expected performance engineering practices to increase revenues by "ensuring the system can process transactions within the requisite time frame."

While all survey participants were generally in agreement regarding the tasks required, they had different expectations. Sixty-two percent of the performance-engineering-focused respondents felt that performance engineering practices should serve to avoid "unnecessary hardware acquisition costs."

By building in performance, organizations can start optimizing applications before the first piece of code is even written, or before that new capability lights up the hardware, thereby improving the end-user experience and proactively focusing on the business objectives. Cost reductions can be dramatic. As the result of reduced performance-related production incidents, organizations can often handle 30-50 percent more transactions with the same (or less) infrastructure.

Savings can quickly multiply—fewer machines means reduced capital expense as the business scales, including lower operational expenses related to power and cooling. Fewer resources are then needed to support the infrastructure. Savings also accumulate through the reduction in performance-related production incidents that need to be managed, which reduces the opportunity cost of putting your most valuable people to work on new features and functions for the end user and your business.

Performance engineering has many benefits

All respondents viewed the downside of poor performance in much the same way. Together, 66 percent agreed that poor performance could hurt brand loyalty and brand value. As more users interact with an organization through online and mobile channels, it only makes sense that performance would reflect directly on the brand.

Performance testing consequences

All respondents agreed that internal support for performance engineering is essential, and 59 percent recognized that slow performance hampers "employee satisfaction" by making it more difficult for employees to do their jobs. More efficient, faster systems leave employees less frustrated, something that almost certainly translates to customer satisfaction as well.

The rest of the answers indicate a general awareness that the performance and throughput of computer systems are directly related to competitive advantage and the organization's ability to retain and attract customers.

Performance at every stage of the product lifecycle

A full 75 percent of the IT ops managers said that performance tuning is "extremely important." But they also felt that their company needed to insist on performance engineering practices during planning and development. Sixty-two percent of managers agreed that companies needed to do more to make more test environments available.

Integration of performance testing

There's no doubt that post-deployment performance is a top priority. However, while many people assume that the tasks associated with performance engineering begin later in the cycle and during deployment, the answers to the questions in this survey reveal that performance engineering needs to be applied at all stages of the product lifecycle.

[ Get Report: Buyer’s Guide to Software Test Automation Tools ]