mobile devices in cloud

Cloud-based performance testing launches for mobile apps, sites

Agency app developers can now load test their products using a new cloud-based load testing service designed for mobile apps, application programming interfaces and websites.

“Load testing is the practice of simulating user traffic towards a target system for the purpose of evaluating the number of users that target system can cope with before it breaks down,” said Robin Gustafsson, chief technology officer at Load Impact, which introduced the software-as-a-service April 1.

It can simulate traffic from mobile operating systems and networks, including 3G, 4G, EDGE, GSM and LTE.

How a site or app performs depends on the users’ location and device. “The network conditions are completely different if you’re sitting at your desktop at your house or if you’re sitting on the bus on a high-latency, high-packet-loss network,” Gustafsson said.

The service, which currently works only with HTTP-based systems, increases the number of users and looks at load times and applications’ performance. It also handles stress testing, the more extreme form of load testing in which testers try to push a system to its limits to see when it starts to fall apart.

Load Impact also conducts endurance testing or Simple Object Access Protocol testing to ensure a system can handle sustained periods of high-volume traffic.

The service lets developers imitate client behavior when downloading content to a phone, creating scenarios based on real-world hardware and network configurations. They can also specify the number of concurrent downloads in total and per host in addition to what client applications or browsers – Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera – they want to check. For instance, they can see how their apps perform over 3G networks as compared to LTE.

Moreover, developers can use the service to mimic mobile network characteristics such as available bandwidth, network delay, packet loss, jitter and packet reordering.

To use the service, developers have only to get an API token, select their implementation method and configure the test, setting how many users to simulate in which geographic locations and with various network permissions. All of the features may be accessed individually in the company’s advanced configuration interface or set automatically based on the mobile OS, browser and network being tested.

“The service is quite simple compared to how testing used to be conducted, Gustafsson said. “We take away the hassle of having to maintain your own infrastructure and basically just give you a simple point-and-click interface.”

He recommends that customers perform testing on an ongoing basis.

“We try to get people to understand that it’s very important to start load testing early in your product development to catch scalability and architectural issues. You don’t want to discover the day before a big release that your architecture is wrong, because that’s very hard to change that late in the life cycle of the product,” he said. “In general people understand the benefits of performance testing, but a lot of companies aren’t there yet. They see it as a lower priority issue.”

Organizations also have a tendency to test apps and websites with a handful of users in an effort to improve the user experience.  But early testing of millions of simultaneous connections would uncover fundamental architectural and scalability issues.

And when a problem is discovered late in the development process, it costs more to fix, which could lead organizations to launch crippled products, Gustafsson said. Early load testing could have smoothed some of the bumps of HealthCare.gov, he added.

“They should have tested from the beginning,” he said. “They should have started early because – what I’ve understood – they had some architectural issues, and those could have been avoided if they had been testing from the get-go.”

Load Impact, which started in 2009 and is based in Stockholm and San Francisco, launched its new service in recognition of the demand for mobile usability.

With increasing numbers of people access information via mobile devices, “it’s very important when you load test to simulate users in that kind of environment,” Gustafsson said.

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