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Tarun Arora - Visual Studio ALM MVP ALM, Agile, Automation, Performance Testing, Software QA, Cloud, ...


Welcome back once again, in Part 1 of Load and Web Performance Testing using Visual Studio 2010 I talked about why Performance Testing the application is important, the test tools available in Visual Studio Ultimate 2010 and various test rig topologies, in Part 2 of Load and Web Performance Testing using Visual Studio 2010 I discussed the details of web performance & load tests as well as why it’s important to follow a goal based pattern while performance testing your application. In part 3 I’ll be discussing Test Result Analysis, Test Result Drill through, Test Report Generation, Test Run Comparison, Profiler and some closing thoughts.


Test Results – I see some creepy worms!

In Part 2 we put together a web performance test and a load test, lets run the test to see load test to see how the Web site responds to the load simulation. While the load test is running you will be able to see close to real time analysis in the Load Test Analyser window.

You can use the Load Test Analyser to conduct load test analysis in three ways:

  • Monitor a running load test - A condensed set of the performance counter data is maintained in memory. To prevent the results memory requirements from growing unbounded, up to 200 samples for each performance counter are maintained. This includes 100 evenly spaced samples that span the current elapsed time of the run and the most recent 100 samples.

        Running load test graphs view

  • After the load test run is completed - The test controller spools all collected performance counter data to a database while the test is running. Additional data, such as timing details and error details, is loaded into the database when the test completes. The performance data for a completed test is loaded from the database and analysed by the Load Test Analyser. Below you can see a screen shot of the summary view, this provides key results in a format that is compact and easy to read. You can also print the load test summary, this is generated after the test has completed or been stopped.

        Summary view

  • Analyse the load test results of a previously run load test – We’ll see this in the section where i discuss comparison between two test runs.

The performance counters can be plotted on the graphs. You also have the option to highlight a selected part of the test and view details, drill down to the user activity chart where you can hover over to see more details of the test run.

Added counter to graph Details view

Generate Report => Test Run Comparisons

The level of reports you can generate using the Load Test Analyser is astonishing. You have the option to create excel reports and conduct side by side analysis of two test results or to track trend analysis. The tools also allows you to export the graph data either to MS Excel or to a CSV file. You can view the ASP.NET profiler report to conduct further analysis as well. View Data and Diagnostic Attachments opens the Choose Diagnostic Data Adapter Attachment dialog box to select an adapter to analyse the result type. For example, you can select an IntelliTrace adapter, click OK and open the IntelliTrace summary for the test agent that was used in the load test.

Load Test Analyzer toolbar


Compare results

This creates a set of reports that compares the data from two load test results using tables and bar charts.

Potential problem in the application code

I have taken these screen shots from the MSDN documentation, I would highly recommend exploring the wealth of knowledge available on MSDN.

Leaving Thoughts

While load testing the application with an excessive load for a longer duration of time, i managed to bring the IIS to its knees by piling up a huge queue of requests waiting to be processed. This clearly means that the IIS had run out of threads as all the threads were busy processing existing request, one easy way of fixing this is by increasing the default number of allocated threads, but this might escalate the problem. The better suggestion is to try and drill down to the actual root cause of the problem.

When ever the garbage collection runs it stops processing any pages so all requests that come in during that period are queued up, but realistically the garbage collection completes in fraction of a a second. To understand this better lets look at the .net heap, it is divided into large heap and small heap, anything greater than 85kB in size will be allocated to the Large object heap, the Large object heap is non compacting and remember large objects are expensive to move around, so if you are allocating something in the large object heap, make sure that you really need it! The small object heap on the other hand is divided into generations, so all objects that are supposed to be short-lived are suppose to live in Gen-0 and the long living objects eventually move to Gen-2 as garbage collection goes through. 

As you can see in the picture below all < 85 KB size objects are first assigned to Gen-0, when Gen-0 fills up and a new object comes in and finds Gen-0 full, the garbage collection process is started, the process checks for all the dead objects and assigns them as the valid candidate for deletion to free up memory and promotes all the remaining objects in Gen-0 to Gen-1. So in the future when ever you clean up Gen-1 you have to clean up Gen-0 as well. When you fill up Gen – 0 again, all of Gen – 1 dead objects are drenched and rest are moved to Gen-2 and Gen-0 objects are moved to Gen-1 to free up Gen-0, but by this time your Garbage collection process has started to take much more time than it usually takes. Now as I mentioned earlier when garbage collection is being run all page requests that come in during that period are queued up. Does this explain why possibly page requests are getting queued up, apart from this it could also be the case that you are waiting for a long running database process to complete.

image  image  image  image

Lets explore the heap a bit more… What is really a case of crisis is when the objects are living long enough to make it to Gen-2 and then dying, this is definitely a high cost operation. But sometimes you need objects in memory, for example when you cache data you hold on to the objects because you need to use them right across the user session, which is acceptable.

But if you wanted to see what extreme caching can do to your server then write a simple application that chucks in a lot of data in cache, run a load test over it for about 10-15 minutes, forcing a lot of data in memory causing the heap to run out of memory. If you get to such a state where you start running out of memory the IIS as a mode of recovery restarts the worker process. It is great way to free up all your memory in the heap but this would clear the cache. The problem with this is if the customer had 10 items in their shopping basket and that data was stored in the application cache, the user basket will now be empty forcing them either to get frustrated and go to a competitor website or if the customer is really patient, give it another try!

How can you address this, well two ways of addressing this;

1. Workaround – A x86 bit processor only allows a maximum of 4GB of RAM, this means the machine effectively has around 3.4 GB of RAM available, the OS needs about 1.5 GB of RAM to run efficiently, the IIS and .net framework also need their share of memory, leaving you a heap of around 800 MB to play with. Because Team builds by default build your application in ‘Compile as any mode’ it means the application is build such that it will run in x86 bit mode if run on a x86 bit processor and run in a x64 bit mode if run on a x64 but processor. The problem with this is not all applications are really x64 bit compatible specially if you are using com objects or external libraries. So, as a quick win if you compiled your application in x86 bit mode by changing the compile as any selection to compile as x86 in the team build, you will be able to run your application on a x64 bit machine in x86 bit mode (WOW – By running Windows on Windows) and what that means is, you could use 8GB+ worth of RAM, if you take away everything else your application will roughly get a heap size of at least 4 GB to play with, which is immense. If you need a heap size of more than 4 GB you have either build a software for NASA or there is something fundamentally wrong in your application.

2. Solution – Now that you have put a workaround in place the IIS will not restart the worker process that regularly, which means you can take a breather and start working to get to the root cause of this memory leak. But this begs a question “How do I Identify possible memory leaks in my application?” Well i won’t say that there is one single tool that can tell you where the memory leak is, but trust me, ‘Performance Profiling’ is a great start point, it definitely gets you started in the right direction, let’s have a look at how.

Performance Wizard

- Start the Performance Wizard and select Instrumentation, this lets you measure function call counts and timings. Before running the performance session right click the performance session settings and chose properties from the context menu to bring up the Performance session properties page and as shown in the screen shot below, check the check boxes in the group ‘.NET memory profiling collection’ namely ‘Collect .NET object allocation information’ and ‘Also collect the .NET Object lifetime information’.

image    image

Now if you fire off the profiling session on your pages you will notice that the results allows you to view ‘Object Lifetime’ which shows you the number of objects that made it to Gen-0, Gen-1, Gen-2, Large heap, etc. Another great feature about the profile is that if your application has > 5% cases where objects die right after making to the Gen-2 storage a threshold alert is generated to alert you. Since you have the option to also view the most expensive methods and by capturing the IntelliTrace data you can drill in to narrow down to the line of code that is the root cause of the problem.


Well now that we have seen how crucial memory management is and how easy Visual Studio Ultimate 2010 makes it for us to identify and reproduce the problem with the best of breed tools in the product.


One of the main ways to improve performance is Caching. Which basically means you tell the web server that instead of going to the database for each request you keep the data in the webserver and when the user asks for it you serve it from the webserver itself. BUT that can have consequences!

Let’s look at some code, trust me caching code is not very intuitive, I define a cache key for almost all searches made through the common search page and cache the results. The approach works fine, first time i get the data from the database and second time data is served from the cache, significant performance improvement, EXCEPT when two users try to do the same operation and run into each other. But it is easy to handle this by adding the lock as you can see in the snippet below. So, as long as a user comes in and finds that the cache is empty, the user locks and starts to get the cache no more concurrency issues. But lets say you are processing 10 requests per second, by the time i have locked the operation to get the results from the database, 9 other users came in and found that the cache key is null so after i have come out and populated the cache they will still go in to get the results again. The application will still be faster because the next set of 10 users and so on would continue to get data from the cache. BUT if we added another null check after locking to build the cache and before actual call to the db then the 9 users who follow me would not make the extra trip to the database at all and that would really increase the performance, but didn’t i say that the code won’t be very intuitive, may be you should leave a comment you don’t want another developer to come in and think what a fresher why is he checking for the cache key null twice !!!


The downside of caching is, you are storing the data outside of the database and the data could be wrong because the updates applied to the database would make the data cached at the web server out of sync. So, how do you invalidate the cache? Well if you only had one way of updating the data lets say only one entry point to the data update you can write some logic to say that every time new data is entered set the cache object to null. But this approach will not work as soon as you have several ways of feeding data to the system or your system is scaled out across a farm of web servers. The perfect solution to this is Micro Caching which means you cache the query for a set time duration and invalidate the cache after that set duration. The advantage is every time the user queries for that data with in the time span for which you have cached the results there are no calls made to the database and the data is served right from the server which makes the response immensely quick. Now figuring out the appropriate time span for which you micro cache the query results really depends on the application.

Lets say your website gets 10 requests per second, if you retain the cache results for even 1 minute you will have immense performance gains. You would reduce 90% hits to the database for searching. Ever wondered why when you go to or or to book a flight and you click on the book button because the fare seems too exciting and you get an error message telling you that the fare is not valid any more. Yes, exactly => That is a cache failure! These travel sites or price compare engines are not going to hit the database every time you hit the compare button instead the results will be served from the cache, because the query results are micro cached, its a perfect trade-off, by micro caching the results the site gains 100% performance benefits but every once in a while annoys a customer because the fare has expired. But the trade off works in the favour of these sites as they are still able to process up to 30+ page requests per second which means cater to the site traffic by may be losing 1 customer every once in a while to a competitor who is also using a similar caching technique Hot smile what are the odds that the user will not come back to their site sooner or later?


image  image


Below are some Key resource you might like to review. I would highly recommend the documentation, walkthroughs and videos available on MSDN. You can always make use of Fiddler to debug Web Performance Tests. Some community test extensions and plug ins available on Codeplex might also be of interest to you.


The Road Ahead

Thank you for taking the time out and reading this blog post, you may also want to read Part I and Part II if you haven’t so far. If you enjoyed the post, remember to subscribe to Questions/Feedback/Suggestions, etc please leave a comment. Next ‘Load Testing in the cloud’, I’ll be working on exploring the possibilities of running Test controller/Agents in the Cloud. See you on the other side!

Thank You!


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Posted on Monday, November 14, 2011 12:22 AM TFS2010 , SDET , Web Performance Testing , Load Testing | Back to top

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