Server Performance Tuning Habit #1: Ask the Right Question

As a follow-up to my first post on the , this post focuses on the first habit: Ask the Right Question.

6 years of performance work have taught me to start all my projects with this habit. Before I explain the kinds of questions I ask, let me demonstrate why this is important. Here are some example undesirable outcomes of performance tuning:

  • You spend months of experimentation trying to match a level of performance you saw reported in a case study on the internet, only to find out later that it used un-released software you can't get yet.

  • You spend months optimizing your server for raw performance. As part of your optimization you fully load it with the best available memory and adapters. Then you find out that your management/users would have been happier with a lower level of performance but a less costly system.

  • Your team works hard to maximize the performance of your application server for the current number of users you have, but makes decisions that will result in bottlenecks and re-designs when the number of users increases.

The outcome we are all hoping for with our tuning projects is that we provide the best level of performance possible within the budgetary, time, and TCO constraints we have. And of course, without sacrificing any other critical needs we'll have for our server, either now or in the future. Since performance optimization can take a lot of time and resources, consider the following questions before embarking on a project:

  • Why are you tuning your platform? (This helps you decide the amount of resources to dedicate.)

    • As part of this question, consider this one: How will the needs and usage models for this server change over the course of its life?

  • What level of performance are you hoping to achieve?

  • Are your expectations appropriate for the software and server system you are using?

    • In determining if your expectations are appropriate, refer to benchmarking results or case studies where appropriate and make sure any comparisons you make are apples to apples!

    • A corollary to this question is: is the server being used appropriate for the application being run?

  • What qualities of your platform are you trying to optimize: raw performance, cost/performance, energy efficiency (performance/watt), or something else?

  • Is performance your top priority for the system, or is scalability, extendibility, or something else a higher goal?

Thinking about the answers to these questions can help you navigate the trade-offs and tough decisions that are sure to pop up, and will help make your tuning project successful.

Keep watching The Server Room for information on the other 9 habits in the coming weeks.