WPO: A New Wave of Performance Engineering?

Reading Who should be on your WPO team? reminded me so many things I read before like, for example, creating a SPE team or creating Performance Center of Excellence.

Looks like we got a completely new area of performance engineering – Web Performance Optimization (WPO), with its own terminology, approaches, experts , Web Performance meeting groups, Velocity conference, and, perhaps, even new load testing tools like CloudTest (according to my impression, it is more beneficial for WPO projects). WPO actually was around for a while (looks like the first Velocity conference was in 2008), but only recently, after attending a couple of New York Web Perf events, I realized that it became a separate discipline. I guess the appearance of this new movement concentrated on the web performance means that we get a pretty mature industry of very scalable web sites delivering sophisticated content.

Well , the history of performance engineering looks like a series of waves (for me, although my knowledge of its history is limited, especially for the period before I got involved). Computer Measurement Group (CMG) was organized in 1975 as an organization of performance analysts and capacity planners. Dr. Connie Smith book “Performance Engineering of Software Systems” book was published in 1990 created the Software Performance Engineering movement.

Distributed systems brought new wave of performance engineering based around load testing. Perhaps because there was not much instrumentation available and only way to make sure that the system performs was to apply load. It looks like the first version of LoadRunner was shipped in 1989. But when I first time got involved into load testing in 1997 with SQL Bench (SilkPerformer’s ancestor), it was still far from what we expect from load testing tools now. The latest wave was probably Application Performance Management with a large array of tools promising application instrumentation (visibility in what is going on inside applications).
It is interesting that all these overlapping areas never completely merged. This is probably the reason why we have such discrepancy in performance terminology because every group often started terminology from a scratch (while others still used old terminology).

And now we get Web Performance Optimization (looks like the term was coined by Steve Souders). While WPO looks like a separate discipline, I’d rather placed it as a part of overall performance engineering. You still have a back end in most cases – and while the back end is mentioned in the WPO presentations, it sometimes looks like authors mention something trivial. Well, it is not, even for most web sites, not to mention large banks and insurance companies with many tiers of sophisticated systems in the back – and for the end-user performance you need to consider all together. Downplaying “back end” is probably as wrong as downplaying “front end” (which, working mostly with business applications, I am definitely guilty – well, historically load testing concentrated on the server performance). The importance of each component depends on the system. In my opinion, performance principles are much more generic that the details of specific technologies. Most of performance engineering experience may be applied to any technology (you, of course, still need to learn something about this new technology too).

So, while it is very promising and exciting that we get a new wave of people dedicated to performance, it is a little sad that it looks like it often gets started from a scratch inventing new terminology and ignoring what existed before. For me it would be better if we get all these waves together to enrich each other with the area of performance engineering they specialize in. Of course, there are some interaction – well, you need to work together in a way to ensure systems’ performance – but it still looks like every wave tend to stay somewhat separate, cultivating their own terminology, approaches, and events.


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