Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's the Right Tool?

I am pretty active on several testing forums (Microsoft's MSDN forum, and a Yahoo! group for agile testing are the two I frequent the most). I cannot count the number of times someone sent an e-mail asking which big, monolithic tool is the right one for them.

My friend (and manager) has a great response to this. At the LDS Church, we are frequently asked by new testers "When are we going to standardize on an <insert category here - performance, automation, etc.> tool? His response: you're engineers. Look at the tools in use in the organization today, look at the tools available in the industry, and make the best decision for the organization. Sometimes you might give up a little functionality or ease of use in exchange for a tool which is already used in-house. You get a built-in support forum, and sometimes you can even leverage existing tests. Other times, you'll probably pick a best-of-breed tool.

Our performance testing is a perfect example of this. When I came on board, we were using JMeter, an open-source java-based tool. The benefit of JMeter? It replays Apache logs. There's no better mimic of production than replaying production logs! The problem? We have been seeing weird things with JMeter - for instance, if a connection times out, JMeter doesn't drop it and move on. Instead, it opens another connection request but leaves the first request hanging. In some ad-hoc experimentation today, an engineer on my team started with just 5 connections and ended his test at 10 connections. Scale that to the 400, 500, 1000 connections we were using to load up www.lds.org, and you end up with incredibly unrealistic test scenarios! I never felt we could trust JMeter.

So I started looking around, and I have settled on WAPT (Web Application Performance Test Tool, http://www.loadtestingtool.com). It's a commercial product, but only costs $350 per license. There's a lot I love about it - first of all, connection management seems to be so much more reliable. Secondly, the built-in reporting is incredible. Third, there are actual support personnel if there's an issue. Oh, and fourth, I can bring a $250,ooo enterprise server to its knees with a dual-proc Dell running WAPT, whereas I needed 10 machines to do the same with JMeter. I'm pleased as punch with it. However, we've had to abandon a year's worth of test scenarios and rebuild them. I've had to justify my decision to change tools. And I'm the only person in the org running WAPT (right now).

The bottom line is, there's a better way to get advice about tools. Don't ask "Which monolithic tool is the best?". Describe your test environment and the project you're working on, and ask "What are some tools people have used for this type of testing? What are pros/cons/strengths/weaknesses of these tools?" Gather information and make your own decision with advice from others.

You're the engineer on the spot and you need to make the final decision. If you're a test lead in Gurgoan, don't let me decide for you what tool to use.

 

BUT: don't hesitate to ask! If there's one thing most testers have in common, it's an eagerness to share their (opinionated) opinion about something. And I personally love to give advice and help out. This isn't a censor or a rant about asking questions - it's about people needing to step up and be engineers.

 

JTO

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