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Why you need to load test your website

Jen A. Miller | June 19, 2014
There are multiple approaches to load testing your website, but one thing is certain: Organizations that fail to see how their sites will handle sudden surges in traffic do so at their own risk.

Different Approaches to Load Testing
Blaze Meter uses a combination of cloud services, including Rackspace, Google Compute Cloud and Microsoft Azure, to slam your site (or test site) with traffic from all over the world and then see how it holds up.

Redline13, a New Jersey-based load-testing company, uses a different approach: Companies sign up for Redline13 and then use the program within their own Amazon computing cloud servers to run the load test.

"We farm stuff out to your servers and run it on your servers," says Bob Bickel, who founded Redline13 a year ago as a cheaper way to load test RunSignUp, his own road race registration site, and his main business. He estimates that commercial load testing would cost him up to $600,000. Instead, he created Redline13 and then spun it off into its own company.

One group used Redline13 to test World Cup-related websites. It failed. Bickel sees that as a good thing: It helped the firm figure out what was wrong before the world's most popular sporting event began.

Redline13 says it's able to tests for less for two reasons. It uses a company's own Amazon servers to run the test, and it uses a program called Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Spot Instances. If Amazon has excess capacity in Oregon, say, or Singapore, it lowers the price on its services for an hour at a time, Bickel says. Redline13 uses those blocks to run load tests.

Since Redline13 uses a site's own Amazon servers, there are limits to what it can do. Amazon limits the company to testing up to 20,000 hits per second - any more than that, and Redline13 would be flagged as a denial of service (DoS) attack and shut down.

Load Testing's Future Is Mobile
Load testing may have started as a way to test a website's capacity during a specific event, but many companies now incorporate load testing into continuous integration processes. In these cases, Girmonsky says, testing occurs once a week, or even once a day, as opposed to being done on demand.

As for load testing's next frontier, Girmonsky says it's mobile. Website owners will want to see how mobile sites perform when connected via Wi-Fi or running on 3G or 4G networks. This is more challenging than more traditional Web development, Girmonsky says, because of the differences among today's mobile networks and various mobile devices.

But it's just as crucial a step, if not more so, as consumers check World Cup scores, register for a race, watch TV or take advantage of that one-day sale on their smartphones and tablets instead of waiting until they get home to use their laptops.


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