Web Performance, Part VII: Reliability and Consistency

In this series, the focus has been on the basic Web performance concepts, the ones that have dominated the performance management field for the last decade. It’s now time to step beyond these measures, and examine two equally important concepts, ones that allow a company to analyze their Web performance outside the constraints of performance and availability.
Reliability is often confused with availability when it is used in a Web performance context. Reliability, as a measurement and analysis concept goes far beyond the binary 0 or 1 that the term availability limits us to, and places it in the context of how availability affects the whole business.
Typical measures used in reliability include:

  • Minutes of outage
  • Number of failed measurements
  • Core business hours

Reliability is, by its very nature, a more complex way to examine the successful delivery of content to customers. It forces the business side of a company to define what times of day and days of the week affect the bottom-line more, and forces the technology side of the business to be able to account not simply for server uptime, but also for exact measures of when and why customers could not reach the site.
This approach almost always leads to the creation of a whole new metric, one that is uniquely tied to the expectations and demands of the business it was developed in. It may also force organizations to focus on key components of their online business, if a trend of repeated outages appears with only a few components of the Web site.
Consistency is uniquely paired with Reliability, in that it extends the concept of performance to beyond simple aggregates, and considers what the performance experience is like for the customer on each visit. Can a customer say that the site always responds the same way, or do you hear that sometimes your site is slow and unusable? Why is the performance of your site inconsistent?
A simple way to think of consistency is the old standby of the Standard Deviation. This gives the range in which the population of the measurements is clustered around the Arithmetic Mean. This value can depend on the number of measures in the population, as well as the properties of these unique measures.
Standard Deviation has a number of flaws, but provides a simple way to define consistency: a large standard deviation value indicates a high degree of inconsistency within the measurement population, whereas a low small standard deviation value indicates a higher degree of consistency.
The metric that is produced for consistency differs from the reliability metric in that it will always be measured in seconds or milliseconds. But the same insight may arise from consistency, that certain components of the Web site contribute more to the inconsistency of a Web transaction. Isolating these elements outside the context of the entire business process gives organizations the information they need to eliminate these issues more quickly.
Companies that have found that simple performance and availability metrics constrain their ability to accurately describe the performance of their Web site need to examine ways to integrate a formula for calculating Reliability, and a measure of Consistency into their performance management regime.

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