Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Little Triplet

Little's law appears in various guises in performance analysis. It was known to Agner Erlang (the father of queueing theory) in 1909 to be intuitively correct but was not proven mathematically until 1961 by John Little. Even though you experience it all the time, queueing is not such a trivial phenomenon as it may seem. In the subsequent discussion, I'll show you that there is actually a triplet of such laws, where each version refers to a slightly different aspect of queueing. Although they have a common general form, the less than obvious interpretation of each version is handy to know for solving almost any problem in performance analysis.

To see the Little's law triplet, consider the line of customers at the grocery store checkout lane shown in Figure 1. Following the usual queueing theory convention, the queue includes not only the customers waiting but also the customer currently in service.

Figure 1. Checkout lane decomposed into its space and time components

As an aside, it is useful to keep in mind that there are only three types of performance metric:

  1. Time $T$ (the fundamental performance metric), e.g., minutes
  2. Count or a number $N$ (no formal dimensions), e.g., transactions
  3. Rate $N/T$ (inverse time dimension), e.g., transactions per minute

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Continuous Integration Gets Performance Testing Radar

As companies embrace continuous integration (CI) and fast release cycles, a serious problem has emerged in the development pipeline: Conventional performance testing is the new bottleneck. Every load testing environment is actually a highly complex simulation assumed to be a model of the intended production environment. System performance testing is so complex that the cost of modifying test scripts and hardware has become a liability for meeting CI schedules. One reaction to this situation is to treat performance testing as a checkbox item, but that exposes the new application to unknown performance idiosyncrasies in production.

In this webinar, Neil Gunther (Performance Dynamics Company) and Sai Subramanian (Cognizant Technology Solutions) will present a new type of model that is not a simulation, but instead acts like continuous radar that warns developers of potential performance and scalability issues during the CI process. This radar model corresponds to a virtual testing framework that precludes the need for developing performance test scripts or setting up a separate load testing environment. Far from being a mere idea, radar methodology is based on a strong analytic foundation that will be demonstrated by examining a successful case study.

Broadcast Date and Time: Tuesday, July 22, 2014, at 11 am Pacific

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Restaurant Performance Sunk by Selfies

An interesting story appeared last weekend about a popular NYC restaurant realizing that, although the number of customers they served on a daily basis is about the same today as it was ten years ago, the overall service had slowed significantly. Naturally, this situation has led to poor online reviews to the point where the restaurant actually hired a firm to investigate the problem. The analysis of surveillance tapes led to a surprising conclusion. The unexpected culprit behind the slowdown was neither the kitchen staff nor the waiters, but customers taking photos and otherwise playing around with their smartphones.

Using the data supplied in the story, I wanted to see how the restaurant performance would look when expressed as a PDQ model. First, I created a summary data frame in R, based on the observed times:

> df
           obs.2004 obs.2014         0        5         8        8
menu.pix          0       13        6        6
eat.mins         46       43
eat.pix           0       20        5        5
paymt.pix         0       15
total.mins       65      115

The 2004 situation can be represented schematically by the following queueing network

Referring to Figure 1:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How to Remember the Poisson Distribution

The Poisson cumulative distribution function (CDF) \begin{equation} F(α,n) = \sum_{k=0}^n \dfrac{α^k}{k!} \; e^{-α} \label{eqn:pcdf} \end{equation} is the probability of at most $n$ events occurring when the average number of events is α, i.e., $\Pr(X \le n)$. Since \eqref{eqn:pcdf} is a probability function, it cannot have a value greater than 1. In R, the CDF is given by the function ppois(). For example, with α = 4 the first 16 values are

> ppois(0:15,4)
 [1] 0.01831564 0.09157819 0.23810331 0.43347012 0.62883694 0.78513039 0.88932602 0.94886638
 [9] 0.97863657 0.99186776 0.99716023 0.99908477 0.99972628 0.99992367 0.99998007 0.99999511
As the number of events increases from 0 to 15 the CDF approaches 1. See Figure.