Approach to Performance Tuning

Performance issues in a application manifest as bottlenecks in one or more of the following 4 layers:

  • Application: Application is not designed, developed or configured properly.
  • Platform: The platform that the application runs under (e.g. App Servers, Databases etc.) is not setup and configure.
  • System: The hardware the platform runs on is not sufficient.
  • Network: The network capacity is not sufficient. This is relevant when various parts of the platform are involved in high-bandwidth communication with each other).

The first step in Performance Tuning is to have an environment setup that is a realistic copy of the production. Then we look at what exactly are the performance requirements, these will be expressed in terms of
Round Trip Delay and Throughput (number of concurrent requests).

We can then devise some performance tests that exercise the application through typical usage scenarios and execute these tests to collate data that will provide the baseline for subsequent tests.  The data can be collated in the following areas:

  1. Response times and throughput for the over all application
  2. Response times and throughput for various parts of the platform
  3. Response times and throughput for various layers of the application
  4. Resource utilisation both at the platform level (e.g. thread profile, memory profile, socket connections  etc.) and system level (CPU utilisation, Disk IO, Network IO etc.)

Once collated and represented in graphical form you can then start looking at indicators where bottlenecks may be occurring. Please note: that these are simply indicators of performance bottlenecks meant to highlight areas which will most likely require further investigation and tests (in isolation) to pin point the exact problem. Performance tuning is an iterative process with the following steps

  1. Perform Load Test
  2. Collate and Analyse Test Result Data
  3. Compare with Previous Test Result Data (if not the first iteration)
  4. Analyse impact of changes (if not first iteration)
  5. Check if improvements satisfy the performance requirements
  6. Analyse to identify bottlenecks
  7. Investigate and isolate the problem
  8. Perform remedial action to eliminate bottleneck

Note: You should start with a baseline of results that you can compare the impact of your changes against. You should only tackle one bottleneck at a time making minimum necessary changes before performing another test.  Once you have made enough improvements to satisfy the performance requirements then you should stop the tuning  process.

Selecting the level of results for your baseline is also important since more granular data require more up-front work. One approach is to start at a higher-level, go through the process to see problems can be identified  at that level. If not then create another more granular baseline and repeat the process.
It is obviously very important that your environment and test scenarios remain the same as the baseline throughout the process.


JVM Profiling: Thread Dumps

Thread dumps are possilby the most useful tool in diagnosing concurrancy related issues. You can get a thread dump at any time by sending a break signal to the JVM. In Windows it’s CTRL-Break and in Unix/Linux it’s kill -3 <pid>

The possible issues to look for are:

  • Deadlocks: You ‘ll find something similar to “Found one Java-level deadlock:" in the tread dump. Have a look here for an explanation of deadlocks.
  • Blocked: If there a number of threads blocked then look in the thread dump if they are blocked on the same monitor. This will indicate a heavily contented resource. You can see which thread has locked on the monitor by searching for “locked <monitor_id>“. You may want to review the design of this code (if you can change it) to ensure that you’re not over-zealous with locking or that the locking thread is not blocking on another monitor. Have a look at Software Transactional Memory for a possible alternative to locking.

You may also use “Thread Telemetry” view avialable in most JVM profiling tools (e.g. JProbe, JProfiler, YourKit etc.). This gives you an historical view of thread states in the JVM. Very useful for monitoring JVM performance over a period of time and spotting live-lock situations.