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Spotlight lights the way to low-stress beta testing

Krissi Danielsson, Assistant Editor

Running software through a metaphorical Demolition Derby is the only way developers can make sure it's going to hold up in the real world. In fact, the software developers at Santa Monica, CA-based Del Rey Technologies Inc. spend almost as much time trying to break their products as they spend developing them. That's why the company recently staged an exhaustive search to find tools that could shorten the testing time.

One of the core products that Del Rey Technologies develops is a highly scalable instant messaging program. Scalability is a capability that has to be tested in action by placing great loads on software and seeing what it can carry and still be fully functional. So, Del Rey's engineers created a tool that puts a lot of stress on each version of the IM software. This stress test ensures that a business could not quickly outgrow the program's capabilities, said James Ramlochan, vice president of business development for Del Rey.

Even with the in-house testing product as an aid, however, Del Rey's engineers kept running into a time-consuming snag in the process. Once the software failed, Ramlochan explained, "it was hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem was." What was needed, then, was a tool that would make it easy to find faulty code.

Ramlochan set out on a search for a performance monitoring solution that could help his developers find the root cause of software problems. The challenge he faced was that the

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cost of that solution would have to be passed on to clients, and clients would balk at a big price increase. Unfortunately, Ramlochan's first searches turned up many monitoring solutions that offered the capabilities Del Rey needed but were "really expensive."

The right combination of cost and functionality came in the form of Spotlight, a product from Irvine, CA-based Quest Software. A diagnostic tool, Spotlight graphically displays server processes and data flow in systems. It displays color-coded warning lights that point administrators and engineers to areas in their systems that may be problematic.

Del Rey first put Spotlight to the test in instant messaging scalability trials. The effect on Del Rey's development process was immediate. "We loaded it up on our Windows 2000 server, and we started to increase the load on the IM software," Ramlochan said. "We watched Spotlight's diagnosis of memory and performance usage, and we could immediately see where the software started to fail in our instant messaging program. Spotlight's usage of green and red lights as indicators make it very easy to see where the problems might be. To graphically pinpoint failure points by color is really cool."

Implementing Spotlight "wasn't that difficult," Ramlochan added. "You've just got to sit down and take the time to see what each parameter is."

After seeing Spotlight at work in the in-house scalability testing product, Del Rey decided to try it out on its other products. "We tested it on a SQL Server solution that stores information in various databases," Ramlochan said. "We used a stress test that we developed on the SQL Server software and used Spotlight to watch where it failed." The results were positive, with great time savings in pinpointing and repairing faulty code. After the success of these tests, Del Rey began using Spotlight in tests of solutions built for Windows 2000 server environments and Web servers.

Used together, Spotlight and Del Rey's load testing software have dramatically increased the development team's productivity, according to Ramlochan. As a result, Del Rey's developers have more time to spend creating solutions and spend less time breaking and fixing them. Even better, they don't feel like crash test dummies after software Demolition Derbies anymore.


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