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Stress Testing Web Application using Microsoft's Web Application Stress Tool

Load Balancing and your Web applications

Running an application on more than one machine introduces potential challenges into the design and layout of the application. If you're Web app is not 100% stateless you will run into potential problems with resources required on specific machines. You'll want to think about this as you design your Web applications rather than retrofitting at the last minute.

For example, if you're using a Visual FoxPro backend and you're accessing local FoxPro data in any way, that data must be shared on a central network drive in order for all of the cluster servers to be able to access those files. This includes 'system' files of the applications itself – in Web Connection this would mean things like the log file and the session management table, which would have to be shared on a network drive somewhere. It can also involve things like registry and INI file settings that may be used for configuration of servers. When you build these types of configurations try and build them so that the configuration information can be loaded and maintained from a central store or can be replicated easily on all machines.

If you're using Active Server Pages, you'll have to know that ASP's useful Session and Application objects will not work across multiple machines. This means you either have to run the cluster with Single Affinity to keep clients coming back to the same machine, or you have to come up with a different session management scheme that stores session data in a more central data store such as a database. I personally believe in the latter because most e-Commerce applications already require databases to track users anyway for traffic and site statistics. Adding Session state to these files tends to be trivial without adding significant overhead.

Finally, load balancing can allow you to scale applications with multiple machines relatively easily. To add more load handling capabilities just add more machines. However, remember that when you build applications this way that your weakest link can bring down the entire load balancing scheme. If your SQL backend which all of your cluster nodes are accessing is maxed out, no amount of additional machines in the load balancing cluster will improve performance. The SQL backend is your weakest link and the only way to wring better performance out of it is to upgrade hardware or start splitting databases into separate servers. Other Load Balancing software like Resonate and Local Redirector also have to worry about bottlenecks in the IP manager machine that routes IP requests. NLBS is much better in this respect than many other Load Balancing solutions that require a central manager node since NLBS uses every machine in the cluster as a manager that communicates with the others and every machine is an equal helping in the pickup of IP requests.
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