Different types of website performance testing - Part 3: Spike Testing

By Load Impact. On 2013-09-04

This is the third of a series of posts describing the different types of web performance testing. In the first post, we gave an overview of what load testing is about and the different types of load tests available. Our second post gave an introduction to load testing in general, and described what a basic ramp-up schedule would look like.

We now move on to spike testing. Spike testing is another form of stress testing that helps to determine how a system performs under a rapid increase of workload. This form of load testing helps to see if a system responds well and maintains stability during bursts of concurrent user activity over varying periods of time. This should also help to verify that an application is able to recover between periods of sudden peak activity.

So when should you run a spike test?

The following are some typical example case scenarios where we see users running a spike test, and how your load schedule should be configured in Load Impact to emulate the load.

Advertising campaigns

Advertising campaigns are one of the most common reasons why people run load tests. Why? Well, take a lesson from Coca Cola - With an ad spend of US$3.5 million for a 30 second Superbowl commercial slot (not including customer cost), it probably wasn’t the best impression to leave for customers who flooded to their Facebook app.. and possibly right into Pepsi’s arms. If you’re expecting customers to flood in during the ad campaign, ramping up in 1-3 minutes is probably a good idea. Be sure to hold the load time for at least twice the amount of time it takes users to run through the entire scenario so you get accurate and stable data in the process.

load testing with Load Impact


Some contests require quick response times as part of the challenge issued to users. The problem with this is that you might end up with what is almost akin to a DDOS attack every few minutes. A load schedule comprising of a number of sudden spikes would help to simulate such a situation.

load testing with Load Impact

TV screenings/Website launches

If you’re doing a live stream of a very popular TV show (think X Factor), you might want to consider getting a load test done prior to the event. Slow streaming times or a website crash is the fastest way to drive your customers to the next streaming app/online retailer available. Take Click Frenzy as an example - they’re still working to recover their reputation. Streaming servers also tend to be subject to prolonged stress when many users all flock to watch an event or show, so we recommend doing a relatively quick ramp up and ending with a long holding time.

load testing with Load Impact

Ticket sales

Remember the 2012 London Olympics? Thousands of frustrated sports fans failed to get tickets to the events they wanted. Not only was it a waste of time for customers, but it also served to be a logistics nightmare for event organizers. Bearing in mind that a number of users would be ‘camping’ out on the website awaiting ticket launch, try doing a two stage quick ramp up followed by a long holding time to simulate this traffic.

load testing with Load Impact

TechCrunched… literally!

If you are trying to get yourself featured on TechCrunch (or any similar website that potentially might generate a lot of readership), it’s probably a good idea to load test your site to make sure it can handle the amount of traffic. It wouldn’t do to get so much publicity and then have half of them go away with a bad taste in their mouth! In these cases, traffic tends to come in slightly slower and in more even bouts over longer periods of time. A load schedule like this would probably work better:

load testing with Load Impact

Secondary Testing

If your test fails at any one point of time during the initial spike test, one of the things you might want to consider doing is a step test. This would help you to isolate where the breaking points are, which would in turn allow you to identify bottlenecks. This is especially useful after a spike test, which could ramp up too quickly and give you an inaccurate picture of when your test starts to fail.

load testing with Load Impact

That being said, not all servers are built to handle huge spikes in activity. Failing to handle a spike test does not mean that these same servers cannot handle that amount of load. Some applications are only required to handle large constant streams of load, and are not expected to face sharp spikes of user activity. It is for this reason that Load Impact automatically increases ramp-up times with user load. These are suggested ramp up timings, but you can of course adjust them to better suit your use case scenario.