Welcome!

AJAX & REA Authors: Scott Hirsch, David H Deans, Carmen Gonzalez, Pat Romanski, Aria Blog

Related Topics: Java, AJAX & REA

Java: Article

Performance as Key to Success

How Online News Portals could do better

What factors make you think a web page is good or not? What keeps on that page longer than others? On the one hand it is the content on the page and whether this content is of interest to you. On the other it is the velocity with which you can navigate through the individual pages. High-Speed internet and performance-optimized pages make our day-to-day browsing easier when accessing our emails, tweets, latest updates on sports or news. With all the changes in the recent years in Web Performance Optimization (WPO) we’ve been spoiled by those sites that follow all these Best Practices and boosted their web site experience. No wonder that we start losing our patience with a site that doesn’t respond as fast as we’ve come to expect.

For this particular reason Google modified their ranking algorithm to now also include web performance as one of their metrics. The speed of a web page – the time from entering the URL in the browser until the page has been fully loaded – has now become one factor that defines whether your site shows up on the top or on the bottom of a search result. A good reason to pick “fast by default” as the main theme for this year’s Velocity 2010 Conference. Steve Souders – the driving force behind Web Performance Optimization – hosted this conference and it became clear the significant impact Web Site Performance has on end user behavior and thus the success of a web site.

At last year’s Velocity the first results on Business Impact of Performance were presented to the public. Microsoft, Yahoo and Google presented their results of their internal tests that showed that slower pages have a direct impact on banner clicks – and therefore generated revenue. On the contrary – Shopzilla presented the results of a web site overhaul showing how a faster web site positively impacts the number of users, time spent on site, number of clicks and generated revenue.

Who is faster? Who is better? Bild.de or Spiegel.de?

Similar to my analysis of the FIFA World Cup Website, the Golf Masters or the web site for the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver I wanted to take a closer look at the two biggest German news portals: Bild.de and Spiegel.de.

Based on Alexa, these are the top two news portals in Germany. Both portals probably have a very different reader community as both publishers have a different way to “present” news. My analysis focuses on how well these pages follow the Best Practices on Web Performance Optimization – therefore the actual content doesn’t matter, as it is all about how to deliver the content. Both pages deliver high-volume, multimedia content. Both pages make money with online ads and therefore it is in their interest that many users visit their site, stay as long as possible on their site and click as many ads as possible. We’ve learned from Google, Bing, etc… that speed is a critical factor in keeping user on the page – now let’s see how these two sites do:

There are three great and free tools available that we can use for an analysis like this:

All three tools analyze individual web sites based on the Best Practices from dynaTrace, Yahoo and Google and provide a nice overview on whether the rules discussed in these documents were met or not.

The Test scenario
On both sites – www.bild.de and www.spiegel.de – I looked at two individual pages: the start page and the overview page for politics. Important for my testing is to start with a cleared browser cache in order to analyze the page as a First Time Visitor. It is recommended to run the same test again – this time with a primed browser cache – and then compare the timings.

The Result
Using any of the three mentioned tools is rather simple. dynaTrace AJAX allows me to record a complete browser session which includes all 4 pages I am testing. The following screenshot shows the Performance Report that is opened when double clicking on the recorded session showing the four tested pages:

dynaTrace Performance Report shows all 4 pages in performance comparison

dynaTrace Performance Report shows all 4 pages in performance comparison

We can make the following interesting observations:

  1. Both sites have a First Impression Time of less than 2 seconds. This means that it takes less than 2 seconds until the user gets a first visual impression of the website – which is considered acceptable
  2. The Fully Loaded Time of both start pages is very high – both take about 14 seconds to fully load. The main reason for this is the amount of multimedia content (mainly images)
  3. Bild.de requires 289 HTTP Requests to fully load – that’s 113 more than Spiegel.de
  4. Bild.de uses JavaScript and XHR (XmlHttpRequests) to dynamically load content
  5. The full page size of bild.de is 4.6MB. That is 2.5 times more than Spiegel.de which “only” has 1.8MB

Lifetime of a Web Page
One of the nicest features of dynaTrace AJAX is the Timeline View. This view shows all activities (HTTP Requests, JavaScript execution, Rendering, XHR Requests and page events) that happen on a single page in chronological order. We can also see all requests split up by domain which makes it easy to spot which domains serve a lot of content or which domains serve the content very slowly. Especially on pages that include external 3rd party content, e.g.: Ad-Banners, it is interesting to see how this type of content slows down your page. Google’s PageSpeed has a new feature in their latest version which allows you to focus on your own or external content when analyzing page performance.

The following two screenshots show the dynaTrace Timeline for the start page of Bild.de and Spiegel.de:

Bild.de loads most of their images from a dedicated image domain. Rendering activity seems to very high as well

Bild.de loads most of their images from a dedicated image domain. Rendering activity seems to very high as well

Spiegel.de serves all images from its primary domain. It also hardly uses JavaScript or excessive rendering

Spiegel.de serves all images from its primary domain. It also hardly uses JavaScript or excessive rendering

There are some fundamental differences between the two start pages:

  • Bild.de uses multiple domains to deliver multimedia content, e.g.: bilder.bild.de or newscase.bild.de. Splitting content on multiple domains is a Best Practice that is called Domain Sharding. It has the advantage of letting the browser use more physical network connections to download more content in parallel
  • Spiegel.de delivers most of its multimedia content from the primary www.spiegel.de domain which is the bottleneck of their deployment. A browser has a limited number of physical network connections to a single domain, e.g: IE 7 uses 2 connections. If there are more than 2 resources to be downloaded from a domain they need to get queued up and have to wait for a connection to become available. Domain Sharding solves this problem by splitting content on multiple domains
  • both pages have individual resources that take extraordinarily long to load, e.g.: initial HTML page and CSS files on spiegel.de or 2 Flash components on bild.de
  • Bild.de shows a constantly high rendering activity – caused by animated images as well as the large number of images on that page

Key Performance Indicators
Additionally to the performance metrics as shown in the dynaTrace AJAX Performance Report Overview the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tab shows a set of additional important KPI’s:

Key Performance Indicators for Bild.de - showing high load time, server-time, wait time and number of requests

Key Performance Indicators for Bild.de - showing high load time, server-time, wait time and number of requests

As mentioned earlier, bild.de requires many HTTP Roundtrips (289) in order to load the full page. The number one rule in Web Performance Optimization says to minimize HTTP Roundtrips. 289 roundtrips from browser to server is definitely too much. Every roundtrip needs to wait on a free physical network connection (read more on The Two HTTP Connection Limit Issue). Every roundtrip includes the overhead of network latency between browser and server as well as the overhead of the HTTP Protocol itself (HTTP Headers very often contribute a large percentage of the total roundtrip size).

The KPI Report also shows how many resources (images, CSS, …) are being cached or have to be retrieved from the server every time. The first table shows that 80 resources do not use any browser cache headers. That means that these resources have to be re-downloaded on every subsequent visit of the same user.

Usage of the Browser Cache
The Browser Caching Tab on the dynaTrace AJAX Performance Report performs a detailed analysis of HTTP Cache Headers on every downloaded resource. It is recommended to read Best Practices on Browser Caching which explains available browser caching options.

Bild.de and Spiegel.de don’t make optimal use of the browser cache. The following illustration shows a list of all resources that have no cache setting, a cache setting with a past date or a very short cache expiration date:

Many resoures on the page will not be cached at all or have a very short expiration date

Many resources on the page will not be cached at all or have a very short expiration date

Obviously it doesn’t make sense to cache every image on a page. Images that have a short life time should not fill up the local browser cache unnecessarily. If we have a closer look at some of the images on these pages here it seems that at least some of them could be cached for a longer time as they won’t change that frequently. The following section of the website shows images that are cached only shortly (< 48 hours):

Some examples on images that can be cached longer as they won't change that frequently

Some examples on images that can be cached longer as they won't change frequently

These logos will probably not change every 2 days – therefore it makes sense to specify a Far-Future Expiration Header. This reduces the number of roundtrips for revisiting users.

Reducing HTTP Roundtrips
I talked about this several times now – the top rule is to reduce network roundtrips. Besides making use of the browser’s cache there are other ways to reduce the roundtrips for every user (not just revisiting). dynaTrace AJAX has the Network tab that shows those roundtrips that are considered “unnecessary”:

7 unnecessary HTTP Redirects, CSS, JavaScript and Images on this page

Seven unnecessary HTTP Redirects, CSS, JavaScript and Images on this page

HTTP Redirects allow implementing some important use cases, e.g.: authentication, short memorable URLs or end-user monitoring. Too often though HTTP Redirects are caused by wrong configuration settings on the web server. Redirects that can be avoided are a great way to improve web site performance. On the start page of spiegel.de we have 5 redirects – bild.de has 7. A redirect means an additional HTTP Roundtrip as the browser needs to follow the redirect and request another URL in order to get to the originally requested resource.

Great savings can also be achieved on CSS, JavaScript and image resources. All 3 types can potentially be merged into fewer resources. The Best Practice on Network Requests and Roundtrips talks about CSS and JavaScript merging and compression. It also talked about CSS Sprites. CSS Sprites is a technique to combine multiple images in a single resource and use CSS styles to show the individual images on the correct location on the page. Check out the Best Practices on CSS Sprites.

Reducing resources not only brings the advantage of fewer roundtrips. It also means that fewer resources need to be downloaded from the same domain which reduces waiting time (remember the limitation of 2 connections per domain on IE7 mentioned earlier in this blog?).

On all pages of the two sites (Bild and Spiegel) we can observe too many JavaScript, CSS and image resources. It is not possible to merge all of these files – as this is technically not always feasible. It looks like some of these files could be merged and would therefore greatly enhance load time.

Dynamic content
Even though the majority of the content on a news site is static for at least a while (new news doesn’t arrive every second) there is enough content that needs to be generated dynamically for every user. Examples for this are any type of ticker information, weather or personalized ads.

dynaTrace identifies dynamic content based on the rules defined in Best Practice on Server-Side Performance. All these requests are listed on the Server-Side tab in the Performance Report. The Server-Time is the time also known as Time-To-First-Byte. It is the time from the last byte of the HTTP Request sent until the first byte of the response is received. This also includes network latency between the browser and the server – it is however the closest you can get to the server-time without actually measuring the time on the server. The following illustration shows the dynamic resources of bild.de:

dynaTrace shows slow running server-side requests - both on bild.de as well as Ad-Service domains

dynaTrace shows slow running server-side requests - both on bild.de as well as Ad-Service domains

The slowest requests are stock information requests, the initial page request itself as well as the weather information. We also see some requests to an external ad-service and requests to a web-tracking service (not visible in the screenshot above). Server-side performance mainly becomes an issue for dynamically generated content – and usually only in a scenario where many users want to access data from the server. In this case it becomes an even bigger problem because it prevents a larger number of users to actually click on those ads that generate revenue.

Top 10 Performance Problems taken from Zappos, Monster, Thomson and Co lists the typical server-side performance problems and shows how to prevent them.

Conclusion: Who delivers the fastest News?
In our tests, neither site does particularly well. Both sites deliver lots of content without following the Best Practices on Browser Caching or Network Roundtrips. The fully-loaded time of both pages is very high with 14 seconds each (obviously this also depends on your connection speed). Both sites deliver an acceptable first visual impression (<2 seconds).

dynaTrace, PageSpeed and YSlow allow uploading performance results to ShowSlow. ShowSlow is an Open Source Platform and can be used as performance repository for web metrics. ShowSlow.com hosts a public instance of the ShowSlow server and allows you to upload and compare results:

Performance comparision between the sites using all available Web Performance Tools

Performance comparison between the sites using all available Web Performance Tools

The difference in ranking and grading is that every tool puts the focus on different rules. dynaTrace puts its focus on load time first and then on rules such as browser caching or network roundtrips. YSlow and PageSpeed focus more on the Best Practice rules. A good mix of tool usage is therefore recommended – especially because no tool supports every browser anyway.

Now – who is the winner of this analysis? Let’s hope it is us – the readers of these online news portals. With the result of this analysis, with the help of the tools and with the help of people like Steve Souders, Web Site Performance is put in the spotlight and will ultimately lead to better and faster websites:

Performance == More Users == More Revenue

Related reading:

  1. How better Caching helps Frankfurt’s Airport Website to handle additional load caused by the Volcano Along with so many others I am stranded in Europe...
  2. Hands-On Guide: Verifying FIFA World Cup Web Site against Performance Best Practices Whether you call it Football, Futbol, Fussball, Futebol, Calcio or...
  3. Video on Common Performance Antipatterns online [caption id="attachment_1020" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Parleys - Common Performance Antipatterns"][/caption] Last...
  4. Thomson Reuters on How they deliver High Performance Online Services We have had some great Webinars with our customers in...
  5. www.utah.travel in minutes">How to analyze and speed up content rich web sites likes www.utah.travel in minutes One of my daily activities is checking interesting blog posts...

More Stories By Andreas Grabner

Andreas Grabner has more than a decade of experience as an architect and developer in the Java and .NET space. In his current role, Andi works as a Technology Strategist for Compuware and leads the Compuware APM Center of Excellence team. In his role he influences the Compuware APM product strategy and works closely with customers in implementing performance management solutions across the entire application lifecycle. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences on performance and architecture-related topics, and regularly authors articles offering business and technology advice for Compuware’s About:Performance blog.

@CloudExpo Stories
Samsung VP Jacopo Lenzi, who headed the company's recent SmartThings acquisition under the auspices of Samsung's Open Innovaction Center (OIC), answered a few questions we had about the deal. This interview was in conjunction with our interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. IoT Journal: SmartThings was developed in an open, standards-agnostic platform, and will now be part of Samsung's Open Innovation Center. Can you elaborate on your commitment to keep the platform open? Jacopo Lenzi: S...
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Ashar Baig, Research ...
In her General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Anne Plese, Senior Consultant, Cloud Product Marketing, at Verizon Enterprise, will focus on finding the right mix of renting vs. buying Oracle capacity to scale to meet business demands, and offer validated Oracle database TCO models for Oracle development and testing environments. Anne Plese is a marketing and technology enthusiast/realist with over 19+ years in high tech. At Verizon Enterprise, she focuses on driving growth for the Verizon Cloud pla...
StackIQ offers a comprehensive software suite that automates the deployment, provisioning, and management of Big Infrastructure. With StackIQ’s software, you can spin up fully configured big data clusters, quickly and consistently — from bare-metal up to the applications layer — and manage them efficiently. Our software’s modular architecture allows customers to integrate nearly any application with the StackIQ software stack.
As Platform as a Service (PaaS) matures as a category, developers should have the ability to use the programming language of their choice to build applications and have access to a wide array of services. Bluemix is IBM's open cloud development platform that enables users to easily build cloud-based, creative mobile and web applications without having to spend large amounts of time and resources on configuring infrastructure and multiple software licenses. In this track, you will learn about the...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, will discuss how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money! Speaker Bio: ...
Compute virtualization has been transformational, yet security policy implementation and enforcement has lagged behind in agility and automation. There are a number of key considerations when implementing policy in private and hybrid clouds. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Holland Barry, VP of Technology at Catbird, will discuss the impact of this new paradigm and what organizations can do today to safely move to software-defined network and compute architectures, including: How normal ope...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic • Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff hap...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SOA Software, an API management leader, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SOA Software is a leading provider of API Management and SOA Governance products that equip business to deliver APIs and SOA together to drive their company to meet its business strategy quickly and effectively. SOA Software’s technology helps businesses to accel...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Utimaco will exhibit at SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Utimaco is a leading manufacturer of hardware based security solutions that provide the root of trust to keep cryptographic keys safe, secure critical digital infrastructures and protect high value data assets. Only Utimaco delivers a general-purpose hardware security module (HSM) as a customiz...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
SYS-CON Events announced today that ElasticBox is holding a Hackathon at DevOps Summit, November 6 from 12 pm -4 pm at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. You can enter as an individual or team of up to 10 developers. A New Star Is Born Every Month! All completed ElasticBoxes will then be sent to a judging panel - 12 winners will be featured on the ElasticBox website in 2015. All entrants will receive five full enterprise licenses for one year + ElasticBox headphones + Elasti...
Once the decision has been made to move part or all of a workload to the cloud, a methodology for selecting that workload needs to be established. How do you move to the cloud? What does the discovery, assessment and planning look like? What workloads make sense? Which cloud model makes sense for each workload? What are the considerations for how to select the right cloud model? And how does that fit in with the overall IT tranformation? In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, John Hatem, head of V...
Cloud services are the newest tool in the arsenal of IT products in the market today. These cloud services integrate process and tools. In order to use these products effectively, organizations must have a good understanding of themselves and their business requirements. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Brian Lewis, Principal Architect at Verizon Cloud, will outline key areas of organizational focus, and how to formalize an actionable plan when migrating applications and internal services to...
SAP is delivering break-through innovation combined with fantastic user experience powered by the market-leading in-memory technology, SAP HANA. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Thorsten Leiduck, VP ISVs & Digital Commerce, SAP, will discuss how SAP and partners provide cloud and hybrid cloud solutions as well as real-time Big Data offerings that help companies of all sizes and industries run better. SAP launched an application challenge to award the most innovative SAP HANA and SAP ...
Ixia develops amazing products so its customers can connect the world. Ixia helps its customers provide an always-on user experience through fast, secure delivery of dynamic connected technologies and services. Through actionable insights that accelerate and secure application and service delivery, Ixia's customers benefit from faster time to market, optimized application performance and higher-quality deployments.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calm.io has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of DevOps Summit Silicon Valley, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calm.io is a cloud orchestration platform for AWS, vCenter, OpenStack, or bare metal, that runs your CL tools puppet, Chef, shell, git, Jenkins, nagios, and will soon support New Relic and Docker. It can run hosted, or on premise and provides VM automation / expiry, self-service portals,...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue bu...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce t...
Blue Box has closed a $10 million Series B financing. The round was led by a strategic investor and included participation from prior investors including Voyager Capital and Founders Collective, as well as the Blue Box executive team. This round follows a $4.3 million Series A closed in December of 2012 and led by Voyager Capital. In May of this year, the company announced general availability of its private cloud as a service offering, Blue Box Cloud. Since that release, the company has dem...