Agile Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Jim Kaskade, Lori MacVittie

Related Topics: Agile Computing, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Microsoft Cloud

Agile Computing: Article

Testing Basics Might Have Averted Obamacare Health Site Fiasco

Attention to testing best practices could’ve avoided a hellish user experience and bad PR

It made headlines for all the wrong reasons when it launched on October 1, but things could have been so different for the HealthCare.gov website if only it had been tested properly before release. Users trying to enroll encountered all sorts of glitches, including very slow page updates, "page not found" errors and frequent crashes.

Early server outages were blamed on an unexpectedly high volume of traffic as nearly 5 million Americans tried to access the website on day one, but it soon emerged that serious flaws existed in the software, and the security was not properly assessed or signed off.

According to CBS, the security testing was never completed. Fox uncovered a testing bulletin from the day before the launch that revealed the site could only handle 1,100 users "before response time gets too high." The Washington Examiner revealed, via an anonymous source, that the full testing was delayed until just a few days before the launch and instead of the 4 to 6 months of testing that should have been conducted it was only tested for 4 to 6 days.

Amid the apologies, the resignations, and the frantic efforts to fix it up by the end of November, there are serious and important lessons to be learned. A proper testing plan with a realistic schedule would have prevented this catastrophe.

Start with an Estimate
It's incredibly rare for any software to be released with zero defects, but major functional bugs and inadequate security is certainly avoidable if you plan correctly. That starts with a realistic estimate of the scope of the testing that's required. The QA department must be consulted and asked to use their experience to provide a picture of how much testing is needed.

That plan will be based on documentation outlining the requirements of the software and discussion with the developers, as well as the wealth of experience that testing professionals possess. If requirements change significantly, or new requests are introduced, then the plan must be altered to cater for that. This is one major area where things obviously went awry. According to the Washington Examiner's source there were "ever-changing, conflicting and exceedingly late project directions. The actual system requirements for Oct. 1 were changing up until the week before."

This is a clear recipe for disaster.

Agile Testing
Modern software development is typically based on Agile methodology where requirements are built into the system quickly and feedback informs the project going forward. This approach does not mesh with traditional testing where testers would work out a comprehensive test plan based on detailed documentation, and then carry out that testing in a predefined block at the end of the project.

To adapt testing for modern software development it pays to get testers involved earlier in the process. They need to understand the system and really identify with the end user. It's much more cost effective to fix flaws and bugs sooner rather than later.

There's a logistical consideration as well. Each new build means a full regression test, bug fix verification, and a healthy dose of exploratory testing to make sure the new features are working as intended. It's important for the test team to scale up as the amount of work grows, and as much of the regression testing as possible should be automated to reduce the workload.

Exploratory Testing
With a fast-paced development it is absolutely vital to get experienced testers and have them perform some level of exploratory testing. This combines their knowledge about how the system should work with educated guesses about where it might fail. It's also very useful when documentation is lacking because testers can effectively design and execute tests at the same time.

Targeted exploratory testing is the perfect complement to scripted testing. It requires some creative thinking and some freedom for the tester, but it can be a great way of emulating an end user and ensuring that specific features and functions actually deliver what they're supposed to. Properly recorded by good cloud-based testing tools, the data can be used to provide clarity for developers trying to fix problems, and it can serve as the basis of scripted testing or even automated tests in the future.

Test Management
A project such as this, where disparate teams have to work together toward a common goal, can be an integration nightmare. Test management can be a real challenge, so the right tool is invaluable. The full lifecycle of every defect or requirement should be recorded to produce a clear chain from the original feature request, through the test case, to the defect, and on to repeated test cycles. It has to be clear who is responsible for each action every step of the way, so the blame game can be avoided entirely.

The ultimate aim is traceability, usability, and transparency.

If this data is gathered then it becomes easier to apply root cause analysis at a later date and discover where things went wrong. Remember that the earlier you can catch and fix the defect, the cheaper and easier it is to do. Identifying the root causes of the problems with the HealthCare.gov website requires an objective analysis of the original requirements, the documentation, the code implementation and integration, the test planning, and the test cycles. Understanding what went wrong through this process could ensure that the same mistakes are not made again in the future.

Knowing When to Pull the Trigger
Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, apologized for her part in the botched website launch, but the real problem, and her cardinal sin, was to tell Obama that the website was ready to be launched in the first place.

QA departments are not the gatekeepers for projects, business decisions are always going to trump everything else, and the pressure to deliver ensures that every project launches with defects in it, but you ignore them at your peril. If the testers had been consulted about the state of the website and the back end before launch, you can bet they would have pointed out that it wasn't ready for prime time. A one- or two-month delay would undoubtedly have been greeted with some alarm and criticism, but it would have caused far less damaging PR than releasing an unfinished and potentially insecure product.

More Stories By Vu Lam

Vu Lam is founder and CEO of QASymphony, developers of defect capture tools that track user interactions with applications. He was previously with First Consulting Group and was an early pioneer in Vietnam’s offshore IT services industry since 1995. He holds an MS degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University. You may reach him at [email protected]

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that 910Telecom will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Housed in the classic Denver Gas & Electric Building, 910 15th St., 910Telecom is a carrier-neutral telecom hotel located in the heart of Denver. Adjacent to CenturyLink, AT&T, and Denver Main, 910Telecom offers connectivity to all major carriers, Internet service providers, Internet backbones and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Coalfire will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Coalfire is the trusted leader in cybersecurity risk management and compliance services. Coalfire integrates advisory and technical assessments and recommendations to the corporate directors, executives, boards, and IT organizations for global brands and organizations in the technology, cloud, health...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Transparent Cloud Computing (T-Cloud) Consortium will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. The Transparent Cloud Computing Consortium (T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data proces...
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
In his general session at 18th Cloud Expo, Lee Atchison, Principal Cloud Architect and Advocate at New Relic, discussed cloud as a ‘better data center’ and how it adds new capacity (faster) and improves application availability (redundancy). The cloud is a ‘Dynamic Tool for Dynamic Apps’ and resource allocation is an integral part of your application architecture, so use only the resources you need and allocate /de-allocate resources on the fly.
We're entering the post-smartphone era, where wearable gadgets from watches and fitness bands to glasses and health aids will power the next technological revolution. With mass adoption of wearable devices comes a new data ecosystem that must be protected. Wearables open new pathways that facilitate the tracking, sharing and storing of consumers’ personal health, location and daily activity data. Consumers have some idea of the data these devices capture, but most don’t realize how revealing and...
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MathFreeOn will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MathFreeOn is Software as a Service (SaaS) used in Engineering and Math education. Write scripts and solve math problems online. MathFreeOn provides online courses for beginners or amateurs who have difficulties in writing scripts. In accordance with various mathematical topics, there are more tha...
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftNet Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftNet Solutions specializes in Enterprise Solutions for Hadoop and Big Data. It offers customers the most open, robust, and value-conscious portfolio of solutions, services, and tools for the shortest route to success with Big Data. The unique differentiator is the ability to architect and ...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Niagara Networks will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Niagara Networks offers the highest port-density systems, and the most complete Next-Generation Network Visibility systems including Network Packet Brokers, Bypass Switches, and Network TAPs.
In an era of historic innovation fueled by unprecedented access to data and technology, the low cost and risk of entering new markets has leveled the playing field for business. Today, any ambitious innovator can easily introduce a new application or product that can reinvent business models and transform the client experience. In their Day 2 Keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Mercer Rowe, IBM Vice President of Strategic Alliances, and Raejeanne Skillern, Intel Vice President of Data Center Group and ...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Virgil consists of an open-source encryption library, which implements Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) and Elliptic Curve Integrated Encryption Scheme (ECIES) (including RSA schema), a Key Management API, and a cloud-based Key Management Service (Virgil Keys). The Virgil Keys Service consists of a public key service and a private key escrow service. 

Fact is, enterprises have significant legacy voice infrastructure that’s costly to replace with pure IP solutions. How can we bring this analog infrastructure into our shiny new cloud applications? There are proven methods to bind both legacy voice applications and traditional PSTN audio into cloud-based applications and services at a carrier scale. Some of the most successful implementations leverage WebRTC, WebSockets, SIP and other open source technologies. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Da...
Fifty billion connected devices and still no winning protocols standards. HTTP, WebSockets, MQTT, and CoAP seem to be leading in the IoT protocol race at the moment but many more protocols are getting introduced on a regular basis. Each protocol has its pros and cons depending on the nature of the communications. Does there really need to be only one protocol to rule them all? Of course not. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, walk you through how Oct...