Angus McDonald on User Stories

User Story Card*I really liked Angus’ recent post on User Stories (Wikipedia link about User Stories here) and how he grapples with question of whether they are even needed. User Stories feature prominently in the upcoming Visual Studio 2010 releases, so you’re sure to hear more about them (in the Microsoft space that is).

The value in Angus’ post is how he outlines the issues (and thoughts from a variety of sources) without dividing it into a ponderous project-specific debate. Methodologies and approaches (hello Planning Poker) are usually horses for courses decisions in my experience. They’ll work in some places and not in others – there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. And perhaps even if a methodology fits a project, it may not suit the team in place (ie they might be resistant) – and you end up facing whether to change the methodology for the team or change the team for the project…

Interestingly (for me at least) much of the agile thought process that’s been thrashed out in developer circles over the years has started working well for me in the SEO space. Clients are keen to avoid big ranking/traffic/PPC-spend proposals, and instead work on weekly goals (they’re almost iterations). At one client I even use cards each meeting to nut out the high level goals which we then prioritise, allocate resources budgets to, etc. In fact, if I were looking to write a link-bait story I think something along the lines of ‘7 Tips for writing SEO User Stories’ would have legs :-)

Note: I used to work with Angus at Elcom and whilst I hold his opinion on most things in high regard, when it comes to his thoughts on Avatar he is clearly out of his mind** ;). Speaking of ex-colleagues, Anthony Milner’s post yesterday on HTML 5 in Google Chrome was fun, and Sam Fu’s blog is always worth a read.

*Image taken from SSW’s User Stories rule.

** UPDATE: Angus has posted his full thoughts on Avatar here, where he goes into 3D, gaming and Project Natal.

Elcom Intranet Manager launch

One of the mistakes I made when I started at Elcom was in thinking we were just a web company. You know, web sites and not much else. Elcom

But as I quickly learned, we’re also in the business of intranets – in fact we’ve been building significant Intranets for clients for a while now. Turns out I wasn’t alone in my thinking – many people assume we are just focussed on web sites. It’s another reminder that we need to improve our message. So, with that in mind, next week we are launching a new product: IntranetManager.NET


Why a new product?

You may be familiar with our flagship content management product: Community Manager. It’s an awesome product (says me!) but can be overwhelming, and consequently most people don’t know it is also a powerful intranet solution. They think – like I did initially – that it is only for web sites.

Over the last few months we’ve been looking at how we can package up our modules a little more helpfully for clients. Instead of bamboozling them with a huge list of modules, we’ve streamlined a product release for businesses that just need to get an Intranet up and running really fast.Elcom Intranet Manager One of my Elcom colleagues, Anthony Milner, explains this well on his blog.

We’ve called it Intranet Manager, and it is essentially our base Community Manager product plus six of our main modules bundled into a simple, easy to use solution. You can always add other modules later, but in its installed form you get a nice intranet up and running very easily.


Why you need an intranet

But why would you want an intranet?

There’s plenty of reasons, but the main one we are running into is the problem of unstructured data. Typically companies have information all over the place. Different formats, different locations, non-searchable, multiple copies of each, etc, etc. And to be fair, Elcom is no different. We struggle daily with masses of information everywhere. It’s not like we have it perfected yet. But one thing we have done, is very simply put a structure around it, using Intranet Manager. By moving all our forms and workflows (eg leave requests, new employee processes, etc), documents and knowledge bases to a central site, we’ve been able to improve discoverability and reduce duplication. Being able to search easily across all the data is very handy.


IntranetManager and SharePoint

You may be interested to learn that at Elcom we actually have two intranets. One is built on our own product – IntranetManager.NET, and the other is built on SharePoint. We’ve done this for a few reasons. Since we’re a web and intranet development company, part of building the best solution for our clients is to be intimately involved in using a number of different products. SharePoint is wonderful for some things (eg Office integration), and perhaps not so good for others (eg content authoring and management). We love SharePoint, but Intranet Manager fits in nicely, being strong in specific areas where we sometimes struggle with SharePoint.

What does this mean? It means that we don’t think of ourselves competing with SharePoint. We deliver SharePoint based solutions (example), and we also deliver solutions based on our own products (example). We aim to be well placed guiding customers in how to best solve their information and content management challenges.


Product launch… and free breakfast

We’re officially launching Intranet Manager next Tuesday (18 Nov) in Sydney. It’s in the CBD and kicks off at 8am.

You should come along. If nothing else, there’s a free breakfast in it for you!

But seriously, if you are interested in hearing two industry experts discuss intranet scenarios, then please join us:

  • Derek Jardine will be covering how to ‘Manage information in your organisation’
  • Stephen Collins will be presenting on ‘Web 2.0 and your intranet’

We also have Orica (one of our clients) giving a quick case study of how they’ve used Intranet Manager in their organisation.

After that, one of the Elcom dudes will be giving a quick demo of Intranet Manager and answering questions.

You can register here.


Feel free to leave me a comment if you’ve got a question or thought about intranets or our products.

Leaving Elcom – looking for my next role

Last week, following probably the worst IT downturn in the last 8 years I decided to leave Elcom. Crazy huh? Yeah, it may turn out to be foolish, but in this post I aim to explain why, and in the following post, what I‘m looking for as my next step.

I thought I’d put this out there and see if it opens the door to any opportunities.


Have I resigned?

No I haven’t actually resigned as yet. But I spent time last week chatting with our CEO, covering why it was time for me to move on. Yesterday I spent most of the day individually informing my team, and letting them know the reasons why.

It’s strange to be announcing you are leaving when you don’t have anything lined up yet, but I’ve chosen this path for a few reasons:

The first is that I ask this of my staff. From the start I’ve always encouraged my team to talk to me about any problems, concerns, de-motivations, aspirations, job offers they are persuing, before they resign. That way, it gives me an opportunity to ‘fix’ any problems if I can. And if I can’t it allows me to help them find their next role, and in the process avoid all the hassle of sneaking around to job interviews, taking hushed calls from recruiters, and possibly unsettling the rest of the team. The team have responded well to this, and a few possible losses over the last year have been saved. They are happier and motivated, and everyone is better for it.

So, it seemed only fair that I follow the same process with my boss.

The second reason is so that I can write the post you are now reading! My preference is to find my next role via the community. So, consider this a social networking experiment. When I left my last role prior to joining Elcom I did it quietly and using recruiters. It wasn’t until I’d accepted the role that I let most people know. At that time a number of them mentioned they’d wished they’d known I was looking. This isn’t to say that I think I’m fantastic and everyone wants me :-) Rather, it’s just that I have a reasonably specific skill set and I’m know there’s places where I’d be a perfect fit. By blogging about it here I may have a better chance at finding those places.

(Plus, in my next post I’ll be mentioning that I’m happy to relocate, and since Australia only represents 10.6% of my blog readership, using this blog to reach a wider audience seems useful.)


Why leave now?

I love Elcom. I work with a fantastic team. We have a fantastic product. My boss – John Anstey, the CEO of Elcom – is quite simply the best boss I’ve worked for in my career. Anthony Milner – one of my co-directors – is an exceptional Projects Director, and has challenged me to work at my best this last year. Overall it’s been a wonderful experience. I could go on, but I will spare you the gushing sentiment. Suffice to say Elcom has been a special experience (and I’ve happily agreed to be available as an ongoing consultant in a few strategic areas).

So why leave? Basically, it comes down to this: I’m looking for my next big challenge.

As much as a cliché as that is, I’m simply looking for something bigger.


Yes, but now?

But why leave now, with an economic downturn in play, layoffs happening and general uncertainty gripping people?

As much as this is a scary time, I see it as a rare time of opportunity.

The next few months are going to sort the weak companies from the strong. As I’ve mentioned previously, now is the time that the truly excellent companies will flourish. The mediocre companies will disappear. I’m looking to join a larger company that is truly excellent.


But will those companies be looking for someone like me?

Obviously that’s the scary part!

However, one piece of advice my father taught as a teenager has really stuck with me. He said quite simply:

There’s always a job for the best

I believe that. So, no matter how difficult the economic climate there’s always going to be a position for the exceptional candidate. The question is of course whether I am exceptional :-)

And my answer to that is: Yes – for some roles out there I am going to be perfect. I work really hard on my key skills (we’ll go through those in my next post), and I’m optimistic there’s a good fit out there waiting for me.

I hope this doesn’t sound too arrogant. One of the difficult things about looking for a job is you need to learn how to sell yourself. It’s probably an Australian thing, but we generally have a difficult time talking ourselves up and promoting ourselves. So please forgive me if I don’t quite get the balance right…


What kind of company are you looking for?

I think it is inevitable that I’ll end up working for Microsoft at some stage. Whether that is in the next few months, or the next few years remains to be seen. It’s no secret (if you read my blog) that I’m passionate about Microsoft and its products. My great love is applying Microsoft technology appropriately to achieve business outcomes. So any role that allows me to do that is a dream job. Working within the walls of Microsoft would only make that sweeter.



There’s no set timeframe for my leaving (as I haven’t officially resigned as yet) but I’m thinking within the next two months. I’d ideally like to have this sorted out before Christmas (and I’m already talking to a few people).


Thought for the day

I’ll close with the following quote. I’m not sure who first said it, but it pretty well sums up my general outlook on life at this point:

The enemy of a great life… is a good life.

I’m extremely grateful for everything in my life. But I believe we should also be continually striving to improve.

In the next post I’ll go through my thoughts for where that next step might be.

ELCOM: Web Content Management

Product good. Marketing… not so good

It’s been an interesting exercise thinking about marketing at Elcom over the last feMarketing FAILw months.

In my opinion (biased as I am) I think we have an excellent product. However, something we haven’t been very good at is the marketing side of things. Often people have heard of us, but they don’t really know what we do. We mention that we have  a content management system (CMS) product and they ask how it compares to WordPress… 

We’ve obviously not communicated our differentiation very well! (And conversely WordPress has been very good at getting its brand out)


A change is coming

But I’m glad to see that our marketing is starting to change (although it is only early days) and we are getting the message out a little better. If you take a look at our new site for example, we’ve aimed to highlight our products as well as focusing more on what our customers (and potential customers) are looking to solve.


Working on the wrong stuff

A trap of course, is that many companies (Elcom included) tend to take on the wrong kind of work. A profitable opportunity comes along and we find it hard to resist, even if it is a departure from our core skill-set. This is problematic (since we probably won’t deliver a superior solution) and costly (especially in terms of opportunity cost – our resources could be better utilised elsewhere)…


What’s the point of this post?

Apart from being a shameless plug for Elcom :-), it’s also an important reminder for technical people in general. My role is primarily a technical one, and yet more and more it is clear that I’m really in business development.

As developers we can often fall into the trap of thinking that great technology is all it takes (ie ‘build it and they will come’). This is only half of the equation. As developers we need to understand the problem from a business perspective (as well as a technical challenge). Obvious I know, but often neglected.

Combining this thought with the trap highlighted earlier, we can see where marketing fits in: It’s about ensuring there is a good fit between the problem our client is experiencing and the solutions we can provide. Clients want to find someone appropriate to solve their problem, and we want to work with clients that we can greatly help.

And by marketing I mean the strategic market segmenting, informed targeting and proper execution (ie it’s not about having a few brochures, glossy web site and generalised AdWords).

So, here’s my point: Marketing is a good thing. It’s all about getting the right people connected.

(Interesting factoid: Microsoft has more people in sales and marketing than they do in development)


About Elcom

So, given that this post is 50% advertisement for Elcom, let me at least take the opportunity to clarify what we do:

What does Elcom do?Elcom Technology - Web Content Management

Elcom is in the Web Content Management space (Wikipedia article here). That is, we help clients use their web, intranet and extranet to improve business.

Companies have woken up to the fact that their web assets need to improve processes, bring in revenue, cut costs etc, not just act as brochure-ware (and note: I’m including fancy Flash, Silverlight and dynamic sites as brochure-ware).

Elcom is both a product company (see our products) and a services company (see our services).


What does the CommunityManager.NET product do?

Community Manager* is our flagship Enterprise Web Content Management product. It’s been around for a while (very stable), has a ton of modules (this should clear up any comparisons with WordPress) and is well supported (we have a dedicated helpdesk and technical support team).

The key to content management is simple tools. Community Manager has a really slick interface for managing thousands of pages easily and securely. It is perhaps ironic, that with all the features our product has, often the highest priority for clients is just having something that their staff can actually use!

(You’d be surprised at how many CMS products are practically useless once you start managing more than a hundred pages or have multiple content authors)

Aside: Our latest version is released later this month (sneak peak here). And we also have products for managing corporate training, and enabling enterprise search.


Our clientsElcom Client Case studies

Our products are targeted at mid-to-large size companies (ie with possibly hundreds, but usually thousands of pages). Community Manager is behind many large sites you may have dealt with (eg Austrade, Hyundai, Lend Lease, D-Link, Selleys).

Many of our clients are running their entire business on Community Manager.


How can Elcom help?

Our clients tend to be a little confused (possibly frustrated) about how to best harness the web, create a useful intranet, enable an extranet, put up an online store, manage a portal, etc.

We’ve been able to help them

  • sort out their real business requirements
  • deal with all the stakeholders, and then
  • provide all the services they need in order to make it happen, including:
    • project management
    • scoping
    • information architecture
    • graphic design
    • SEO
    • custom development
    • implementation
    • hosting
    • helpdesk

Here’s a few interesting scenarios we’ve delivered lately. And here’s a few case studies (with plenty more being written up in the coming weeks).

If you’ve got any questions feel free to give me a call to discuss: +61 2 9209 4468 (or use my contact page)



We’ve finally woken up to the fact that marketing is a good thing!

Our product and service offering isn’t changing much, but the way we connect with companies is. It’s about ensuring we’re a good match and probably saying ‘No’ more often.


End of advertisement :-)


* We refer to it as Community Manager, CommunityManager.NET and CM depending on the context. The names are interchangeable.

Referral: We’ve engaged The Jenkins Partnership to help organise all our marketing strategy and execution. Feel free to contact Leighton if you need some of his help.

Top image credit: FAIL Blog


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Atlassian and Microsoft Office

The links between Atlassian and Microsoft Office grow stronger with Atlassian’s latest Connector between Confluence (their Wiki product) and Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. In this case the Connector allows content on the Confluence Wiki to be imported, edited and updated from Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Check out the super simple 3 and half minute video to gain a good understanding. The thing I like about the Atlassian offering is how damn simple it is!

(Note: This is different to their SharePoint connector beta that they released last October)

This is of particular interest to us at Elcom because we’ve recently started work on a Microsoft Word Connector for our Community Manager product. The result will be to allow editing/update of content (ie content management) directly from Word. (Note: not to be confused with document management eg how the Office suite does works with SharePoint – which is something else entirely, but something we are also looking at). 

BTW if you are interested in Atlassian and Microsoft Office then make sure you’re at the Sydney Business & Technology User Group (SBTUG) next week (Wed 27 Aug) – we’ve got Mark Hetherington (from TileFile) talking about how he runs his whole software company on Atlassian JIRA & Confluence, and then Alistair Speirs talking about how to improve business processes using Forms in Microsoft Office. Well worth attending – details here.

(via Alistair Speirs)

Microsoft’s new Green Strategy – it’s called Vista 64 bit

The Techies at Elcom completely reformatted my machine a few weeks back and installed Vista 64bit. This has been great because I can now access all 4GB of RAM (woo hoo!). But there’s been another unexpected benefit…

It turns out that there’s no printer drivers for our Elcom printers that work on Vista 64. So, for the last 4 weeks I’ve been unable to print anything.

Here’s the thing: For the first few days I found it really annoying – I’d lost a part of my normal daily processes. But after that I didn’t notice it all. In fact, I haven’t printed a single thing for almost a month. And I don’t miss it.

I tend to take my notebook to more meetings (since I use it to pull up meeting agendas etc) and that in itself has been a bonus – I spend far too much time in meetings these days, and being able to check email, intranet articles, etc has been a productivity boost.

So Microsoft, whilst I may have started this post tongue-in-cheek, I finish it with thanks. Seriously.

(I’ve told the Techies NOT to tell me if they find any drivers that work…)

ELCOM: New product launch – Elcom TrainingManager.NET

We’re launching a new product this week. This Thursday morning to be exact.TrainingManager.NET Pathway Diagram

You may know that Elcom, where I work, is a web company that builds products for medium to large companies. We do intranets, extranets, portals, web sites, etc. Plus we do a fair bit of customisation.

Over the last few months we’ve been turning things around a little and ‘productizing’ our custom projects into products in their own right.

TrainingManager.NET is one such product.

Although it’s already live in two reasonably large companies, we’re only now doing the official launch. It’s a breakfast this Thursday and I hear the food is going to be good!

There’s a press release here if you’re interested in the marketing spin :-)


Here’s the details if you are interested in coming along (free to attend):

  • Date: Thursday 29 May 2008
  • Time: 8:00am – 10:00am
  • Location: Hamilton Parkes Room, NSW Trade and Investment Centre, Level 47, MLC Centre, 19 Martin Place, Sydney, NSW
  • Register here


It’s got a little bit of press (here, here and here), but the main thing I like is that it is running on .NET 3.5 – yay for that! Of course you shouldn’t just consider a product based on the underlying technology – that’d be a feature not a benefit right?

So, what does TrainingManager do? Here’s an description (complete with terms like ‘cutting edge’ ;-)). We’ll have some nicer collateral coming in the next few weeks with cool screens shots, a micro site, etc.

Basically – as the name suggests – it allows a company to manage all the training for its staff and customers. It covers training pathways, competencies, face-to-face training, training events, testing & verification, plus a whole bunch of other goodies. If this is of interest let me know and I’ll post a few more details (or contact me and we can chat).


BTW we’re thinking of re-branding the product with a cool, hip, sexy name. Angus suggested ‘Mustang’. Why? No particular reason – it just sounds cool. Elcom Mustang. Hmmmmm I think I like it.

I’m open to suggestions…


CodeCampOz and SBTUG this month

I’m heading home from the US of A today, which sees me arrive back in Sydney (hopefully) on Thursday morning 24 April.


The next day I head down to Wagga for CodeCampOz. That finishes up on Sunday (27 April) and I fly back to Sydney that night.


On Monday I’m back in the office, ready to start spreading the good news to the team (within NDA guidelines of course – the best comment I read on Twitter regarding disclosure was this: What happens in Seattle, stays in Seattle).

It’s going to be an interesting week. We’ve been working through the Elcom strategy lately, and it’s time to change gears a little. The MVP Summit couldn’t have come at a better time.


Next Wednesday (30 April) we’ve got the Sydney Business & Technology User Group (SBTUG) on. Mitch Denny is presenting on the Evolution of Enterprise Software Development. This will be interesting for all attendees since Mitch is such a thinker as well as accomplished developer. More details here.

Perhaps not quite so interesting (and hence why I’m presenting second – you can leave after half-time pizza if you like) will be my presentation on the Microsoft 2008 stack. I say ‘perhaps’ because if you have been caught up in all the recent launch events then you’ll know pretty much everything I’ll be covering.

It’ll be a high level overview of Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008. It’ll be focused on business benefits of these products, as opposed to just highlighting features, and I promise not to get caught up doing marketecture fluff. It’ll be looking at things like the differences between Windows Standard and Web Server editions, the benefits of IIS7, What it means to ‘target’ different Framework versions, Why spatial data types are important and things like that.

At our last meeting there were a number of people who requested more information on the stack, so my session aims to introduce it all. In future meetings we’ll drill into a little more detail.

But make sure you come for Mitch Denny’s session.

Elcom upgrade of Microsoft CRM 3.0 to 4.0

Brad Marsh has a few screenshots of our upgrade experience from Microsoft CRM 3.0 to 4.0

Summary: it went extremely well.

My comment: CRM 4.0 seems to be slower than 3.0 but since it’s running on an old server, it was expected (new server infrastructure coming in the next few weeks – Yay!). Overall, no real problems. Our CRM scenario is pretty standard with only a few customizations, so we aren’t really representative of companies that have lots of changes.

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ELCOM: More Microsoft 2008 Stack testing results

We've done a little more testing of our product on the Microsoft 2008 stack and I'm pleased (and a little worried) with the results.

The pleasing part: we are now showing results on the 2008 stack as being 16X faster than the 2003/2005 stack.

The worrying part: results of 16X faster are very high – what if we've tested something incorrectly…

So, the goal of this post is to explain what we did and how we measured the results. Then, I'm after your feedback on what else we should be checking.



First, the background.

In January we moved our Elcom web site over to the 2008 stack. That is, we recompiled our entire Community Manager application to target the .NET 3.5 Framework, moved to SQL Server 2008 CTP5 as the back-end and hosted it on Windows 2008 Server RC0. We immediately noticed that the site was much quicker. Browsing the site was faster and managing the content (through all the web based administration tools was very snappy). We then did some basic testing by launching 1,000 concurrent requests and measuring the delivery times. You can read the full results on Alan's blog, but in summary, the 2008 stack was 5 times faster. Impressive stuff.

We always wanted to do some more detailed testing, but it wasn't until Windows Server 2008 finally RTMed two weeks ago that we started testing again. This time round the techies wanted to beef up the testing a little.

Latest testing

Whereas our initial testing had been a simple comparison between Windows 2003 Server, SQL 2005 and .NET 2.0 versus Windows 2008, SQL 2008 and .NET 3.5, this time Alan set up testing for all 8 scenarios so that we could isolate which components of the 2008 stack were contributing the most. eg is Windows, SQL or .NET that is giving the improvement.

He also changed the testing method. This time, instead of just firing 1,000 requests he kicked of a loop of 1,000 sets of 20 concurrent requests. This is a more realistic scenario for what our sites experience. He fired this via a wget based Linux bash script.

The machines he used are as follows:

2008 stack machine: Intel Core2 Dual core 2.12 GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB Seagate SATA drive.

Testing (Linux) machine: Intel P4 3.0 GHz, 1GB RAM, 80GB Seagate SATA drive [ie This machine is acting as a client]

As you might notice, the 2008 stack machine was acting as both the IIS and SQL server. Although not a production architecture, this was deliberate to ensure that network affects were minimised.


Here's the results so far:

Windows .NET SQL Duration (h:mm:ss) X faster
2003 2.0 2005 3:37:59 – baseline –
2003 2.0 2008 CTP5 not yet  
2003 3.5 2005 3:59:14 0.9
2003 3.5 2008 CTP5 not yet  
2008 2.0 2005 0:13:55 15.6
2008 2.0 2008 CTP5 0:14:17 15.2
2008 3.5 2005 0:13:43 15.9
2008 3.5 2008 CTP5 0:13:33 16.1

A few observations:

  1. We haven't finished all our Windows 2003 testing yet. They take almost 4 hours to run, and the guys are fitting this testing all in amongst their normal daily work :-)
  2. The main improvement is (obviously) due to Windows Server 2008, and IIS7
  3. Running the 3.5 Framework on 2003 with SQL 2005 is actually slower than with 2.0
  4. Some of the other results are also puzzling… for example:
  5. On Windows 2008, using SQL 2008 is slower than SQL 2005 when we target 2.0 but faster when we target 3.5
  6. Happily, the best result is achieved when using the full 2008 stack

If I put the results another way, we can see that adding 2008 components (Server, then .NET, then SQL) has incremental improvements eg

Windows .NET SQL Duration (h:mm:ss) % increase
2003 2.0 2005 3:37:59 – baseline –
2008 2.0 2005 0:13:55 1566%
2008 3.5 2005 0:13:43 1589%
2008 3.5 2008 CTP5 0:13:33 1609%

But there's no escaping that the major improvements are all thanks to Windows 2008 Server. In general Windows 2008 is much faster, and our techies have already switched to using it as their desktop OS.


Some questions. I'm trying to look at our testing as critically as possible. After all, 1600% improvement is something not to be taken lightly, and there will likely be a few people reviewing these results. So, I want to be clear on where we stand.

The first thing to state is that we are not a certified testing lab. So, this testing has been conducted on simple server hardware, and with tests that are geared to how we operate. We didn't have any of our big rack servers available for testing, so the results are pretty 'real world'.

Q: Why does it take almost 4 hours to do 20,000 requests on Windows 2003? Something must be wrong…

A: Yes, this concerned me as well. But here's what I didn't mention earlier. Each request we submit is returning our home page, plus graphics, plus all links from that page and any graphics and documents from those pages as well (ie wget with the u directive is basically spidering from the page). It turns out that each request is returning 6.4MB of data. Thus, 20,000 request in total is returning about 120GB. This is to emulate load testing the server. With Windows 2003 this takes over 3 and a half hours.

Q: Did you test on a smaller page?

A: Yes, we also performed testing on a landing page that returned 70KB. The results were much quicker, but in the same proportions.

Reducing page size down further to very small (eg an empty page, but still delivered by our Community Manager product) brought the comparisons closer, with Windows 2008 being only 4X quicker than Windows 2003. The 1,000 X 20 concurrent requests took 51 seconds on Windows 2003, but only 12 seconds on Windows 2008.

Q: Are the actual durations meaningful?

A: No, the durations on their own are not that meaningful, since changing hardware will obviously affect the results. What is meaningful is comparing the durations between the different scenarios.

Q: Did you try on different hardware?

A: Yes, we've managed to get our hands on a beefier machine (Quad Core 3.5 GHz, 8GB RAM) for a few days. Initial testing has shown quicker results on Windows 2003, but in the same order of magnitude (ie hours). Full results from that machine will be available in the next few weeks.

Q: How many times did you run these tests?

A: Most tests have been run a few times as the techies were setting them up and performing initial loops. All the test results are from testing scenarios run by Alan. Brad was then asked to run a few of the tests again independently. He verified the baseline 2003 Server result and the first of the 2008 Server results (ie with 2.0 and SQL 2005)

The results above are based on the last and most thorough pass (by Alan). Thus, it is the actual result, not an average of repeated tests. Ideally multiple results would be better, and as time permits, we'll re-run all the tests, and provide averages.

Q: Did you perform any optimisation of the 2008 setup?

A: No, all test scenarios were conducted on freshly installed, out-of-the-box setups.

Q: Did you try optimising the Windows 2003 setup?

A: Yes, we did. The techies tried different combinations of turning on compression, increasing memory, CPU monitoring, tweaking application pools, and other memory changes. In all cases there was very minimal change in Windows 2003 performance. The results tabled above are based on the untweaked out-of-the-box installation.

Q: What version of Windows Server is the Elcom web site running on?

A: The actual live Elcom web site is still on Windows 2008 RC0. We aim to cut over to the RTM version once our SPLA license is finalised… 2008 SPLA licensing should be available this month (fingers crossed).

Q: Are you using any .NET 3.5 specific features in these scenarios?

A: No, we've made sure that the code base is exactly the same, the only change has been the framework version targeted during compile (and of course the IIS settings).

Next steps for Elcom

So, where to from here?

We'll be moving a few of our client sites over to Windows 2008 hosting in the coming weeks (assuming licensing is all sorted). A few of our staging servers are already in transition. And from April onwards we plan to move all our hosting onto Windows 2008.image [We'll still be supporting clients who host on Windows 2003 of course.]

Next, we are upgrading clients to .NET 3.5.

Our next Community Manager.NET release (in mid March) will be available in both 2.0 and 3.5 versions. The 3.5 version (which we are referring to as Community Manager 2008) will be essentially the same code base, with only a few new 3.5 features used for off-line services (the new System.AddIn stuff).

Our code base will be branched into the two versions for approximately 3 months until we've completed our testing and moved all clients over to .NET 3.5. After that we will return to having the one code base (ie just targeting 3.5).

SQL Server 2008 is still too early to make plans for. Whilst we will continue testing with it (especially with CTP6 just released), we won't be moving any production systems (other than our own web site) over to it until much later in the year.

Over to you

There's our situation. I hope it is helpful (or at least of some interest).

I'm keen to answer any questions, hear any criticisms and take on board any suggestions.

Please contact me via any method on my Contact page.