The English Football Association (FA) is the largest governing football association in the world, with thousands of stakeholders either interacting with its systems or actually playing the game. The FA is an extremely high-profile organization — in fact, it’s the second-most recognized brand in England, behind only the Queen.
From a technology standpoint, the FA has about 100 to 120 applications serving many different “customers,” everything from grassroots teams to the professional leagues to the national team, managing Wembley Stadium, and its education operation teaching people how to coach the game. Two years ago, the FA began a complete digital transformation to move the majority of its systems to the cloud.
“Historically, all of our systems have been on-premises. Now we are moving them to the cloud. And part of that journey is to improve our processes and tools when it comes to software development and testing. We need a tool that allows us to test performance because a lot of our systems and websites were incredibly slow at busy times. We had a lot of negative feedback about the speed of response in a lot of our systems, and throughout our year, there are certain points that get extremely busy for our systems. For instance, we have a player registration window. And that doesn’t cover only the professional game that everyone knows about. There are millions of people playing football at the grassroots level who need to be registered. And that time is incredibly busy for us. We also do things like announce squads for the England men’s and women’s teams. We get a sudden hit for a very short amount of time on our website. So we need to make sure that we are ready for those peaks throughout our season,” says Nick Sewell, Head of Application Development for the FA.
The FA had been introduced to Tricentis NeoLoad by its technology services partner Cognizant. But Roy Botley, Head of QA, extended the use of NeoLoad in a more methodical, iterative manner as part of the overall process transformation. Sewell says, “So Roy came along and looked at the process around performance testing. And he kind of ‘topped and tailed’ it. We made NeoLoad the standard tool that we use with a standard process.”
“Our biggest issue — the response times in our systems — has gone away. The response problem has just disappeared. We are now at a level where the business is confident in what we are launching. Performance is in a very good place. NeoLoad just reduces the risk. It’s on another level in terms of the peace of mind it gives the business and us as the technical delivery team.” Specifically, in the old system under heavy load, it could take up to 10 minutes to register a single player. As Sewell says, “That’s just not an acceptable service level.” There can be as many as 30 steps involved (with the average being 15) in the registration process — some 300 checkpoints to measure. “Now we’ve got each step of the player registration process down to under three seconds. And we’re able to bulk registrations. Instead of doing 100 registrations one at a time, we can do 100 registrations in one go — in under 30 seconds.”
“NeoLoad just reduces the risk. It’s on another level in terms of the peace of mind it gives the business and us as the technical delivery team.”
— Nick Sewell, Head of Application Development, FA
“One of the key changes is that we got the business involved [in performance testing]. We’d hear that the performance was ‘rubbish,’ but what does that mean? So we got them to define the non-functional requirements in terms of how long something should take, and we got them to give us some critical workflow scenarios. Then we ran tests and measured results against those SLAs,” says Botley.
Adds Sewell, “This is the first place I’ve worked where we do performance testing properly. And NeoLoad allows us to do that for every step, all non-functional requirements.”
With its modern, iterative approach to performance testing, the FA can now handle 10X more concurrent users accessing its website. Previously, a queuing tool was needed to throttle the volume of traffic, as there was no confidence that the system could handle more than 400 people at a time. “Now we’ve tested up to 4,000 users,” says Sewell. “We’re confident in that number. NeoLoad gives us the benefit of not worrying about that. When people visit our site, there is not a performance issue in them doing what they are trying to do.”
The FA takes the same iterative approach to infrastructure optimization. The association is migrating its on-prem systems to the cloud (Microsoft Azure). “We went through a whole process of experimentation on the different settings — CPU, memory, whatever — that would best suit our needs. And NeoLoad would test against those different settings. We’d keep turning or adjusting till it reached the point of being efficient and working in the way that we needed it to,” says Sewell. After all, scalability isn’t free.