Sonifying Performance Data to Facilitate Tuning of Complex Systems

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Virginia Tech

In the modern computing landscape, the challenge of tuning software systems is exacerbated by the necessity to accommodate multiple divergent execution environments and stakeholders. Achieving optimal performance requires a different configuration for every combination of hardware setups and business requirements. In addition, the state of the art in system tuning can involve complex statistical models and tools which require deep expertise not commonly possessed by the average software engineer. As an alternative approach to performance tuning, this thesis puts forward the use of sonification-conveying information via non-speech audio-to aid software engineers in tuning complex systems. In particular, this thesis designs, develops, and evaluates a tuning system that interactively (i.e., in response to user actions) sonifies the performance metrics of a computer system. This thesis demonstrates that interactive sonification can effectively guide software engineers through performance tuning of a computer system.

To that end, a scientific survey determined which sound characteristics (e.g., loudness, panning, pitch, tempo, etc.) are best suited to express information to the engineer. These characteristics were used to create a proof-of-concept tuning system that was applied to tune the parameters of a real world enterprise application server. Equipped with the tuning system, engineers-not experts in enterprise computing nor performance tuning-were able to tune the server, so that its resulting performance surpasses that exhibited under the standard configuration. The results indicate that sound-based tuning approaches can provide valuable solutions to the challenges of configuring complex computer systems.

Empirical Study, Human Factors, J2EE, Enterprise Application Servers, Sonification, Performance Tuning