NB5 Docsโ–บ User Guideโ–บ Advanced Topicsโ–บ Performance Factoringโ–ผ Parameter Spaces ๐Ÿ–บ

The ultimate goal of a performance factoring effort is to establish a reliable model of how design choices determine system behavior.

Design Choices includes any choice a system designer can make that effects system behavior, including hardware selection, network topology, data models and schema, configuration items, service provisioning levels, and so on. The set of valid choices constitutes the valid Parameter Space.

System Behavior includes functional and operational aspects -- What a system does logically as well as how it performs mechanically, including how resilient it is to unexpected events like hardware failure. The result of a study provides a set of values describing these results, organized into a set of data which


In empirical terms, this means we are trying to map independent parameters to dependent results in a durable way. From a data science perspective, this simply means we're trying to create a model describing how a subset of parameters (those things in our control) are related to others (those things we presume to be consequent).

๐Ÿ‘‰ An idealized parameter is represented as a variable which can hold a scalar value, or one which can be assigned a single value from a range of valid values.

๐Ÿ‘‰ An idealized parameter space is an n-dimensional Euclidean space, where each dimension is represented as an idealized parameter, and each point in the space is represented by a set of parameter values, where a specific result or set of result data can be found.

Parameter Selection

Parameters are generally selected which are expected to have the highest impact on results, from prior knowledge of the problem domain. Intuition of which parameters matter most and how they manifest in results is often described as Mechanical Sympathy in distributed systems practice.

However, once there are more than 2 parameters in play, even the best mechanical sympathy starts to falter, particularly when non-linear relationships are present. It is only through empirical analysis methods that we can understand these results in practice. To put this in perspective, it is a challenge to merely visualize in a lucid way what a 4-dimensional manifold looks like at the extrema, much less predict it reliably.

So how do we ultimately arrive at a set of meaningful parameters? Without going through a full PCA analysis phase, we can use our intuition to get started. However, we don't simply create a long list of parameters, for reasons will soon be obvious.

Parameter Ranges

Each parameter has a domain of valid values which can be defined. In the least helpful case, that domain is any valid number. In a more helpful case, we know which values are of practical import.

However, the parameter range might be selected for different reasons based on the anticipated effects of changing the values. Consider this schematic of a single parameter's range:

โ”‚ valid values                   โ”‚ โ—€ [0,+Inf]
โ”‚ โ”Œโ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ” โ”‚            โ•ฎ
โ”‚ โ”‚ impractical values         โ”‚ โ”‚ โ—€ [4,1024] โ”‚ 
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”Œโ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ” โ”‚ โ”‚          โ•ฎ โ”œโ”€โ–ถ Marginal
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ practical values       โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ—€ [4,32] โ”‚ โ”‚   Domain of
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”Œโ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ” โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚          โ”‚ โ•ฏ   Interest
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ common values      โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ—€ [8,24] โ”œโ”€โ–ถ Regular
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”Œโ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ” โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚          โ”‚ Domain of
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ default values โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ—€ 16     โ”‚ Interest 
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ””โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”˜ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚          โ•ฏ
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ””โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”˜ โ”‚ โ”‚ โ”‚
โ”‚ โ”‚ โ””โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”˜ โ”‚ โ”‚
โ”‚ โ””โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”€โ”˜ โ”‚

It could be said that we really only care about values which are practical in a real sense. This will often be the case, as we may know from mechanical sympathy that the values outside of this range are simply untenable for a clearly defined reason. In other cases, we may actually care more about the contrast between what has historically been considered practical vs impractical given new scenarios or information. This happens frequently with systems of scale as fundamental behavior shift over time in response to subsystem optimization and new features. It is useful to think of each parameter in this way to choose useful starting values.

Further, the effect a parameter has in isolation may be counter-balanced by the extrema of another parameter's effect. For example, if you have two parameters which have a super-linear impact to a result, with one positively correlated and the other negatively correlated, then understanding the practical values at these extremes can still be quite useful. It will not always be obvious when you should extend the range of a parameter under test, but it can be explored by looking at 3 or more controlled results for that parameter.

Since each study takes resources and time, choosing wisely the initial book-end values for each of our parameters is essential.


The phrase "all else being equal" is extremely important in how we conceptualize tests as parameters. Every detail about a specific system is presumed to be significant to the results. There is not a trivial way to establish only a subset of a few important details in such a way that we can forget the rest. Because of this, it is essential that testing systems be deployed in way that preserves architectural congruence by default for everything except for the parameters which are the focus of a given study.

In other words, deploying systems for performance test is something best done by reliable and automatic mechanisms. This is especially true for those studies which are comparative in nature. In practice, this is often done by selecting a baseline reference system that will be reused or deployed in cookie-cutter fashion for all tests. This includes all provisioning details.

Everything else which is not kept the same between performance studies is, by definition, a parameter of the test. This is a key principle in empirical testing which should not be overlooked.

Hidden Parameters

Often, it is presumed what is changed for testing, and the study is framed in this way as "how does the average field size affect the p99 latency?". However, it is also very common for systems to be deployed with whatever the current system defaults are when a subsequent comparative test is needed weeks or months later. Thus, it is imperative to select a reference system which is likely to be reproducible at that time with little complication. If this isn't possible, then whatever has changed between system vintages become hidden parameters to your study. This is one of the most common reasons that empirical studies lose comparability over time.

Visual Examples

This section presents some visual examples of parameter spaces, with some accompanying mathematical expressions to illustrate parameter space growth.

One Parameter, One Value

one param one value

๐Ÿ‘‰ Each box represents a distinct combination of values for all included parameters. In this case, it reduced down to a single value for a single parameter.

One Parameter, Controlled Study

all else equal

The dotted line indicates that there are a myriad of other factors which are in play for every performance study. These are generally hidden from view but they are always part of the test.

Every one which is not part of our study should be controlled (kept the same between studies). They need to be kept stable by using automatic and reliable test setup (deployment, configuration, data staging, ...) mechanisms.

One Parameter, Two Values

1 param 2 values

๐Ÿ‘‰ Each parameter is represented as a schematic axis as in a Euclidean coordinate system. All lines oriented in the same direction should be considered part of the same axis.

As will be the case for every other example in this section, an edge connecting two nodes in the graph represents a change in a single parameter value.

One Parameter, Three Values

Two Parameters, Two Values Each

2 params 2 values

Three Parameters, Two Values Each

Three Parameters, Three Values Each

rel-3params_3values_contrast on hover

Four Parameters, Two Values Each (version 1)

rel-4params_2values_tesseract1 on hover
rel-4params_2values_tesseract2 on hover

Four Parameters, Two Values Each (version 2)

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