What is a performance benchmark?

In my experience, when adopting a buyer’s perspective,  I have seen 3 main classes of performance benchmarks:

  1. Check-mark benchmarks
  2. Decision confirmation benchmarks
  3. Decision driving (risk-reducing) benchmarks

 

Check-mark benchmarks are usually driven by internal processes tied to best practices associated with quality processes or required by laws and regulations.

In most cases the benchmarks falling into this class are perceived as a pure cost that needs to be minimized: an industry standard benchmark is usually the cheapest answer to the need for a benchmark result.

The Wikipedia article on the general performance benchmarking subject adopts a perspective that matches very well this type of benchmarks.

The key principle, from the 7 proposed Benchmarking Principles, that in my opinion position the article as a description of “check-mark benchmarks” is the one called Representativeness “Benchmark performance metrics should be broadly accepted by industry and academia”.

Several years ago Curt Monash wrote here that “The TPC-H benchmark is a blight upon the industry”.

Not only I fully agree with him about TPC-H, but I would expand the statement further: as of today all the industry standard benchmarks serve (some) vendors, but not the buyers.

I find the rest of the principles listed in the article sound and relevant for all the classes I’m describing in this post, but I use a slightly different definition for relevance (the test should measure metrics relevant to the business problem that needs to be solved by the technical solutions tested) and transparency (not only the metrics need to be easy to understand, but also the test conditions and how changing these condition can influence the results should be clear).


Decision confirmation benchmarks are executed to demonstrate the correctness of a decision that has been already taken.

When running such a test there is a high risk of a confirmation bias coming into play in the way the test is defined with the tests favoring the technical solution that has been selected.

Because the decision is already made the benchmark is seen as a cost to minimize rather than an investment also in this case.


Risk-reducing benchmarks are executed, as the definition implies, to minimize the risks associated with the selection of a specific technical solution to address a set of business needs.

The costs associated with the selection of an incorrect or sub-optimal solution can be very significant for an enterprise with the direct ones (incurred to implement the solution) usually being just a fraction of the total.  The cost of (lost) opportunity is usually the largest part.

When looking at the performance benchmark from this perspective the buyer sees the costs associated with the preparation and execution as an investment like it would be the case for an insurance.

Minimization of cost is no longer the main design criteria and is replaced by the balance between the ability to predict the future behavior of the different technical solutions when implemented with the buyer’s specific processing pattern and the cost of defining and running the test.


A single exercise might show characteristics of more than one of the classes, but in my experience the (mainly) risk-reducing performance benchmarks are a very small fraction.

What is your experience  in this regard?