A record 18.76 million taxpayers used either the desktop or online version of Intuit’s TurboTax this year, up 11 percent from 2008, with two-thirds of those customers filing online. As the IRS continues its efforts to increase the percentage of returns filed electronically, Intuit took proactive measures to uncover potential reliability and performance problems well before April 15.

“Site performance and stability is critical to us throughout tax season, but even more so on April 14th and 15th when traffic volumes spike as customers rush to meet the deadline,” said Dan Bartow, Senior Manager, Performance Engineering at Intuit. “Tax time is stressful enough for our customers, so our site reliability is essential in making the filing process as easy and fluid as possible for them.”

To that end, Intuit set quality and performance goals for the site and decided to test steadily increasing user loads, with the ultimate goal of testing at least 200 percent of their anticipated peak of concurrent users on tax day. It was clearly going to be cost prohibitive to build the infrastructure necessary to meet that goal, and do it quickly. As a result, Intuit turned to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). With AWS, Intuit now had an elastic test environment which would enable them to scale their tests to an unlimited amount of virtual users.

While AWS could provide the infrastructure, Intuit still needed an enterprise-class load testing solution that could manage the terabytes of test data that would be generated—one that would leverage the AWS Cloud to meet expected traffic surges, particularly given the mission critical aspect of online filing.

Intuit found that SOASTA’s CloudTest was the only enterprise-class on-demand service that met all of its needs. Intuit chose SOASTA because its CloudTest-EC2 On-Demand service provided the ability to quickly and precisely replicate anticipated user load for the TurboTax site. The testing service realistically simulates a variety of unconstrained user scenarios, accurately measures site performance from load generated via Amazon EC2, and provides granular, real time reporting to help pinpoint and address potential issues. Unlike other solutions, SOASTA’s cloud testing experts leverage Amazon EC2 to quickly and affordably simulate the real web environment and its’ unique characteristics.

Intuit used SOASTA’s proven best practices for testing what, for them, had been a previously unreachable number of virtual users. SOASTA employed an iterative approach starting with a 1,000-user test. Generating load from Amazon EC2, they ramped the volume with each subsequent test – finally reaching the test goal of 200 percent of their anticipated peak – while real customers accessed the production site at the same time.

“Executing high quality tests while keeping costs down was important to Intuit,” said Rob Holcomb, Vice President of Performance Engineering at SOASTA. “Through our partnership with Amazon Web Services, we were able to quickly and repeatedly provision the servers necessary to simulate the targeted user traffic.”

As SOASTA increased the load, different component and systems issues were uncovered and addressed in real time. During the testing process, the Intuit and SOASTA teams located, fixed and optimized issues with the application, load balancer settings, and log in, among other components. Soon, Intuit was confident that every component of their application was ready to go for tax day.

SOASTA literally became a part of our team and had us up and testing within days,” added Bartow. “Through Amazon EC2 and CloudTest we were able to quickly and efficiently gauge both performance and availability, and find and fix errors and bottlenecks that we would never have uncovered in our own test lab or with any other solution.” The SOASTA CloudTest On-Demand service quickly detected problems and provided an accurate view of how the site would react under different levels of stress. Thanks to the reliability and scalability of Amazon EC2, combined with CloudTest and the SOASTA team, the site performed perfectly on tax day, as problems were tackled before they impacted any users.

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