As the UK’s leading DIY and garden centre retailer, B&Q employs some 30,000 people and runs
320+ stores in the UK, plus another 50 from Poland to Shanghai. Parent company Kingfisher plc
recently acquired top French DIY chain Castorama, to become the largest DIY group in Europe.
B&Q has become a £6 billion business. But it doesn’t end there, as there are joint ventures in
China, Taiwan and Turkey, which are being used successfully to test the global markets.
As well as running its stores network, B&Q also runs a successful website operation,
www.diy.com, with 24x7 access to products, ideas, expert advice and “how to” guides.
Throughout the company, there is a practical, pragmatic and positive atmosphere – a “can do”
approach, which permeates everything the company does.
To reflect its ambitions, late in 2003, B&Q had set about upgrading its website alongside a new
and improved infrastructure.
The suggestion was that our problem could be well solved through use of the LoadRunner load and stress testing tool. We were put in touch with one of the company’s Preferred Partners, StarBase Computer Services Ltd.
– Matt Louth, B&Q
B&Q was in the process of upgrading its website with a new release of the ATG Dynamo 5.6.1
web application server, replacing the existing 4.5.1 release, to provide extra and improved
functionality. When the company attempted to go live on 4 December, all work had to be
abandoned due to problems with a memory leak on the application servers. B&Q Systems
Manager Matt Louth said, “There was a failed implementation. Our team identified that
the load testing capability was not effectively giving the required confirmation to go forward for
implementation. Some of our existing software was not up to the job. We looked around the
market for potential solutions. There was already a proven relationship between Mercury
Interactive and our headquarters.”
“The suggestion was that our problem could be well solved through use of the LoadRunner load
and stress testing tool,” said Louth. “We were put in touch with one of the company’s Preferred
Partners, StarBase Computer Services Ltd, who were briefed a few days before Christmas, and
then worked with us in January.”
For this project, StarBase used the Mercury Interactive LoadRunner v7.8 load testing tool.
StarBase started onsite on 7 January and identified the business processes that needed
scripting and testing – including processes like creating new customers, ordering, etc. In all 14
scripts were developed by StarBase, with 25 man days spent scripting, for a scenario of a
maximum 700 virtual users.
Although the problems seen on 4 December could not be reproduced using LoadRunner, a
workaround was developed by running crawler software on the B&Q website. This proved that
patches developed by the application provider had fixed the problem.
The key points about StarBase were its approach, the people onsite were of the highest quality, and they worked closely with our team.
– Matt Louth, B&Q
Once this problem was resolved, StarBase used LoadRunner to identify a ‘first order’ issue, a
serious performance problem caused by the first order to reach the application server taking an
inordinate amount of time to complete, monopolising the processor until it had completed. This
caused increase response times for all transactions during this period.
In all, 10 man days were spent on testing. The site performed well after the application developer
patches had been applied and the recommended ATG configuration changes had been made.
The load was ramped up beyond what the current network infrastructure would allow – restricted
to a 40MB pipe to B&Q’s Internet Service Provider – without any of the application architecture
failing. The site supported three times the current peak load and retained respectable response
“The solution was very professional and had an efficient output throughout the whole of this high
profile project,” said Louth.
“The key points I would make about StarBase’s work are that the company’s thorough approach
was exemplary, and the people on site were of the highest quality, and worked closely with our
“They integrated with the team and understood the problem from our perspective, rather than
imposing their views,” said Louth. “That approach is very refreshing.”