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Data Testing Essentials

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Data Testing Essentials How to implement an autmated data testing strategy to ensure your data is valid and reliable BY JOHN WELCH Table of Contents ABOUT JOHN WELCH SECTION 1 Testing Data and Data-centric
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Data Testing Essentials How to implement an autmated data testing strategy to ensure your data is valid and reliable BY JOHN WELCH Table of Contents ABOUT JOHN WELCH SECTION 1 Testing Data and Data-centric Applications Benefits Challenges Tools Used People/Roles SECTION 2 Pragmatic Data Testing Testing Data-Centric Code in Development Types of Testing Specific Technologies Managing Test Data Integration into Continuous Delivery SECTION 3 Verifying Data in Production Testing in Development vs. Verification of Data in Production Types of Verification Applying Data Verification Data Verification Example Infrastructure JOHN WELCH MICROSOFT MVP-DATA PLATFORM SINCE 2008 PRESIDENT, PRAGMATIC WORKS SOFTWARE John is the President of Pragmatic Works Software, where he is responsible for understanding customer data platform challenges and visualizing software solutions to make their lives easier. John has been working with Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing technologies since 2001, with a focus on Microsoft products in varied environments. He is a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP), an award given due to his commitment to sharing his knowledge with the IT community. He s also a master of all things SSAS. John is an experienced speaker, having given presentations at Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) conferences, the Microsoft Business Intelligence conference, Software Development West (SD West), Software Management Conference (ASM/SM) and many others. He has also contributed to multiple books on SQL Server and data, including Microsoft Big Data Solutions, Smart Business Intelligence Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and both volumes of SQL Server MVP Deep Dives. THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN MY WHITEPAPER ON DATA TESTING. DATA QUALITY IS A PASSION OF MINE DRIVEN BY THE MISSION TO ENABLE ORGANIZATIONS TO GET THE FULL VALUE FROM THEIR DATA BY ENSURING THAT IT IS TESTED, VALIDATED AND RELIABLE. I HOPE YOU FIND THE FOLLOWING PAGES HELPFUL AND WELCOME ANY FEEDBACK THAT CAN ACCELERATE OUR MISSION -JOHN WELCH Contact John at 1 Testing Data and Data-Centric Applications SECTION ONE Testing data and data-centric applications is a vital step for organizations that are using their data to drive their business. This section explains what data-centric testing is, and provides an overview of a methodology that can be used to implement data-centric testing in your organization. 2 Testing Data and Data-Centric Applications Data is critical to organizations today. Businesses depend on accurate data to determine whether their business is doing well, make decisions on new products and offerings, and evaluate the success of current initiatives. Governments use data to determine what programs are successful and which are not. And non-profits use data to evaluate the impact they are making, evaluate fund-raising programs, etc. There are countless examples of data being used to support critical processes today. However, most of the energy and effort in testing in IT today goes into testing the application functionality that creates or uses the data, and not into verifying the end result - the data itself. Often, data-centric processes, such as data integration, extract, transform, and load (ETL) processes, and analytic applications, are not tested or are only subjected to simple manual testing. On the other hand, application functionality (like application of business rules or implementation of a calculation) are tested extensively, but at an application level only. Testing is the single most overlooked aspect of a project. Why is this? For one, the state of the art in testing has concentrated heavily on testing application logic for many years, because that s where the interest was. People were focused on developing new and better applications. They wanted to be able to develop these applications quickly, iterate on them rapidly, and build new ones when the business drivers changed. This has required flexible and powerful testing frameworks. After all, it is very difficult to make rapid changes to an application without having a solid set of test cases that can validate that the changes you just made are actually working. It was often thought that the application would be the only thing working with the data, so if the application was correct then the data must be correct as well. In practical terms, though, most data today is used and manipulated by multiple systems. Now you have to verify all the applications that may have access to the data, that they all interact with it correctly, and that there are no issues with cross-interactions. The problem is even more complex in today s self-service driven world, because new applications that use your data can be added at any time, often without you being aware. Another reason that data-centric testing hasn t been a focus is that testing application logic is easy, while testing data is hard. Developers in many cases don t like testing data, because it involves outside dependencies, above and beyond their code. Many testing approaches advocate isolating the code under test for most applications, this means testing only the code (.NET, Java, etc.) and not the data that the code interacts with. There are even frameworks used for testing that exist simply to mock outside objects so the tests have no dependencies. This isn t necessarily a bad approach, and is quite valuable in many application testing situations. However, it can be a drawback for data-centric applications, as the tests often verify only the application logic, and don t validate how it works with real data. 3 Businesses are becoming more data-driven. Organizations are realizing that the real value is in the data they collect and manage the applications that work with the data are subject to constant change and replacement. In many cases, the data produced from the applications is more valuable than the application itself. So, while we continue to need to test application logic, we also need to test data. This is particularly true in the following cases: The data is business critical or a differentiator for the organization The data is interacted with from multiple applications or systems The data is part of a data-centric application or workflow (for example, data integration between systems, extract, transform, and load, or a data warehouse) This document presents a methodology for testing data-centric applications and data. Not every piece of the methodology needs to be adopted to realize benefits from it. Any improvement to the testing has tangible results in reducing the number of defects in your data, as well as providing a reason for the developers and consumers of a system to feel confident in the results that it provides. There are two main areas that this methodology covers doing data-centric testing during development, and doing data verification for production or during system testing. Many of the same testing techniques can be used in both areas. However, the focus is a little different. Data-centric testing in development focuses on the testing necessary to make sure your data-centric applications produce the correct results. Data verification testing is focused on making sure that the systems that interact with the data produce consistent, verifiable results every day (or even more frequently). Benefits The major benefit of testing your data and datacentric applications is confidence in your data. One of the more common reasons for business intelligence initiatives to fail is that the users lack confidence in the results. By testing and verifying both the processes and the data that you are using, you can give the consumers of the data the confidence they need to make business decisions. According to Gartner, less than 10% of self-service BI initiatives will be monitored for consistency. Another benefit arises if your organization makes use of self-service BI. According to Gartner, less than 10% of self-service BI initiatives will be monitored for consistency. That can create major issues for both the accuracy of the reporting, and adherence to regulatory requirements. Testing data-centric applications also leads to overall cost improvements. The earlier in the development cycle that defects are discovered, the easier and less costly it is to correct them. By incorporating robust testing into the development process, the maintenance and update costs can be greatly reduced. True, it does require a little more time upfront to create the tests, but it pays off heavily. 4 Challenges One of the biggest challenges with testing data-centric applications is that you are interacting with data. To test it well, you need a set of data that addresses the test scenarios. Depending on the goal of the test, you may need a small, static set of data that represents some specific expected data details, or you may need a much larger set of test data that represents your production data. Managing these data sets can be challenging, as the creation of good test data can be time consuming. Simply taking a copy of the production data for testing purposes is not an option for many organizations, due to privacy concerns and regulations. Related to managing the test data is the problem of keeping the data and the tests synchronized. As the database schemas are updated with new columns, tables, etc. the test data sets and the tests themselves need to be updated to reflect the current state. Another major challenge with data-centric testing is that the tools haven t progressed at the same rate as the application tools. It s difficult to automate data testing, and even with tools that support it, you may find yourself pulling various technologies together with duct tape in order to assemble a working solution. Another challenge is the time it takes to create the tests. Often, testing is the first area to suffer when projects fall behind, and it can be easy to think that taking time from testing to complete other parts of a project will be okay. However, this often creates a downward spiral the parts of the project that aren t being tested create larger numbers of defects and rework, which can take more time away from testing, which just repeats the cycle. In addition, data testing in particular is time consuming managing the test data, as mentioned above, can require a lot of effort. 5 Tools Used As mentioned in the previous section, the tools available for data-centric testing are, for the most part, lacking in several noticeable ways. One, most tools are targeted to a particular tool or technology, and don t provide a way to use the same testing approaches and logic across the different technologies that an organization may use. A certain amount of that is expected, as it is quite difficult to cover every possible data-centric technology available. Often the tools focus on one specific technology. As an example, there are testing tools for Microsoft SQL Server relational databases. However, you have to use a different tool, and learn a different skillset, in order to test SQL Server Reporting Services reports. This lack of technology coverage adds to the complexity of producing a full testing solution. To some degree, you can work around this by pulling multiple tools together, and scripting the interactions between them. However, not all tools support the automation necessary for that approach, and it doesn t reduce the need to have and maintain multiple tools and the skillset necessary to use them. Any of the x Unit frameworks can make a good foundation for performing data-centric testing. However, you will need to spend some time developing an additional layer of functionality to make interacting with the database and other data focused applications easier. In addition, this layer will ensure consistency in how the testing is performed. You should also consider the people who will be developing and executing the tests when selecting tools. If your people are familiar with.net or general programing languages, there are a broader array of choices. On the other hand, if your people don t spend a lot of time using.net, then you will want to use tools that provide a friendly interface for creation of the tests. As you are looking for tools to drive your data-centric testing initiatives, please keep the following criteria in mind: AUTOMATED Automated testing support is critical to any modern testing initiative. You should be able to execute most, if not all, of your tests without requiring any human interaction. This enables you to run tests while you do other things, freeing up resources and time for more critical tasks. It also means that the tests are executed consistently. Manual testing introduces the chance of human error perhaps a tester forgets to execute a test or a set up step. Automated testing means that you get exactly the same tests executed the same way, every time. TECHNOLOGY COVERAGE Look at what technologies you need to be able to test do you only work with SQL Server or Oracle? Do you have ETL tools or BI tools in the mix? Which of those are important to validate? (That last one is a trick question they are all important) Now, compare that to the tools that you are looking at. Do they support only one technology, or do they cover multiple ones? How many tools total will you have to invest in to get complete coverage? 6 Look for tools that support the 3 A s: Arrange, Act, Assert SUPPORT FOR THE THREE A S (ARRANGE, ACT, ASSERT) A very common pattern in testing is the three A s Arrange, Act, Assert. Arrange involves the setup of the necessary conditions for the test. Act involves invoking the actual code or application being tested. And Assert is where you verify assertions about the state of things after the code has been executed. This is a common pattern because it works very well and there are many resources on successfully using it. Look for tools that support it. TEST DATA MANAGEMENT Since data-centric testing is, well, data-centric, managing test data is a vital part of the process. Unfortunately, most tools today do not offer this as an integrated function. You may be able to use other tools to manage the test data, but this again increases the number of different tools you have to integrate. RESULT REPORTING Finally, for data-centric testing and data verification, reporting the results of the tests often goes beyond the typical test tool approach. Particularly for data verification, the consumer of the test results may not be in IT, and may need a friendlier way to view and process the results. The methodology discussed here can be implemented using a variety of tools. However, you will find that some tools are better suited to it than others. The samples shown in this series of articles will use LegiTest (http://pragmaticworks. com/products/legitest), which is a tool developed with the methodology in mind, so it fits very well. However, as mentioned, the approaches discussed in the articles can be implemented with other tools and a bit of ingenuity, they may just require more work to set up and use. 7 People / Roles There can be a wide variety of people involved in testing. In the context of Pragmatic Data Testing, though, you will focus on a few key roles. Please note that these roles do not have to be different people, though each role has a specific focus to the testing. Involve these roles in your testing strategy: Developer, Development Tester, QA DEVELOPER In some organizations, it s felt that developers shouldn t be involved in the testing process. Instead, they should just focus on producing code and let the Quality Assurance (QA) group handle testing. This is a good way to produce lots of code that nobody has tested. Developers are integral to the testing process, because they are the only ones that know what code they have written. At a minimum, they need to work with the testers to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of the requirements and the implementation, so that the tests can accurately exercise the system. In many organizations, particularly those adopting test driven development (discussed further in the next article), there is a trend towards developers actually creating their own tests. An additional benefit you may find is that when creating automated tests, developers are often the best equipped to do that well. In data-centric testing, it is often necessary to have a developer who really understands the data participate in the test creation, or at a minimum, educate the testing team on working with the data. If you are really focused on improving your datacentric testing, you are likely to have at least a portion of your developer s time spent on testing. Developers would still be primarily involved in development testing for functionality, at the unit and system testing level. These will be defined in a later section of this series of articles. Data verification is typically not in their area of responsibility. DEVELOPMENT TESTER This is a more specialized role in organizations that focus on having extremely thorough automated test coverage. These are testers who are focused on testing and quality, but develop automated testing to 8 verify the systems they work on. They differ from developers in that they are typically not adding new functionality to the systems, instead, they are writing automated tests that verify the new and existing functionality of the system. This is a role that fits very naturally with the Pragmatic Data Testing approach. Development Testers have much the same responsibility as developers, in that they focus on testing functionality, through unit, integration, and system testing. QUALITY ASSURANCE Quality Assurance encapsulates the traditional testing in many organizations. Often the people in QA focus primarily on black box testing that is, they don t know the internals of the system, but rather what goes in and what should come out for the application. Particularly when it comes to data-centric applications, they make focus on the application side, and not test details of the underlying data. What data testing is done is typically done manually. Adopting a testing approach for data-centric applications tends to change this role more significantly than the other roles. The focus for your QA resources becomes a) understanding the data requirements of the application, b) developing automated test scripts for that data, and c) testing the bigger interactions of the datacentric application or system under test. The QA role is usually responsible for testing the system functionality at a macro level, rather than smaller units of code. They should be involved in testing at the system level, as well as performance and load testing. In addition, the QA role is heavily involved in data verification testing, which will be defined in a later section. 9 This has covered a brief introduction to data-centric testing. It also explained why it is a critical factor in today s data-driven world. The quality, accuracy, and reliability of the data your organization works from is not something that can be left up to chance, or the hope that nothing will go wrong. Instead, you need to be able to have confidence in your data, and be able to prove that it is accurate, and adheres to the organizational requirements for your data. The next two sections will go into further detail on the Pragmatic Data Testing methodology with a focus on adopting data-centric testing as part of your development processes, along with the different types of testing that you can consider as part of your development of new and enhanced functionality and data. You will also see how to apply data verification testing to data throughout your organization, which can increase your confidence in the data you work with every day. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON DATA-CENTRIC TESTING AND TO REQUEST A DEMO OF OUR PRODUCT LEGITEST, PLEASE VISIT PRAGMATICWORKS.COM. 10 Pragmatic Data Testing SECTION TWO
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