Get Started with Synthetic Monitoring
What It Is, How It Works and Why Do You Need It
Website performance is a key component of the success of your website or application. Having a website that is performing well regardless of location, load or connection type is no longer a best practice but rather a requirement.
Monitoring your website can be done in many ways but one of the most popular ways out there is synthetic monitoring. I’m going to talk about what exactly is Synthetic Monitoring, the differences between Real User and Synthetic monitoring, and how it can help your business.
What Is Synthetic Monitoring: A Definition
Synthetic monitoring, also known as synthetic testing or active or proactive monitoring, is a way to monitor your applications by using scripted recordings of a series of requests and emulating them to simulate the user’s interactions with your website or application. In a nutshell, it helps you understand your user’s experience and improve website performance by predictive behavior.
Synthetic monitors use tools to simulate end-user behavior and collect information on the performance of critical business transactions, uptime information, load test information, and much more.
Synthetic monitoring tools help answer questions like:
- Is the site or app up and running?
- How fast is my site at this moment?
- Are the 3rd Part APIs still operating?
- What’s your CPU/Memory Utilisation look like?
- Does the Server hardware components have any faults?
Synthetic Monitoring vs Real User Monitoring
There are two ways to monitor applications: real user and synthetic monitoring. While they might seem similar at first, as they both help try to ensure the website is operating at peak performance, there are certain differences between the two you should know and understand.
Real User Monitoring
It’s a passive form of monitoring that needs end-users to collect data that gets parsed and analyzed ending up in a dashboard. RUM solutions such as Sematext Experience, provide information like APDEX score and Error count, speed specific information like Time To First Byte and First Meaningful Paint. While I could go on with the list of things that real user monitoring measures, the key takeaway is that RUM focuses on the experience of the end-user.
Synthetic Transaction Monitoring, or simply STM, will actively monitor your server in detail and respond accordingly when something goes wrong. It does not need real users to gather data. Instead, synthetic monitoring tools such as Sematext Synthetics, use a series of scripts that will simulate the interactions between the user and server tracking response time, response codes, etc.
Each individual method of monitoring has its core strengths and weaknesses and most people end up using a combination of the two since it’s a sure-fire way to ensure your website or application is always running at peak performance. Check out our post about Real user monitoring vs. Synthetic monitoring to learn more about how they compare and why using them together will ensure flawless user experience.
Why Do You Need Synthetic Monitoring: Synthetic Testing Use Cases
Synthetic monitoring enables you to see and test your services from the perspective of your end-users. Furthermore, you’ll know where and when the performance drops or if there’s going to be any type of issues affecting their experience.
But let’s dive deeper and see what are the advantages of using synthetic monitoring.
Fix performance issues before they impact users
With synthetic monitoring, you emulate user interactions and run a set of tests from different locations across the world. It will keep an eye on all your APIs, web and mobile applications, and all your websites regardless if you have real users on the site.
The goal would be to find issues before your users do. Sematext comes out of the box with specific Dashboards and Alerts that can be configured to start monitoring key aspects of your infrastructure and trigger whenever things start to go sideways.
Create a baseline of your applications
You can set up your synthetic monitoring solutions to look at your APIs from different locations at different times during the day. You can use this data as a baseline for your benchmarks as it helps you identify parts of the system that need further work, while also serving as a means to compare your service with your competition.
Test your scaling capabilities
You build your website and applications to respond quickly to your users but when traffic grows unexpectedly, your server needs to be able to respond in kind. Synthetic monitoring allows you to run artificial tests that show how your server will react under load. Once you have this data you can think of the necessary steps you’ll have to take to ensure your site and apps scale gracefully.
Test new product features before launching
Synthetic monitoring is a great tool to have when you’re launching new features since it allows you to run a full set of tests before having them go Live during peak hours. You’ll be able to see how the rest of the application reacts under load and if any of the recent changes will impact a 3rd party API you might be using.
Monitor 3rd party APIs and critical business processes
It’s pretty difficult not to use any 3rd party tools in your business but that exposes you to a series of problems related to their availability. You’ll want to monitor them closely and get a heads up the second things start to slow down.
However, monitoring your APIs is not enough to ensure you are delivering a top-notch experience for your users. You’ll want to make sure the mission-critical components of your application, like logging in, searching or checkout are working as expected.
It doesn’t matter what side of the SLA you are sitting on – making sure that everyone involved in the contract is adhering to the agreement is critical for both parties. If you happen to be the service provider you’ll want to use synthetic monitoring to make sure you understand the performance limitations of your application and set realistic expectations. If you are the customer you’ll want to make sure that the vendor can hold up to his part of the deal.
By using synthetic monitoring software like Sematext Synthetics, you can greatly reduce your MTTR by having an alert sent out to the relevant people even before the issue starts affecting your users. Not only will you be alerted sooner, but you’ll also have a clearer understanding of what’s causing the issue and how to replicate it.
Types of Synthetic Monitoring
There’s a long list of synthetic monitoring types that can help you achieve these benefits but here are the main three.
HTTP monitors will ping your web pages from different checkpoints located around the world and report back on their availability. Besides just checking in, you’ll also get information on load speed and HTTP status codes but if you choose to use more advanced tools like Sematext Synthetics you’ll also be able to set up complex HTTP requests and monitor their response.
Browser monitoring is a technique used to emulate different browsers’ performance while loading your website and application to make sure you can deliver the ideal user experience.
Since websites and apps use a large number of frameworks and third-party APIs you’ll want to make sure they all work in perfect harmony regardless of the operating system or browser your users are using. We run these checks from different machines in different corners of the world and report back on load speed, availability, HTTP codes and if something breaks you’ll be alerted immediately.
Synthetic Transaction Monitoring
Synthetic transaction monitoring is a proactive website monitoring method that usually involves having a script that would simulate a user’s interaction through the website.
Having a way to simulate clicks and swipes can help you optimize your strategy and act as an early warning system that will alert you when a part of the process is not functioning as intended.
Transactions Monitoring is extremely efficient in online stores and similar websites, where the users follow a usual path through and every deviation, delay or error can cause them to abandon the purchase.
How Does Synthetic Monitoring Work
Synthetic monitoring works by creating an emulated transaction between a virtual client and your application or website in order to simulate what a typical user interaction might look like. These emulated transactions are triggered by different operating systems and locations across the world to test and collect data on availability, response time, downtime and errors.
Each transaction is triggered at a specific interval and it will run a predefined test that aims to replicate a user’s interaction with the website as closely as possible. This will help you create a solid baseline of your application and further understand any weaknesses or limitations you might need to address.
Since they take up little resources, synthetic monitors can run 24/7 during peak hours when the website is crawling with users and when it’s quiet. This is especially important since simulating end user’s interactions through basic navigation and actions can help you test new features and modules you are developing in different scenarios and at different times during the day.
Synthetic Monitoring Tools: Using Sematext for Synthetic Testing
Getting started with Sematext Synthetics is very easy and doesn’t require any code modifications to be made on your website. It allows you to create monitors for each individual resource that you want to track and once you have a baseline you can create certain alerts to be triggered when the criteria for them are met.
Our synthetic monitoring solution helps you collect data about the total response time, see detailed response time split by DNS lookup, connected time and time to the first byte, HTTP response codes, downtime, availability and many other website performance metrics. All this data is then displayed in easy-to-read dashboards that gives you a clear birds-eye-view of your entire website. Furthermore, they provide you with enough data to be able to debug and identify the root cause of your issues in no time.
Every synthetic transaction is triggered from multiple locations we have set up around the world at a variable interval that can be configured to be either 1m, 5m 10m or 15m. This gives you granular control over how often these tests run and if need be they can be paused altogether.
Learn more Sematext Synthetics and how it works.
It’s worth mentioning that while synthetic monitoring helps you simulate user interactions through various scenarios, the end-user experience can reflect a totally different story altogether. Things that affect your users’ interaction with the website like geolocation distribution, device, and operating system, connection speed, etc. won’t be reflected in the reports. To get data on these you’ll have to use a real user monitoring tool.
Luckily, Sematext has two very good options for both synthetic and real user monitoring that will help you paint a clear picture of what your overall website performance looks like and how satisfied are your users with using your service. Check out how they compare with other types of website monitoring tools that can help give full visibility into how the health of your web app.