An Introduction to Synthetic Monitoring: Monitor the Uptime of your App and Critical Flows

Synthetic Monitoring

In a world where the customer’s digital experience is critical to business outcomes, it is crucial to understand how our applications are behaving. As businesses increasingly rely on the performance and availability of revenue-generating applications, the tolerance for downtime and slow response times has plummeted – so the response to production issues must be quick and effective. 

There are several tools and techniques to solve this challenge, including a website availability test, an API mimic solution, or even simulating the user journeys in our application. 

In this series of blogs, we will discuss what Synthetic Monitoring is, the difference between Synthetic Monitoring and Real User Monitoring, and how you can easily use it almost for free.

What is synthetic monitoring?

According to Wikipedia, Synthetic Monitoring (also known as active monitoring or proactive monitoring) is a monitoring technique that is done by using a simulation or scripted recordings of transactions. 

Behavioral scripts (or paths) are created to simulate an action or path that an end-user would take on a site, application, or other software component (or even an hardware). Those paths are then continuously monitored at specified intervals for performance, such as: functionality, availability, and response time measures.

Synthetic Monitoring enables a webmaster or an IT Operations professional to identify problems and determine if a website or application is experiencing latency or downtime before that problem affects actual end-users. 

This type of monitoring does not require real user traffic, thus the name “synthetic.” It enables companies to test applications 24×7, or test new applications prior to a live customer-facing launch. This is usually a good complement when used with passive monitoring to help provide visibility on application health during off peak hours when transaction volume is low. 

Furthermore, this type of monitoring can also be done from different geolocations, device types or other variables.

Types of Synthetic Monitoring

There are three different types of Synthetic Monitoring: availability monitoring, web performance monitoring, and transaction monitoring.

  • Availability monitoring – enables a company to confirm that a site, application or an API is available and responding to requests. Availability monitoring can be used to check the expiry of certificates as well.
  • Web performance monitoring – usually looks at a specific website and measures metrics such as page load speed, performance of specific webpage elements, as well as website DNS resolution and lookup time. For example: web performance monitoring can check web content, errors, broken links and slow response times. 
  • Scripted monitoring – attempts to complete a specific user transaction such as logging in, completing a form, or a checkout.

Here are two main categories of scripted monitoring:

  • Browser tests – simulate a user journey in the app (for example, checking the entire process of searching a product, adding items to the basket and making a purchase). 
  • API tests – simulate a transaction a user is trying to make against your application’s API (such as managing an account via code). 

How does Synthetic Monitoring work?

Synthetic monitoring works by running automated, simulated transactions from an observer client to your application in order to mimic what a typical user might do. These automated calls and testing scripts can simulate an end user’s clickstream as they navigate through key areas of your application. While these tests can run at a regular interval (such as every 10 minutes), you can also configure them for different frequencies or to run immediately based on a specific action (such as a deployment of a new feature to your product).

Synthetic monitoring can be applied 1) inside an internal network behind a firewall, to ensure that all our backend services are running properly or 2) on a public network outside a firewall, to provide information about availability and performance from a global perspective. Furthermore, these tests can be issued from multiple types of browsers or different global locations to get better site availability.

Once those automated transactions receive a response from your application, it reports the results back to the observability system. If there was an error during one of the regularly scheduled synthetic tests, the observability system can escalate it within the organization as appropriate.

Synthetic Monitoring can also be used for pre-production testing. Synthetic Monitoring scripts can be used in test environments before deploying new features – revealing any potential obstacles before real users will run into them.

Synthetic Monitoring vs. Real User Monitoring

While Synthetic Monitoring tracks the performance of your website in a controlled environment, Real User Monitoring (RUM) – as the name suggests – tracks how your application performs as real users interact with it. Companies often implement RUM by injecting JavaScript code into a web page and then collecting performance data in the background as actual users interact with that page.

Although these are two different solutions, Synthetic monitoring and RUM should actually work together, in sync. Synthetic Monitoring finds problems before it affects the customers, while RUM shows how customers are experiencing your application.

Why use Synthetic Monitoring?

Everyone is familiar with the phrase “time is money.” If your application doesn’t perform well when your customers try to use it, they will quickly leave and go to your competitor in order to find a better customer experience. 

In short, Synthetic Monitoring can be an effective way to quickly ring the alarm when a critical service is down or an entire application crashes.

Although Synthetic Monitoring is already 20 years old, it has recently gained increased attention due to:

  • Heightened attention on the digital experience: It is becoming increasingly easy to draw a straight line between the quality of digital experiences and revenue.
  • More digital traffic: There is a huge global focus to digitize business processes – increasing the number of apps and transactions taking place within them.
  • The need to automate: As the number of applications proliferates, you can no longer rely on manual monitoring and need to find a solution to automate it.

To summarize, as digital experiences become more important to business outcomes, a technical problem in an app or website can cause a loss of millions of dollars – like Facebook’s six-hour outage costs and estimated $79m in ad revenue loss

Synthetic Monitoring promises to be the first alarm bell if (when) one of these technical issues arises. By continuously monitoring application uptime and critical application flows, Synthetic Monitoring can assure your team that any problems will be flagged immediately.

Stay tuned for Logz.io’s new Synthetic Monitoring capabilities!

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