Synthetic Monitoring: The Complete Guide for 2024

Synthetic monitoring is an essential technique for today‘s digital businesses, but what exactly is it and how can you use it? This comprehensive guide will explain everything you need to know to leverage synthetic monitoring for better application performance.

What is Synthetic Monitoring and Why is it important?

Synthetic monitoring simulates user transactions to proactively monitor the availability and performance of critical business applications and services. It works by scripting out common user workflows and running them on a schedule from different locations and devices. As the synthetic transactions run, performance metrics like response time, uptime, and errors are measured at each step.

This enables issues to be identified immediately, before your customers ever encounter them. Synthetic monitoring provides an early warning system for potential problems.

But why has synthetic monitoring become so crucial for modern digital businesses? There are three key factors driving adoption:

  • Customer-centric business models – Today‘s enterprises are focused on delivering seamless digital experiences. Synthetic monitoring allows them to monitor the software and apps driving those experiences.
  • Proliferation of apps – As businesses build more and more applications, the need for automated monitoring and testing rises exponentially. Synthetic monitoring easily scales to monitor any number of apps.
  • High cost of downtime – With revenue increasingly tied to digital channels, the cost of downtime has skyrocketed. According to Aberdeen Group, the average cost of one hour of downtime is around $260,000. Synthetic monitoring helps avoid outages.

In essence, synthetic monitoring provides constant visibility into the availability and performance that your customers see and experience. It allows digital businesses to deliver the flawless experiences that customers expect.

How Does Synthetic Monitoring Work?

Synthetic monitoring works by scripting out user workflows and running them continuously to replicate real usage patterns. Here is the overall process:

  1. Identify critical business transactions and workflows to monitor. These may include workflows like account login, search, checkout, etc.
  2. Script these workflows to simulate real user interactions. The scripts will include various checkpoints to measure performance.
  3. Execute the synthetic scripts on a defined schedule, such as once per minute or once per hour. Run tests globally from different locations.
  4. As scripts run, capture performance metrics like response time, errors, and availability at each checkpoint.
  5. Send data back to a monitoring system, where it can trigger alerts and be analyzed for trends.
  6. Purge synthetic monitoring data at regular intervals to avoid cluttering analytics.

Typically tests are executed on a frequency optimized for the metric being measured. Availability checks may run as often as every minute, while full business transactions could run every 15 minutes.

Synthetic Monitoring Interface

Here‘s an example of what a synthetic monitoring script looks like from one checkpoint to another. The monitoring tool will capture metrics at each step.

  1. Load home page
  2. Check page load time
  3. Enter username and password
  4. Check response time
  5. Click submit
  6. Validate login successful
  7. Check for errors

This approach allows critical workflows to be continuously tested proactively. If a performance issue or outage occurs, it will be detected immediately by the synthetic scripts.

Key Benefits and Uses of Synthetic Monitoring

Synthetic monitoring delivers a number of important benefits:

Early detection of issues – By mimicking user transactions, synthetic monitoring can identify issues before your customers do. The earlier issues can be detected, the faster they can be fixed.

Testing from a user‘s perspective – Scripts can be easily tailored to run across different locations, browsers, and devices. This provides insight into real user experiences.

Analyze performance trends – Metrics gathered over time establish a performance baseline to optimize and identify anomalies.

Monitor third-party services – Track the availability and performance of third parties like CDNs and payment gateways that impact user experience.

Identify problems across microservices environments – Simulate transactions across distributed services to pinpoint issues and bottlenecks.

Synthetic scripts can be highly customized to simulate different user scenarios and test a variety of flows. Common use cases include:

  • New feature testing – Test upcoming features and releases before launch.
  • Cross-browser testing – Validate consistent performance across different browsers like Chrome, Safari and Firefox.
  • Global testing – Check performance from different geographic regions.
  • Third-party monitoring – Verify third-party APIs and services that integrate with your app are working.
  • Load testing – Simulate increased traffic during peak periods to validate capacity.

Synthetic vs. Real User Monitoring

Synthetic monitoring is often used alongside real user monitoring (RUM) for comprehensive monitoring:

Synthetic MonitoringReal User Monitoring
Simulates scripts mimicking user transactionsPassively monitors real production traffic
Can test even without real user traffic presentRequires real user traffic to gather data
Validates availability and uptimeFocuses on performance metrics
Complements RUM with proactive testingProvides visibility into real user experiences

RUM passively gathers performance data from real user sessions. Synthetic proactively simulates transactions, even when users aren‘t actively using an application. Together, they deliver complete visibility.

Types of Synthetic Monitoring

There are a few main types of synthetic monitoring:

Availability Monitoring

This validates applications, services and websites are up and accessible from end user locations under normal traffic conditions. Availability monitoring runs frequent tests (as often as 1 minute) to identify outages rapidly.

Transaction Monitoring

Transaction tests simulate an entire end user workflow, such as:

  1. Login to application
  2. Search for products
  3. Add item to cart
  4. Proceed to checkout
  5. Complete payment

By mimicking these critical business transactions, transaction monitoring verifies real world functionality and performance.

Web Performance Monitoring

Web performance monitoring focuses on simulating network conditions to test site speed. Scripts validate page load times, network latency, and other key web vitals under real user scenarios.

Top Synthetic Monitoring Tools

Many application performance management tools include synthetic monitoring capabilities. Here are some of the top options specifically focused on synthetic monitoring:

ToolKey Features
SmartBear AlertSiteAPI and end-user experience monitoring, advanced alerting and intelligence
CatchpointDigital experience analytics, patented network telemetry data
PingdomGlobal uptime and performance monitoring, public status pages
RigorOptimized workflows for web performance testing
DynatracePart of larger digital experience management platform
AppDynamicsIntegrated synthetic monitoring for troubleshooting

SmartBear AlertSite

SmartBear AlertSite provides capabilities tailored to synthetic monitoring including:

  • Scripting for API and web transactions
  • Combined end user and API tests
  • Advanced dynamic alerts and anomaly detection
  • Built-in intelligence to prevent false alerts
  • Global testing locations

It also offers visual workflow scripts to easily create and maintain tests.

Catchpoint

Catchpoint is a leader in digital experience analytics. For synthetic monitoring it offers:

  • Patent-pending network telemetry to detect issues
  • Testing across global Points of Presence (POPs)
  • Integration with other observability data
  • Support for custom scripts
  • Monitoring of third-party services
  • Automated root cause analysis

Other Notable Tools:

  • New Relic – Offers browser and API monitoring for web and mobile apps.
  • ThousandEyes – Includes web and transaction testing with network path visualization.
  • Site24x7 – Integrated external and internal monitoring on a single platform.
  • Pingdom – Global uptime and performance monitoring with public status pages.

Getting Started With Synthetic Monitoring: Tips

Ready to implement synthetic monitoring? Here are some best practices:

Identify critical workflows

Prioritize the user journeys and business transactions that are most important to synthetically monitor. Focus on high-value workflows.

Execute tests frequently

Configure tests to run as frequently as needed based on the metric. Availability can be tested every 1-5 minutes for rapid detection.

Test from global endpoints

Run tests from locations that reflect your real user base to account for geographic performance differences.

Set dynamic thresholds

Fine tune threshold settings over time to minimize false alerts while still detecting real issues.

Compare trends over time

Compare current performance against historical baselines to detect anomalies and opportunities to improve.

Validate across browsers and devices

Test across different browsers, mobile vs. desktop, and device types to reflect real-world use cases.

Monitor third parties

Include availability and performance monitoring for third-party services like CDNs that impact user experience.

Integrate monitoring into workflows

Connect alerts and data with collaboration platforms to streamline communication and issue resolution.

Review and update scripts

Update synthetic scripts to account for new application features and functionality over time.

Key Takeaways and Advice

Here are the key points to keep in mind about synthetic monitoring:

  • Leverage synthetic monitoring to proactively identify issues before customers.
  • Combine synthetic with real user monitoring for comprehensive visibility.
  • Focus on simulating critical business workflows and transactions.
  • Test frequently from global endpoints and across browsers/devices.
  • Integrate synthetic data into workflows to speed up resolution.
  • Review and update scripts regularly as applications evolve.
  • Consider tools like SmartBear and Catchpoint designed specifically for synthetic monitoring.

Adopting synthetic monitoring best practices will help you continuously validate optimal performance and availability from your customers‘ point of view. Taking a proactive approach is critical for today‘s digital businesses reliance on software.

Conclusion and Recommended Resources

Synthetic monitoring has become an essential tool for modern digital businesses to deliver flawless digital experiences. By continuously mimicking real user interactions, synthetic monitoring serves as an early warning system for potential issues.

This guide provided a comprehensive overview of what synthetic monitoring is, its benefits, types of tests, top tools, and best practices to get started. For readers interested in learning more, here are some recommended resources:

Synthetic monitoring is a must-have capability for today‘s software driven companies. The ability to proactively identify issues before they impact customers provides tremendous value. This guide outlined everything you need to implement an effective synthetic monitoring program. Reach out for any additional questions!

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