November 26, 2020

Synthetic Monitoring – Path to Greatness

Vadym Dykyi

No matter how good your site looks, it also has to be able to sustain high loads and run all functions without any errors. This seems easy enough but when you have a sprawling architecture and also have to devote resources to other projects, it’s impractical to focus on website testing. It’s particularly bothersome for companies that actually do their due diligence and run real user monitoring or testing to catch any problems. So if you want to keep your site working smoothly but don’t feel like wasting time and money, what can you do? The answer lies in the process of synthetic monitoring, which we’ll discuss today.

Two Magic Words

Before we talk about just what synthetic monitoring is we need to mention real user monitoring (RUM for short). It’s the process wherein you track real-time visits to your website or app and, by analyzing the visit and the actions your users take, fix any issues and optimize your product. It has its pros and cons (more on that later) but it does require quick fixes since you’re practically patching holes in the site/app in real time.

Synthetic monitoring, though, is the simulation equivalent of this.By simulating the visits of real users to the site, you can test out any forms and elements, see how fast pages load, and refine the product before the visitors start pouring in. However, it does require writing the scripts that will enact these simulations and accounting for any and all actions your users might take. It’s not an easy process but its advantages are numerous, especially when it comes to working with high-stakes projects where no bugs must be allowed through.

Why Go Synthetic?

If you look at them in a general sense, RU and synthetic monitoring aren’t that different. It’s basically the same processes, except in one case they’re conducted by actual people while in the other it’s just a script running through the motions. However, synthetic transactions do have their advantages over reliance on real users. First and foremost, synthetic transaction monitoring is about prevention.

You’re being proactive by running these scripts and testing out your site or app. This way you end up with a fully-working product before the first real user ever “sets their feet on the ground”. That kind of proactive approach is often the best option, especially if you’re banking hard on the product making waves from the start. Any app or site that uses third-party APIs or microservices should be monitored synthetically since RUM won’t net you data from any third-party elements. And those can be a key building block in your product, especially on the client-facing side. In such cases, synthetic monitoring is pretty much the only option.

Another huge advantage is the ability to closely monitor performance.You can see microimprovements in loading and responsiveness, thus determining which elements still need some work and whether the product is ready for public use.Plus, you don’t have to rely on your users to do exactly what needs to be done for testing. Instead of waiting for the right set of actions, you run them yourself, creating an environment where testing is available at the press of a button. It’s a faster and more reliable way to air out any bugs.

Nobody is Perfect

Of course, synthetic monitoring isn’t perfect. If it was, we wouldn’t need any other type and every single product out there would be bug-free. So let’s talk frankly about cases where synthetic transaction monitoring comes up short.

For one, since the scripts that you use to run synthetic monitoring are made manually, it’s much harder to make them act exactly like a real user. You can never predict what every single user will do on your site/with your app while scripts rely on a pre-set slew of actions. Sure, you could run a script that, say, reloads the site 10 times, scrolls through a single page and quits. That would simulate a single outlier user but it’s hugely impractical and you can’t realistically expect your team to write scripts for every single insane case like that.

Also, depending on the tools you use, you might have a limited range of capabilities.The same could be true for RUM but, with that method, you only really need tracking tools, which are plentiful and varied. So choose carefully, synthetic monitoring tools aren’t something you want to go cheap on.

Speaking of cheap… Synthetic monitoring is anything but that. It’s not outrageously expensive and if you want high quality you have to be ready to spend. But it does make this methodology a bit of a tricky pick for small companies.

Is It Worth It?

Well, even the steep price tag on synthetic monitoring shouldn’t scare away those concerned about quality. After all, this methodology allows you to nip issues in the bud and deliver a complete and refined product to users. It creates an environment where you can test out your app/site with peak load or by running “users” from any part of the world, simulating all kinds of circumstances.

There’s no overstating the vital role of benchmarks in monitoring.By running benchmark tests, you can determine how well your site or app is prepared for the load of users using it. Moreover, you can see how fast the product works and whether it’s up to your standards. It’s also a way of sticking to SLAs since synthetic monitoring allows to set a pretty precise bar of performance.

If you’re using third-party APIs, synthetic monitoring can help see if those APIs and microservices are actually doing you good. By checking their performance you can see if it’s worth sticking with the current setup or, perhaps, switch to another provider. Moreover, you can hold the current one accountable if something isn’t up to the promised standard since synthetic transaction monitoring will net you all the data you need.

Quality Assurance

As you can see, synthetic monitoring is a powerful tool for quality assurance and it’s a great option if you want a high-end product. Another choice, no less great but a bit more sprawling, is to rely on Incode Group’s specialists. We will handle development, design, QA, and all services that bring together the elements of a stellar product. And we love to try new projects, especially challenging ones so drop us a message if you have ambitious ideas in the pipeline!

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