Synthetic monitoring is a method used to regularly monitor a website or other online service to ensure it is online and available for use by website visitors. It is also used for monitoring and measuring the performance of the website to ensure that the consistency of service delivered remains constant and within web performance policy.
Operations departments have embraced synthetic monitoring for these two main functions as effective monitoring tools to provide quick alerts to operation staff that warn of potential and actual service failures to business critical or customer facing services.
Originally a synthetic monitor was software agent or robot that was scripted to perform a pre-determined set of actions on selected web pages or services. For example on a retail ecommerce website the agent may start on a home page, then search for a product, review it, place it the ecommerce basket and then purchase it. These set of actions are known as a user journey and forms the basis of ensuring that critical website functions are operational.
Modern synthetic monitors are now built using the Chrome browser, in either a headless or full operating mode, so that a more realistic user journey can be tested and reported on. This approach provides additional functionality as a real browser exposes considerable more information about how the web page loads, such as CPU time and memory usage on the browser.
Comprehensive synthetic monitoring tools have considerable functionality that easily align with organizational processes to ensure high availability and consistent web performance. At a minimum a synthetic monitoring tool should provide the following capabilities:
- Provide a consistent monitoring environment that establishes a consistent testing environment so that false positives are negated or even eliminated.
- Provide repeatable monitoring of user-based interaction with any web page, set of web pages (user journey) or online service.
- Enable monitors to be configured by user agent, bandwidth throttling, monitoring origin and custom alerting such as if the TTFB or page size is exceeded.
- Comprehensive reporting to support the triage of problems and provide management with historical reporting.
- Extensive and flexible alerting, including escalation, of problems as they occur.
- Mobile App to enable on-the-move support access and response capabilities.
- Easy to use but comprehensive script generation and modification facilities.
- Integration capabilities to enable integration with third party tools.
With these types of features it is possible to implement a synthetic monitoring solution that provides availability monitoring and also enables web performance policy to be implemented. A web performance policy monitors and reports on the monitored web site against a set of web performance criteria. This enables web performance issues to be quickly identified and plans put in place for their resolution.
Synthetic monitoring is a popular tool for maintaining operational excellence in the support of web sites and applications. Organizations have considerable choice in the tools available as there are currently dozens of different vendors of synthetic monitoring, each with their own method of working, reporting processes and pricing. Application Performance Monitoring (APM) vendors all provide a synthetic monitoring component as part of a wider integrated solution. However, the benefits of an integrated should be carefully weighed against a non-integrated synthetic monitoring solution, that has integration features, that has a wider range on monitoring features and options.