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How Does Synthetic Monitoring Work?

Alex Khazanovich
March 15, 2024

Synthetic monitoring works by using automated scripts or programs to simulate user interactions with a web application. These simulations are designed to mimic the actions a real user would take, such as clicking links, filling out forms, or navigating through a site. The monitoring software executes these actions at scheduled intervals or continuously to test the performance and availability of the web services. 

It collects data on response times, functionality, and performance metrics, alerting administrators if the system behaves unexpectedly or falls below predefined thresholds. Below, I’ll break this concept down to its components, showing how the system essentially works:

1. Script Creation

The foundation of synthetic website monitoring lies in script creation, where developers or QA engineers craft automated scripts that mirror typical user journeys within a web application. In synthetic user monitoring, these journeys can encompass a variety of actions such as logging in, searching for items, and completing transactions, closely imitating real user behavior.

To ensure a comprehensive evaluation, scripts incorporate diverse user behaviors and simulate conditions across different browsers, screen sizes, and connection speeds. This step is critical in designing a test that closely replicates real-world user interactions, providing a baseline for evaluating the application's performance and functionality.

2. Test Environment Setup

Once the scripts are prepared, they are deployed on synthetic website monitoring tools equipped to execute these scripts at predetermined intervals.

A crucial aspect of setting up the test environment is selecting test locations around the globe, which helps in simulating the interaction of users from different geographical areas. 

This distinction highlights the proactive approach of synthetic monitoring vs real user monitoring, with the former's global distribution being essential for assessing the application’s performance and availability on a worldwide scale before users encounter issues.

3. Execution of Tests

The execution phase involves the scheduled or continuous running of the prepared scripts. Synthetic monitoring tools utilize headless browsers or API calls to perform scripted actions without human intervention, mimicking the end-user behavior as accurately as possible. 

Whether the tests are executed continuously or at specific intervals, this automated process is designed to systematically probe the web application, assessing its responsiveness, functionality, and overall performance from various locations and under different conditions. 

4. Data Collection and Analysis

During the data collection and analysis phase, synthetic monitoring tools gather and evaluate a wealth of information related to the web application's performance and functionality. 

This includes measuring critical performance metrics such as page load times, server response times, and error rates, which offer a quantitative basis for assessing the application's efficiency and reliability. 

In parallel, synthetic performance monitoring involves conducting functional checks to verify the correct operation of various application components, such as links, buttons, and forms. This dual focus gives you a better understanding of both how well the application performs and how effectively it functions from an end-user perspective.

5. Alerting and Reporting

The alerting and reporting mechanisms within synthetic monitoring serve as a feedback loop for maintaining the health of the web application. Administrators define specific performance thresholds that, when breached, trigger automatic alerts. 

These alerts signify potential issues, such as degraded performance or functionality failures, necessitating immediate attention. To complement the alerting system, synthetic monitoring tools generate detailed reports and dashboards. 

These resources provide in-depth analysis of performance trends, pinpoint potential bottlenecks, and highlight areas ripe for improvement, enabling stakeholders to make informed decisions about where to focus their optimization efforts.

6. Troubleshooting and Optimization

Root cause analysis becomes a pivotal activity, as teams delve into the data to identify the underlying reasons for any detected issues. This investigative work is crucial for addressing the root problems rather than merely treating symptoms. 

With a clear understanding of the challenges at hand, organizations can then engage in a cycle of continuous improvement, leveraging insights from the monitoring process to refine and enhance the web application. 

This ongoing optimization aims not only to resolve current issues but also to preempt potential future problems, thereby ensuring the application's performance and reliability meet users' expectations consistently.