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Why Synthetic User Monitoring Can Be a Good Choice for Network and Systems Administrators

Level 9

Synthetic user monitoring is a technique that simulates user transactions—or common paths on websites—so the administrator can watch for performance issues. These transactions are meant to represent how a user might be experiencing the site. For instance, is a potential customer getting an error when they add an item to their cart? Is a specific page loading slowly or not loading at all? These are things that can affect your bottom line and result in unplanned fire drills.

Synthetic user monitoring should not be confused with Real User Monitoring. Real User Monitoring captures and analyzes transactions from real users on a site. It helps understand load times for your pages from browsers in their actual locations.

These approaches provide different perspectives on web performance. Each have their benefits, but today—in honor of the release of Web Performance Monitor 3.0—we’re going to focus on situations when synthetic user monitoring is a good choice.

Find Performance Issues Before They Cause Problems for Your Users

IT infrastructure monitoring tools are great at telling you if a server or a service is up or down, but users might still be frustrated even if these things look OK. Synthetic user experience monitoring tools let you see if an overall transaction is working (can a user purchase something from your site?) or if a certain step is having trouble (when I click “buy” my payment processing is hanging). Once you’re alerted, you can go into troubleshooting mode with the specifics of what your users are seeing to minimize the impact. Plus, you can continuously run these tests from multiple locations to ensure things are working where your users are. 

Benchmark Your Site’s Performance to Identify Areas for Improvement

As mentioned, synthetic user experience monitoring tools can watch your websites from multiple locations at frequencies of your choice. Seeing this data over time can help you identify areas to optimize going forward. Waterfall charts can be particularly helpful to pinpoint performance bottlenecks over time.

Monitor the Performance of Critical SaaS Applications From Inside Your Firewall

Most companies rely on third-party SaaS applications to run some aspects of their business. For instance, your sales team may be using a SaaS CRM solution to drive and track their daily activities. It’s critical to know if your coworkers are having issues getting what they need. While you don’t own the app, you’re the one they’ll come to when they have issues. A common scenario is setting up a transaction to make sure a valid user can log in successfully and be alerted if it fails.

Knowing about failures or performance issues before your users can save you time and frustration. Synthetic user experience monitoring can help when it comes to websites and web-based applications. How have you used it? Comment below and let us know.

12 Comments
Level 12

Nice read, will tie this in to our existing process to monitor our url's using SAM.

Level 14

Thanks for the article!

Level 15

Interesting article.  Just like most of the security analysis that we do, we must test and monitor real users and of course replay and generate artificial transactions.  This is how we test firewall rules and websites.  Looking at vulnerabilities before they can actually happen. 

Level 16

Thanks for the write up. I have used synthetic user monitoring for several years. On the simplest level SAM works if you just want to see if a website responds and how fast and also with WPM and other tools that you can do additional testing such as log into a site, place an item in the cart and verify you can get to the checkout page.

Additionally if you do logging on your websites you can look for errors in the ISS logs.

Level 9

thank you for this post.

The most memorable use of WPM for me was with a retail company. We monitored their webshop prior to a presales gig with them. There was an “unusual” spike in the WPM charts when I presented it. I thought about an error on my Orion demo instance but they were actually quite concerned when I was about to check what was wrong. They brought in the webshop guys and asked me to tell them what was wrong with their website at that “unusual spike” time. I was quickly able to pinpoint a JPEG Image that had >50MB in size that was taking a long time to load. As the image was provided by an external image hoster, they didn’t catch that with their internal monitoring tools. So simulating how the user actually saw the webpage was key to a quick resolution.

Level 9

Thanks for the article!

I'm all for this.  My System Analysts do this with the free version of Nagios; I'm looking for ways to accomplish their tasks with Solarwinds products, but they keep pushing back on the price differences, and I can't defeat that argument when they don't believe the single-pane-of-glass is achievable or reliable.  I'd love to prove them wrong . . .

Level 9

This is helpful. We can definitely use this to prepare for heavy seasonal traffic.

Level 13

Thanks for the Article

Level 13

Thanks.  Until the mini mission and your article I didn't realize Solarwinds had a product that could do synthetic user monitoring.  While real user monitoring is very useful, synthetic also has it's place and is often the only way to get a sense of what is going to happen prior to deployment or if there has been a major rewrite.  Having this in our toolbox would have saved a lot of grief at times.

Level 12

Having a mobile version of this somehow would be awesome as well!