Synthetic Testing: Monitor Everything, Everywhere

User Experiences

Whether it’s a DNS query, a web transaction, or an API test, synthetic monitoring can validate the success and efficacy of nearly any action. Observations gathered by synthetic tests help detect variability, deterioration, and malfunctions in your digital experience that, if left unresolved, become a cause of frustration to your users.


However, many organizations limit themselves to only one kind of synthetic monitoring: cloud-based web monitoring. In this article, we’ll look at why it’s important to consider synthetic monitoring as something to do across your entire digital experience delivery chain.

Synthetic Monitoring as a Methodology

Synthetic monitoring has many names: blackbox monitoring, active monitoring, and  proactive monitoring. At its core, synthetic monitoring is really just a symptom-oriented (versus predictive) approach to troubleshooting.


This methodology emulates actions of real users by performing a functional test, or series of tests, without worrying about the inner workings of the product. Instead, synthetic tests focus on measuring the service experience that the product promises to provide. Was the experience fast and smooth? Was the content delivered or navigated to accurately? Was the content as expected?


But users are diverse; they live in different locations, use different devices, speak different languages. One series of tests cannot provide enough perspective to fully know the collective experience of your user base. For this reason, synthetic monitoring as a methodology also implies a ubiquitous testing strategy.

Synthetic Monitoring Answers Four Questions

Synthetic monitoring helps answer four basic questions:

1. Is it reachable?
2. Is it available?
3. Is it performing?
4. Is it reliable?

You can read more about these concepts in our in-depth article on the subject, but basically, these four questions validate the overall accessibility of your products and services. This data should help chart the course for shipping a more accessible product both in terms of performance across multiple devices and availability through many networks.

Synthetic Monitoring is Kind to Users

Although Real User Monitoring (RUM) is a very effective way to monitor your applications and services to understand end user experience, do you really want to force your users to be your QA team? With a RUM only approach to testing, your team is essentially relying on the user to discover and endure poor product experiences.

Synthetic monitoring allows you to find and correct digital experience issues before users endure them. It also helps uncover blindspots in RUM, where users cannot reach your service, or load your library (and thus no data from them gets collected).

Synthetic Testing Must Go Beyond Cloud

All APM vendors today (Dynatrace, NewRelic, Datadog, AppD) have synthetic monitoring products, however their products only run from cloud providers such as AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.

Why? Because it’s cheaper and easier. But it’s not better.

Now, there’s certainly merit to cloud-based monitoring; Catchpoint also has over 150 nodes hosted with cloud providers (Azure, AWS, Google, Oracle, IBM, Alicloud, Tencent). But the limitation of cloud-based monitoring is that it does not provide data that is as clean, or as powerful, or as stable. In fact, dealing with noisy neighbors is a big problem in the cloud.

Most  cloud-based monitoring providers simply do not want to deal with the added complexity of working with networking partners across the globe to set up servers and circuits on backbone, broadband, and wireless networks. This is a herculean task with a process that takes months.

Catchpoint understands the value of high-quality data. We’ve forged relationships across the world to build a global node network.  ‍

Cloud-Only Monitoring Blindspots

A lack of ISP visibility means lack of routing, network, and BGP information; these are all critical services that really matter to your users. Here are some well known events that could have been mitigated with the adoption of synthetic monitoring as a methodology:

Having just a cloud-only monitoring solution creates blindspots that force you to rely on unhappy users to communicate service outages. As you can imagine, this is a very slow and costly way to discover critical issues--and altogether ineffective for mitigation.

Using a synthetic monitoring solution that can perform testing beyond the cloud ensures that you can identify critical issues, as soon as they happen, and execute any necessary failover systems in place.

Conclusion

Synthetic monitoring is typically viewed as a very specific category of tests. However, when viewed as a methodology, synthetic monitoring becomes a tool for user advocacy that expands into an ongoing, vigilant act of performance awareness. Keeping that awareness accurate requires a 360 degree view of your application performance, which ultimately means broadening your synthetic monitoring practice beyond the cloud.

Looking to apply the synthetic monitoring methodology to your business? Catchpoint provides beyond-cloud synthetic monitoring solutions that span the broadest global node network available.

Originally published on
July 11, 2019
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updated on
February 25, 2021
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CEO at Catchpoint