The Guide to Synthetic Monitoring

Catchpoint's guide to synthetic Monitoring

The Guide to Synthetic Monitoring

This guide has been created by Catchpoint to answer common questions from practitioners about synthetic monitoring. The articles are organized by topic, and they can be read either separately or together as a whole set.

You will learn about:

-   The differences between synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring
-   The benefits of synthetic monitoring for improving end-user experience
-   Troubleshooting tips for interpreting synthetic monitoring results 
-   What features to look for in a synthetic monitoring tool

What is Synthetic Monitoring? 

Synthetic Monitoring emulates end-user transactions using behavioral scripts to validate and measure workflow performance from multiple test points. This kind of monitoring is well-suited for resolving issues because it detects slowness or downtime before your end-users notice any impact. 

Why use Synthetic Monitoring?

Synthetic monitoring enables you to establish performance baselines for your digital services or applications. By emulating multi-protocol synthetic transactions at configurable intervals, you can establish daily, weekly, monthly baselines for any important set of performance measures (e.g., user experience, network, DNS, CDN, or API performance). Continuous synthetic monitoring then leverages these established baselines to detect any deviations and alert you of the root cause.

Additional uses include:

  • Conducting performance analysis while your services are being tested in a staging environment prior to production release
  • Conducting availability and performance analysis during non-peak hours (low or no traffic)
  • Conducting competitive analysis of responsiveness to benchmark against other applications or websites

How Synthetic Monitoring Improves Service Quality  

Product success requires consistency—in content, in availability, in performance—regardless of the target market or service niche. Users have high expectations for application responsiveness and will quickly switch to alternative solutions. Synthetic monitoring helps you manage the perception of your applications across every major dimension of user interactivity. 

Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for human wellness, your service’s wellness also has its own hierarchy of needs. Specific to synthetic monitoring, we have defined the following four levels:

  • Availability - monitor availability
  • Performance - measure performance
  • Reachability - extend reachability
  • Reliability - trend reliability

At a foundational level, your service must be up and running. Once it’s available, users expect it to be fast. Next, you must enable your users to access the service from anywhere in the world or at least make it accessible from all regions within your target market. And finally, your website must be consistent in how it’s available, performing, and reachable.

"Product success requires consistency—in content, in availability, in performance—regardless of the target market or service niche. Users have high expectations for application responsiveness and will quickly switch to alternative solutions. Synthetic monitoring helps you manage the perception of your applications across every major dimension of user interactivity."

We have defined this as reliability; however, it is sometimes known as a Service Level Agreement (SLA) which is measured as a percentage of time (such as 99.999%). Fortunately, synthetic monitoring is well suited to test all of the aspects of service quality as defined.

A website or application service should be available, performance, reachable and reliable.
Your digital service’s hierarchy of needs

Where Synthetic Monitoring Happens 

Your users are on a quest to achieve a task, discover new information, or experience entertainment. Although seemingly instant, their success requires getting past several checkpoints across the internet. For example, they must:

  1. Use an endpoint device with adequate hardware and software.
  2. Access an active internet connection with sufficient bandwidth.
  3. Resolve your domain name into an IP address to send traffic to it.
  4. Load any cached content from a Content Distribution Network (CDN) node close to their geographic location.
  5. Get routing directions for their data packets from a Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) as they relay across Internet Service Providers (ISP).
  6. Connect to the cloud service provider that is hosting your application service.
  7. And perhaps wait for your application to get additional data from a third-party API before responding. 

This journey happens with every user interaction that requires content from your service. Synthetic Monitoring allows your team to segment each of these checkpoints across your user’s journey to quickly triangulate problems blocking their path to your application from their local region.

Synthetic monitoring isolates performance problems with DNS, CDN, BGP of Internet Service Providers.
Synthetic monitoring exercises all segments of the data path

Why Synthetic Monitoring is So Effective 

Synthetic monitoring validates your application’s health at all hours of the day, in all relevant locations, across every network provider, and for every major or minor transaction. It does not require active users to measure performance. Information gathered by synthetic monitoring is segmented by network checkpoints found along the data path. Without synthetic monitoring, valuable network information is nebulous and often the cause of performance blindspots.


Rum vs. Synthetic Monitoring

Learn how synthetic monitoring complements real-user monitoring (RUM) or augments RUM for tasks like benchmarking and performance analysis. 

Web Performance Monitoring 

Discover how raw data is aggregated, which performance metrics are the most important to keep track of, and how to apply data analytic concepts like Cumulative Distribution Function (CDF) to your data. 

DNS Monitoring 

Dive into the components of DNS services, their record types, and all of the potential threats or pitfalls that can challenge the stability of your address resolution infrastructure. 

CDN Monitoring 

Get familiar with content delivery networks (CDN), how they are used, and what aspects of CDNs are the most important to check for optimal caching, routing, and uptime. 

Synthetic Monitoring Tools 

Get help comparing synthetic monitoring tools and determine which features are essential for your business’s use cases.

API Monitoring

Learn about various API types, the best practices for monitoring and debugging them, the right KPIs to measure, and the important criteria to consider for selecting an API monitoring tool.

Synthetic Transaction Monitoring

Understand how transaction monitoring complements API monitoring, learn about the best practices and pitfalls, and see a comprehensive list of criteria for picking the right tool for you.

Find Out More About Proactive Synthetic Monitoring, the Catchpoint way!
In this video, Catchpoint Technical Evangelist, Joe McCarthy will walk you through a hands-on demo of synthetic monitoring and will share how Catchpoint’s level of coverage and test types make it best-of-breed.
Watch the 8 Minute Webinar

“We always want our users to have a good experience, and this was particularly true as many teachers grappled with remote learning for the first time. As we improved our platform, Catchpoint enabled us to make informed decisions about when to scale. We continue using Catchpoint to ensure we don’t exceed our performance threshold.”

Jillian Silver, Tech Lead

Learn how Teachers Pay Teachers rely on our Synthetic Monitoring
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