Synthetic Monitoring: Helpful Info for Web Developers, Architects and Admins

Every website requires some kind of real-time monitoring to stay abreast of changes to the production behavior of web applications at runtime. We all need to see how our websites hold up by simulating a customer clicking through our site pages and launching various transactions or complex requests. We also need to see how our apps respond when things go wrong. That’s what synthetic monitoring (aka active monitoring) helps with.

Microsoft‘s Technet Site has some helpful info. Here’s a snippet followed by a link for more detailed info:

In Operations Manager 2007, synthetic transactions are actions, run in real time, that are performed on monitored objects. You can use synthetic transactions to measure the performance of a monitored object and to see how Operations Manager reacts when synthetic stress is placed on your monitoring settings.

For example, for a Web site, you can create a synthetic transaction that performs the actions of a customer connecting to the site and browsing through its pages. For databases, you can create transactions that connect to the database. You can then schedule these actions to occur at regular intervals to see how the database or Web site reacts and to see whether your monitoring settings, such as alerts and notifications, also react as expected.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd440885.aspx

Wikipedia has the following info (click the link for more info):

Synthetic monitoring (also known as active monitoring) is website monitoring that is done using a web browser emulation or scripted real web browsers. Behavioral scripts (or paths) are created to simulate an action or path that a customer or end-user would take on a site. Those paths are then continuously monitored at specified intervals for performance, such as: functionality, availability, and response time measures.

Synthetic monitoring is valuable because it enables a webmaster to identify problems and determine if his website or web application is slow or experiencing downtime before that problem affects actual end-users or customers. This type of monitoring does not require actual web traffic so it enables companies to test web applications 24×7, or test new applications prior to a live customer-facing launch.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_monitoring

Website monitoring is the process of testing and verifying that end-users can interact with a website or web application as expected. Website monitoring is often used by businesses to ensure website uptime, performance, and functionality is as expected.

Website monitoring companies provide organizations the ability to consistently monitor a website, or server function, and observe how it responds. The monitoring is often conducted from several locations around the world to a specific website, or server, in order to detect issues related to general Internet latency, network hop issues, and to pinpoint errors. Monitoring companies generally report on these tests in a variety of reports, charts and graphs. When an error is detected monitoring services send out alerts via email, SMS, phone, SNMP trap, pager that may include diagnostic information, such as a network trace route, code capture of a web page’s HTML file, a screen shot of a webpage,and even a video of a website failing. These diagnostics allow network administrators and webmasters to correct issues faster.

Monitoring gathers extensive data on website performance, such as load times, server response times, page element performance that is often analyzed and used to further optimize website performance.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Website_monitoring 

Best Practices for Active Response Time Monitoring by Chung Wu

First, unless carefully designed, the tests may not be representative of actual end user activities, reducing the usefulness of the measurements. Therefore, you must be very careful in defining those tests. It would be a good idea to sit down with real users to observe how they use the applications. If the application has not been launched, work with the developers, or if there is one, the UI interaction designer to define the flow. In addition, work with your business sponsors to understand where the application will be used and the distribution of user population. You would want to place your synthetic test drivers at locations where it is important to measure user experience.

Second, some synthetic transactions are very hard to create and may introduce noise into business data. While it is usually relatively easy to create query-based synthetic transactions, it is much harder to create transactions that create or update data. For example, if synthetic transactions are to test for successful checkouts on an e-commerce website, the tests must be constructed carefully so that the test orders are not mis-categorized as actual orders.

To mitigate these potential problems, you should set up dedicated test account(s) to make it easier to tell whether something running on the application came from real users or the synthetic tests…

Read the rest at http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/app-mgt-blog/best-practices-for-active-response-time-monitoring-23265 

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