3 Approaches to End-User Experience Monitoring
March 29, 2016

Sridhar Iyengar

Share this

The volume of transactions running through websites and mobile apps make customer-facing applications crucial to online businesses. If these applications perform well for their users, they generate revenue for the business. If they don't, they affect the credibility of the business, which in turn affects the overall revenue. It is therefore imperative that businesses understand how well their revenue-critical applications are behaving for their end users.

From an IT team's point of view, understanding the user experience of their applications is becoming challenging as technology evolves. Newer and more complex applications are being written using an assortment of languages. These applications are being deployed on a wide variety of infrastructure components. To add to that, today's users access these modern applications on a variety of devices such as the Web, smartphones, tablets and smart watches.

Fortunately, there are a few means available through which businesses can determine the user experience of their Web applications. Let's take a look at three common approaches:

Real User Monitoring (RUM)

Real user monitoring is a passive monitoring approach that involves collecting metrics at the browser level to accurately determine the application performance as perceived by the end users. Monitoring at the browser level is achieved by injecting JavaScript snippets into the header and footer of the HTML code of the Web application. This code will ascertain the full-page load experience — including downloading the assets from the content delivery network (CDN), rendering the page and executing the JavaScript from the browser's perspective. Additional instrumentation can be used to collect more metrics by injecting additional JavaScript code.

The data gathered through RUM provides answers to questions about user experience such as:

■ How long did it take to load the full page?

■ What is the response time from a network perspective (redirection time, DNS resolution time, connection time)?

■ What is the time interval between sending the request and receiving the first byte of response?

■ What is the time taken by the browser to receive the response and render the page?

■ Are there any problems on the page? If yes, what caused the problem?

■ How is the performance when the application is accessed from different countries?

■ What is the response time across different browsers? Do new application updates affect the performance in a specific version of the browser?

■ How does the application perform in different platforms such as desktop, Web and mobile?

The biggest advantage of monitoring real user data is that it relies on actual traffic to take measurements. There is no need to script the important use cases, which can save a lot of time and resources.

Real user monitoring captures everything as a user goes through the application, so performance data will be available irrespective of what pages the user sees. This is particularly useful for complex apps in which the functionality or content is dynamic.

Server-Side Monitoring

Although user experience is best tracked at the browser level, application performance monitoring at the server side also provides insight into end-user performance. Server-side monitoring is mostly used in conjunction with real user monitoring. This is because problems originating on the server side can only be efficiently detected using server-side monitoring.

Monitoring performance on the server side involves agent-based instrumentation technology for acquiring and transmitting data. This monitoring approach is used to watch user transactions in real time and troubleshoot in case of issues such as slowness or application bugs.

Developers have to install agents on the application server to help capture and visualize transactions end-to-end, with performance statistics across all components, from the URL down to the SQL level. This visual breakdown reveals the flow of all the user transactions being executed in each layer of the application infrastructure.

Server-side monitoring helps track response time and throughput taken by each application component, with the option to trace transactions end-to-end via code analysis. This helps the IT Operations/DevOps teams identify slow Web transactions and then isolate performance issues down to the level of the specific application code that caused them. The underlying database is also monitored most of the time to determine slow database calls, database usage and overall database performance. With server-side monitoring, users will be able to identify the SQL queries executed during a transaction and thus identify the worst performing queries.

Synthetic Transaction Monitoring

Synthetic transaction monitoring is an active monitoring technique based on the concept of simulating the actions of an end user on a Web application. This method involves the use of external monitoring agents executing pre-recorded scripts that mimic end-user behavior at regular time intervals. The monitoring agents are usually very light and do not create any additional load on network traffic.

Most application performance monitoring solutions provide recorder tools to capture the actions or paths a typical end user might take in an application, such as log in, view product, search and check out. These recordings are saved as scripts, which are then executed by the monitoring agents from different geographical locations.

Technically, there are two different approaches to generating requests. Some solutions replay recorded HTTP traffic patterns, while others drive real browser instances. The second approach is more useful for modern applications that make a lot of JavaScript, CSS and Ajax calls.

Since synthetic transaction monitoring involves sending requests across the network, it can measure the response time of application servers and network infrastructure. This type of monitoring does not require actual Web traffic, so you can use this approach to test your Web applications prior to launch — or anytime you like. Many companies use synthetic monitoring before entering production in the form of automated integration tests with Selenium.

Synthetic monitoring does have its limitations, though. Since the monitoring is based on pre-defined transactions, it does not monitor the perception of real end users. Transactions have to be “read-only” because they would otherwise set off real purchase processes. This limits the usage to a certain subset of your business-critical transactions.

The best approach is to use synthetic transaction monitoring as a reference measurement that will help identify performance degradation, detect network problems and notify in case of errors.

Every business is different and has its own requirements that can help to choose which type of monitoring to implement. An ideal strategy would be to use active and passive monitoring techniques side by side so that no stone is left unturned in the pursuit to monitor end-user experience.

Sridhar Iyengar is VP, Product Management, at ManageEngine
Share this

The Latest

April 21, 2021

Few tools provide early detection of mission-critical mail outages. On March 15, Microsoft had a service outage worldwide that impacted its services such as Teams AV, Yammer, OneDrive, and Azure Active Directory. Users reported not being able to login into either of these services and were getting timeout messages ...

April 20, 2021

More than half (60%) of IT organizations are investing in improving employee experience to support remote workforce productivity and performance according to The Changing Role of the IT Leader study by Elastic ...

April 19, 2021

Why are CDNs becoming more important to so many businesses? And how will they handle the new applications coming out over the next few years? APMdigest sat down with Mehdi Daoudi, CEO and co-founder of Catchpoint Systems, to find out ...

April 15, 2021

A growing need for process automation as a result of the confluence of digital transformation initiatives with the remote/hybrid work policies brought on by the pandemic was uncovered by an independent survey of over 500 IT Operations, DevOps, and Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) professionals commissioned by Transposit for its inaugural State of DevOps Automation Report ...

April 14, 2021

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces a global reset of how we gather and work, 60% of organizations are looking forward to increased spending in 2021 to deploy new technologies, according to the 14th annual State of the Network global study of enterprise networking and security challenges released by VIAVI Solutions ...

April 13, 2021

Complexity breaks correlation. Intelligence brings cohesion. This simple principle is what makes real-time asset intelligence a must-have for AIOps that is meant to diffuse complexity. To further create a context for the user, it is critical to understand service dependencies and correlate alerts across the stack to resolve incidents ...

April 12, 2021

We're all familiar with the process of QA within the software development cycle. Developers build a product and send it to QA engineers, who test and bless it before pushing it into the world. After release, a different team of SREs with their own toolset then monitor for issues and bugs. Now, a new level of customer expectations for speed and reliability have pushed businesses further toward delivering rapid product iterations and innovations to keep up with customer demands. This leaves little time to run the traditional development process ...

April 08, 2021

On Wednesday January 27, 2021, Microsoft Office 365 experienced an outage affected a number of its services with a prolonged outage affecting Exchange Online. Despite Microsoft indicating that it was just Exchange Online affected during this outage, some monitoring tools detected that Azure Active Directory and dependent services like SharePoint and OneDrive were also affected at the time. The outage information indicated a rollout and rollback but we wouldn't expect to see such a widescale outage and slowdown just affecting some of the schema unless everything had to be taken offline ...

April 07, 2021

Application availability depends on the availability of other elements in a system, for example, network, server, operating system and so on, which support the application. Concentrating solely on the availability of any one block will not produce optimum availability of the application for the end user ...

April 06, 2021

A hybrid work environment will persist after the pandemic recedes, with over 80% stating that they expect over a quarter of workers to remain remote, and over two-thirds desiring flexibility between on-premises and remote deployments according to the 2021 State of the WAN report released by Aryaka ...