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What is Synthetic Transaction Monitoring (STM)?

What is Synthetic Transaction Monitoring (STM)?

Businesses depend on the performance of their applications to protect their brands and grow their businesses. Generally, synthetic monitoring is the active process of simulating visitor or network traffic to a network-accessible resource to test for availability, response time and other performance metrics. These synthetic tests can be targeted at all layers of the stack including the network, routing and application layers.

For example, we might perform a synthetic page load test that involves generating traffic to a site and evaluating the load performance of each element of a page. The load order and load duration of each element in the Document Object Model (DOM) of a page tested can be presented in a waterfall graph.

Synthetic Monitoring, page load test
Synthetic Monitoring Example: Results of a Page Load Test in Kentik Synthetics

But what if we wanted to go deeper and understand the performance of a web application in terms of specific user interactions with that site? This is where Synthetic Transaction Monitoring comes in.

While the terms “synthetic monitoring” and “Synthetic Transaction Monitoring” (STM) are sometimes used interchangably, STM typically refers to the monitoring of web transactions—the interaction between a client (such as a web browser) and a server (e.g., a web server, a backend database, some cloud-based service, or other components of a distributed web application)—performed in response to some specific interactions that users have with a site.

Synthetic Transaction Monitoring can be used to simulate and monitor the interactions that users have with a web application and identify performance or user experience issues. For example, every e-commerce site has many internal and third-party components that enable a customer to shop, including login, search, recommendation engine, product catalog, making payment and selecting delivery options. Delays or errors in any of these steps can impact the customer experience and lead to lost revenue. STM enables web application developers to benchmark the performance of each of these elements and troubleshoot specific performance issues.

Synthetic Transaction Monitoring Use Cases

Most use cases for STM fall into two categories:

  1. Testing the responsiveness of the steps in an app that you own from various geographic regions. An example is that you want to simulate your customers’ experience in your e-commerce store from dispersed geographies.
  2. Testing from your locations to a set of commonly used apps. The best example of this use case is a multi-location corporation that wants to monitor the response times of apps used by employees at different locations/offices, such as Zoom and Microsoft Office.

STM in Kentik

Kentik’s STM features allow developers to easily do the following:

  • Record a web transaction using Chrome DevTools in the regular Chrome browser to record a series of interactions and output them to an equivalent Puppeteer script
  • Import the Puppeteer script into a Kentik transaction test
  • Run the script from any number of public or private application agents
  • Measure and alert on the total transaction time
  • Capture screenshots during transaction execution
  • View and analyze a waterfall graph of all objects on all pages visited

Here’s what the setup looks like in Kentik when configuring the test. In this simple example, we’re configuring 4 different, geographically-distributed test agents to visit several different URLs and take metrics and screenshots of each:

Synthetic Transaction Monitoring in Kentik, setting up a simple test
Synthetic Transaction Monitoring: Screenshot from Kentik Synthetics showing the configuration of a simple web Transaction test

STM tests can be set as both automatic and periodic on time intervals. Users are able to test from hundreds of Kentik public test agents and private agents can easily be deployed.

STM Test Results

Kentik shows the results of STM tests on a timeline:

  • Results are shown over a user-selectable time period.
  • Lags in performance are indicated by color: Orange is a warning, red is critical, measured against static or dynamic baselines.
  • The graph shows total completion time: Selecting a point on the line will indicate total completion time and the rolling standard deviation baseline.
  • Screenshots captured during the transaction process are included.
  • The Waterfall tab shows the load order and load duration of each element in the DOM of every page visited.
Results of a simple STM test in Kentik, time series
Results of a simple STM test in Kentik: Time-series view showing completion times for each transaction
Results of a simple STM test in Kentik
Results of a simple STM test in Kentik: Waterfall plot of page element load times

About Kentik’s Synthetic Transaction Monitoring Solution

Delivering great digital experiences is critical to the success of your organization. STM can help you accurately monitor digital experiences by measuring both transaction responsiveness as well as emulating user location. Measuring and reporting these performance metrics on an ongoing basis are a critical part of a complete network observability solution.

For more information on Kentik’s STM capabilities, watch our on-demand webinar, “Debug faster! Measure web page and network performance together”, or request a demo.

Related Reading

Learn more about digital experience management topics in these additional Kentipedia articles:

Updated: June 14, 2022
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