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See What Your Users See, Now: How to Harness the Power of Real User Monitoring

October 10, 2013 — by Tammy Everts0

Over the past few years, real user monitoring (RUM) has evolved from an arcane topic discussed only by the geekiest of geeks to a subject that’s on almost every site owner’s lips. Yet despite its buzzword status, the RUM adoption rate remains low — as low as 20%, according to one survey — and operationalizing all this great user data remains virtually nonexistent.

Here’s how your company can learn to embrace this extraordinarily powerful tool.

Background: Why Synthetic Performance Tests Fail to Measure the End User Experience

Historically, many site owners have relied on synthetic tests to provide 100% of their performance picture; however, this picture is incomplete. That’s because synthetic tests were originally developed to do two things very well:

  1. Monitor uptime/downtime
  2. Spot basic performance trends

Synthetic tests were never intended to measure the end-user experience. For one thing, synthetic tests can paint a too-rosy picture of page load times. In the real world, pages can take up to twice as long to load as a synthetic test might indicate.

Beyond load time, there are a myriad of other end-user performance problems that can go completely undetected by a synthetic test, including the following:

  • The visitor may be on a different browser/client than the test system.
  • The visitor may be using an area of the site that you’re not testing, or following a navigational path you haven’t anticipated.
  • The visitor’s network connection may be different from that used by the test.
  • Visitor behaviors — such as adding and deleting items from a shopping cart or repeatedly hitting the ‘Back’ button — may cause the site to behave erratically or even break.
  • Brief intermittent outages could occur in the intervals between tests.
  • Similarly, in a load-balanced environment, if only one of your servers goes down, then only a portion of your traffic will experience problems. Depending on how many servers in your environment, this could greatly diminish the odds of your synthetic test catching the problem.
  • Synthetic tools can’t give you meaningful data on how your site performs for mobile users.

RUM Tools Empower You to Take Action Now

To find and fix problems that affect actual visitors, you need to watch those visitors as they interact with your website. RUM tools capture, analyze, and report a site’s performance and availability from the perspective of real users in real time.

RUM is a powerful tool for site owners. A properly deployed RUM solution empowers you to:

  • Know how real users are using your site in real time.
  • Aggregate your user data on a massive scale — think billions of page views — and then analyze the data in endless ways.
  • Have complete end-to-end performance visibility, from the datacenter to the network to the user’s browser.
  • Prove you met service-level targets with customers. (More on this here.)
  • Support users and resolve disputes based on a record of what actually happened.
  • Speed up problem resolution with “first-cause” analysis to localize the issue.
  • Help with configuration and validation of synthetic tests.
A view of the Radware APM dashboard
A view of the Radware APM dashboard

The Next Challenge: How to Operationalize Your RUM Data

As performance expert Aaron Kulick has stated, “RUM is trivial to implement but complicated to make actionable.”

At the most recent Velocity Web Performance and Operation Conference, the topic of real user monitoring heavily dominated the sessions, discussions, and trade show floor. Yet despite this, every time I chatted with performance engineers at household-name companies, I learned that, while some of these companies were using multiple RUM solutions and gathering tons of sophisticated data, most were operationalizing virtually none of it.

Clearly, there’s a huge gap between what the tools can do and what people are using the tools to do. This isn’t the fault of those people, but rather an indicator of how quickly RUM has come onto the scene.

Conclusion

It takes a lot of multidisciplinary know-how to make RUM data truly relevant at an operational level. It’s not enough to own the tools — the next step is to educate every business unit in your organization about the massive amount of data at their fingertips, and then engage them in the process of extracting it in meaningful-to-them ways.

Learn more about Radware’s Application Performance Monitoring (APM) solution.

Tammy Everts

As a former senior researcher, writer, and solution evangelist for Radware, Tammy Everts spent years researching the technical, business, and human factor sides of web/application performance. Before joining Radware, Tammy shared her research findings through countless blog posts, presentations, case studies, whitepapers, articles, reports, and infographics for Strangeloop Networks.

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