Real User Monitoring

What is Real User Monitoring?

Real user monitoring (RUM) is a passive performance monitoring technique that allows you to see your web application performance from the point of view of a real end user. RUM analyzes all user interactions with a website or clients interacting with a server or cloud-based application. Monitoring actual user interaction with a website or an application is important to operators to determine if users are being served quickly and without errors and, if not, which part of a business process is failing.

Let’s break that definition down:

  • Passive: The key word “passive” suggests that it is the opposite of "active" monitoring (i.e. synthetic scripted record and playback). Synthetic monitoring actively emulates a custom user experience by scripting browsers that navigate your website by taking specific actions and check that specific elements are present on the page. In contrast, RUM sits back and analyzes all “real” user requests in business applications.
  • Real end user: The focus is on actual end users. Real user monitoring analyzes the user journey (also known as click path) of an actual user and captures each user action. These actions could be submitting a form or clicking a menu item.
  • Web application: RUM can analyze the performance of web applications that could range from traditional web pages to modern SPA (single page applications).

What are the benefits of Real User Monitoring?

RUM helps identify how page visitors are using a site or app and provides page metrics such as load time for analysis of a page, objects and even individual visits. Typical benefits include the following (and much more):

  • Measure service-level objectives with real user experience: The idea behind SLO is that service reliability ultimately ensures end user happiness. As mentioned above. Service Level Indicators (SLIs) are the metrics used to measure the compliance with the SLOs. Examples include: availability, latency, errors and throughput. RUM captures these SLIs from the point of the end user – exactly how real customers experience your application in terms of traffic, errors and latency. These golden signals become a common language for conversations across cross-functional teams such as SRE, developers and business teams.
  • Use a quantifiable score (Apdex) to measure user satisfaction: Application Performance Index, or Apdex, is an industry standard to measure users’ satisfaction with the response time of web applications and services. Think of Apdex as a Service Level Agreement (SLA) mechanism that measures the level of user satisfaction (or frustration).
  • Correlate web performance with Business KPIs: RUM tools can add meaning and context to user sessions with business attributes such as User ID, email, or name to the extent your privacy rules allow you to collect data. In addition, you can capture business context information such as shipping ID or an item description.

    Real user monitoring can give you the current baseline of quantifiable business metrics such as number of unsuccessful payments or aborted bank account creation process or cart abandonments. RUM dashboards on a LED screen can become a “watering hole“ for cross-organizational teams to gather around and discuss how to improve business metrics over time.
  • Diagnose and triage quickly for quick MTTR (mean time to resolve): The root cause of slow systems could lurk in –
    • the frontend browser code (such as ReactJS or Angular)
    • the network (SSL/TCP handshake process)
    • the server-side code and infrastructure
    One of the KPIs on which SREs are measured is MTTR (mean time to resolve). In war rooms, when root-cause is not clear, significant time may be wasted in guess work and finger pointing. SREs need the data to know what to investigate and who to call for joint troubleshooting when there is a slowness. RUM can analyze historical data and tell you if this problem is intermittent in nature or if it is a systemic problem. Non-experts such as helpdesk staff can quickly and correctly route the ticket to the right teams for a fast resolution.
  • Captures user-centric web performance metrics: In addition to DOM (document object model) load time, RUM tools also capture user-centric web performance metrics like First Paint and First Contentful Paint (FCP), which are useful for understanding how the end user perceived the load time of the page.
  • Discover JavaScript errors in real-time: Debugging JavaScript errors in a production environment can be a difficult experience. Most error reports are vague since end customers may lack the ability to convey the exact browser console log to support staff. Developers need to get notified of JavaScript errors and the complete stack trace leading up to the error. Often JavaScript is minified and as a result, stack traces are of little use. RUM tools can map the source maps to understand your minified JavaScript’s stack traces. Similar JavaScript errors can be automatically grouped to reduce alert noise, and all errors can include detailed information such as time of error, which browser version, OS version etc.
  • Load Time Breakdown: If your visitors are experiencing slow page-loads or poor HTTP request performance, it’s often caused by the network, DNS servers, redirects, application performance, among other things. A clear distinction is needed between “actual work” vs “waiting” for downstream resources.
  • Performance trends across geographies: Real user monitoring tells you where your users are. Is the problem local to certain geographical locations or is it widespread across a geography?
  • Empower your helpdesk: When an irate customer calls your call center, support teams are often at a loss to pinpoint the root cause. RUM tools can tag the user ID and provide a search facility to pull up the entire chain of requests in the user journey that led to the user frustration. This is useful regardless of the nature of the application – whether external facing internet applications such as e-commerce or internal intranet applications such as payroll or HR systems. Non-expert communities such as helpdesk operators are empowered with the new user context offered by RUM.

Synthetic Monitoring vs Real User Monitoring

Synthetic monitoring and real user monitoring (RUM) are common ways of digital experience monitoring. This blog analyzes the pros and cons of each approach and discusses which approach would best suit your needs.

Synthetic Monitoring (also known as active monitoring or proactive monitoring) is a monitoring technique that is done by using an emulation or scripted recordings of transactions. Behavioral scripts (or paths) are created to simulate an action or path that a customer or end-user would take on a site, application or other software (or even hardware).

Both synthetic and real user monitoring offer IT operations teams the insights they need into user experience. Which of these approaches should you use? Learn more from our blog post that dives more in depth.