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Why better API monitoring is critical for achieving quality customer service

09 Apr 2021

Article by ThousandEyes principal solutions analyst ANZ Mike Hicks.
 

Using a modern software application is a bit like driving a car, in as much as one doesn’t need to understand how the engine works in order to drive it.

Most applications today, even those used for something as simple as placing a selected item in an online shopping cart, rely on a vast array of third-party services and platforms deployed and distributed across the internet to do their job. Despite this, they appear deceptively simple for those who use them.
 
This web of services could include a messaging service that, for example, uses Twilio for cloud communication, an e-commerce site that uses Stripe for payment processing, and a delivery service that uses Google Maps for geolocation. Each is accessed via APIs, which help to create the links that bring everything together.

To optimise the complete service delivery and maintain an excellent digital experience, it’s essential to consider how the APIs perform. Understanding API reachability over the public internet and cloud provider networks is crucial for assuring overall application performance.                   

Distributed complexity

When problems arise within the application workflow, things need to be fixed quickly. However, the distributed complexity of modern application workflows makes finding the root of the problem complex and time-consuming. This is not a good situation, especially when customer experience depends on the application performance.

Indeed, functional, legacy network and application monitoring tools cannot deliver the level of visibility required to understand the problem quickly.  They can often only provide information that an application is slow but cannot escalate appropriately nor resolve issues across those external workflows that power today’s modern apps. 

This means that businesses are often blind to most of the delivery path, and therefore the source of the issues that are having a negative impact on user experiences. Also, to properly escalate and resolve a problem outside of the business’s infrastructure, organisations need to have credible evidence to enable third parties to take action. 

There are further challenges beyond simple visibility that need to be addressed. Delivery paths are constantly in flux, and there is no such thing as a steady-state in the cloud where things are continually evolving.

For example, if a business application is dependent on a third-party API, there’s no guarantee that the API will still be available or stable tomorrow. Other organisations might shift data centres or disappear entirely, effectively breaking the functionality of the application. For this reason, tools with greater insight are required to effectively address any functionality issues that might arise.

Browser synthetics can offer a powerful tool to test applications and measure user experience across entire workflows. However, there are instances where a single request in the browser triggers multiple back-end API interactions, which cannot be directly observed from the user’s perspective.

For example, when a customer places an order on an e-commerce website, the application makes a series of sequential API calls to check inventory, process the payment, and generate an order number before finally directing the user to an order confirmation page. Because these services operate in the back-end, they are invisible to the client; a failure or performance issue in any one of them will ultimately go undetected and directly impact the customer experience.

For this reason, a different approach to testing is required. Application owners need a method that doesn’t solely rely on front-end interaction but also incorporates testing from within the core application context. This will help increase understanding of the impact of underlying network transport layers such as the ISP or cloud provider networks. This is where the concept of adaptive API monitoring comes in.

The benefit of adaptive API monitoring

Adaptive API monitoring goes a step further than other methods. It offers a highly flexible, synthetic testing framework that emulates back-end application interactions with remote API endpoints by executing sequential, conditional, or iterative API calls against all API dependencies.
 
API monitoring tests can also be run from vantage points that are external to the application environment, or from agents placed within the application hosting environment out to the API services. An advantage of this approach is that the specific network paths and performance from the application to the API endpoints can also be monitored and assessed.
 
The result is a powerful testing option and unprecedented visibility across the external networks that impact application experiences. Any issues can be quickly spotted and fixed before there is any detrimental impact on customer experiences.