Website monitoring services such as SmartBear AlertSite all provide the same core service for businesses: keeping track of the health, performance, and user satisfaction at the different levels of its Web presence. And the scale and versatility of that service is critically important. Some cheaper services with targeted focuses on key metrics may be unable to meet the demands of large enterprises while, conversely, the broadest, most expensive, or most heavy-duty services for enterprises could prove too much for small to midsize businesses (SMBs), like, for example, AppDynamics, our Editors’ Choice for enterprises.
A universally valuable offering then is a malleable one capable of scaling up or down in functionality and pricing without losing key features or analysis capabilities. That’s the hallmark of SmartBear AlertSite. The balance SmartBear AlertSite strikes between intuitive non-technical dashboard usability, reasonable pricing at scale, and among the most comprehensive alerting in this roundup, makes it our Editors’ Choice for SMBs and a competitive offering for enterprises to compete with AppDynamics, Dynatrace, New Relic Browser, and any other website monitoring platform on the market.
SmartBear has restructured its AlertSite pricing away from traditional into a more cost-effective, flexible model. While set ‘plans’ do not exist anymore, pricing typically falls into two categories: external monitoring and internal monitoring. External Monitoring uses a consumption-based model, in which customers can monitor around the world from SmartBear’s global nodes on 5 continents and more than 80+ locations. External monitoring pricing is based on consumption in terms of frequency of the monitor, steps in the transaction, and how many locations you choose to monitor from. However, SmartBear stressed that pricing is determined on a custom basis with each client according to their requirements.
The other pricing option is PrivateNode, AlertSite’s internal monitoring option. With AlertSite PrivateNode, businesses have the flexibility to create private monitoring locations behind the firewall in data centers, in private cloud deployments on Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure,or in remote offices, stores, or call centers to monitor internal facing APIs, applications, and related assets. Designed as an extension of the external nodes, PrivateNode provides the same robust capabilities including availability, functional correctness, and other performance data in aggregate dashboards and reports from all locations. AlertSite users can re-use alert templates, firing rules, and escalations channels to instantaneously alert the right team, as well as run the same set of monitors from API and Web application transactions to DNS, FTP tests, and Selenium tests. PrivateNode is a flat price that includes as many concurrent monitors the business wishes to run, with three options: small, medium, and large, starting around $5,000 and going up to $18,000.
Setup and Dashboard
Setting up an account and dashboard is as easy as entering a URL. Add a new Monitor by simply entering a URL for a new website or application programming interface (API). You can also group monitors together, for instance, in measuring performance of several different pages within a website. When configuring a given Monitor, you get a panel with options to change the minutes between each monitoring run interval, which monitoring mode to use, how many locations from which to test and whether or not to rotate them, and whether or not to capture just errors or all events occurring on a site.
Monitors for mobile websites and native mobile apps are configured through DéjàClick, which is managed as a browser extension currently offered for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. I added mine for Chrome in seconds. DéjàClick allows users to simulate new users to a website, record from various mobile devices including Nexus devices, iPhones, and Samsung Galaxy devices; and record and replay everything going on in the browser—the HTML events, transaction paths, and every piece of content that’s clicked on. Then it sends that data back to SmartBear AlertSite where it’s displayed in the mobile Monitor. The browser extension functionality and record/replay capabilities are straightforward and easy to manually set. The feature gives business users a more hands-on way of interacting with their website and gaining real-time transaction metrics than any afforded by any of the other website monitoring platforms tested.
The SmartBear AlertSite dashboard is laid out not unlike Live Tiles on a Windows device. The user interface (UI) sports a horizontal navigation bar across the top of the Web application, with tabs for Monitors, Groups, service-level agreements (SLAs), Errors, Charting, Reports, and Alerts. Below the navigation bar is a customizable tile layout of the specific groups and allows you to monitor a business layout (i.e., shows the aggregate performance and availability trends of a Monitor or Group over a customizable timeframe of hours, days, or months).
Through 2016 and into 2017, SmartBear has also implemented significant changes to the AlertSite dashboard. Users can choose between the Day (light) and Night (dark) themes, applied to the entire AlertSite UXM interface. The dashboard has also become more unified and intuitive, providing at-a-glance monitoring for monitor availability and performance over time, cross-referenced against location, individual monitors, or monitors in a group. AlertSite also shows compared monitors in a table that you can sort by the response time or other columns. You can expand monitor locations and steps to compare their individual performance. SmartBear has also addressed one of our initial issues wit the platform, slower dashboard load time for Web interface, and optimized the platform to prevent extended load times.
Each user within a business customizes their own dashboard, and administrators can create and designate access to official groups. Laid out similarly to the custom dashboards in Dynatrace, the tile for each Monitor or Group opens into an interactive charting page—with clickable line graphs and world maps drilling down into each website’s synthetic performance in specific testing locations worldwide. In addition to monitor options, users can also now customize groups of monitors simply by selecting the large plus icon, selecting the monitors to include in a group, naming it, choosing whether this is a private group, and saving it. The group monitors appear in the dashboards along with any other current monitors and are displayed with the aggregate data relative to that group. Clicking on the group monitor tile will open the group dashboard, where the availability and performance data for the group and each monitor is displayed in greater detail.
Additional UI enhancements since our initial review include a quick view panel to identify the root cause of the issue and help with root-cause analysis, and a run view panel to look at the slowest and largest objects on the page within or outside your domain that may be causing performance issues. There’s also a new Power User to provide enterprises more flexibility and authorization control across various business units and geographies. Power Users hafe full access to all areas of AlertSite except for user management.
Monitoring and Integrations
SmartBear AlertSite, along with Dynatrace and Pingdom, measures user experience (UX) and satisfaction by using the Application Performance Index (Apdex), an open Web standard and composite performance measure of how application or website load time, latency, and other metrics combine to meet user expectations with their browsing experience.
As with the other Apdex-enabled website monitoring services, UX is marked in traffic-light type colors of green, yellow, and red. In SmartBear AlertSite case’s when I tested PCMag.com, it pulled data from DéjàClick and Apdex locations across the U.S.—with one location each from Europe and Japan to measure a “Fair” Apdex score of 0.77 (out of 1.0) across PCMag’s desktop and mobile sites.
AlertSide’s added internal monitoring with PrivateNode options is a major improvement from our initial review, allowing the platform to run on cloud, VMware, laptops, desktops, and point-of-sale (POS) devices. PrivateNode VM is a full-fledged monitoring location running on VMWare, inside or outside the firewall. It works just like AlertSite’s regular locations but is available only to you. PrivateNode Server is delivered as a preconfigured virtual machine image for rapid deployment. Once registered in AlertSite, it appears as a new location in your global locations list, and you can begin using it in your monitors. PrivateNode Cloud works the same way for AWS and Azure.
PrivateNode EndPoint is deployed onto a desktop that supports Windows, MacOS, or Linux, and can be used to monitor on a schedule, as is done from the platform, or it can be used to diagnose performance, availability, or functionality issues faced by remote employees. Results are automatically sent to AlertSite and added to the run history for that monitor. PrivateNode EndPoint can also be used if the location is missing critical virtualization or server resources due to the geography or location. Finally, PrivateNode Hardware is a pre-configured monitoring server installed on-premises.
Another refreshing quality of SmartBear AlertSite is the company’s willingness to acknowledge what the service’s limitations are as readily as what it does well. That’s only half the battle, though. To compensate, the company offers a variety of free integrations baked into the platform, giving SMBs the freedom to fill in the gaps. An integration with our Editors’ Choice for enterprises, AppDynamics, augments SmartBear AlertSite’s reporting data with AppDynamics’ ability to dig deeper into back-end and code-level infrastructure to trace the root of a website performance issue. The AppDynamics data shows up as another data source with a little AppDynamics logo in a Monitor’s report. This isn’t a capability every SMB needs but, if one or two AppDynamics modules offer a business those few extra metrics they need, it may be cost-effective to spring for an AppDynamics module to integrate.
Another integration, this one with mobile testing platform Perfecto Mobile, complements SmartBear AlertSite’s emphasis on synthetic monitoring with a real user monitoring (RUM) solution, testing performance on a global network of real devices and users. The Perfecto Mobile integration gives the platform much-needed RUM capabilities, particularly mobile-focused ones, available as options in the existing dashboard. Perfecto Mobile’s MobileCloud Monitoring enables automated, cloud-based Web, native, and hybrid app testing on devices. These integrations must be manually enabled, and the pricing varies.
AlertSite has the tightest integrations with SoapUI, SmartBear’s Advanced REST & SOAP Testing Tool, and ReadyAPI, SmartBear’s integrated suite of applications for API testing, both of which are used by thousands of companies internationally to test their applications. Businesses can also reuse Selenium and SoapUI scripts that have already been crafted during the testing phase, saving both time and money while implementing essential processes into AlertSite. Additionally AlertSite also now integrates, with PagerDuty, Splunk, ServiceNow, and Slack.
Complete Alerting and Monitoring
As with its dashboards, SmartBear AlertSite’s reporting is defined by its customizability. In the Reports tab of the platform, the on-the-fly Report Generator offers a long list of Report Types based on timed traffic, regional breakdowns, usage, transactions, outages, and more. I ran several reports, selecting multiple monitors and locations in each one. The results quickly generated, and could be exported as Excel or .CSV spreadsheets as well as distributed via email to specific business users.
The customizable reports are great for the non-technical stakeholders in a SMB or enterprise who need targeted information about the website (e.g., a list of transactions or details on a specific region or outage) rather than a deluge of report data to wade through. SmartBear AlertSite’s reports don’t have the level of sleek, graphical appeal or the direct correlations to business outcomes as AppDynamics or Dynatrace, but they get the right information to the right people.
The platform’s alerts are unparalleled. From the moment I set up my SmartBear AlertSite account, my inbox started filling up with alerts. Monitor and Group summary reports, error reports, performance alerts, momentary outage notifications, and more. Once I configured the Alert Recipient details, I was able to streamline those and add other recipients. Once a recipient is in the system, they can be placed on different lists to receive only the alerts relevant to them or into custom alerting groups to be sent alerts only from designated monitors or of particular error types. A business can set particular thresholds for alerts as well, honing in on a particular level of Apdex performance in particular locations to receive a text or email message alert. AlertSite also now offers step-based alerts as an extension of its alerting capabilities.
Alerts came directly from the SmartBear AlertSite nodes when I purposely simulated a slowdown in one location, triggered by the threshold I had set. The multistep monitor can send out independent performance alerts as it passes a given threshold set in the alerts. As with Pingdom, the service most similar to SmartBear AlertSite when it comes to alerting, each test is run twice to reduce false positives before an alert is sent.
There are more visually compelling website monitoring dashboards than those of SmartBear AlertSite, and other platforms hold deeper infrastructure monitoring and analysis capabilities as well. But SmartBear AlertSite is strong enough across the board in all of those areas to hold its own and then some, and the service’s alerting was the best of the bunch. Yet, the main reason why SmartBear AlertSite is an Editors’ Choice is because its pricing was one of the few plans across all of the products to fall within a reasonable price range for SMBs, with a useful feature set to back it up that can scale with the best of ’em for enterprise needs.