UPDATED 13:29 EDT / JUNE 20 2023


Cloudflare launches Observatory to simplify website performance evaluations

Cloudflare Inc. today introduced a new tool for its content delivery network that will enable companies to measure their websites’ loading speed more easily.

The tool, called Observatory, is available at no charge. It replaces an earlier feature dubbed Speed Tab that was released in 2019 and offered similar features. The reason for the upgrade, Cloudflare detailed today, is that Speed Tab proved too time-consuming to use for some customers.

The company’s new Observatory tool collects data on how long a website’s pages take to load. It then visualizes the collected information in graphs to ease analysis. Behind the scenes, Observability generates the graphs using two types of telemetry data and an open-source tool developed by Google LLC.

According to Cloudflare, Observatory obtains a part of its data it uses for performance measurements using a piece of JavaScript code called a beacon. Companies embed the beacon in the websites they wish to monitor. When users visit a website that has the feature enabled, Cloudflare collects data on how fast content is downloaded onto their browsers. 

Observatory also uses so-called synthetic data to measure website performance. Such data is generated by sending simulated user traffic to a website and measuring response times. Simulated traffic is used when real user data is unavailable, for example because developers are testing a new website feature that has not yet been rolled out to production.

The service generates synthetic performance data using an open-source tool called Lighthouse. That tool, which was released by Google in 2021, generates a score ranging from 0 to 100 that reflects a website’s speed. It also offers a number of more granular performance metrics.

“Observatory offers a user-friendly interface that presents each Lighthouse metric in a traffic light system, indicating the result of the tested metric,” Cloudflare engineer Matt Bullock and group product manager Sam Marsh wrote in a blog post today. “One critical metric is Largest Contentful Paint (LCP), which measures a page’s loading performance of the primary content.”

Observatory’s core capabilities are available alongside a feature called regional testing. According to Cloudflare, the feature addresses the fact that a webpage loading speeds can vary significantly depending on users’ location. 

Because loading speeds vary between regions, there are situations where a website performance issue may affect users in only one specific market. Such localized issues can be difficult to spot in a timely manner using traditional methods. Observatory can simulate user traffic from different regions to help companies detect website slowdowns faster.

In addition to highlighting potential performance issues, the tool provides improvement suggestions. It can, for example, point out if a webpage contains unused JavaScript code that should be removed to reduce users’ bandwidth requirements. Observatory also highlights features of Cloudflare’s platform that can help make a website faster. 

The tool is available in both the free and paid tiers of the platform. Paid plans provide the ability to perform more synthetic, or simulated user traffic, tests per week.

Image: Cloudflare

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