Logs are a very valuable if often overlooked asset in any IT firm or business. They are the best source of information for troubleshooting a problem and analyzing and optimizing your business. They can also spot security problems and be a big help in vulnerability management.
Almost every system, both minor and major, generates logs. Logs are generated for browsing history, intrusion-detection systems, point-of-sale systems, user-activity management, firewalls, and more. While most of the systems generate logs, only a few of them have the ability to manage these generated logs. In spite of being a cache of valuable information about the functioning of your business, the biggest problem with these logs is that most of us don’t even bother to look at them. It is essential for any organization or enterprise to store and monitor these logs efficiently. Although handling a limited number of logs manually is possible, it becomes near to impossible when you have huge volumes of logs to be monitored.
For all those who have huge chunks of logs to be monitored, a log-management system can come to your rescue. Log-management systems are automated programs capable of handling large volumes of system-generated logs. They also give you a better overview of all your applications' data. Simply speaking, a log-management tool is like a watchtower to your business, which alerts you in the case of issues such as data breach, a system crash, and applications that may be causing problems, to name just a few.
Deciding to use a log-management tool is just the first step. But choosing which type of service you'll require can be a rather large decision. Log-management tools come in various forms, such as Software as a Service (SaaS), on-premise applications, and as open-source services. To choose one among these three is subjective and is based on several factors such as operational costs, technical knowledge, ease of usage, scalability, security, and customization. Here are some of the most highly rated and widely used log-management tools categorized on the basis of their functioning and software type.
Enterprise on premise: Splunk
On-premise software services offer higher customization and greater flexibility. Storing software on premises provides companies with both control and security over the enterprise data. However, you'll need to have good technical knowledge to get the most of it.
Splunk is an enterprise-focused log-management tool that works as an on-premises model. It is one of the biggest players in log management and is also one of the most widely used tools.
Founded in 2003, Splunk is one of first log-management companies and was in existence even before the term “big data” began to get tossed around. Since its inception, Splunk has traditionally targeted big enterprises.
Splunk is one of the global leaders in log management. It has a powerful ecosystem with hundreds of applications and add-ons that helps it handle almost all formats of log data. Splunk also offers a great user interface, which makes it easy for the developers to keep track of and monitor various activities in the business.
The first and foremost drawback of Splunk is that it is pricey. Using Splunk for your business’s log management can cost you a minimum of $1,800 per year and can go as high as $65,000 per year, depending on the amount of data injected into the system. Since it is capable of searching data over a long time range, it needs a dedicated cluster for its proper functioning, which is again very costly.
For more information on Splunk, take a look at this detailed documentation.
SaaS log analyzers: Sumo Logic
For the uninitiated, SaaS is a way of delivering services through the Internet. Unlike on-premise applications, you do not install and maintain software locally. Instead, you simply access the service over the Internet. This not only reduces the hardware costs and frees you from the complex task of maintaining infrastructure, but also makes it easy to access services. However, SaaS models have considerably more security concerns and are often not as powerful as an on-premise model.
Founded in 2010, Sumo Logic is a cloud-based log-management and analytics service. Initially, Sumo Logic followed in the footprints of Splunk in terms of log-management methodologies. However, it is now a full-fledged enterprise level log-management service.
Sumo Logic says it delivers the following log-management services: collect and centralize; search and analyze; monitor and visualize; alert and notify; detect and predict.
Sumo Logic comes with two dashboards -- a live dashboard and an interactive dashboard. The live dashboard is meant to provide real-time data and enables a developer to track the data as soon as it is logged in the system. The interactive dashboard offers a complete overview of events and allows the user to closely monitor past logs. As far as pricing is concerned, Sumo Logic comes in three variants: free, professional, and enterprise. The free version is restricted to no more than three users with a data capacity of 500MB per day, with a data-retention period of 7 days. The professional variant will cost you around $100 per month with a data limit of 1GB per day and retention period of 30 days. There is also an enterprise version, where the plan starts at $150 per month with a limit of 1GB and multiyear data-retention period. For more information about Sumo Logic's pricing, click here.
Since Sumo Logic is a cloud-based enterprise-focused log-management service, it has lower operational costs and doesn't require any hardware or architectural maintenance. Sumo Logic is a feature-rich service offering an easy means to search, categorize, analyze, and monitor huge chunks of log data by reducing logs into patterns. In addition, Sumo Logic allows its users to establish baselines in its functioning, which will notifiy you when there is any security breach.
Since it is a cloud-based service, there might be a delay in data becoming visible to the service. SaaS data has to be fetched from the Internet, which can involve some delay in data visibility to that of the actually logged time. There is also a chance of additional overhead on the servers transmitting hundreds of GBs of data. And finally, because you don't have it installed in your system locally, you have limited access in closely monitoring your logs compared to an on-premise model.
Open source: ELK Stack
Open-source software, as the name implies, is an application that can be used by anyone for any purpose. Open-source software can be viewed, inspected, modified, and enhanced by anyone. Nearly all open-source software is available for free. This offers users great flexibility and control over the software, which is typically highly configurable. However, open-source software is not as user-friendly as commercial software and it usually doesn’t come with extensive support.
Logstash is an open-source log-management tool that is a part of the ELK stack. ELK stack is made up of ElasticSearch, Logstash, and Kibana, and all three tools are a part of Mountain View, Calif.-based Elastic. Each of these tools is meant for a specific purpose. ElasticSearch is meant for indexing and searching data, Logstash does the work of log management, and Kibana is meant for visualizing and charting the data.
Logstash takes the unstructured log data as input and converts it into organized and structured data. This structured data is injected to ElasticSearch, which works as a text processor to analyze the data. This analyzed and processed data is then forwarded to Kibana, in which the user views the log data in the form of dashboards, graphs, bar charts, or others.
Logstash is one of the most powerful tools in log management today and is great for centralizing your data. Logstash supports various log formats and can convert them into one common format set by the developers. These features of Logstash work in concert with the highly customizable front-end and back-end software -- Kibana and ElasticSearch, respectively.
The most important advantage of ELK is that it is an open-source service and is completely free of cost (excluding the maintenance and infrastructure costs). ELK offers very good control over the entire system of log management and is very transparent. And since you get three of the most powerful tools stacked up as ELK, it is very robust and efficient.
Since you deal with three individual software tools at a time in ELK Stack, it becomes more complex to handle them all. ELK requires strong technical knowledge and is, therefore, time-consuming to learn. And since these three applications have different query languages involved, it makes it even more complex to handle.
Like falling off a log
Now that you know the working, pros, and cons of these tools and software models, it should be easier for you to choose the right fit for your business. The most suitable tool for your business or enterprise can be chosen by analyzing vital aspects such as usage, usability, features, efforts required for its maintenance, and infrastructure required. To wrap it up, if you have small amount of log data to be managed, then a cloud-based tool such as Sumo Logic can be beneficial. But if you have huge logs of data to manage and if you aren't willing to spend a lot of money but don’t mind putting in the time to handle a complex program, ELK Stack should be your choice. If you’re a large enterprise and spending capital is not an issue, however, then Splunk is probably the best log-management tool to go with.
Photo credit: Flickr / Nic Taylor