Why Log Management Is So Important
Log management is the process of handling logs and allows you to gather the data in one place and look at it as part of a whole instead of separate entities.
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Log management is the process of handling log events generated by all software applications and infrastructure on which they run. It involves log collection, aggregation, parsing, storage, analysis, search, archiving, and disposal, with the ultimate goal of using the data for troubleshooting and gaining business insights, while also ensuring the compliance and security of applications and infrastructure.
Logs are typically recorded in one or more log files. Log management allows you to gather the data in one place and look at it as part of a whole instead of separate entities. As such, you can analyze the collected log data, identify issues and patterns so that you can paint a clear and visual picture of how all your systems perform at any given moment.
What Is a Log?
A log file is a text file where applications, including the operating system, write events. Logs show you what happened behind the scenes and when it happened so that if something should go wrong with your systems, you have a detailed record of every action prior to the anomaly.
Therefore, log files make it easier for developers, DevOps, SysAdmins, or SecOps to get insights and identify the root cause of issues with applications and infrastructure.
Logs are also useful when systems behave normally. You can get insights into how your application reacts and performs, in order to improve it. There are many different sources of logs, as well as log types.
Is Logging Important?
Yes! Log management provides insight into the health and compliance of your systems and applications. Without it, you’d be stumbling around in the dark hoping to pinpoint sources of performance issues, bugs, unexpected behavior, and other similar issues. You’d be forced to manually inspect multiple log files while trying to troubleshoot production issues. This is painfully slow, error-prone, expensive, and not scalable.
Log management is especially important for cloud-native applications because of their dynamic, distributed, and ephemeral nature. Unlike traditional applications, cloud-native applications often run in containers and emit logs to standard output instead of writing them to log files. This means you don’t have the “default option” of manually grepping logs. Typically, you’d capture the logs and ship them to a centralized log management solution.
In a nutshell, log management enables application and infrastructure operators (developers, DevOps, SysAdmins, etc.) to troubleshoot problems and allows business stakeholders (product managers, marketing, BizOps, etc.) to derive insights from data embedded in log events. Logs are also one of the key sources of data for security analytics—threat detection, intrusion detection, compliance, network security, etc., collectively known as SIEM (Security Information and Event Management).
To fully understand the importance of log management, we’ve gathered some of the main benefits below:
Monitoring and Troubleshooting
The most common and core log management use case is software application and infrastructure troubleshooting. Log events go hand in hand with application monitoring and server monitoring. Developers, DevOps, SysAdmins, and SecOps utilize both metrics and logs so that they are alerted about application and infrastructure performance and health issues, and also to find the root cause of those issues. Having good log management tools helps reduce MTTR (Mean Time To Recovery) which in turn helps improve user experience. Long downtimes or even applications and infrastructure that perform poorly can also cause profit loss. Thus, log management software plays a critical role in reducing MTTR.
Logs provide value beyond troubleshooting, though. If you have your logs structured—either from the source, or parsed in the pipeline—you can extract interesting metadata. For example, we often look at slow query logs during Solr or Elasticsearch consulting. Then we can answer lots of questions, like which kinds of queries happen more often, which queries are slow, the breakdown per client, or do we have “noisy” clients? All this helps us optimize the setup, from architecture to queries. If all goes well, we end up with a more stable, faster, and more cost-effective system.
As applications and systems become more and more complex, so does the size and difficulty of your operations. SecOps, SysAdmins, and DevOps would have a harder time monitoring everything manually, thus requiring more time and financial resources.
With logging, you can identify trends across your whole company’s infrastructure, allowing you to adapt early and come up with solutions that prevent fires vs having to put them out.
Better Resource Usage
When it comes to system performance problems, system overload is always like a dark cloud looming over. However, you need to keep in mind that it’s not always your software at fault, but rather the requests you have on your server. Whether there are too many or they are too complex, your system can have difficulties dealing with them.
In this case, what log management does is help track resource usage. You can then see when your system is close to being overloaded so you can better allocate your resources.
Performance monitoring can let you know if there are performance issues; for example, that 90th percentile queries are slow. They may also reveal bottlenecks. To stick with the example, you may find that the IO is overloaded when queries are slow. That said, you’ll need query logs to get more actionable insight, such as the content of the more expensive queries, how much data those queries touch, and how many of them run in parallel. Unlike metrics, with logs, you have more metadata to filter and visualize.
As with the previous example, one of the biggest headaches people report with applications is long response times to queries or not getting a response at all. Log management allows you to monitor requests at any level (API, database, etc.) and see which are underperforming. This enables you to step in and understand why such issues occur, thus keeping you in control of your users’ experience.
Understand Site Visitor Behavior
Log management, along with real user monitoring (RUM), can help track your users’ journey through your site or platform so that you can gain insight into their behavior and improve their experience. Here, log management and real user monitoring (RUM) complement each other.
RUM tools provide access to the user’s perspective, such as the number of visitors you’ve had on your site, which pages they spent the most time on, if there are changes in the number of visitors, and much more.
From logs, you have access to metadata closer to your business logic: how many users ended up paying, how backend requests looked like, etc. By correlating these two sources of data, you can spot opportunities such as when to launch a new product, when to close your site for maintenance, or when to offer discounts.
There’s no such thing as too much protection when it comes to IT security. Log data analysis is at the heart of any SIEM solution: from network, system, and audit logs to application logs. Anomalies here may signal an attack. Logs help security administrators diagnose anomalies in real-time by providing a live stream of log events.
So whenever someone is attempting to breach your walls—whether it’s from the inside or an external threat, you’ll have more insight into what actually happened. You can also get alerted before anomalies happen, so you can react before issues escalate.
Security Audit and Logging Policy
The best way to ensure compliance with security and audit requirements is to create a logging and monitoring policy.
A log management policy sets security standards for audit logs, including system logs, network access logs, authentication logs, and any other data that correlates a network or system events with a user’s activity. More specifically, it provides guidelines as to what to log, where to store logs, for how long, how often logs should be reviewed, whether logs should be encrypted or archived for audit purposes, and so on. Such policies make it easier for teams to gather accurate and meaningful insights that help detect and react to suspicious access to, or use of, information system or data.
Ensure Compliance With Regulations
Seeing as virtual attacks are becoming more and more difficult to detect and solve, it’s critical that your company meets compliance requirements of security policies, audit, regulation, and forensics.
Some of the most important are HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). Furthermore, increasing regulations require that you collect log data, store it and protect it against threats while having it available for audit. Otherwise, if a data breach happens, your company could be susceptible to profit loss as well as hefty fines due to various regulations put in place by several organizations.
Log management will help alert the right people of any suspicious activity concerning user data.
So it turns out logging is very helpful and is very much something worth doing but without proper tooling, you’ll find it really hard to manage your logs. Now logging tools are a dime a dozen so with so many options it can be difficult to choose one, to help out in this scenario I’ve come up with a list of the best tools out there.
Published at DZone with permission of John Demian, DZone MVB. See the original article here.
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