In the modern digital ecosystem, every user activity, system error, application transaction, and network packet movement can be tracked using logs. This level of visibility into systems, networks, and applications is useful for troubleshooting bottlenecks, analyzing past trends, and predicting future events. However, monitoring various cloud-based and on-premises resources becomes complex in the absence of proper log aggregation tools. When an application or infrastructure element experiences performance issues, they emit logs capable of snowballing within a few minutes. It’s important to store and analyze these logs quickly to resolve these issues using capable log aggregation tools. In this article, we’ll discuss how cloud-based log aggregation tools can help simplify log management and analysis for your organization.
Understanding the Need for Cloud-Based Log Aggregation
Creating a log file isn’t a complex exercise. All systems and applications produce logs as a string, a JSON blob, or key-value pairs. Instrumenting the systems doesn’t require any major configuration, but the challenge arises when you have to analyze logs from different sources. It’s not feasible to SSH into multiple servers individually to access logs in live environments. IT teams need to aggregate logs in a centralized location; when logs are stored in this way, teams can quickly correlate issues and resolve errors with a unified view of systems and applications.
However, creating a self-hosted or cloud-based setup using open-source log aggregation tools like Logstash or Fluentd isn’t simple. With these tools, IT teams often start log aggregation with a small configuration file. Over time, however, this file grows in size and complexity, making it error-prone and difficult to maintain. Furthermore, teams also struggle to keep track of memory consumption. This is where commercial cloud-based log aggregation tools offer a way forward.
5 Major Advantages of Cloud-Based Log Aggregation Tools
Most cloud-based log management tools offer a simple setup, which helps you start log monitoring and analysis within a few minutes. You don’t have to make heavy up-front investments in hardware or other additional systems for log management. Many of these tools also offer agentless log aggregation, which makes log aggregation a breeze. In rare cases, developers may have to copy and paste simple scripts for the initial logging setup. When you compare the time and effort in the initial setup with open-source solutions, however, cloud-based logging offers significant savings.
In modern microservices and container-based environments, log volumes grow at a high rate. If a logging setup isn’t equipped to collect and store these logs in real time, you can lose them. You need to buffer these logs using a queuing service like Kafka before they get processed by a log ingestion service. However, even if buffering and ingestion services work as expected, teams often experience issues indexing large volumes of data with Elasticsearch. With cloud-based log analyzers, you don’t have to worry about these issues. Most logging as a service (LaaS) providers offer easy scalability and high performance, using distributed nodes for search and analysis. This means you can reliably store and analyze all logs, even when there’s a surge in log volumes.
Logs contain crucial insights about application and infrastructure performance, and this information shouldn’t fall into the wrong hands. If a threat actor gets access to your logs due to a misconfiguration or security lapse, your applications’ availability and data integrity can be compromised. In extreme cases, this may even lead to a data breach and compliance-related penalties. However, cloud-based logging simplifies the uniform implementation of standard procedures for the transmission (syslog TLS, HTTPs), storage (ISO-certified data centers), and access (SSL certificates) of logs across the entire logging setup. With centralized control over their logs, it’s easy for organizations to enhance their log security.
Cloud-based log management services also offer various out-of-the-box features and built-in integrations with third-party tools for collaboration, alerting, visualization, and more. This ensures administrators don’t have to spend hours configuring tools and making them work in tandem. For instance, DevOps teams can integrate their logging solution with tools like Slack, HipChat, and PagerDuty to receive alerts and event summaries. These integrations help enhance troubleshooting speed and simplify routine tasks.
Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
Organizations often fail to calculate the opportunity costs involved in implementing open-source solutions like the ELK stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana). These costs include the time and effort involved with configuration and the staffing requirements for maintaining the infrastructure. Even when using the cloud-based implementation in ELK, teams can struggle to optimize their server costs. However, with lower operational overheads, commercial log management solutions offer much lower TCO than similar self-hosted logging setups.
How to Select a Cloud-Based Log Aggregation Tool
We’ve highlighted how commercial cloud-based log aggregation tools offer better value than other free or self-hosted solutions. However, there are numerous available log management tools, and short-listing one of them is a complex decision. Many of the commercial tools in the market have evolved over the years and now offer a wide range of features for log analysis and log monitoring. Some of these solutions focus primarily on security information and event management, while others claim to align closely with DevOps processes and application performance management. We’ve evaluated most of these tools, and we recommend SolarWinds® Papertrail™. Papertrail can help you meet your basic and advanced log management and analytics needs.
Papertrail is a powerful log management solution. It’s easy to set up, and it offers an intuitive interface to help you get started quickly. With Papertrail, you can aggregate logs from text-based log files, syslog, windows events, databases, servers, routers, the cloud, and more. The tool also offers real-time log monitoring with its live tail feature. Papertrail can search through a vast amount of log data quickly, and it offers a clear view of events in its event viewer. The stream of events in the event viewer is updated in real-time in an infinite scroll you can pause for careful inspection. With its log velocity analytics, teams can easily spot surges in log volumes. The tool is also a part of the SolarWinds APM Suite, which includes SolarWinds Pingdom® and SolarWinds AppOptics™ to monitor all three pillars of observability: traces, metrics, and logs. This makes Papertrail a viable option for teams looking for a log aggregation service and potentially wanting to explore full-stack monitoring for distributed cloud-based environments in the future. Moreover, you can sign up for the lifetime free version of Papertrail and upgrade to a more suitable plan later.