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What is Log Aggregation? Log Aggregation Explained

Learning Objectives

• Learn the importance of log aggregation
• Understand how developers can use log aggregation
• Understand how administrators can use log aggregation
• Understand how security analysts can use log aggregation
• Determine the value log aggregation brings to an enterprise

In an enterprise environment, servers, applications, network resources, endpoints, IoT, and cloud infrastructure accumulate large volumes of data used in post-incident analysis, bug tracking, anomaly notifications, and forensics. Without a solid log aggregation strategy, logs are fragmented across different environments, causing an incomplete analysis. By aggregating logs in a centralized location, engineers can use the data in many ways, such as to identify critical issues and be more proactive to avoid downtime or more quickly manage incident response after a data breach.

Why is Log Aggregation Important?

A small organization might consider log aggregation as an afterthought, but scattered logs across several locations are difficult to manage and track as the company grows. Most IT people and developers responsible for logging are familiar with sending basic environment and application errors to log files, but there are many more uses for logs. If those environments are hosted on a self-managed system, system administrators may use logs to identify potential server failures or determine the causes of network outages. Alternatively, if those environments are on managed hosting either on-premise or on a cloud, logs help SREs, ops engineers, or other application owners to identify potential scaling problems or integration failures, as well.

Centralizing logs is key to efficient analysis, and a log aggregation strategy can eliminate extensive storage requirements and management of logs across several locations. With analysis tools, the centralized solution provides an overall picture of applications, infrastructure, users, and network resources.

Logging is required for some organizations where compliance is a concern. For example, requirement 10 PCI-DSS compliance states the organization must “track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data.” Centralized log aggregation, when the logs are set up properly, provides full audit trails for all system components and applications that work with sensitive consumer data. Should the organization suffer from a data breach, aggregated logs can be used to verify compliance and avoid hefty penalties and fines for violations.

How Does Log Aggregation Help Developers?

Organizations usually have several customized applications, such as systems that run internal departments, manage customers, and present public-facing portals for customers. Without some sort of production logging, developers could potentially miss bugs until customers complain. Customers facing bugs could create a loss of trust in the organization and customers may leave for a competitor or cease using its services. This challenge can be mitigated using log aggregation.

Log aggregation tools will place logs from an entire stack in a centralized location where developers can access them. Notifications can alert developers of application errors either from APIs, public-facing applications, or internal tools. Logs can tell developers all sorts of information, such as time, date, log level, and where the error triggered, the type of error and if it was handled, the user or customer receiving the error, and the time and date. If it’s a web app, logs contain the URL, the browser information, and even the user IP. If several applications work together, log aggregation could be necessary to identify a communication problem between multiple applications. For instance, microservices working together via APIs could fail, and aggregated logs would give the developer access to communication logs to identify an endpoint that was changed. Overall, logs provide a rich trove of data for understanding the circumstances of errors so those errors can be properly mitigated.

How Does Log Aggregation Help Administrators?

Server and network administrators, security analysts, and other teams can leverage log aggregation for their own monitoring. In an enterprise environment, several network resources span the organization, including cloud infrastructure. Cloud resources can conveniently be added to infrastructure, but this convenience leads to shadow IT incidents where administrators may not be aware of the new resources added to the network. In addition to shadow IT, the cloud resources could be overlooked with no monitoring added to the configurations. In this scenario, administrators would not be aware of any downtime or issues with the added resources. To be aware of potential downtime or malfunctioning equipment, administrators can aggregate logs into one location to identify issues even in the cloud.

Misconfigurations are a big issue for administrators. Just one misconfiguration can mean hours of downtime for the organization, which translates to lost productivity and revenue. For example, a misconfigured firewall can cause traffic disruption to multiple servers, which can knock over applications and devices that were expecting traffic, all requiring manual restarts or other intervention. With log aggregation, administrators can detect a misconfiguration across several network locations. Changed server registry values, failed authentication attempts, and resource utilization are all data that can help administrators identify issues before a critical outage.

How Does Log Aggregation Help Security Analysts?

Security analysts rely heavily on event logs for identification, containment, and eradication of cyber-threats. After a cyber-event, security analysts use logs to determine the severity of the breach and provide more information to investigators and law enforcement. Security analysts rely on the data to identify suspicious activity and anomalies so that threats can be contained more quickly. Cybersecurity analysts also need several events to determine if the network is under attack. With all of the data in one place, analysts can leverage logs to help them identify more sophisticated attacks. Cyber-attackers with the right stealth can avoid detection for months, but the right tools will detect suspicious network activity and alert administrators.

Cybersecurity logs are critical in compliance. Compliance regulations require audit trails and logging so that they can be used in forensics and investigations after an incident response. For example, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) have strict logging requirements on stored healthcare information.

What is Log Aggregation’s Value for the Enterprise?

Log aggregation has value in its ability to cut down on reaction time, help IT staff identify issues before they cause downtime, and keep the corporation compliant. Efficient monitoring using centralized logs has tremendous value for corporations that could suffer from severe revenue loss should IT resources and applications fail. Instead of losing revenue to outages, log aggregation helps IT react more quickly.

Using logging solutions such as Mezmo, formerly known as LogDNA, helps you scale your log aggregation so that developers and administrators have access to faster searches, robust analysis, and monitoring, and they can receive alerts should the system detect anomalies. For organizations that lose millions of dollars for every hour of downtime, Mezmo log aggregation can help administrators detect critical events that affect revenue loss.

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