Log monitoring is a component of log management through which IT teams consolidate and observe log data to track system behavior, assess network health, and troubleshoot problems.
Computer systems create records of their activity called logs. Collectively, logs act as an electronic audit trail, providing visibility into events taking place across a network. Operating systems, applications, servers, websites, and individual devices all generate logs to document a broad range of actions: SQL queries, user logins, email activity, website access, data transfers, file deletion, and more.
While this information is useful, logs aren’t actionable on their own. Furthermore, most systems have built-in log buffer sizes. As a result, once log data has exceeded its allocated memory space, it’ll be overwritten, permanently deleting a valuable IT resource. For this reason, system administrators must proactively monitor their logs—in other words, they must intentionally gather, organize, and survey records of network behavior and events. Otherwise, they risk losing their logs or obfuscating important information in a huge mass of indifferentiable raw data.
Logs are critically important to IT management because they allow administrators to see the sequence of occurrences leading to an issue—in other words, they facilitate root cause analysis. Logs provide data so IT personnel can troubleshoot the source of network problems by drilling into how they happened instead of fruitlessly addressing their symptoms.
Logs are also a fundamental component of data security compliance. They allow organizations to provide proof of network activity and demonstrate they have taken actions to manage sensitive data and ensure its safety.
Logs are therefore critical to an organization’s operations, especially for IT and administration. Because network components produce log data in large quantities and in disparate locations, however, system administrators must have a method of monitoring logs to yield valuable insights into network health and safety.
Log file monitoring is the process of consolidating, structuring, and observing logs to survey network activity. System administrators perform network monitoring to understand logs and make effective decisions based on the data they contain. Log monitoring is a crucial component of network management, as it allows administrators to preempt potential issues, troubleshoot existing problems, track user behavior, and improve applications and processes.
To accomplish this, organizations typically rely on log monitoring software. Log monitoring can be time-consuming when carried out by hand, especially for an IT department keeping track of multiple servers. The larger the scale, the more difficult it is to review logs across storage locations and extract valuable data. For this reason, investing in a log monitoring service geared toward event log monitoring saves time and money by automating a rote task and freeing up employees for tasks requiring brainpower.
The right log monitoring service will be able to centralize logs and streamline and present data in a visually appealing, comprehensible format. A well-designed dashboard goes a long way toward helping administrators skim log status and cull the most important details.
Log monitoring and log analysis are two functions of log management—they serve the same goal but have distinct purposes. Log monitoring tools track data, whereas log analysis digests and processes it to facilitate decision-making.
Essentially, log monitoring consolidates log data across a network and packages it for review. It can be configured to execute specialized tasks, such as filtering data, prioritizing urgent log updates, and pushing alerts for errors.
Log analysis, however, draws conclusions about what certain data might mean. Log analysis tools can learn from logging patterns to determine a baseline level of behavior. This allows admins to make comparisons and judgments, cross-referencing log histories to check if certain activity is normal. Due to these capabilities, log analysis tools can detect emerging problems and potentially diagnose the cause.
For example, log monitoring might provide evidence of many files being deleted in a row. If this deletion pattern is too rapid and outside normal parameters, a log analyzer might cross-reference deletion with user history and see this activity as problematic. It might then push an alert saying an account has been hacked or a user is performing cybertheft or destruction.
Not all log data is equally important, especially when you’re dealing with a complicated network with many devices, multiple servers, and varying levels of access rights. This complex infrastructure can clutter monitoring and logging tools and inundate users if you’re not choosy about what you’d like to log.
Compare software options to find an easily configurable tool or one capable of identifying the important logs. Pulling every log in the system isn’t necessary—in fact, it buries useful information in overwhelming amounts of inconsequential information.
With a cloud-based tool, you’re able to sync application log monitoring across various software and distributed networks. This is incredibly helpful for modern business infrastructures in which most organizations rely on cloud-based file-sharing systems and applications. The best application log monitoring tools must consider the way cloud services have made it possible for applications to flexibly share and store information.
Finally, logs are useful in demonstrating system security and proving which users have accessed certain data. Even administrators can forget logs are open to security threats. Log files contain a breadth of information about sensitive files and perhaps even access paths, something strategic hackers can exploit.
Regardless of industry, every business requires a comprehensive view of their logs and must gather valuable data from across the system. Constructing, maintaining, and updating log monitoring tasks takes time and energy without the help of an intelligent log management tool.
For those seeking a professional solution to complex log monitoring, SolarWinds® Loggly® offers streamlined, informative visualizations and is equipped with advanced capabilities like configurable metrics and a Live Tail view. Interactive dashboards make it easy to adjust chart type, tweak reporting, and compare data over time. One particularly useful troubleshooting feature is “View Surrounding Events,” which enables administrators to drill down into the logs before and after a specific event to get a better understanding of how a problematic occurrence developed.
Best of all, Loggly is cloud-based, so it requires no additional hardware or software and centralizes data from across the system. This makes it possible to monitor network health, follow app performance, identify suspicious activity, and proactively troubleshoot across the stack. Furthermore, it enables better IT crowdsourcing and teamwork—team members can share dashboards and manage editing permissions to facilitate collaborative log management. Learn more about Loggly on our product page today.