Difference between IT search and Log Management

Came across an interesting blog entry  by Raffy at Splunk. As a marketing guy I am jealous as they are generating a lot of buzz about “IT Search”. Splunk has led a lot of people that are knowledgeable to wonder how this is something different than what all the log management vendors have been providing.

Still, while Raffy touched on what is one of the real differences between IT Search and Log Management, he left a few of the salient points out in the discussion of a “connector” and how a connector puts you at the mercy of the vendor to produce the connector, and what happens when the log data format changes?

Let’s step back — at the most basic level in log management (or IT Search for that matter) you have to do 2 fundamental things, you have to help people  1) collect logs from a mess of different sources, and 2) help them do interesting things with them. The “do interesting things” includes the usual stuff like correlation, reporting, analytics, secure storage etc.

You can debate fiercely the relative robustness of collection architectures – and there are a number of differences if you are evaluating vendors you should look at. For the sake of this discussion however most any log management system worthy of its salt will have a collection mechanism for all the basic methods – if you handle (in no particular order) ODBC, Syslog, read the Windows event format, maybe SNMP, throw in a file reader for custom applications, well you have the collection pretty much covered..

The reality is, as Raffy points out, there are a few totally proprietary access methods to get logs like Checkpoint. It is far easier for a system or application vendor to write one of the standard methods. So getting access to the raw logs in some way, shape or form is straightforward.

So here is where the real difference between IT search and Log Management begins.

Raffy mentions a small change in the syslog format causing the connector to break. Well syslog is a standard so if it would not break any standard syslog receiver, what it actually meant is that the syslog message has not changed but the content had.

Log Management vendors provide “knowledge” about the logs beyond simple collection.

Let’s make an analogy – IT Search is like the NSA collecting all of the radio transmissions in all of the languages in the entire world. Pretty useful. However, if you want to make sense of the Russian ones you hire your Russian expert, Swahili, your Swahili expert and so on. You get the picture.

Logs are like languages — the fact of the matter is the only thing that is the same about logs is that the content is all different. If you happen to be an uber-log weenie and you understand the format of  20 different logs, simple IT Search is really powerful. If you are only concerned about a single log format like Windows (although Windows by itself is pretty darn arcane), IT Search can be a powerful tool.  If you are like the rest of us whose entire lives are not spent understanding multiple log formats, or get really rusty because many of us often don’t get exposed to certain formats all the time, well, it gets a little harder. What Log Management vendors do is to help you ( as the user) out with the knowledge – rules that categorize important event logs from unimportant ones, alerts, reports that are configured to look for key words in the different log streams. How this is done is different from vendor to vendor – some normalize, i.e. translate logs into a standard canonical format, others don’t. And this knowledge is what can conceivably get out of date.

In IT Search, there is no possibility for anything to get out of date mainly because there is no knowledge, only the ability to search the log in its native format. Finally, if a Log Management vendor is storing the original log and you can search on it, your Log Management application gives you all the capability of IT Search.

Seems to me IT Search is much ado about nothing…

– Steve Lafferty

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