Log Monitoring Best Practices and the Best Log Monitoring Tools

By on May 23, 2020

All applications and infrastructure elements like servers, databases, and networking equipment create logs, which hold crucial information about the health of the IT environment. As organizations grow in size and complexity, the IT environment also expands, which leads to an exponential increase in their log volumes. Reliable management and real-time monitoring of logs help in optimizing this expanding environment. Log monitoring gives insights about various performance issues and errors affecting various IT equipment and applications. It also provides you with the opportunity to analyze past data, detect anomalies or outliers, and predict future trends. In this article, we’ll explore the best practices for log monitoring, along with the top log monitoring tools in the market today.

Best Practices for Log Monitoring

Set Up Centralized Log Management

Logs hold critical information for troubleshooting performance bottlenecks and analyzing trends. For their reliable management and storage, you need a scalable logging setup. Keeping all logs in a cloud-based centralized location simplifies log management and monitoring. With cloud logging services, you can access and correlate all your logs to get a holistic view of your environment.

Keep an Eye on Log Volumes

In modern distributed cloud-based environments, container-based applications can produce a large volume of logs, which can overwhelm any log management set up. This can make log monitoring sluggish and error prone. While the cloud offers higher scalability to meet increased workloads, it can also lead to increased costs. You need to determine and control what information needs to be logged and what could be skipped (e.g., users’ personally identifiable information).

Use Structured Logging

There’s a wide range of logging libraries and log formats, and not all of them are easily readable by log analyzers. For efficient log monitoring, there’s a need to convert unstructured and semi-structured logs into a common structured logging format. You can choose JSON or XML, which are the most preferred structured logging formats in the industry. Structured logs are easy to parse, query, and help you extract key information using different fields, quickly.

Assign Unique Identifiers

Most log viewers offer a stream of logs, which can be difficult to monitor in a live environment. While fields help in slicing and dicing the data, you can further filter your searches using tags or unique identifiers such as logging session IDs, API tokens, etc. With these unique identifiers, you can track sessions or user activity and monitor events of interest effortlessly.

Improve Real-time Awareness

While log files are usually the key source to detect and troubleshoot issues, many times organizations maintain logs primarily for compliance purposes. This is a gross underutilization of logs as they can help in getting real-time insights about the performance and health of an IT environment. You can use live tail to monitor logs in your production environment. Further, setting up threshold-based alerts can help you respond to critical issues in time and reduce your

Mean Time to Detect (MTTD) and Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR) rates.

Best Tools For Log Monitoring

Open Source Tools

There are many free, open-source tools in the market which can help in log management and analysis. You can explore tools like Graylog, LOGalyze, and GoAccess for log monitoring. The ELK-stack consisting of tools like Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana can also help you create a highly capable logging setup. While many large organizations rely on the ELK-stack to manage and analyze massive log volumes, configuring and maintaining it can be a big challenge. You may have to rely on the open-source community to meet your unique logging requirements. Further, managing the costs involved in setting up an infrastructure (either on-premises or cloud-based) can also be challenging.

Commercial Tools

Unlike most open-source tools, commercial log analyzers do not require any significant time and effort in the configuration. Further, these days, you don’t have to worry about vendor lock-in issues; you can try out various options as most vendors offer Logging as a Service (LaaS). There are various plans to suit different logging requirements of organizations. Self-service portals, offering a quick setup, help in getting started without any configuration challenges. Further, most of these cloud-logging services offer agentless log aggregation, which means you don’t have to install any software for centralized log management.

However, you may have to choose a log monitoring solution based on your immediate and long-term goals. While tools like Splunk, LogDNA, and Sumo Logic offer advanced capabilities, including Machine Learning-based analytics, they have a steep learning curve. You should look forward to easy-to-use tools designed to scale up as your logging needs grow. SolarWinds® Papertrail is one such solution offering a straightforward cloud-based log management service, which integrates with tools like Pingdom® and AppOptics to form SolarWinds APM Suite. If you want to monitor microservices-based applications in a hybrid distributed stack, you can track metrics, logs, and traces with this suite. At the same time, Papertrail provides a good starting point if you’re looking for a log monitoring tool.

Let’s discuss how Papertrail makes log management and monitoring simple:


screenshot of solarwinds papertrail showing log details

The log viewer in Papertrail is the heart of the log monitoring tool, as it offers real-time visibility into your IT environment. You can live tail your logs, filter the stream of events with Google-like search queries, and scroll up/down to navigate to events of interest. The stream can be paused at any moment and allows you to skip to a specific time within a few clicks. Further, you can color-code log messages and filter out noise to focus on critical events.

Papertrail also offers Log Velocity Analytics, a graphical view to detect a surge in log volume. Most application errors or security breaches often lead to an abrupt change in the log volume. By keeping an eye on log volumes with the Log Velocity Analytics feature, you can detect such events quickly and take remedial actions. Further, to streamline log monitoring, you can save your important searches. With this feature, you don’t have to write routine search queries and can get quick results in a single click. This feature can significantly expedite troubleshooting in live environments. Moreover, Papertrail integrates with popular notification services like Slack, HipChat, Pagerduty, and more. You can configure threshold-based alerts and get instant notification via these services to stay on top of your environment. Further, getting started with Papertrail is simple; you can sign up for a free trial of Papertrail (free for lifetime) and choose to upgrade your plan later.

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