Why should you care about centralizing your logs?
It’s not hard to use logs at the start your project. Most likely, you can access all the logs you need from your local machine. If something goes wrong, go to the AppData directory, find the most recent session logs, and open them with Notepad. Likely, you’re well on your way to fixing the problem.
This approach is fine for a simple local project, or for learning how to use log data effectively. But it doesn’t scale well. Later down the line, when the application is running on multiple hosts across dozens of different servers, accessing the logs you need will be a bit more complicated. Even worse, maybe dozens of servers are actually hundreds - and finding right log will be a nightmare without a better system.
Centralized logging lets you bypass this headache. Instead of relying on access to hundreds of different machines, you designate one accessible location for all your log data.
Below, we discuss some of the specific benefits of having access to all of your logging data in one centralized location and how that will improve your logging workflow.
Centralized Logging Tools make troubleshooting faster
How much time do you spend finding logs, not solving problems?
You may know where the logs are on your local machine, but do you know exactly where to find them for a customer in Ohio? Where to find logs for a user running a beta? You might not know off the top of your head. It can be difficult to keep track of this information (and it’s even more difficult if you create multiple applications).
Let’s take a look at a potential process for finding logs when you don’t know the location:
- Get an email about an error
- Pry for more information about the error because you have no idea where to start
- Discover the machine(s) effected by the error
- Get the credentials for machine(s) and log in
- Find out which directory stores error logs
- Find the right logs for the session
These steps represent a process in which finding the right logs might be harder than solving the problem itself. It requires you have a substantial amount of information before you can even access the right log. And it might require a substantial amount of people too, depending on your team’s structure.
You might think “maybe I can try emailing the client for logs from their local machine to get around this?”
But it’s not like that will be a much faster process considering many users won’t know where those logs are stored themselves, and the more you ask your users to root around looking for things the less likely they’re going to be satisfied with the support they’re getting.
It’s better just to access one location every time for your application logs and save everyone a headache. This way, you can access the information you need without requiring involving additional parties.
Keep your logs in one location and solve problems faster
Finding the error logs you need should not be that complicated, which is why centralized logging is so important. With centralized logging tools, you don’t need to know the exact machine that is having the error (or how to access that machine), you can find that information as you look through your recent logs.
Additionally, centralized logging increases the odds that you will have your log data when it really counts. When a system is in real trouble, you don’t need to rely on the machine sending the logs to be stable enough for you to access and get the information. A good centralized logging solution will work around network interruptions, bandwidth constraints, and work when everything else goes wrong. By making sure you have your logs in the first place, centralized logging increases the odds that you will solve problems quickly.
Overall, keeping your logs in one location will reduce the information you need to start troubleshooting, ensure you have logs when you need them, and let you resolve problems faster.
Keep unnecessary access to a minimum for your critical environments
Even if you do know the exact locations for all your log files, accessing them may still be tricky or not a best practice. Sure, you will not hesitate to grab the log files from a production server when something is critically broken, but what about when your application is simply having bad performance? Do you really want everyone on your dev team to have to log in to a production system?
It is possible that your development team has easy access to production for troubleshooting, but it’s more likely that the system is only accessible by the system admin team. It may even be a shared platform where local access to the file system is difficult at best.
When solving a problem, the former is more convenient for the development team, but is a liability in every other scenario. Limiting access to system administrators makes sense in general, but this is a massive bottleneck for developers when they need the log data from production in an emergency.
Centralized logging tools get around this problem by making sure the development team has
easy access to logs
from every environment
without requiring access to every environment. This way, developers have all the information
they need without requiring the keys to the kingdom and increasing unnecessary risk.
Logs contain quantitative data you should leverage
What’s Actually in Your Logs?
Logs are great for troubleshooting errors. And while a product manager cares about resolving problem, they are often not directly responsible for it. However, there is no reason logs need to be used only for troubleshooting.
- The user’s ID or name
- The user’s computer ID or name
- The computer’s operating system
- The software version they use
- The user’s location/time zone
There is no doubt this information can be extremely helpful when breaking down any problem. But this information is also useful when making decisions for the product.
Use your logging data outside of troubleshooting
Let’s say that your development team wants to drop support for an OS in the next release. Sure, you can always check broadly if the OS is still supported by your competitors (or even the OS company itself), but that doesn’t let you know if your users have stopped caring about that OS or not.
With your log data, you can get exact numbers about how many users use that operating system and therefore make a better decision. Plus, if you have to push back on your teams’ request to drop support, you can do it with real, quantitative data.
That example shows you why you should leverage your log data outside of troubleshooting errors, but why centralized logging is important to this is because it makes it so much easier to process data from all of your environments. If you need to gather information from multiple servers, systems, applications, etc., it can get tedious quickly.
Maybe you must get permission to access an environment from operations, or maybe you have hundreds of servers. No matter the specific obstacles, they can add up to the point where you may be tempted to just forget about using this data altogether instead of going through the process of gathering it all.
Centralized logging ensures you will not fall for that temptation. You will always just access one
location to analyze your logs.
Active Log Monitoring is a Common Compliance Measure
Ever heard of the PCI Data Security Standards? Requirement 10 is “Track and monitor all access to network resources and cardholder data”. Other security standards have their own rules around logging too, especially when it comes to monitoring and retention periods.
Compliance with all these rules can be tricky, but a good start is to find which parts of compliance are the most tedious and start knocking down barriers that make staying on top of it so difficult.
If you are looking for ways to simplify following security standards, centralized logging can be a good start. It makes monitoring your logs easier because you only need access to one location instead of potentially hundreds. This could be a life saver in an emergency.
An additional benefit is that centralized logging will also simplify compliance for retention policies.
Certain guidelines enforce long retention periods, or easy access to logs from a certain timeframe. Logistically,
it is a lot easier to manage this storage for one system instead of every system that requires logging for your application.
Simplify your Logging process
There are a lot of specific benefits from centralized logging, but the main conclusion is it will let you spend less time thinking about your logs, and more time using them. Centralizing your log data will make your applications better.
Want to use a curated set of centralized logging tools for your project? Loupe Server is an easy to use Logging SaaS for .NET and Java that simplifies log centralization and so much more.