What is Splunk?
Splunk is a software platform that gives you real-time monitoring, visualization, and searching for machine data through GUI-based dashboards and tools. For the purposes of talking about cloud server environments, machine data includes things like system and web server logs, machine states, authentication services, network logs and events, and so on. Splunk is flexible about what types of data it can ingest, accepting a wide array of file formats as input. It uses a system of forwarders to send this data on to other Splunk components that will store, index, and allow you to perform searches and reporting on your aggregated data. This is a useful tool for quickly and powerfully extracting meaning from logs to create monitoring alerts, graphs, and to troubleshoot and perform root cause analysis.
Splunk is often compared to an ELK (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana) stack, also sometimes referred to simply as an Elastic Stack. These platforms approach the same problem in different ways, the overall difference being that Splunk is easier to load with data, as it comes pre-configured for many popular data sources, but may require more work to successfully search through the output using a proprietary search language for its queries. Alternately, an ELK stack must have each source of data configured individually, but may generally be a gentler learning curve to adopt its query language which is derived from open source.
Splunk accomplishes its sophisticated data processing through a series of forwarders. First, some simple forwarders are installed via a lightweight client to reside on your devices (or connect to them remotely), these only send the desired data from their original devices further down the pipeline. Next, the “heavy” forwarders receive information and can filter or apply other changes to the data being passed through. Heavy forwarders send their data to the indexers, which store data and process and index everything collected in real-time. End users then interact with their processed machine data at the search head, which makes requests to the indexers.
More uses than just analytics
Splunk has recently gained notoriety in two additional areas besides simple performance monitoring or analytics–security and regulatory compliance. The real-time feed of machine data can be used to quickly counteract security issues or malicious network traffic using information fed in from firewalls and other network devices. Several companies also use Splunk to create reports used for PCI compliance much more easily and quickly, plus Splunk provides some introductory resources specifically targeted at helping businesses manage compliance for HIPAA, GDPR, and more.
Beyond the previously mentioned learning curve for its query language, keep in mind that Splunk is a proprietary system that requires a purchased license for your business. However, as this provides a lot of robust, real-time data across your environment and is used by many major companies to perform root cause analyses, manage security and compliance, it’s definitely worth considering for your business.