Graylog – A Leading Centralized Log Management System

As a system administrator, the prospect of sifting through massive amounts of log files from various sources, which are often in a raw and unformatted form, is daunting. It’s usually a tedious, challenging, and time-consuming task trying to make sense of such log files. This is where Graylog comes to the rescue.

Graylog is an open-source and centralized log management platform for collecting and analyzing data in real time – whether structured or unstructured – from almost any data source or endpoint.

Graylog combines SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) anomaly detection, and security analytics to provide a holistic cybersecurity approach for an organization’s IT assets.

It is tailored to make the work of security teams easier by providing them with the expertise and confidence in detecting and mitigating risks such as system breaches in a timely fashion.

Components of a Graylog Cluster

A complete Graylog cluster comprises the following:

  • Graylog Server – Processes the logs stored from remote nodes.
  • Graylog Web UI – This is a web user interface for visually searching, indexing, and managing logs and configuring other parameters such as alerts and notifications.
  • MongoDB – A NoSQL database for storing configuration data.
  • ElasticSearch – Store messages (if you lose your ElasticSearch data, the messages are gone).

How Does Graylog Work?

At the center of the Graylog setup is the main Graylog server which receives log files from multiple endpoints such as Linux servers, workstations, network switches, and routers.

To enable the monitoring of devices, an agent needs to be installed on every server or resource. Once installed, the agent residing on the remote system ships log data back to the main Graylog server.

Common agents supported by Graylog include NxLog, Winlogbeat, and Filebeat.

Once the log data is shipped to the Graylog server, it is stored by Elasticsearch which is a search, indexing, and analytics engine for all types of data. It handles massive amounts of data which makes it ideal for storing log data for Graylog.

The log data is then processed and analyzed using Graylog’s advanced search features and finally visualized on neat and intuitive dashboards.

Graylog Open Source vs Graylog Enterprise

Graylog comes in two main editions: Graylog Open Source and Graylog Enterprise. Then we have Graylog Small Business and Graylog Cloud which are abstracted from the Enterprise edition.

Graylog Open Source

The Graylog Open Source edition is a free version of Graylog that aims at being 100% forever free. It comes at absolutely no cost but with limited features in comparison to the Enterprise Edition which unlocks all the functionalities provided by Graylog. Nonetheless, it still provides robust log management functionalities for small businesses and IT DevOps teams.

At a free level, here are the features that Graylog provides:

  • Unlimited log volume
  • Unlimited number of users
  • Dashboards
  • LDAP and Active directory integration
  • Extended log collection using Sidecar
  • Notifications
  • Alerts and Triggers
  • Log enrichment data
  • Pipeline and streams

The open-source version of Graylog lays a solid foundation for log management. However, this is just a tiny fraction of what the enterprise offers.

Graylog Enterprise

For organizations that seek to realize the full potential of log management, then Graylog Enterprise is the ultimate solution.

On top of what the opensource version provides, it offers the following additional features:

  • Search workflows
  • Sidecar feature for centralized and stackable configuration.
  • Custom theming and notifications
  • LDAP Groups integration
  • Forwarder
  • Active Directory user lookup
  • Correlation engine
  • Scheduled reports
  • Offline log archiving
  • User audit logs
  • 24/7 Technical support
  • 90-day live storage of logs
  • 1 year of data archival
  • Graylog illuminate and Academy

Pros of Using Graylog

Key benefits of leveraging Graylog to be your defacto log management tool include:

  • Centralized collection, storage, and aggregation of log data.
  • Endpoint enrichment of log data.
  • Faster analysis of collected data.
  • Time-efficient monitoring.
  • Maximum uptime, performance, and security.
  • Color-coded real-time alerts which indicate the severity of an issue. When clicked upon, the alerts provide additional information about the issue.
  • Intuitive and appealing dashboards which can be customized.
  • Quick and powerful log search options.
  • Flexibilty in configuration.

You can easily scale horizontally using a cluster of MongoDB servers and Elasticsearch nodes with the Graylog servers set to accept data from the target remote nodes.

Cons of Using Graylog

Some of the drawbacks of opting for Graylog include:

  • The prohibitive cost of acquisition for the Enterprise edition.
  • Steep learning curve which is a setback to non-technical users.
  • Some features are exclusive only to the Enterprise tier.

As you can see, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks of using Graylog. If you are getting started out in log management, then Graylog free-tier would be a perfect place to start before migrating to the Enterprise version.

Alternatives to Graylog

While Graylog is an excellent log management tool of choice, you might want to see how it stacks up against other log management solutions which have been considered worthy alternatives and these include:

Summing Up

Graylog continues to be a powerful log management and SIEM tool, especially in large enterprises where security is a top priority.

It simplifies the work of administrators and security teams by providing an intuitive UI that visualizes logs and provides deeper insights into the data collected from remote nodes. You can configure alerts and schedule reports as well as customize various settings to suit your preferences.

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I am an experienced GNU/Linux expert and a full-stack software developer with over a decade in the field of Linux and Open Source technologies.

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