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What is Log Monitoring? (Beginner's Guide)

Ayooluwa Isaiah
Updated on February 19, 2024

With the widespread adoption of containers, cloud-native technologies, and the increasing distribution of IT infrastructure, aligning business goals and user experience with system availability and performance has never been more critical.

This necessitates robust log monitoring to ensure seamless integration and functionality across various components, including cloud platforms, operating systems, network devices, and virtualized environments.

This article provides an introduction to log monitoring and the business value it delivers, and some best practices to keep in mind when implementing it within your organization.

What is log monitoring?

Log monitoring is the process of scrutinizing and acting upon log information collected from various components within your environment, including but not limited to web applications, cloud platforms, databases, and network hardware.

Its main objective is to swiftly identify anomalies or security attacks, and aid in troubleshooting efforts. Through the ongoing observation of log data, it's possible to promptly spot irregularities, potential security risks, system outages, and performance issues, thus facilitating preemptive handling and rectification before they escalate into outages.

Why is log monitoring important?

In today's complex and distributed application ecosystems, where countless services and components generate extensive volumes of log data, log monitoring stands out as the essential method for discerning valuable insights amidst vast data, ensuring timely action on critical events.

This constant oversight of log data enables the immediate identification and notification of unusual patterns, errors, and security risks that might be lost in the data deluge.

Without such monitoring, pinpointing the origins of problems becomes a significant challenge, leading to extended outages and degraded system functionality.

Here's the crux of the matter:

Consider a scenario where an unexpected system failure occurs. Without log monitoring, you're essentially flying blind and forced to manually sift through massive amounts of log data across different systems in search of the fault.

On the flip side, with an automated log monitoring system in place, you're well equipped with the tools to instantly pinpoint the issue, thanks to real-time alerts and a unified log overview.

This not only streamlines the diagnostic process but also allows for the early detection of issues, and often helps with preventing them from disrupting your software operations.

Ultimately, log monitoring is not just about problem-solving; it's about proactively ensuring the smooth operation of your systems, minimizing downtime, and maintaining an optimal performance level.

What's involved in log monitoring?

Log monitoring begins by setting clear objectives, which dictate the monitoring strategy and its intended outcomes. These goals often center around enhancing system reliability, ensuring security, avoiding performance degradations, and complying with government regulations.

For instance, a monitoring objective focused on system reliability means scrutinizing logs for warnings, errors, and other signs of failure. Similarly, aiming to boost performance involves pinpointing and addressing inefficiencies, like slow database queries or delayed web server responses, to refine user experience.

After establishing your goals, the next step is to compile all pertinent log data from your system that matches these objectives, organizing it centrally to streamline management and review.

For infrastructure monitoring, this involves collecting and aggregating log data from servers, virtual machines, containers, databases, cloud services, and other components in your environment.


Once logs are collected, they will often require further processing and normalization to fit your specific analysis and monitoring needs. This can be achieved using specialized tools designed for efficient data handling.

At this point, you'll need to choose a log monitoring solution that matches your log sources and can handle your data volume. This tool should offer the required functionality for secure and cost-effective log management.

With your logs collected, processed, and centralized in the log management system, analysis is up next. This stage involves filtering and correlating logs to unearth unusual patterns, errors, or security concerns, and visualizing key metrics to identify trends or anomalies, and to communicate findings with key stakeholders.

Screenshot from 2024-02-19 05-17-03.png

Discussing log monitoring is incomplete without highlighting the importance of alerting. It involves setting up specific rules and thresholds to activate notifications for particular events or when certain log data patterns emerge.

Such notifications ought to be managed through an incident management system capable of directing alerts to the appropriate individual, at the correct time, and via the preferred communication method (like Slack, email, SMS, or phone call), with options for escalation as needed.

Adopting this proactive strategy will help you detect and resolve issues before they can disrupt your business operations.

How to choose a log monitoring tool

For log monitoring to be productive and efficient, you need to select a platform that supports your goals at the required scale. Below are some of the key aspects to consider:

1. Integration and scalability

Ensure to select a platform that offers easy integration with your entire infrastructure—spanning applications, servers, and cloud services—to efficiently aggregate logs into a centralized repository.

The tool should not only accommodate your present log volume but also possess the flexibility to scale in tandem with your system's expansion. Evaluate the tool's capacity for data ingestion and long-term storage requirements to ensure it supports your evolving needs without compromise.

2. Real-time analysis and reporting features

For effective log monitoring, opt for a solution that supports real-time monitoring through dashboards and customizable alert configurations for immediate issue detection and response.

Screenshot from 2024-02-19 05-18-29.png

Additionally, consider tools equipped with intelligent alert management systems designed to mitigate alert fatigue by silencing inconsequential notifications, thereby focusing your attention on critical issues.

This not only enhances operational efficiency but also ensures timely intervention when it matters most.

3. Usability

Even the most advanced and feature-packed log monitoring tools can fall short if they're not user-friendly. Seek out solutions with well-designed user interfaces that make their extensive capabilities easily accessible and intuitive to navigate.

An engaging UI significantly diminishes the learning curve and enhances the efficiency of log analysis activities. It's important to assess the tool's overall ease of use, including how straightforward it is to perform common tasks and the clarity of its data visualizations.

A tool that balances powerful functionality with simplicity can dramatically improve your team's productivity and effectiveness in managing log data.

4. Security and compliance

Look for platforms that employs robust encryption protocols to safeguard log data at every stage of the log management process. This includes ensuring data is encrypted in-transit to protect against interception, and at rest to secure it against unauthorized access.

Furthermore, compliance with regulatory standards and data protection laws should be a key consideration, requiring features that support audit trails, role-based access controls, and data retention policies tailored to meet legal and industry-specific requirements.

5. Cost

Evaluating the total cost of ownership is critical when choosing a log monitoring solution. This includes not just the initial investment or subscription fees, but also any ancillary expenses related to storage, processing, and the engineering resources needed to set it up.

Conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis will illuminate the value proposition of different log monitoring solutions, helping you weigh their features against the associated costs.

Many services also offer free plans or trial periods to help you assess a tool's fit with your monitoring requirements before committing financially to it.

Learn more: Top 10 Log Monitoring Tools Compared

Log monitoring use cases

Log monitoring is useful for every facet of your application as long as they generate log data. Here are some typical ways monitoring is used to improve productivity:

1. Error detection and troubleshooting

Log monitoring plays a crucial role in spotting and resolving errors within applications and infrastructure components. While occasional glitches are expected in every application, persistent errors or those disrupting critical operations necessitate immediate attention. Log monitoring equips you with the ability to detect these issues promptly, enabling swift intervention before they escalate into more significant problems.

A notable example underscoring the importance of vigilant log monitoring is the GitLab incident in 2017, where a sequence of mishaps led to the permanent loss of six hours of production data due to backup system failures.

This incident highlights the necessity of not just monitoring but also proactively analyzing log data to identify potential failures early and implement corrective measures swiftly, thus safeguarding against data loss and ensuring system reliability.

2. Security incident detection

Detecting notable security events such as unauthorized access attempts, malware activity, and other potential security threats is a common use case for log monitoring.

Indeed, the lack of effective monitoring is recognized by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) as one of the top 10 security risks facing web applications today.

The reason for this is quite obvious. Without sufficient logging and monitoring, breaches and other security incidents cannot be detected leaving you at the mercy of attackers who can then exert serious damage.

Also, in the aftermath of a security incident, log data is invaluable for conducting forensic analysis to understand how the breach occurred, assess the extent of the damage, and prevent future incidents.

3. Performance optimization

Logs often contain valuable information on application performance such as response times, resource utilization, and more. By collecting and monitoring this data, you'll be able to set a performance baseline and detect when anomalies occur so that performance issues are detected and resolved quickly before they affect your users.

4. Infrastructure monitoring

Effective infrastructure monitoring involves the systematic collection and analysis of logs from both on-premise and cloud-based components—including servers, virtual machines, cloud services (like those offered by AWS), containerized environments (such as Kubernetes), and network devices.

This lets you prevent minor incidents from escalating into outages, and even when outages do occur, having detailed log data allows for rapid identification of the affected components, significantly reducing the time needed to restore services to good health.

5. Compliance and auditing

Compliance with numerous regulatory standards mandates that organizations actively monitor, gather, and scrutinize log data to adhere to data protection and privacy laws.

Through log monitoring, you can streamline your auditing processes by recording a trail of system activities and modifications, thereby ensuring regulatory compliance is maintained and deviations are detected quickly.

Log monitoring best practices

To ensure an effective log monitoring strategy, certain best practices must be followed such as the following:

1. Collect all relevant logs

Once you've decided your goals for monitoring, you must ensure that all logs related to the stated objective are being collected to avoid gaps in your monitoring coverage and provide a full spectrum of data necessary for informed decision-making.

2. Use a structured format like JSON

For log monitoring to be truly effective, logs must be in a format that is easily parsed and analyzed. Utilizing structured formats like JSON enhances the ability to correlate logs and monitor specific properties efficiently.

Structured formats also facilitate the inclusion of custom attributes, enriching the log data. For example, you can add a user_id property to track actions performed by specific users, and error_type to categorize the nature of errors encountered.

To maximize the utility of converting your logs to structured data, ensure to maintain consistency in attribute names across all logs to ensure that you can easily search and aggregate data across all of them, regardless of where they come from

Learn more: Log Formatting Best Practices

3. Integrate log monitoring with incident response

The primary objective of log monitoring is to expedite the detection, investigation, and resolution of issues. As such, it is imperative to seamlessly integrate your log monitoring system within your comprehensive incident response strategy.

This ensures that upon identification of a problem, alerts are promptly dispatched to the appropriate personnel, with provisions for subsequent escalation as required. This integration facilitates a swift and efficient response to incidents, minimizing potential disruptions.

4. Prevent alert fatigue

Effective log monitoring involves employing alerting mechanisms to notify you of issues as they arise. Yet, an excessive number of alerts, especially for minor matters, can lead to alert fatigue. This occurs when the sheer volume of notifications causes you to become numb to these alerts, potentially leading to overlooked critical issues or sluggish responses to alerts.

The goal of alerting is to ensure that significant issues are promptly addressed without overwhelming yourself or your team with constant, non-essential notifications. Better Stack offers a useful tool designed to minimize unnecessary disturbances, enabling you to focus on truly matters without sacrificing your peace of mind.

5. Adopt a regular review process

Adopting a regular schedule for evaluating your log monitoring rules and alerts is crucial for ensuring they continue to accurately identify issues. You might discover some alerts are overly sensitive, generating more noise than useful information, or you may recognize the need for alerts that currently don't exist.

Thankfully, refining these aspects is usually straightforward. Establishing a routine of promptly addressing these areas for improvement, by adding tasks or items to your backlog, is key to maintaining a log monitoring system that remains effective over time.

Final thoughts

It's clear that attaining situational awareness of your application and its surrounding environment relies heavily on log monitoring. Dedicating time to implement and refine this process is a valuable investment that promises substantial returns in the long term as long as you select the right tooling and implement the best practices highlighted above.

Thanks for reading and happy logging!

Author's avatar
Article by
Ayooluwa Isaiah
Ayo is the Head of Content at Better Stack. His passion is simplifying and communicating complex technical ideas effectively. His work was featured on several esteemed publications including, Digital Ocean, and CSS-Tricks. When he’s not writing or coding, he loves to travel, bike, and play tennis.
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