Log Data 101: What It Is & Why It Matters

If you mention 'log data' at a crowded business event, you'll quickly be able to tell who's in IT and who isn't. For the average person, log data is about as thrilling as a dental appointment or reconciling a years-old bank account. At the mere mention of log data, their eyes glaze over as they search for an escape from the conversation.

Conversely, IT professionals' eyes light up and they become animated when the topic of log data arises. They understand just how vital log data is to the success of the organizations they work with.

Log data provides a treasure trove of valuable information, capturing every interaction, every event, and every anomaly happening within a system. It holds the key to understanding system performance, identifying security breaches, and optimizing operational efficiency.

Before you roll your eyes and plot your escape, let’s dive deeper into the subject of log data so you can discover all that is possible. Ready?

What is log data?

Log data is a digital record of events occurring within a system, application or on a network device or endpoint.

Frequently machine-generated, this log data can be stored within a simple text file. For larger uses, though, you can save it to a database or compress into other formats. That’s because log files can quickly become massive, depending on how much information about the event you're logging –- that’s where the log management practice comes into play.

This saved log data can provide you with useful insights such as user activity, system performance, and security events, but it can also be used to troubleshoot problems and detect patterns within a system.

The key to getting value from your logs? Knowing how to use it.

Why do you log data? How data logging helps

Similar to business accounting, having data available to you is crucial to any organization.

Consider a Profit & Loss (P&L) statement in the business accounting world — a document containing comprehensive reports of revenues, costs, and expenses a company incurs over a specific period. The data compiled within the statement provides crucial insights into where money is coming from, where it's going, and how it's impacting overall business health.

Decision makes rely on this statement in order to make strategic, informed decisions about the company's future.

Your log data functions as a Profit & Loss statement for your IT infrastructure. It keeps a record of every event, transaction, and operation happening within the system, giving you a detailed account of its 'income' (successful operations, efficient performance) and 'expenses' (errors, breaches, system failures).

With this data, IT professionals are able to:

As you can see, similar to a Profit & Loss statement, log data enables informed, strategic decision-making for system optimization, security, and growth.

Types of log data

Now you understand the importance of keeping log data, let's dive a little deeper into the various types of log data that are typically used in the IT world.

Application logs

These logs are specifically generated by applications to track user activities, identify errors, and monitor performance metrics. These logs play a crucial role in troubleshooting and enhancing the overall user experience.

System logs

Operating systems generate system logs to capture important system events, such as system startups, shutdowns, and hardware or software failures. These logs provide valuable insights into system health and performance.

Security logs

These logs are specifically designed to detect and track malicious activities or attempted security breaches. By monitoring system and network events, security logs help to:

  • Identify potential threats.
  • Ensure your timely response to high-priority risks.

Network log data

Network devices generate network log data to monitor and control traffic flows within a network. These logs are able to:

  • Provide visibility into network activities.
  • Help identify bottlenecks or anomalies.
  • Assist in optimizing network performance.

Audit logs

Audit logs are created to document various events as part of an audit or compliance control process. They record actions taken by users or systems, ensuring accountability and traceability for regulatory and compliance purposes.

Database log data

Databases generate log data to track transactions, changes, and performance metrics. These logs play a critical role in:

  • Maintaining data integrity.
  • Enabling recovery in case of system failure.
  • Optimizing database performance.

Are these all the types of log data?

Nope, not by a long shot! These are some of the more typical logs used in professional settings for medium and large organizations. By keeping and analyzing these different types of log data, organizations can gain valuable insights, improve operational efficiency, and enhance overall system reliability and security.

Using tools for log data analysis

Setting up initial logging is only to the beginning -- you need to then aggregate and analyze those logs! This is how you’ll collect the right information to help interpret what the data is portraying and use it to make informed decisions.

With thousands of log entries to sort through, it’s difficult to work with the data in its raw form: how do you sort and read through all the data, attempting to prioritize it? This is where specialized software tools come in, letting you quickly search through large volumes of log data using advanced filters, tagging and analytics capabilities.

There are many tools available to help you analyze log data, depending on what type of information you need, your organizational goals, your budget and many other factors. Some go-to soltions include:

  • Splunk
  • ELK/Elastic Stack
  • Logz.io
  • Graylog
  • Loggly

By leveraging these tools, you can quickly and effectively analyze massive volumes of log data to detect patterns, identify changes, troubleshoot issues, and gain valuable insights into system performance.

Logging off

Log data is an incredibly powerful tool for IT professionals, enabling you to gain valuable insights into system performance and security events. By understanding the various types of log files available, they can make informed decisions to optimize system health and performance.

Ultimately, logging data provides organizations with a more efficient and reliable infrastructure — driving both organizational success and customer satisfaction. 

So, the next time you find yourself in a conversation about log data, remember — it's a fascinating world of information empowering organizations to thrive in the ever-evolving digital landscape. 

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This posting does not necessarily represent Splunk's position, strategies or opinion.

Leanne Mitton
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Leanne Mitton

Leanne Mitton is a 25-year digital agency owner of Norlink who uses content marketing and SEO to help small businesses build better, more effective blogs and get found more often online. You can connect with Leanne on LinkedIn.