Log Management Systems: What are they, and should you use one?

Featured image *Logs management systems*

Logs have a reputation for being something that only someone with multiple computer degrees can read and use. While this may have been true in the past, developments in technology and usability have made logs an invaluable tool that anyone can use.

From improving security and management of applications such as WordPress to increasing accountability within the team, logs are the superfood of the computer world. With many systems having the ability to output logs, we need to speak about the importance of logs and how to harness their power effectively. In doing so, we can learn how to improve systems and processes within infrastructures and operations alike. This is what log management systems effectively help us do.

A brief introduction to logs

In recent years, we have seen IT move from the domain of geeks to something that everyone uses. This transition has happened on multiple levels. It’s not just the software we use every day. WordPress is a prime example of this, allowing anyone to set up a new website in minutes.

In many ways, logs have followed the same path. One such example is WP Activity Log, which has made the activity log for WordPress accessible to everyone.

Each system and component involved in making WordPress’ work’ is capable of outputting logs. This is generally a good thing as it allows us to troubleshoot every step of the way. However, it can be chaotic at times.

This chaos arises from the fact that we have several related yet dispersed logs. Remember that each component (think web server, PHP, WordPress, plugins) serves the next component down the line, so when troubleshooting, we need to follow a top-down path until we find the source of the issue. As such, we can end up in a situation where we are jumping from one log file to another. Doable, but as we just said, somewhat chaotic.

Many times, these logs reside on separate platforms. Often, we also need to cross-reference between these systems, which can make the process slightly messier.

Logs are great – they are what allow us to troubleshoot issues in the first place. However, more so in complex environments, an improved system that collates all of these logs in one central location can have many benefits.

Introducing Log Management Systems

Log Management Systems, as the name implies, are systems that manage logs. These systems can collate logs from disparate sources and organize them into one continuous, cohesive log.

In a WordPress setting, this means you can have one location in which logs from your WordPress websites, web server, PHP, MySQL, and other ancillary systems can reside. The main direct benefit of this is easier troubleshooting, since we do not have to refer to dispersed logs to get to the bottom of an issue. However, this is not the only benefit to be had.

It is also worth mentioning that Log Management Systems are their own service, and many come with a slew of great features and additional capabilities. These tend to vary from one system to another, with services such as Loggly and Papertrail including an impressive list of amazing features.

The many benefits of Log Management Systems

The only thing that’s better than a system that eases the pain of troubleshooting is one that prevents it. By and large, logs allow us to do this since, more often than not, signs that things are not working as they should manifest in advance. Companies that employ an army of administrators might have someone frequently check the logs. This, however, is not efficient. Smaller companies might find it altogether impossible.

Connecting the dots can also be problematic when logs are not homogeneously stored unless you know what you’re looking for.

Centralization

Since Log Management Systems are good at centralizing different logs, they can boost the logs’ capabilities. There is one central place from which we can check all of our logs with features such as Papertrail’s Tail & Search, making this easier than ever before.

Security

Another benefit of Log Management Systems is accessibility. With logs usually reserved for systems administrators, giving administrative rights can run against the principle of least privilege. With a Log Management System in place, you can create accounts for anyone entrusted with checking logs without opening the doors to more sensitive systems. This helps you improve WordPress website security by adhering to the principle of least privilege.

Redundancy

With a Log Management System in place, you’re ensuring that logs, or at least a copy of them, exist in an environment outside the one they were created in. As such, should a system go down completely, you can still access the logs and start your troubleshooting processes. At the same time, it acts as a backup, helping you make sure important records are preserved.

Access

Many Log Management Systems are also offered as SaaS, accessible through a web browser from pretty much anywhere. With no special software such as SSH or RDP required to access the logs, you can start troubleshooting from pretty much anywhere. This can help you reduce the time to recovery while minimizing any financial and other losses otherwise incurred from extended downtimes.

Log Management Systems – Who are they for?

As mentioned earlier, Log Management Systems really shine in complex environments. Having said that, even a WordPress website needs a number of components to work, each of which is outputting logs. Collating them is going to make your job easier down the line and facilitate the delegation of tasks.

However, a website that’s using a shared or managed hosting account is not going to find Log Management Systems particularly useful, since most of the infrastructure troubleshooting will be done by the service provider.

Choosing a Log Management System

Log Management Systems can vary a lot from one solution to the next. We work closely with the two solutions mentioned earlier, Loggly and Papertrail. WP Activity Log includes out-of-the-box support for mirroring WordPress logs to Papertrail and Loggly, making integration a breeze.

Furthermore, they offer a free trial and a free account, respectively. This makes them great candidates to try out – and they are two of the best Log Management Systems out there to boot.

WP Activity Log also supports several other Log Management Systems, including AWS CloudWatch, Slack, and others. Undertaking a free trial or a free account also helps you evaluate different features, giving you time to learn what’s important to you and what isn’t. The added benefit here is that there is no risk.

With no two systems being the same, understanding what each one has to offer and where it shines can help you make the right decision for you and your WordPress website.

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