What's new in Logstash and why you should care

Logstash stands out in log management, due to its speed, ease of use, and integration with complementary search and reporting tools

Elasticsearch, Inc., the commercial firm behind the open source Elasticsearch search engine, released version 1.4 of Logstash last week. Logstash is one of the most popular log management tools available today, though it competes in a crowded space with projects like Scribe, Flume, Chukwa, Fluentd, and Kafka.

The 1.4 release of Logstash contains a number of important improvements, the most obvious being the quicker startup time, now approximately three times faster. The new release maintains the radical emphasis on ease of use, which is a hallmark of the entire ELK (Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana -- the last for reporting and visualization) stack.

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Along with a quicker startup, Logstash 1.4 features an improved installation process. Version 1.4 also includes a simplified plug-in system that makes it even easier for users to customize their Logstash install to specific business needs, as well as redesigned Puppet modules to make it simpler to automate installation and configuration. You'll also find expanded documentation, with a new and improved get-started guide.

The Logstash legacy

Logstash was born out of Jordan Sissel's background in devops and system administration, when he found himself constantly dealing with large numbers of log files and needed a centralized mechanism to aggregate and manage them. Logstash was originally conceived without any awareness that Elasticsearch even existed, but as Sissel puts it, "writing storage systems is boring." When he discovered Elasticsearch in 2009, it was a perfect fit to store all that log data. Sissel joined Elasticsearch in August 2013.

Over time, Logstash has grown along with the other components of the ELK stack to become part of a comprehensive platform for using log data and helping businesses gain insight into how customers are interacting with e-commerce sites, support systems, and more.

"Logstash can get data from unknown places and from any source and will clean it up, so you don't have to worry about the exact log types or reconciling different data formats," says Sissel. "We handle it all and let you slice and dice that data with Elasticsearch. Serve it up nice and pretty with a side of Kibana, and you have instant feedback on how to better please your customers and drive business success."

Democratizing business data

Sissel and the Elasticsearch team refer to this as "democratizing business data." ELK is especially good at dealing with "any data with an element of time associated with it," but it's not limited to log data. Almost any type of data is ultimately a candidate to be stored, analyzed, and visualized using ELK.

Of course, the idea of "democratizing access to data" raises issues related to security and access control. Elasticsearch currently does not have a native access-control facility, although it's on the road map. As Sissel explains, "We don't have it yet because security is something you can't do halfway, so we want to make sure it's very good before launching it."

In the meantime, Elasticsearch recommends implementing access control at the HTTP level using HTTP proxies and firewalls. Here's a documented example of this configuration.

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