Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Derek Weeks, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, John Katrick, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Industrial IoT, Agile Computing, @CloudExpo, @DXWorldExpo

Microservices Expo: Article

In Defense of the Agent

They're not all bad...

Last week we published an article entitled 'Log Management 101 - Where Do Logs Come From?' to which one of our more witty readers retorted:

"Sometimes a server and an app love each other very very much..."  :-)

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 6.07.50 AM

The article covered some of the basics around collecting log data from various parts of the stack as shown here.

Application_Stack_Graphic

In short these fall into the following categories:

  • Libraries for common languages and frameworks - Allowing you to log directly from your application source code.
  • Collector agents - Usually built for common operating systems, agents will collect data from your file system in real time and forward it on to a third party service.
  • Syslog - Ships out of the box on all Linux and Unix distros and is commonly supported by devices such as routers and switches. It comes in a number of flavors (rsyslogsyslogdsyslog-ng...), with some more capable that others.

Over the coming weeks we'll be diving into these different options in more detail explaining the pros and cons and best practices around using these. This week we've decide to look at agents.

In Defense of the Agent
While some providers tout the evils of running agents on your system and can oft be heard shouting, "no agents here!!!", we prefer to keep an open mind at Logentries. We'd rather not dictate to our community what approach to take when collecting log data nor do we try to prescribe what's best for you - rather, we'd prefer to give you the different options and allow you to make that decision for yourself.

That being said, like most things in life, agents have their pros and cons. They are certainly not a silver bullet, but they do have their advantages in certain scenarios.

We Want Agents
The two main advantages of using an agent to forward your log data are (1) quick setup and (2) additional functionality.

Having the option to get setup with new tools and technologies quickly is important. It's often overlooked by providers, but it adds great value for users and, in my opinion, it is a critical component of a service that strives to provide a low barrier of entry to the wider community. From our many conversations with users over the past few years we have found that they do not have a lot of time when it comes to evaluating new tools and technologies. Having the ability to get setup and using features quickly is a must for many of them. I can certainly relate to this, even when I was completing my PhD - where I researched and built performance profiling tools for a living - I had a rule of thumb whereby if configuring a profiler took more than 10 minutes I usually just moved on. I generally had something more important to be doing that forced this - and that was in an academic setting where time could move more slowly than in the commercial world :) In the commercial world people usually have smaller time windows to work in.

Well built and documented agents should allow you to get up and running quickly. For example the Logentries agent can get you up and running within 60 seconds with a single command. It works as follows:

  • Copy and paste our single line instruction from our quick start guide to your terminal
  • The agent will be downloaded and installed
    • You will be asked for your Logentries credentials.
    • The install process will automatically find standard logs on your system and configure them to send data to your Logentries account.
    • The install process will automatically send some sample log events into your account to (1) make sure you have connected to our service and (2) to give you some data to play with so you can immediately play with our features without having to generate log data from your system.
    • The install process will automatically configure some sample tags and reports so you can immediately see the value of being able to highlight important events, creating alerts and building reports.

The alternative to the above is configuring syslog (which often assumes a level of understanding for syslog), where its config files live, and how to go about editing them. While this can also be documented (and we have been making our syslog process easier and easier to follow) we find that you can get more easily get tripped up, especially when there are lots of different flavous and versions of syslog. This can be particularly painstaking if you are running some outdated version where instructions or config formats can differ ever so slightly. Syslog can also be a challenge if you want to collect data from non-syslog log files that do not live in the /var/log folder.

Furthermore, if you are living in the Windows world, syslog is not going to be an option (well not out of the box anyway...you can always download and configure Snare - the windows equivalent of syslog). If you fall into this category you will likely require an agent to be able to start collecting your logs without a major time investment.

The second main advantage of agents is that they can come with additional functionality. For example the Logentries agent also provides for the following:

  • Data filtering - This can be important if you have sensitive data in your logs. The Logentries agent has a filtering component that can be configured to cleanse your data and to strip out any private information before it leaves your network.
  • A command line interface - Traditionally Sysadmins and devs worked with their logs on the command line with a combination of commands like tail -f, grep, awk, etc. So it makes sense that from time to time you may want to reuse some of these old skills even if you are using a log management tool with nice browser-based functionality (e.g. search, tagging, alerts, reports ...). The Logentries agent gives you command line access to all your logs contained within your account. For example you can easily search, export and filer data from your Logentries account via the CLI - you can also navigate your account and list your logs as if you are navigating your file system.

No Agents Here
The most common reasons for not using agents are:

  • Maintenance - If you have a large environment with 100's of server instances, the thought of installing/updating/patching another piece of code might be undesirable. This may especially be the case if your systems already ship with syslog. That being said, if you do have such a large environment, you are likely automating deployment through something like Chef or Puppet and so this may be less of an issue. Agents thus need to provide for a silent install so that they can be deployed en masse. Furthermore, if the agent is properly managed and maintained (e.g. though the various *nix package managers - as is the case with the Logentries agent) updating your agent to new versions will be fairly seamless and will happen along with the rest of your updates.
  • Trust - Running someone else's code on your system takes a level of trust. You need to know that it has been well written and isn't going to kill performance or have any major security holes. To help alleviate any concerns however, we have open sourced the Logentries agent so that you can view our code, and even modify it if you so wish. Although it is understandable if you do not have the time (or inclination) to spend reviewing our agent code base :) Furthermore, in some cases, using an agent is just not going to be an option (perhaps due to strict security policies or hard performance constraints). Again this is where syslog may be more of a known and trusted quantity.

In summary agents are not necessarily good or bad, they are not perfect, nor are they evil :) Like most of us, they have their good point and bad points.

This article originally posted on the Logentries blog.

Logentries_Try_It_Free_Promo_W

More Stories By Trevor Parsons

Trevor Parsons is Chief Scientist and Co-founder of Logentries. Trevor has over 10 years experience in enterprise software and, in particular, has specialized in developing enterprise monitoring and performance tools for distributed systems. He is also a research fellow at the Performance Engineering Lab Research Group and was formerly a Scientist at the IBM Center for Advanced Studies. Trevor holds a PhD from University College Dublin, Ireland.

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
Some people are directors, managers, and administrators. Others are disrupters. Eddie Webb (@edwardawebb) is an IT Disrupter for Software Development Platforms at Liberty Mutual and was a presenter at the 2016 All Day DevOps conference. His talk, Organically DevOps: Building Quality and Security into the Software Supply Chain at Liberty Mutual, looked at Liberty Mutual's transformation to Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and DevOps. For a large, heavily regulated industry, this task...
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...
Gaining visibility in today’s sprawling cloud infrastructure is complex and laborious, involving drilling down into tools offered by various cloud services providers. Enterprise IT organizations need smarter and effective tools at their disposal in order to address this pertinent problem. Gaining a 360 - degree view of the cloud costs requires collection and analysis of the cost data across all cloud infrastructures used inside an enterprise.
You know you need the cloud, but you’re hesitant to simply dump everything at Amazon since you know that not all workloads are suitable for cloud. You know that you want the kind of ease of use and scalability that you get with public cloud, but your applications are architected in a way that makes the public cloud a non-starter. You’re looking at private cloud solutions based on hyperconverged infrastructure, but you’re concerned with the limits inherent in those technologies.
Gone are the days when application development was the daunting task of the highly skilled developers backed with strong IT skills, low code application development has democratized app development and empowered a new generation of citizen developers. There was a time when app development was in the domain of people with complex coding and technical skills. We called these people by various names like programmers, coders, techies, and they usually worked in a world oblivious of the everyday pri...
Our work, both with clients and with tools, has lead us to wonder how it is that organizations are handling compliance issues in the cloud. The big cloud vendors offer compliance for their infrastructure, but the shared responsibility model requires that you take certain steps to meet compliance requirements. Which lead us to start poking around a little more. We wanted to get a picture of what was available, and how it was being used. There is a lot of fluidity in this space, as in all things ...
The dynamic nature of the cloud means that change is a constant when it comes to modern cloud-based infrastructure. Delivering modern applications to end users, therefore, is a constantly shifting challenge. Delivery automation helps IT Ops teams ensure that apps are providing an optimal end user experience over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments, no matter what the current state of the infrastructure is. To employ a delivery automation strategy that reflects your business rules, making r...
The notion of improving operational efficiency is conspicuously absent from the healthcare debate - neither Obamacare nor the newly proposed GOP plan discusses the impact that a step-function improvement in efficiency could have on access to healthcare (through more capacity), quality of healthcare services (through reduced wait times for patients) or cost (through better utilization of scarce, expensive assets).
Admiral Calcote - also known as Lee Calcote (@lcalcote) or the Ginger Geek to his friends - gave a presentation entitled Characterizing and Contrasting Container Orchestrators at the 2016 All Day DevOps conference. Okay, he isn't really an admiral - nor does anyone call him that - but he used the title admiral to describe what container orchestrators do, relating it to an admiral directing a fleet of container ships. You could also say that they are like the conductor of an orchestra, directing...
Cloud Governance means many things to many people. Heck, just the word cloud means different things depending on who you are talking to. While definitions can vary, controlling access to cloud resources is invariably a central piece of any governance program. Enterprise cloud computing has transformed IT. Cloud computing decreases time-to-market, improves agility by allowing businesses to adapt quickly to changing market demands, and, ultimately, drives down costs.
For DevOps teams, the concepts behind service-oriented architecture (SOA) are nothing new. A style of software design initially made popular in the 1990s, SOA was an alternative to a monolithic application; essentially a collection of coarse-grained components that communicated with each other. Communication would involve either simple data passing or two or more services coordinating some activity. SOA served as a valid approach to solving many architectural problems faced by businesses, as app...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Synametrics Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Synametrics Technologies is a privately held company based in Plainsboro, New Jersey that has been providing solutions for the developer community since 1997. Based on the success of its initial product offerings such as WinSQL, Xeams, SynaMan and Syncrify, Synametrics continues to create and hone in...
Some journey to cloud on a mission, others, a deadline. Change management is useful when migrating to public, private or hybrid cloud environments in either case. For most, stakeholder engagement peaks during the planning and post migration phases of a project. Legacy engagements are fairly direct: projects follow a linear progression of activities (the “waterfall” approach) – change managers and application coders work from the same functional and technical requirements. Enablement and develo...
The “Digital Era” is forcing us to engage with new methods to build, operate and maintain applications. This transformation also implies an evolution to more and more intelligent applications to better engage with the customers, while creating significant market differentiators. In both cases, the cloud has become a key enabler to embrace this digital revolution. So, moving to the cloud is no longer the question; the new questions are HOW and WHEN. To make this equation even more complex, most ...
Recent survey done across top 500 fortune companies shows almost 70% of the CIO have either heard about IAC from their infrastructure head or they are on their way to implement IAC. Yet if you look under the hood while some level of automation has been done, most of the infrastructure is still managed in much tradition/legacy way. So, what is Infrastructure as Code? how do you determine if your IT infrastructure is truly automated?
Every few years, a disruptive force comes along that prompts us to reframe our understanding of what something means, or how it works. For years, the notion of what a computer is and how you make one went pretty much unchallenged. Then virtualization came along, followed by cloud computing, and most recently containers. Suddenly the old rules no longer seemed to apply, or at least they didn’t always apply. These disruptors made us reconsider our IT worldview.
As people view cloud as a preferred option to build IT systems, the size of the cloud-based system is getting bigger and more complex. As the system gets bigger, more people need to collaborate from design to management. As more people collaborate to create a bigger system, the need for a systematic approach to automate the process is required. Just as in software, cloud now needs DevOps. In this session, the audience can see how people can solve this issue with a visual model. Visual models ha...
Containers are rapidly finding their way into enterprise data centers, but change is difficult. How do enterprises transform their architecture with technologies like containers without losing the reliable components of their current solutions? In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Tony Campbell, Director, Educational Services at CoreOS, will explore the challenges organizations are facing today as they move to containers and go over how Kubernetes applications can deploy with lega...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, will discuss some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he’ll go over some of the best practices for structured team migrat...