Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms are important tools for most IT and DevOps teams. So are log management platforms. And, although both types of tools perform similar functions, neither is a replacement for the other.
In this article, we break down the similarities and differences between SIEM tools and log management tools. Readers will learn what each type of platform does, and why most businesses need to use both categories of solutions together to achieve full visibility into their software environments.
SIEM refers to the collection and analysis of data in order to detect problems that may signal a security vulnerability.
Typically, SIEM platforms collect data from a variety of sources. Those sources include logs, but they could also include data about network traffic patterns and application deployments, for example. After ingesting this data, SIEM tools analyze it in real time to look for anomalies or patterns that may indicate an attempted breach. When they detect a potential issue, they can send alerts so the IT team can respond.
For example, a SIEM tool might detect a number of repeated login attempts from the same source IP in a short period of time. This pattern might signal an attempt at brute-force entry into a system by trying to cycle through a long list of username and password combinations, so the SIEM tool would send an alert.
Log management refers to the total process that a team uses to handle all of the logs produced by the various applications they run.
Log management can be broken down into a series of distinct sub-processes. Log management typically begins with collecting log data from wherever it originates. Then, logs are aggregated into a central location where they can be analyzed. Sometimes log data must be transformed as well, meaning that it has to be restructured or sliced-and-diced to make it easier to parse or to conform with the formatting standards used by the organization. Logs can then be easily analyzed or visualized during the time that they are retained and then archived for compliance purposes.
SIEM and log management share many similarities:
The similarities end there, however. In the most important respects, SIEM and log management tools are fundamentally different sorts of solutions, for several reasons.
One is that SIEM focuses on finding and remediating security problems. Log management is an important part of security workflows, too, because log data is often essential for addressing security issues. However, log management extends beyond just security. It's equally important for managing application performance, maintaining availability, capacity planning, and more.
As noted above, SIEM also involves a wider range of data sources. Log management focuses on logs alone; other types of data that may be available from an environment, like application metrics, are analyzed and managed in other ways.
A final differentiator is the timelines associated with SIEM and log management. Although the data and analytics from a SIEM tool may sometimes be useful for researching past events, SIEM platforms focus mostly on analyzing security patterns in real time. Meanwhile, log management tools offer real-time insights through log tailing and rapid analysis, as well as collecting, analyzing, and managing log data after it is produced.
Thus, while it wouldn't be accurate to say that SIEM works in real time and log management does not, it's fair to conclude that SIEM skews toward real-time workflows, whereas log management is used for both real-time debugging and historical analysis.
Because SIEM and log management solve different sorts of problems using different types of data, one is not a replacement for the other. Most DevOps and IT teams today need both tools: a SIEM platform to help manage security operations, and a log management solution to keep track of and analyze the hundreds or thousands of logs produced by their applications and infrastructure.