When utilized effectively, the data collected by logging can be of great value to developers, IT personnel, and business folks alike. Log data can help organizations find problems within their applications at the earliest possible moment. Additionally, it can enable developers and incident responders to resolve issues in a more timely fashion, and it can provide critical insight into how people are using applications.
Below, I will discuss these benefits and delve into what makes each of them extremely valuable to DevOps teams.
Log data can play a crucial role in enabling DevOps teams to identify problems within their applications in a more timely fashion. Accomplishing this is often made possible by using log management platforms that feature real-time log analysis capabilities and alert functionality. The platform ingests the log data and analyzes it immediately while configuring alerts to notify the necessary personnel if the resulting analysis reveals an issue. For example, an organization might encounter an uptick in the error rate for a web application. In this case, their web server logs might indicate higher than average volumes of HTTP status codes indicative of failure. Using log management software and real-time log analysis, this rise in error rate can trigger an alert, enabling the response process to begin at the earliest possible point.
Leveraging log data in this manner leads to reduced Mean Time To Acknowledgement (MTTA), a key metric for measuring the effectiveness of an incident response strategy. In other words, by reducing the amount of time it takes to realize that a problem exists, log data enables responders to begin working to resolve the issue earlier. Downstream, this has the effect of limiting application downtime and the overall impact of an incident on end-users.
Log data can be beneficial for pinpointing the root cause when problems occur within an application. For instance, when the system throws an exception, helpful information such as the full stack trace is typically recorded in the application’s error log. This data enables developers to trace through the method calls that led to the problem and identify the exact line of code that triggered the exception, making the issue easier to research and the problematic scenario easier to reproduce. Thus, responders can understand the problem, which enables them to reach a complete and permanent solution.
Efficient root cause analysis is a critical component of an effective incident response process. So, by serving as a valuable resource for determining root cause, log data assists in minimizing another key incident response metric: Mean Time To Resolution (MTTR). Similarly, reducing MTTR further helps in limiting the impact that incidents have on end-users. Moreover, when it takes engineers less time to remediate problems, they can focus more on building new and exciting functionality, which further increases the value of the product to the customer.
While log data is a valuable asset for resolving failures within applications, it can also be beneficial for other reasons. For example, developers can use log data to gain complete insight into how users are using an application. In a web application, developers can analyze request logs to reveal key trends and patterns that are important for the organization, such as determining the times when a web application is subject to higher traffic. In addition, this analysis can reveal information as far as which content your users are accessing most often and which browsers they are using most often to access it.
Another way log data can shed light on application usage is through the analysis of audit logs. Audit logging provides a way to evaluate user actions within an application, usually for security purposes. Audit logs typically record login and logout actions as well as details about when and how someone manipulates data within a system, as well as who they are. This information gives organizations a significant advantage in that they now have a mechanism for identifying, tracking, and (potentially) reversing unauthorized data changes. In other words, organizations can leverage this mechanism to improve security and limit damage when incidents occur.
Log data can be beneficial to DevOps organizations in several key ways, such as: