Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In Theory And In Reality

I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one-and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."

-- Henry Ford

"The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity and judgement with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour."

-- Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations

Not surprisingly, our last post on the perils of "One Size Fits All" log management got a heated response from a blogger whose company tilts at the windmills of "mega-SEM" log management. We were called "profoundly stupid," "naive," "incompetent," and "idiotic." We were happy to receive such high praise for our company, which has been producing software in the log management niche since 1997, over twice as long as many of the johnny-come-latelies into the market. Obviously, we're doing something terribly wrong over here :)

Interestingly, the meat of our post, namely that you can put together a good log management system by combining best-of-breed packages that target different types of logs, was not rebutted. Arguably, it is pretty easy to pull some quotes from a blog posting without actually debating the core philosophy or issue. However, we're not really interested in debating this issue, because it would probably devolve into some sort of academic exercise with plenty of jargon and buzzwords that probably don't mean a hill of beans to you, our gentle readers.

One of the most interesting things in the software industry is the disconnect between the "wouldn't it be awesome if?..." theory and the ugly reality of the marketplace. Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in the area of SEM and log management. In that spirit, and in the spirit of when academia meets reality, we're going to flesh out our previous blog posting into a little thing we call "In Theory and In Reality."

In theory, every possible device, operating system, or program that generates a log would adhere to a common schema or format when doing so. It seems that every year some new working group releases a paper or proposal detailing that very thing.

In reality, only some devices, operating systems, and programs that generate logs adhere to a common format. Cynically or not, vendors of said devices, operating systems, and programs have discovered that there is money to be made selling consulting services and reporting packages for logs written in their proprietary formats. Some of the most popular logging formats, such as Windows EVT files, syslog, and the W3 logging format have gotten that way due to widespread industry adoption and market penetration, not the other way around. On top of that, even if a log is written in a common format, the devil is in the details of the event!

In theory, every organization looking to automate log management has a budget for that project in excess of $50K, or maybe even $100K. On top of that, they obviously would want a log management package that claims to manage hundreds of devices, even though they only have 5 Windows servers, 100 Windows workstations, a UNIX mail server, and a router/firewall on their network.

In reality, many of the admins we work with daily are lucky if their management has blessed them with $5K to spend on log management, never mind $50K.

In theory, most organizations want a large, macro view of logging activity and trends happening across their network. Highly detailed information and reporting would be nice to have, but the big picture is fine for right now.

In reality, if organizations cannot produce detailed, OS/device-specific levels of information for their auditors, they fail audits.

In theory, IT departments are well-staffed with highly-compensated admins who have plenty of free time to spend on extensive consulting and training for the log management packages they adopt. Really!

In reality, IT departments are often poorly-staffed with admins forced into reactive, as opposed to proactive, positions. They need easy-to-configure software that can produce detailed levels of information quickly and without much fuss.

In theory, only expensive, over-engineered SEM packages can produce any useful level of correlation between different devices and operating systems.

In reality, many device and platform-specific SEM packages for SMBs can output aggregated log data into mineable formats such as database tables, or pass that data over the fence to another logging platform (e.g. syslog concentrator, etc), where data can be routinely grepped and mined as needed for key IP addresses, ports, etc.

In theory, all large Fortune 500 companies and huge government entities would naturally want to adopt a mega-SEM package, because it's the only thing that can even come close to dealing with their diverse, heterogenous logging environment.

In reality, many large Fortune 500 companies purchase specific device and platform-targeted log management packages to get a detailed handle on logging data within a certain department. Often, this is after they've been sold a bill of goods by the mega-SEM vendor and they're facing the crunch time of an audit.

We now conclude this chapter of "In Theory and In Reality." We'll soon take you back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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