Choosing Between Loggly, Logentries and Elasticsearch

Lately I have been looking for a log management service for my team’s new project which is an engineering tool running as a website + REST API in Azure Websites, interacting with other engineering systems of my group and backed by SQL Azure and MongoDB. The need is basic: have one single place to store all the logs, traces and events from the different pieces in the application, so that my team and I can search the log and use it for troubleshooting. Down the road, we may also set up some simple alerts on top of the logs. For some reasons, I chose to not use the internal systems, but to try something outside.

I tried and compared Loggly, Logentries and Elasticsearch and eventually picked Elasticsearch:

Loggly Logentries Elasticsearch
Hosting Hosted Hosted Self-Hosted
Setup Easy Easy OK
Web UI Good OK Good
.NET Support Good Good OK
Official Documentation Good OK Good
Community & Ecosystem OK OK Good
Cost OK OK OK

Hosting

Both Loggly and Logentries are hosted. They are SaaS. Elasticsearch is an open source software. You have to host it in your own machines. In my case, I put Elasticsearch + Kibana on a Linux VM in Azure. On the other hand, nearly all the popular open source software has hosting providers. Just like there is MongoHQ for MongoDB, RavenHQ for RavenDB and GrapheneDB for Neo4j, there are also hosting providers for Elasticsearch, such as qbox.io and compose.io (formerly MongoHQ). I didn’t try them but it seems qbox.io is pretty decent and the price is reasonable (basically the underlying hosting cost in various public clouds, plus a premium).

Setup

Since Loggly and Logentries are hosted, the setup is really simple: just create an account, fill a form and you are good to go. Setting up Elasticsearch and Kibana for the first time on my own Linux VM took me about 30 minutes to carefully follow this 3rd party instruction step by step. Later, when I did the setup over again, the time was halved. Btw, that instruction is really good quality.

Web UI

Loggly and Elasticsearch (Kibana) tied. Loggly’s UI is more like iPhone: it just works. It’s quite polished and easy to use for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time on learning the tool itself (rather than using the tool to conduct business). Elasticsearch/Kibana is like Android: it’s very powerful and you can get a lot out of it if you know how to configure it and tweak your application’s logging. The analogy is not surprising: both Android and Elasticsearch/Kibana are open source software, while iPhone and Loggly are closed source.

Loggly

Loggly UI

Elasticsearch

Elasticsearch/Kibana UI

Logentries’ UI is less satisfactory. It was quite clear to me after a very brief use for 10 minutes or so. The design is relatively less fine-tuned. There seems to be some glitch in the client side scripts, so that sometime some UI elements were not very responsive or behaving in the expected way. In particular, there are three downers in Logentries’ UI:

  1. The row doesn’t expand inline. Both Loggly and Kibana can, which is sometimes pretty convenient.
  2. The results don’t support sorting. It’s always sorted by the event time ascendingly. It’s quite painful that every time that I have to press Page Down or drag the mouse many times to get to the latest rows. In the opposite, both Kibana and Loggly support sorting by time in either ascending or descending way and by default they both show the latest rows on top.
  3. The “X DAYS left in trial” reminder keeps popping up in Logentries UI. It’s intrusive and annoying. For a startup like them, they should understand that the greater conversion rate should organically come from building greater product.
Logentries

Logentries UI

.NET Support

Loggly and Logentries tied. They both provide official log4net appenders, which are also available as NuGet packages. Their official websites both provide clear app/web.config code examples of how to configure their appenders. Their appenders both work in asynchronous mode, so they can be directly used without noticeable performance overhead. A simple test shows that when their appenders are enabled, continuously calling logger.Info() for 100 times takes less than 100ms, which means <1ms per call.

Elasticsearch doesn’t provide official log4net appender, nor appender for Logstash. That’s a bit disappointing. There are a couple choices on GitHub though, among which log4net.ElasticSearch is the most well-developed one. In my project, I used log4stash, which was forked from log4net.ElasticSearch. But I had to do some work to log4stash before I can use it in my project, because log4stash doesn’t support SSL and my Elasticsearch is exposed on Internet so that my application running in Azure Websites can write logs into it (note: it seems Azure Websites recently started to support Virtual Network, which may eliminate the need to expose my Elasticsearch on Internet). It wasn’t too hard to add SSL support to log4stash, though. I did it in my fork, it worked well in my project and I created a pull request (which hasn’t been accepted yet). Anyone who needs a log4net appender for Elasticsearch with SSL support can grab it from my repo.

Official Documentation

Both Loggly and Elasticsearch’s official documentations are pretty good. No confusion.

Logentries has some room to improve. Take .NET support for example. There is a section on their official website and there is also a documentation on GitHub. The doc on their official website is using the older settings name (LOGENTRIES_TOKEN and LOGENTRIES_ACCOUNT_KEY), while the doc on GitHub uses newer setting names (Logentries.Token and Logentries.AccountKey).

Community & Ecosystem

Elasticsearch has clear winner, although the three were born nearly the same time: Elasticsearch since 2010 (although its root, Lucene, has been around for 16 years); Loggly since 2009; Logentries since 2010.

Search them in StackOverflow and you will get:

Searching them in GitHub:

It’s not surprising why Elasticsearch has a much bigger/active community: Elasticsearch is an open source software and self-hosted, while Loggly and Logentries are SaaS and closed source.

A plus for Logentries is that Logentries seems to provide better out-of-box integration with other services like Slack, HipChat, PagerDuty, etc. Loggly seems to have out-of-box integration with PagerDuty, but not HipChat or Slack. My quick search didn’t find any out-of-box integration of Elasticsearch with Slack, HipChat, etc., though I’m sure there are something ready for use in the community.

Cost

None of the three options is free, although Loggly and Logentries both offer a 30-day free trial period. After that, their entry level’s prices are:

Purely from cost saving perspective, if I were doing a side project, I would probably go for Logentries. In my current project, since Microsoft employees can use Azure for free (note: the charge goes to our department), a Linux VM running Elasticsearch+Kibana is for free to me.

Other Options

As mentioned this recent article, “Picking a cloud log management service”, there are a couple other choices for a SaaS log management service providers, such as: Splunk, Sumo Logic and Papertrail. I agree with that article that Splunk seems overkill for small projects and Sumo Logic doesn’t seem to fit. Papertrail looks a lot like Loggly and Logentries. I will give it a try when I get chance, though I don’t expect Papertrail to show too much difference than Loggly and Logentries.

Last but not least, none of the three big public cloud providers provide a comprehensive SaaS log management service as Loggly and Logentries do.

  • Amazon: AWS has the Amazon CloudWatch. But from what I read and confirmed by the Picking a cloud log management service article (written in Jan 2015), Amazon CloudWatch is only for EC2 instances.
  • Google: The recently announced Google Cloud Logging looks like a SaaS log management service, but relatively primitive, compared to Loggly, Logentries and Elasticsearch/Kibana. Plus, it seems to only support sending log from application in Google App Engine and VMs in Google Compute Engine.
  • Microsoft: Azure doesn’t seem to offer a log management service. Although a couple weeks ago as a part of the announcement of the new Azure App Service (which is kind of the v2 of Azure Websites), it provides the log collection, viewing and streaming.

It seems to be a common theme that Amazon, Google and Microsoft’s log management capability in their public cloud offering is only for the applications and VMs running in their own public cloud[1]. That kind of lack of openness is a bit disappointing.


[1] Update 04/12/2015: The logging in Azure Application Insights should work for any .NET applications. It provides a log4net appender as well as a listerner for System.Diagnostics.Trace.

One Comment

  1. Thanks very much for your review! I was deciding b/w loggly and logentries, and I just wanted to let you know I appreciated your review, and it was tipped me over to try loggly first (and I’m more than happy w/ it).

    Reply

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