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Logging vs. Monitoring: Why You Need Both for Optimal Application Performance

When it comes to optimizing application performance, logging and monitoring are two halves that make a whole.

In the processes of application architecture, deployment, and management, logging and monitoring offer two varying methods for evaluating app performance. Using each technique, you can ensure that the application meets all expectations for availability, performance, and cybersecurity.

But what are the differences between logging and monitoring? And furthermore, is one a better option than the other?

Let’s take a closer look at the differences and similarities between monitoring and logging to better understand why both are equally vital.

What is Logging?

Logging (also called log analytics and management) is the management of log data generated by applications and infrastructure.

There are several processes that fall under the umbrella of application logging:

  • Log aggregation/log shipping: Compiling logs from varying sources and organizing them in a central location.
  • Log storage and archiving: Devising and executing a well-suited strategy for long-term log storage, including deletion after an established retention period.
  • Log data quality control: Resolving issues such as out-of-sync timestamps, redundancies, and missing data.
  • Log security and compliance: Protecting log privacy/security, particularly those which contain sensitive data.
  • Log enrichment: Building out existing logs with helpful contextualization, such as geographic data.
  • Log analysis: Using log analyzers to put log data to good use (some categorize this process as associated with monitoring, rather than logging).

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What do I need to log?

The distribution of your infrastructure, how many logs you are prepared to manage, and the actual data available to you will impact your overall operation. The type of service you utilize can also play a role: for example, an on-premises data center will produce significantly more log data than a cloud-based, serverless environment.

The basic categories of logs that you should consistently collect include:

  • Access, authorization, and authentication
  • Changes to applications, systems, and data
  • Availability
  • Resources, including connectivity issues, exhausted resources, and exceeded capabilities
  • Threats, including cybersecurity issues and invalid inputs
How long do I need to keep the logs?

The recommended retention period for logs is generally 30 days per event log. Keep in mind that the number of events you can store relies entirely on your specific storage space availability, so plan accordingly.

What is Monitoring?

“Monitoring” is the simplest term used to describe Application Performance Management (APM), sometimes also called Application Performance Monitoring. Essentially, monitoring is the practice of ensuring that a specific application meets expectations for availability and responsiveness within an acceptable timeframe.

Using your choice of monitoring tools, you’ll observe a variety of metrics and use that information to better achieve your specific goals. Some examples of these metrics include an application’s response time, the amount of memory it consumes, or if/when it is unresponsive.

Much like logging, you’ll customize your approach to monitoring based on differing factors. Some common processes for a typical monitoring strategy include the following, each one using its own specialized form of data:

  • Real user monitoring (RUM) uses actual user data.
  • Synthetic monitoring uses simulated interactions (via the creation of behavioral scripts).
  • Network monitoring uses network traffic.
  • Distributed tracing uses the application code itself.

These (and other) approaches to monitoring share a common goal: to gauge application health and manage its overall performance and availability.

Logging vs. Monitoring

Monitoring and logging each serve a distinct purpose, but one cannot be used to its peak potential without the other.

  • Monitoring enables you to manage the performance of an application; while
  • Logging zeros in on managing the specific data inside logs.

It’s important to understand that logging is not practiced for the sole purpose of monitoring. Aside from the uses discussed in this article, high-quality logs are also useful for:

Together, they arm you with the data and tools necessary to clearly understand the performance and availability of your applications and infrastructure. When you use both properly, you’ll be well-equipped to optimize and troubleshoot if – and when – necessary.

Quality logging and monitoring operate in tandem

If your log data fails to include a full range of information that spans various environments and application performance monitoring tools, there will be major gaps in your data for monitoring. Furthermore, improperly managed logs put you at risk for other issues beyond app performance, including security and compliance problems.

On the other hand, without monitoring, you’re left with a bounty of log data but no method for making sense of the information. As a result, you’ll be unable to effectively assess application performance, troubleshoot problems, and resolve issues throughout the application development process.

Simply put, if your strategy doesn’t make room for effective logging, efficient monitoring will be out of reach.

Logging and Monitoring: A Dual Necessity

Ultimately, logging and monitoring serve equally important – and interwoven – roles in ensuring proper app performance. One without the other becomes virtually useless, making it vital that you understand and execute both in alignment with best practices.

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Meet the Author
Jon Bolden is Quest's Certified Information Systems Security Officer
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