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Your Complete Guide to Splunk

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By: Olivia

July 18, 2017

According to research by Northeastern University, “The total amount of data in the world was 4.4 zettabytes in 2013. That is set to rise steeply to 44 zettabytes by 2020. To put that in perspective, one zettabyte is equivalent to 44 trillion gigabytes.”I’ve emphasized in my recent post about SQL vs Oracle Databases the importance data has to businesses. Using data, organizations can make better sense of who their customers are, what they are buying, etc. Knowing all of these points allows for greater insight. But visualization takes the insight aspect even further. That’s where a tool like Splunk comes in.

What is machine generated data?

Machine-generated data is information automatically generated by a computer process, application, or other mechanism without the active intervention of a human. This data has a lot of valuable information that can help businesses be more efficient, however, it is complex to understand because of its’ unstructured format, and therefore hard to visualize.For example, a security team might use analytics to detect threats in real time, but without an easy way to make sense of the data captured by their systems, it is essentially useless.

What is Splunk?

Splunk is a software that allows users to search, monitor, and analyze machine-generated big data via a web-style interface. Splunk captures, indexes, and correlates real-time data in a searchable repository from which it can generate graphs, reports, alerts, dashboards, and visualizations. The mission of this popular big data analytics tool is to make sense of machine generated log data.Helge Klein of Splunk states, “Splunk started out as a kind of ‘Google for Logfiles.’ It does a lot more today but log processing is still at the product’s core. It stores all your logs and provides very fast search capabilities roughly in the same way Google does for the internet.”The solutions offered by Splunk have grown to encompass everything from infrastructure/IT operations, application delivery, security and compliance, to business analytics, and IoT. Splunk has over 13,000 customers in 110 countries.

How does Splunk work?

Many may liken Splunk to a database, but this is a misconception. Klein explains it best, saying, “Where a database requires you to define tables and fields before you can store data, Splunk accepts almost anything immediately after installation. In other words, Splunk does not have a fixed schema. Instead, it performs field extraction at search time. Many log formats are recognized automatically, everything else can be specified in configuration files or right in the search expression. This approach allows for great flexibility.”

What sets Splunk apart?

Splunk offers real-time data processing, which is perhaps its’ biggest selling point since traditionally this process takes quite some time. In addition, the data visualization capabilities of Splunk are impressive, and allow you to easily search by simple search terms such as username.  Splunk’s Search Processing Language (SPL) offers even more search flexibility.

What are some features of Splunk?

One of the greatest features of Splunk is that it does not require any database set up or back-end management because it stores data directly on the file system. This means that installation is quick and easy, scalability is a breeze, and there is no single point of failure.Splunk has the ability to index terabytes of data daily and store practically unlimited amounts.Additional features include:
  • Input data can be in any format for e.g. .csv, or json or other formats
  • Configuration of Splunk to give alerts
  • Prediction of the resources needed for scaling up the infrastructure
  • Create knowledge objects for Operational Intelligence

What is Splunk used for?

To break it down, the functionalities of Splunk include:
  • Analyze system performance
  • Store and retrieve data
  • Create dashboards to visualize data
  • Troubleshoot any failure condition
  • Search for a specific data outcomes
  • Monitor business metrics

Why should I learn Splunk?

If you (or your organization) are working with large data sets that need to be sifted through regularly, there is no better system for organizing the information into beautiful visuals, fast. Plain and simple: you should learn Splunk!Splunk isn’t going away any time soon, so learning to harness its power in the enterprise environment will help everyone better understand and make use of critical business metrics. Set yourself apart as a job candidate or existing team member. What’s better, this tool is easy to learn, use and adjust.

Cybrary Resources for Learning Splunk

There are a few great articles that discuss Splunk found on Cybrary. We recommend reading ‘Raw Log Anatomy: Understanding My SIEM System.’If you want to work with Splunk hands-on, check out the NEW CybrScore Security Essentials Lab Bundle, which features labs like ‘Creating SIEM reports with Splunk.’

To Summarize

The amount of data we work with will only continue to increase, so understanding how to best manage and utilize this information is a main business function, regardless of the industry you work in.  Whether you’re hoping to enter a data science role, or are interested in deploying Splunk for your current company, you will find a thorough knowledge to be useful.If you are looking to get more specific experience within this useful tool, Splunk currently offers 3 certifications- Splunk Power User, Splunk Administrator, and Splunk Architect.

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Olivia Lynch (@Cybrary_Olivia) is the Marketing Manager at Cybrary. Like many of you, she is just getting her toes wet in the field of cyber security. A firm believer that the pen is mightier than the sword, Olivia considers corny puns and an honest voice essential to any worthwhile blog.
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