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SC4S Architectural Considerations

There are some key architectural considerations and recommendations that will yield extremely performant and reliable syslog data collection while minimizing the “over-engineering” that is common in many syslog data collection designs. These recommendations are not specific to Splunk Connect for Syslog, but rather stem from the syslog protocol itself – and its age.

The syslog Protocol

The syslog protocol was designed in the mid 1980s to offer very high-speed, network-based logging for network and security devices that were (especially at the time) starved for CPU and I/O resources. For this reason, the protocol was designed for speed and efficiency at the expense of resiliency/reliability. UDP was chosen due to its ability to “send and forget” the events over the network without regard (or acknowledgment) of receipt. In later years, TCP was added as a transport, as well as TLS/SSL. In spite of these additions, UDP still retains favor as a syslog transport for most data centers, and for the same reasons as originally designed.

Because of these tradeoffs selected by the original designers (and retained to this day), traditional methods used to provide scale and resiliency do not necessarily transfer to the syslog world. We will discuss (and reference) some of the salient points below.

Collector Location

Due to syslog being a “send and forget” protocol, it does not perform well when routed through substantial (and especially WAN) network infrastructure. This includes front-side load balancers. The most reliable way to collect syslog traffic is to provide for edge (not centralized) collection. Resist the urge to centrally locate any syslog server (sc4s included) and expect the UDP and (stateless) TCP traffic to “make it”. Data loss will undoubtedly occur.

syslog Data Collection at Scale

In concert with attempts to centralize syslog, many admins will co-locate several syslog-ng servers for horizontal scale, and load balance to them with a front-side load balancer. For many reasons (that go beyond this short discussion) this is not a best practice. Briefly:

  • The attempt to load balance for scale (and HA – see below) will actually cause more data loss due to normal device operations and and attendant buffer loss than would be the case if a simple, robust single server (or shared-IP cluster) were used.

  • Front-side load balancing will also cause inadequate data distribution on the upstream side, leading to data unevenness on the indexers.

HA Considerations and Challenges

In addition to scale, many opt to load balance for high availability. While a sound approach for stateful, application-level protocols such as http, it does not work well for stateless, unacknowledged syslog traffic. Again, in the attempt to design for HA, more data ends up being lost vs. more simple designs such as vMotioned VMs. With syslog, always remember that the protocol itself is lossy, and there will be data loss (think CD-quality (lossless) vs. MP3). Syslog data collection can be made, at best, “Mostly Available”.


Paradoxically, UDP for syslog actually ends up being a better choice for resiliency for syslog. For an excellent discussion on this topic (as well as the “myth” of load balancers for HA), see Performant AND Reliable Syslog: UDP is best.