Leveraging Open Source and Public License Solutions for Network Observability
By: Eric Graham
November 7, 2023
Network Observability seems to be all the buzz at the moment. Gartner and Forrester have got into a regular cadence of issuing reports on the sector and new entrants are emerging every month. There are many factors to consider when evaluating solutions and this blog can’t provide all the answers. Still, we can explain why we think taking an open (source/data/platform) approach has advantages. Admittedly, what follows is a biased perspective, but it reflects our genuine beliefs and it should resonate with those who understand where data collection and analysis is heading, and especially with those who take a NetDevOps approach to maintaining their services.
In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, network observability has become a critical component of ensuring the performance, security, and reliability of IT infrastructure. Traditionally, organizations have turned to purpose-built, proprietary solutions to meet their network observability needs. However, there's a growing trend toward using open-source and publicly available products as a future-proof, cost-effective and highly customizable alternative. In this blog post, we'll explore the advantages of opting for these solutions for network observability over purpose-built products and some of the available solutions to fit the needs of even the most demanding networks.
Flexibility and Customization
Open-source software provides a high degree of flexibility and customization. Organizations can adapt these solutions to their unique network environments and requirements. This level of flexibility is often absent in purpose-built products, which may have limited configurability and customization options. SaaS observability solutions are often rigid as they have to cater to all customers on the platform, and having to export data from these platforms can be complex and introduce redundancies and further expense. Open-source empowers you to take control of your network observability solution and not wait for a proprietary software release.
With open-source solutions, network engineers and IT teams have the freedom to tailor the observability stack to their needs. Whether it's fine-tuning data collection, creating custom dashboards, or integrating with other tools, open-source software allows for a tailored observability strategy. This includes collecting various forms of network, host and management data into a single backend and providing the elusive single-pane-of-glass view everyone is looking for. For instance, in the high-level design below, I could include SNMP, Flow, APM, Syslog, and BGP data in a single dashboard!
Active Community and Support
The open-source community is a valuable resource for organizations utilizing these products. Many popular open-source or publicly available tools, such as ElastiFlow, Grafana, Kafka, Prometheus, Elasticsearch and Druid, have active communities consisting of developers and users. This enables users to tap into a wealth of knowledge and expertise when facing technical challenges or seeking advice.
Moreover, community-driven development leads to regular updates, bug fixes, and new features. You can also be inspired by community-driven use cases and enlightening dashboards that community members share.
Avoiding Vendor Lock-In
Relying on proprietary observability solutions can lead to vendor lock-in, where organizations become dependent on a specific vendor's tools and services. This can limit their ability to switch providers or adapt to changing needs. Open-source products reduce this risk by providing vendor-neutral alternatives.
By adopting open-source observability tools, organizations can be more agile and maintain control over their data and infrastructure. They can avoid being tied to a single vendor and have the flexibility to choose different components or providers as their needs evolve.
Open-source solutions are often developed by companies where purpose-built solutions were not flexible enough, or could not scale to meet the company's demand. Solutions like Kafka, Kubernetes and Grafana are examples of this. Open-source solutions can often scale more easily than proprietary alternatives. As network traffic and data volumes grow, organizations can expand their observability infrastructure by adding more hardware or virtual instances without the constraints imposed by licensing costs or restrictions.
This scalability is crucial in modern network environments, where rapid growth and fluctuating demands are common. Open-source products can adapt to these changes more efficiently and cost-effectively.
One of the most significant advantages of open-source solutions is cost savings. Organizations can eliminate or significantly reduce licensing fees, making it an attractive option for those with budget constraints. Unlike proprietary software that comes with recurring costs and long-term commitments, open-source products are typically freely available and can be customized to meet specific requirements. Also, most successful open-source products have associated expert resources and add-ons that you may need as you scale. Some examples of open-source projects of the supporting companies that offer support and additional components that can be licensedEnterprise licenses include Confluent (Kafka), Imply (Druid), ElastiFlow (ElastiFlow), Grafana (Grafana), Super-set (Preset.io).
By redirecting budget allocation from software licenses to in-house development or support, organizations can invest in expanding their observability capabilities or improving other aspects of their infrastructure.
The ElastiFlow Approach to Network Observability
One of the most frustrating and time-consuming aspects of network observability is getting the data you need into the data platform of your choice in a common schema, so you can start generating the visualizations you need for your use cases.
ElastiFlow enables this by collecting SNMP and flow data from routers, switches, firewalls and hosts, enriches the data with Geo, ASN, Threat-Intel, DNS, BGP and user-defined business context, and sends the metadata to your favorite open data platform. Elastiflow also includes pre-built dashboards, ML-based Anomaly Detection and alerting that can be imported into Elasticsearch for immediate comprehensive network visibility. Additional data inputs like APM, Syslog, and firewall logs can also be collected with solutions like Elasticsearch agents.
Some of the most popular backend pipelines include Elasticsearch with Kibana, OpenSearch, Kafka with an analytics database like Druid and a visibility solution like Grafana or Superset. Each piece of the pipeline can be scaled out, and features like ML, ETL and enrichment can easily be added. Each component has already been deployed in major production networks supporting the largest loads and reliability requirements in the world. These solutions also offer deployment options for Cloud, On-prem, and virtual environments.
Kibana dashboard focused on DDOS analysis
ElastiFlow is free for up to 4,000 flow records per second - more detailed pricing and support platforms are available on our subscription page.
Network observability is a crucial aspect of modern IT operations, ensuring the performance, security, and reliability of networks. While purpose-built, proprietary solutions, such as those by Cisco and Riverbed, have been the go-to choice for many organizations in the past, open-source and publicly available alternatives offer numerous advantages.
By opting for an open-source observability pipeline, organizations can save costs, enjoy greater flexibility, leverage a supportive community, avoid vendor lock-in, and scale their infrastructure more effectively. While the decision to migrate from purpose-built solutions may require some initial effort, the long-term benefits make it a compelling option for those looking to enhance their network observability while keeping costs under control and maintaining flexibility to integrate with best of breed solutions in the observability stack
As well as offering a free version, ElastiFlow also provides a 30-day free trial of our complete offering. You can get a free license here. Stay tuned for future blogs on building your network observability pipeline!