Over at readwrite.com, Matt Asay published a blog post entitled “In A World Of Open Source Big Data, Splunk Should Not Exist.” He then does a pretty good job of debunking his own thesis and explaining why customers continue to pay Splunk big bucks to do what it does. However, since there is so much noise around the question of open-source big data tools as alternatives to Splunk, this question deserves further exploration.

What Is Splunk?

Some people just look at Splunk as a proprietary big data back end for log data, one with a nice user interface for searching, querying, and dashboarding that data. These people are missing a couple of very important points about what Splunk is and what its value is to its customers:

    1. Splunk is not just a big data back end with a search engine and a user interface. It is a big data back end tuned to ingest large amounts of structured, semistructured, and unstructured data in near real-time and to make that data available almost immediately to searches and queries. This real-time write with simultaneous real-time access is a use case that most open-source big data back ends designed for batch queries against historical business data cannot meet.
    2. Splunk is actually a solution to the Security Event Management problem, and many customers buy it precisely to solve this problem. In fact, Gartner rates Splunk a leader in the Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Magic Quadrant. There are many customers who find that it is both less expensive and more functional than traditional SIEM offerings, which should give pause to those who decry Splunk as “expensive” (see the Gartner Magic Quadrant, below).
    3. In the security space, Splunk offers tremendous value-added products in addition to its core platform. The Splunk App for Enterprise Security and the Splunk App for PCI Compliance both give meaning to security-specific data and make that data actionable to users in ways in which just dumping it into a big data back end would not accomplish.
    4. Splunk is not just about logs. For example, the Splunk App for VMware collects all of the same operational data that VMware vCenter Operations collects from the vSphere API (screen shot of the app is below).
    5. Splunk has a robust ecosystem of vendors who either pass their log data into Splunk or provide bidirectional API integration between the Splunk datastore and the vendor datastore.
    6. Splunk is a tested, mature, deployable, and fully supportable enterprise-grade software solution. The data collectors are robust and easily deployable, and the entire back end is scalable and manageable.
SIEM.Gartner.Magic.Quadrant

The Gartner Security Information and Event Management Magic Quadrant

 

Splunk.App.VMware

The Splunk App for VMware

The Open-Source Story

While there are a number of open-source alternatives to Splunk, none of them rise to the level of solving the problems that Splunk solves in a manner that is consumable and manageable to an enterprise. Elasticsearch, combined with Logstash (to collect the data) and Kibana (to dashboard the data), works at small scale. But these are built off of three different open-source projects that will take some time to merge into a cohesive set of functionality and user experience. Elasticsearch has historically relied on its own datastore and only recently announced support for Hadoop. The jury is still out on whether or not Hadoop can handle the real-time ingest and query use cases as well as the variety of data types that Splunk can handle. However, Elasticsearch shows signs of increasing the intensity of its focus on Splunk, such as recently hiring a top Splunk product executive as VP of product management.

The other side of the open-source story is that there is a tremendous amount of impressive innovation going on at the datastore level. Hadoop, MongoDB, NuoDB, Couchbase, Cassandra, Druid, InfluxDB, and others are progressing at a rate that no single vendor with a proprietary datastore will be able to match over the long term. So it is only a matter of time before one or more open datastores catch up with what the proprietary datastore from Splunk can do. But Splunk already signaled what it will do when this happens when it delivered Hunk (Splunk for Hadoop) last year. The point is that even if the datastore gets commoditized, filtering the data, structuring the data, relating the data to other data, and making the data consumable to users with various use cases will remain hugely valuable to enterprises worldwide.

Summary

Open source alone is not going to kill Splunk. Innovation at the datastore layer may cause Splunk to shift to Hunk over a period of years. Open-source search and dashboarding is not going to kill Splunk either—not until those solutions solve the actual problems that Splunk solves for enterprises worldwide.

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Bernd Harzog (332 Posts)

Bernd Harzog is the Analyst at The Virtualization Practice for Performance and Capacity Management and IT as a Service (Private Cloud).

Bernd is also the CEO and founder of APM Experts a company that provides strategic marketing services to vendors in the virtualization performance management, and application performance management markets.

Prior to these two companies, Bernd was the CEO of RTO Software, the VP Products at Netuitive, a General Manager at Xcellenet, and Research Director for Systems Software at Gartner Group. Bernd has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Chicago.

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4 comments for “Will Open Source Kill Splunk?

  1. August 9, 2014 at 7:06 PM

    Solr and Elasticsearch can do what’s listed under 1. without any issues. They can work at VERY large scale. Splunk does not have advantage when it comes to speed or scale. Ever noticed how Splunk graphs render incrementally?
    But everything else is right – there is an ecosystem, there is a first mover advantage, there is a lot of sales and marketing, a lot of support for a few high-value verticals, it’s a single tool, etc.

  2. ME
    August 19, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    Sorry, there’s no comparison. The effort that it takes to get open-source up and running (plus the talent required) is significantly larger than Splunk. And are you seriously trying to say that the marketing for Hadoop is any less than Splunk? All I hear about is Hadoop this, and Hadoop that, but nobody actually presents any solutions. Splunk is a SOLUTION, not a technology.

  3. Bharzog
    August 19, 2014 at 7:55 PM

    Hello Mr. “Me”

    Did you read my post? My conclusion was that until open source solved actual problems in a convenient manner to consume that it was not going to replace Splunk. And by the way, “convenient manner to consume” means that you do not have to be a developer to install and configure the beast.

    I think that we agree :)

  4. ME
    August 20, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    Sorry – my response was towards Otis, not the author.

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