ELK vs Splunk – Comparing Log Management Services

Extracting value from log files comprised of endless lines of text can be extremely difficult and a waste of resources within production environments. The massive files produced through this process can be next to impossible to interpret manually, and this drastically lowers the value you get out of this process. Log files still do have to be managed, however, and this is where services like ELK and Splunk come in.

ELK stands for Elasticsearch Logstash Kibana and is one of the more well-known log management services, as is Splunk. Both of these services offer huge benefits and unique characteristics that could be perfect for certain types of companies, however. It can be difficult to choose between the two if you don’t know what to look for. Let’s take a practical look at both ELK and Splunk to see what separates the two, as well as what questions you should be asking yourself to determine which one would be the best fit for your needs.


The setup process for both ELK and Splunk is different, with Splunk normally being used on premises for large enterprises. It puts most of its energy into serving these types of customers and comes with solutions that are easily customizable to be applied in a big set of different use cases. ELK, on the other hand, is much more varied in its customer base, and the success you’ll find with it is mostly based upon how much effort you can put into its application.

What Do You Want to Solve?

ELK is much more varied than Splunk regarding the services offered, and, while cheaper up front, ELK will likely cause you to incur some additional cost down the road. The following are questions you should ask when deciding on which to choose:

  • Do you want to use managed solutions, the cloud, or on premises service?
  • Are all of your user’s developers?
  • How many services do you want to connect?
  • How many and what type of specific use cases will you have?
  • What is the rate of changes you expect to your dashboard?

If you are just looking for better grepping capabilities, Splunk is probably going to be overkill for you, but if you expect your use cases to include very complex scenarios and to quickly grow over time, ELK is going to chew up much more of your time as you try to customize it to your needs. If you aren’t sure about every detail regarding future use cases, it will very hard for you to determine how much it will cost you to get basic installation for ELK. Before you make a choice, you should determine what would work as a solution for your problem and whether or not you expect it to grow or remain the same over time.

Do You Need User Management Features?

For many larger organizations, the absence of user management features in basic Elastic Stack is a big barrier, and this can be a problem for smaller companies as well. In this category, hosted ELK and Splunk bring the most benefit, and basic ELK will require a shield if you want user management features.

How Do You Want to Ship Data?

Every data source needs a data shipper, whether Logstash, Splunk Forwarders, or Beats. The Splunk method of data shipping tends to be smoother, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are limited to the use of ELK service.

Logstash has long been the only option for shipping data into ElasticSearch, but there have been numerous concerns with this service, including the fact that its start up process is notoriously long, and the program is difficult to debug, in addition to the fact that it uses a configuration language which is non-standard. Recently, Beats has come onto the scene as an easier to use alternative, while Splunk has the most comprehensive data shipping service.

Dashboard Differences

Both dashboards are easy to use and provide a great experience for customers, but Splunk dashboards feature more options and are much better for enterprise clients. It could be argued that the Kibana dashboard is easier on the eyes and simpler to customize than Splunk, although, as far as functionality, Splunk wins.

In Conclusion

There is no one option that is better than all others. Both ELK and Splunk have features that may appeal to different users, and the only way to know what it the better choice would be is to personally assess your own needs and requirements. Splunk tends to be better for bigger enterprises, but ELK tends to deal with changing requirements more easily. It’s important to keep in mind that making the best decision is not just about log analytics, but also about what goes into them.