Unlocking Observability: Revolutionizing Log Collection with eBPF
May 16, 2024

Aviv Zohari

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In the ever-evolving landscape of software development and infrastructure management, observability stands as a crucial pillar. Among its fundamental components lies log collection, a process integral to understanding system behavior and diagnosing issues. However, traditional methods of log collection have faced challenges, especially in high-volume and dynamic environments. Enter eBPF (extended Berkeley Packet Filter), a groundbreaking technology that promises to revolutionize the way we gather observability data, particularly logs.

Challenges in Traditional Log Collection

Logs are ubiquitous in the world of software. Every application, service, and system generates logs, resulting in a vast and often unpredictable volume of data. Traditional log collection methods rely heavily on file-based approaches, where logs are written to files and subsequently collected by dedicated log collectors. While effective to some extent, this approach suffers from inefficiencies, especially at scale.

As the volume of logs increases, so does the burden on system resources. Collectors running as daemon sets, particularly in containerized environments like Kubernetes, incur significant CPU overhead, leading to scalability and cost challenges. Furthermore, the file-based approach necessitates frequent file I/O operations, contributing to increased CPU utilization and storage requirements.

The Promise of eBPF in Log Collection

eBPF offers a paradigm shift in log collection by enabling custom code execution within the kernel in a safe and efficient manner. Unlike traditional kernel modules, eBPF programs are rigorously controlled to prevent system instability and excessive resource consumption. This opens up new possibilities for observing and intercepting system events, including log writes, directly within the kernel space.

By leveraging eBPF, log collection transcends the limitations of file-based approaches. Instead of relying on files as intermediaries, logs are captured at the kernel level as they are written, eliminating the need for file I/O operations. This synchronous, event-driven approach to log collection significantly reduces CPU overhead and streamlines the process of data acquisition.

Reimagining Log Collection with eBPF

With eBPF, log collection becomes a seamless and resource-efficient process. eBPF programs intercept log writes at their source, within the kernel. This eliminates the need for file-based storage and retrieval mechanisms, resulting in a leaner collection pipeline.

Moreover, eBPF further improves collection efficiency with the aggregation of logs across containers. As logs flow through the kernel, they are easily assigned to the container or process who generated them, and logs from different sources are then easily batched across multiple containers, optimizing data transfer and reducing CPU overhead.

Realizing the Potential: Benchmarking eBPF

To validate the efficacy of eBPF in log collection, benchmarks were conducted comparing traditional log collectors with eBPF-based solutions. The results were compelling, showcasing significant reductions in CPU utilization with eBPF, especially at high log volumes. eBPF-based log collectors demonstrated superior performance and scalability, reaffirming the transformative potential of this technology.

Looking Ahead

As organizations strive for greater observability and efficiency in their systems, eBPF emerges as a beacon of innovation in log collection. While still in its nascent stages, the adoption of eBPF for observability purposes is poised to accelerate rapidly. With its ability to reshape log collection paradigms and deliver tangible performance benefits, eBPF represents a paradigm shift that promises to redefine the future of observability. As more developers and organizations embrace this technology, we can expect to see a wave of innovation and refinement in log collection practices. The era of eBPF-driven observability is upon us, offering unprecedented insights and efficiencies in managing complex distributed systems.

Aviv Zohari is the Founding Engineer of groundcover
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