Solr Query Segmenter: How to Provide Better Search Experience

One way to create a better search experience is to understand the user intent.  One of the phases in that process is query understanding, and one simple step in that direction is query segmentation. In this post, we’ll cover what query segmentation is and when it is useful. We will also introduce to you Solr Query Segmenter, a open-sourced Solr component that we developed to make search experience better.

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2016 Year in Review: Monitoring and Logging Highlights

2017 is almost here and, like last year, we thought we’d share how 2016 went for us.  We remain committed to be your “one-stop shop” for all things Elasticsearch and Solr: from Consulting, Production Support, and Training, to complementing that with our Logsene for all your logs, and SPM for all your monitoring needs.

Docker

It’s safe to say 2016 was the year of Docker and by extension Kubernetes, Mesos, Docker Swarm, among others, too.  They stopped being just early adopters’ toys and have become production-ready technologies used by many. This year we’ve added excellent support for Docker monitoring with SPM and logging with Logsene via the open-source Sematext Docker Agent.

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Migrating to SolrCloud from Solr Master-Slave

Nowadays there are more and more organizations searching for fault-tolerant and highly available solutions for various parts of their infrastructure, including search, which evolved from merely a “nice to have” feature to the first class citizen and a “must have” element.

Apache Solr is a mature search solution that has been available for over a decade now.  Its traditional master-slave deployment has been available since 2006, while the fully distributed deployment known as SolrCloud has been available for only a few years now. Thus, naturally, many organizations are in the process of migrating from Solr master-slave to SolrCloud, or are at least thinking about the move. In this article, we will give you an overview of what’s needed to be done for the migration to SolrCloud to be as smooth as it can be.

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Making Elasticsearch in Docker Swarm Elastic

Running on Elasticsearch on Docker sounds like a natural fit – both technologies promise elasticity. However, running a truly elastic Elasticsearch cluster on Docker Swarm became somewhat difficult with Docker 1.12 in Swarm mode. Why? Since Elasticsearch gave up on multicast discovery (by moving multicast node discovery into a plugin and not including it by default) one has to specify IP addresses of all master nodes to join the cluster.  Unfortunately, this creates the chicken or the egg problem in the sense that these IP addresses are not actually known in advance when you start Elasticsearch as a Swarm service!  It would be easy if we could use the shared Docker bridge or host network and simply specify the Docker host IP addresses, as we are used to it with the “docker run” command. However,  “docker service create” rejects the usage of bridge or host network. Thus, the question remains: How can we deploy Elasticsearch in a Docker Swarm cluster?

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Introducing Sematable – ReactJS & Redux Table

Back in 2011 – more than half a decade ago(!) – we’ve reviewed Top JavaScript Dynamic Table Libraries.  Clearly, a lot has changed since then.  Earlier this year, we started reworking our SPM & Logsene front-ends, building them on top of ReactJS, Redux, and ES6.  In the past, we’ve used DataTables, but it turns out DataTables doesn’t play well with React.  We set off looking for a modern alternative that works well with React but, to our disappointment, we could not find anything that fit our needs. We needed something that:

  • Can filter and search data by text or by column values
  • Can paginate data
  • Can sort data
  • Plays well with React and Redux so we can easily store filter state in Redux, or display data in some custom way

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Kubernetes Containers: Logging and Monitoring support

In this post we will:

  • Introduce Kubernetes concepts and motivation for Kubernetes-aware monitoring and logging tooling
  • Show how to deploy the Sematext Docker Agent to each Kubernetes node with DaemonSet
  • Point out key Kubernetes metrics and log elements to help you troubleshoot and tune Docker and Kubernetes

Managing microservices in containers is typically done with Cluster Managers and Orchestration tools such as  Google Kubernetes, Apache Mesos, Docker Swarm, Docker Cloud, Amazon ECS, Hashicorp Nomad just to mention a few. However, each platform has slightly different of options to deploy containers or schedule tasks to each cluster node. This is why we started a Series of blog post with Docker Swarm Monitoring, and continue today with a quick tutorial for Container Monitoring and Log Collection on Kubernetes.

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running sold on docker

Running Solr in Docker: How & Why

Docker is all the rage these days, but one doesn’t hear about running Solr on Docker very much.

Last month, we gave a talk on the topic of running containerized Solr at the Lucene Revolution conference in Boston, the biggest open source conference dedicated to Apache Lucene/Solr. The 40-minute talk included a live demo that shows how to actually do it, while addressing a number of important bits if you want to run Solr on Docker in production.

Curious to check the presentation? You may find it below.

Or, interested in listening to the 40-minute talk? Check it below.

Indeed, a rapidly growing number of organizations are using Solr and Docker in production. If you also run Solr in Docker be sure to check out Docker + Solr How-to: Monitoring the Official Solr Docker Image.

Needless to say, monitoring Solr is essential in production and Docker is disruptive in many ways, and there are many things that are slightly different and worth mentioning. For instance, one can create, deploy, and run applications by using containers and this gives a significant performance boost and reduces the size of the applications.

 

 

log management

Logging Libraries vs Log Shippers

Logging Libraries vs Log Shippers

In the context of centralizing logs (say, to Logsene or your own Elasticsearch), we often get the question of whether one should log directly from the application (e.g. via an Elasticsearch or syslog appender) or use a dedicated log shipper.

In this post, we’ll look at the advantages of each approach, so you’ll know when to use which.

Logging Libraries

Most programming languages have libraries to assist you with logging. Most commonly, they support local files or syslog, but more “exotic” destinations are often added to the list, such as Elasticsearch/Logsene. Here’s why you might want to use them:

  • Convenience: you’ll want a logging library anyway, so why not go with it all the way, without having to set up and manage a separate application for shipping? (well, there are some reasons below, but you get the point)
  • Fewer moving parts: logging from the library means you don’t have to manage the communication between the application and the log shipper
  • Lighter: logs serialized by your application can be consumed by Elasticsearch/Logsene directly, instead of having a log shipper in the middle to deserialize/parse it and then serialize it again

Log Shippers

Your log shipper can be Logstash or one of its alternatives. A logging library is still needed to get logs out of your application, but you’ll only write locally, either to a file or to a socket. A log shipper will take care of taking that raw log all the way to Elasticsearch/Logsene:

  • Reliability: most log shippers have buffers of some form. Whether it tails a file and remembers where it left off, or keeps data in memory/disk, a log shipper would be more resilient to network issues or slowdowns. Buffering can be implemented by a logging library too, but in reality most either block the thread/application or drop data
  • Performance: buffering also means a shipper can process data and send it to Elasticsearch/Logsene in bulks. This design will support higher throughput. Once again, logging libraries may have this functionality too (only tightly integrated into your app), but most will just process logs one by one
  • Enriching: unlike most logging libraries, log shippers often are capable of doing additional processing, such as pulling the host name or tagging IPs with Geo information
  • Fanout: logging to multiple destinations (e.g. local file + Logsene) is normally easier with a shipper
  • Flexibility: you can always change your log shipper to one that suits your use-case better. Changing the library you use for logging may be more involved

Conclusions

Design-wise, the difference between the two approaches is simply tight vs loose coupling, but the way most libraries and shippers are actually implemented are more likely to influence your decision on sending data to Elasticsearch/Logsene:

  • logging directly from the library might make sense for development: it’s easier to set up, especially if you’re not (yet) familiar with a log shipper
  • in production you’ll likely want to use one of the available log shippers, mostly because of buffers: blocking the application or dropping data (immediately) are often non-options in a production deployment

If logging isn’t critical to your environment (i.e. you can tolerate the occasional loss of data), you may want to fire-and-forget your logs to Logsene’s UDP syslog endpoint. This takes reliability out of the equation, meaning you can use a shipper if you need enriching or support for other destinations, or a library if you just want to send the raw logs (which may well be JSON).

Shippers or libraries, if you want to send logs with anything that can talk to Elasticsearch or syslog, you can sign up for Logsene here. No credit card or commitment is required, and we offer 30-day trials for all plans, in addition to the free ones.

If, on the other hand, you enjoy working with logs, metrics and/or search engines, come join us: we’re hiring worldwide.

Exploring Windows Kernel with Fibratus and Logsene

This is a guest post by Nedim Šabić, developer of Fibratus, a tool for exploration and tracing of the Windows kernel. 

Unlike Linux / UNIX environments which provide a plethora of open source and native tools to instrument the user / kernel space internals, the Windows operating systems are pretty limited when it comes to diversity of tools and interfaces to perform the aforementioned tasks. Prior to Windows 7, you could use some of not so legal techniques like SSDT hooking to intercept system calls issued from the user space and do your custom pre-processing, but they are far from efficient or stable. The kernel mode driver could be helpful if it wouldn’t require a digital signature granted by Microsoft. Actually, some tools like Sysmon or Process Monitor can be helpful, but they are closed-source and don’t leave much room for extensibility or integration with external systems such as message queues, databases, endpoints, etc.

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black friday log management checklist

Black Friday log management (with the Elastic Stack) checklist

For this Black Friday, Sematext wishes you:

  • more products sold
  • more traffic and exposure
  • more logs 🙂

Now seriously, applications tend to generate a lot more logs on Black Friday, and they also tend to break down more – making those logs even more precious. If you’re using the Elastic Stack for centralized logging, in this post we’ll share some tips and tricks to prepare you for this extra traffic.

If you’re still grepping through your logs via ssh, doing that on Black Friday might be that more painful, so you have two options:

  • get started with the Elastic Stack now. Here’s a complete ELK howto. It should take you about an hour to get started and you can move on from there. Don’t forget to come back to this post for tips! 🙂
  • use Logsene, which takes care of the E(lasticsearch) and K(ibana) from ELK for you. Most importantly for this season, we take care of scaling Elasticsearch. You can get started in 5 minutes with Logstash or choose another log shipper. Anything that can push data to Elasticsearch via HTTP can work with Logsene, since it exposes the Elasticsearch API. So you can log directly from your app or from a log shipper (here are all the documented options).

Either way, let’s move to the tips themselves.

Tips for Logstash and Friends

The big question here is: can the pipeline easily max out Elasticsearch, or will it become the bottleneck itself? If your logs go directly from your servers to Elasticsearch, there’s little to worry about: as you spin more servers for Black Friday, your pipeline capacity for processing and buffering will grow as well.

You may get into trouble if your logs are funnelled through one (or a few) Logstash instances, though. If you find yourself in that situation you might check the following:

  • Bulk size. The ideal size depends on your Elasticsearch hardware, but usually you want to send a few MB at a time. Gigantic batches will put unnecessary strain on Elasticsearch, while tiny ones will add too much overhead. Calculate how many logs (of your average size) make up a few MB and you should be good.
  • Number of threads sending data. When one thread goes through a bulk reply, Elasticsearch shouldn’t be idling – it should get data from another thread. The optimal number of threads depends on whether these threads are doing something else (in Logstash, for example, pipeline threads also take care of parsing, which can be expensive) and on your destination hardware. As a rule of thumb, about 4 threads with few things to do (e.g. no grok or geoip in Logstash) per Elasticsearch data node should be enough to keep them busy. If threads have more processing to do, you may need more of them.
  • The same applies for processing data: many shippers work on logs in batches (recent versions of Logstash included) and can do this processing on multiple threads.
  • Distribute the load between all data nodes. This will prevent any one data node from becoming a hotspot. In Logstash specify an array of destination hosts. Or, you can start using Elasticsearch “client” nodes (with both node.data and node.master set to false in elasticsearch.yml) and point Logstash to two of those (for failover).
  • The same applies for the shipper sending data to the central Logstash servers – the load needs to be balanced between them. For example, in Filebeat you can specify an array of destination Logstash hosts or you can use Kafka as a central buffer.
  • Make sure there’s enough memory to do the processing (and buffering, if the shipper buffers in memory). For Logstash, the default 1GB of heap may not cope with heavy load – depending on how much processing you do, it may need 2GB or more (monitoring Logstash’s heap usage will tell for sure).
  • If you use grok and have multiple rules, put the rules matching more logs and the cheaper ones earlier in the array. Or use Ingest Nodes to do the grok instead of Logstash.

Tips for Elasticsearch

Let’s just dive into them:

  • Refresh interval. There’s an older blog post on how refresh interval influences indexing performance. The conclusions from it are still valid today: for Black Friday at least, you might want to relax the real-time-ness of your searches to get more indexing throughput.
  • Async transaction log. By default, Elasticsearch will fsync the transaction log after every operation (2.x) or request (5.x). You can relax this safety guarantee by setting index.translog.durability to async. This way it will fsync every 5s (default value for index.translog.sync_interval) and save you some precious IOPS.
  • Size based indices. If you’re using strict time-based indices (like one index every day), Black Friday traffic may cause a drop in indexing throughput like this (mainly because of merges):

black-friday-log-management

Indexing throughput graph from SPM Elasticsearch monitor

In order to continue writing at that top speed, you’ll need to rotate indices before they reach that “wall size”, which is usually at 5-10GB per shard. The point is to rotate when you reach a certain size, and not purely by time, and use an alias to always write to the latest index (in 5.x this is made easier with the Rollover Index API).

  • Ensure load is balanced across data nodes. Otherwise some nodes will become bottlenecks. This requires your number of shards to be proportional to the number of data nodes. Feel free to twist Elasticsearch’s arm into balancing shards by configuring index.routing.allocation.total_shards_per_node: for example, if you have 4 shards and one replica on a 4-data-node cluster, you’ll want a maximum of 2 shards per node.
  • Overshard so you can scale out if you need to, while keeping your cluster balanced. You’d do this by setting a [reasonable] number of shards that has enough divisors. For example, if you have 4 data nodes then 12 shards and 1 replica per shard might work well. You could scale up to 6, 8, 12 or even 24 nodes and your cluster will still be perfectly balanced.
  • Relax the merge policy. This will slow down your full-text searches a bit (though aggregations would perform about the same), use some more heap and open files in order to allow more indexing throughput. 50 segments_per_tier, 20 max_merge_at_once and 500mb max_merged_segment should give you a good boost.
  • Don’t store what you don’t need. Disable _all and search in specific fields (and search in “message” or some other general field by default via index.query.default_field to it). Skip indexing fields not used for full-text search and skip doc values for fields on which you don’t aggregate.
  • Use doc values for aggregations (instead of the in-memory field data) – this is the default for all fields except analyzed strings since 2.0, but you’ll need to be extra careful if you’re still on 1.x. Otherwise you’ll risk running out of heap and crash/slow down your cluster.
  • Use dedicated masters. This is also a stability measure that helps your cluster remain consistent even if load makes your data nodes unresponsive.

You’ll find even more tips and tricks, as well as more details on implementing the above, in our Velocity 2016 presentation. But the ones described above should give you the most bang per buck (or rather, per time, but you know what they say about time) for this Black Friday.

Final Words

Tuning & scaling Elasticsearch isn’t rocket science, but it often requires time, money or both. So if you’re not into taking care of all this plumbing, we suggest delegating this task to us by using Logsene, our log analytics SaaS. With Logsene, you’d get:

  • The same Elasticsearch API when it comes to indexing and querying. We have Kibana, too, in addition to our own UI, plus you can use Grafana Elasticsearch integration.
  • Free trials for any plan, even the Black Friday-sized ones. You can sign up for them without any commitment or credit card details.
  • No lock in – because of the Elasticsearch API, you can always go [back] to your own ELK Stack if you really want to manage your own Elasticsearch clusters. We can even help you with that via Elastic Stack consulting, training and production support.
  • A lot of extra goodies on top of Elasticsearch, like role-based authentication, alerting and integration with SPM for your application monitoring. This way you can have your metrics and logs in one place.

If, on the other hand, you are passionate about this stuff and work with it, you might like to hear that we’re hiring worldwide, on a wide range of positions (at the time of this writing there are openings for backend, frontend (UX, UI, ReactJS, Redux…), sales, work on Docker, consulting and training). 🙂