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Understanding Apache Flume: Its Purpose and Applications

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apache flume

All businesses, regardless of their size or industry, utilize log files to record all events that occur on their web servers. However, in the era of digital dominance, these events are becoming increasingly numerous, resulting in log files storing an exponential amount of data. To effectively handle this data, network administrators and DevOps professionals require efficient tools. This is where Apache Flume comes into play. What is it? What are its advantages and disadvantages? Find all the answers in this article.

What is Apache Flume?

As the amount of data collected by logs increases, new tools are emerging to facilitate their exploitation. One such tool is Apache Flume.

This is a tool for collecting, aggregating and moving large quantities of logs. This solution has been specially designed to handle high volumes and throughputs.

To this end, Apache Flume is written in an HDFS. In other words, a distributed file system that manages large data sets.

The idea is to enable users to access files on the shared storage system. And they can do so from any server on the network. All resources can thus be shared much more easily.

Thanks to its ability to handle large volumes of data, Apache Flume is particularly well suited to peak workloads.

After several redesigns due to an overly complex architecture and indebted code, Flume OG (old generation) has become Flume NG (new generation).

This has enabled the tool to offer users more advanced functionalities and simpler operation. In fact, it was listed as a Top Level Apache Project in 2012. These are open source projects that aim to bring about innovative changes in the IT world.

Whether printing employment contracts for the HR department, order forms for the sales department or flyers for the marketing teams, every company has printers. And often several, to distribute them among the various departments. To manage all the documents to be printed, organizations need a print server. Here's a closer look at this technology, essential to every business.

What is a print server?

The print server is a network device that connects printers and company computers. In this way, several employees can use the same printer.

Acting as an intermediary, this server must manage print requests between computers and printers. In concrete terms, when an employee wishes to print a document, he sends a request via his computer to the print server. The print server then sends the document to the right printer, in order to fulfill the employee’s print request.

By managing all the printing done by a company, this equipment is more than essential to its smooth operation, both for internal processes and for relations with third parties.

Good to know: print servers can be installed on any type of computer, regardless of operating system.

What are the print server's features?

The print server’s main role is to manage all print requests from all computers on the network. As such, it must :

Connect computers and printers: the print server shares one or more printers with the organization’s computers, so that all employees can use them.
Send requests to the right printer: a company often has several printers. The server must therefore send the right print request (color, black & white, number of pages, etc.) to the right place.
Manage simultaneous print requests: if the printer is already busy, the server stores and queues the request. This avoids overloading the printing device.
Centralize requests: for companies operating in large buildings (especially those with several floors), the print server is more than essential, since it centralizes requests from all computers in the structure.
Organize the print queue: in addition to printing all types of documents, you can reorganize the print queue, prioritize jobs and delete queued documents from the print server.

Thanks to all these features, companies save a considerable amount of time when printing documents. No matter what your needs. Indeed, it is always possible to add other client systems or printers to the computer network. The print server will continue to centralize all requests.

What are the print server's limitations?

While the print server is indispensable for managing all the organization’s print requests simultaneously, it does have one major drawback. If it suffers a bug or breakdown, all printers connected to the device are affected. In other words, the company can’t print anything until the problem is solved. And this can have a major impact on staff productivity. Particularly for companies with very high printing needs, or who have not yet completed their digital transformation.

Good to know: print servers integrate with all other technological resources in an organization. Administrators must therefore take them into account when managing the IT system, and do their utmost to limit the number of breakdowns or bugs that could paralyze the company’s printing operations.

How does the print server work?

To operate, a print server needs :

A network input to manage network protocols. This is often an RJ45 port for the Ethernet network.
One or more outputs for connection to individual printers. These can be parallel, USB or wireless (although most print servers have USB output connections).

Good to know: the print server can take the form of a host computer with several shared printers, or a separate device implementing the printing protocols. Either way, the functionalities remain the same.

How do I configure a print server?

Print server configuration depends on the operating system used. As most companies use Windows, we concentrate on this system. Windows Servers are installed by default for Microsoft and TCP/IP networks. What you do next depends on the server version. In general, however, you should click on “Configure Server Wizard”, then “Print Server” and go to the “Printers and printer drivers” page. From here, you can delete or add a local printer.

Print servers in the digital age

In the age of digital transformation, companies have fewer and fewer paper documents. Instead, almost everything takes place online, and documents are stored in the cloud or on on-site file servers.

As such, does the print server still have a place in an increasingly digitized world? The answer is yes! Even if the need to print is gradually decreasing, a large majority of businesses continue to print documents.

In fact, it’s indispensable in certain areas:

Contracts: the majority of contracts (employment contracts, partnership agreements, etc.) are still signed manually on paper.
Marketing materials: such as flyers to be distributed or posters to be stuck up, which have to be printed.
Parcel dispatch: a barcode needs to be printed and affixed to the parcel so that it can be picked up by carriers.

With the ever-increasing need for print servers, system administrators need to master the use of these network devices.

How does Flume work?

Flume architecture

As we saw earlier, Apache Flume is a distributed solution. As such, its architecture is made up of a large number of agents.

We will therefore need to define the distributed agents responsible for these tasks:

  • retrieve data from a multitude of sources ;
  • consolidate logs and write them to a centralized repository
  • repository (such as an HDFS cluster or an HBase database).

Let’s take a closer look at their role.

The agents

Traditionally, the agent performs routes that materialize as follows: Source -> Channel -> Sink.

Each of these elements fulfills a specific function:

The Flume source

The idea is to retrieve the message from an external source, such as an application, network traffic, social media, e-mail, and many other sources.

There are different types of Flume source, each with its own specific characteristics. The most common are the following:

  • Avro: enables communication between different Flume Apache agents.
  • Spooling Directory Source: facilitates reading of incoming files.
  • Syslog (TCP or UDP): the idea is to capture events from a syslog server.
  • HTTP: translates POST and GET requests.

 

This list is not exhaustive. Agents can use a multitude of sources, depending on the organization’s specific requirements.

The channel (or path)

This is where logs are stored by the agent. Here again, there are different channels:

  • Memory: events are stored in memory.
  • JDBC: this is a database storage channel.
  • File: this is a filesystem for storing logs.
The sink

This allows log data to be rewritten in its destination repository. Events can then be pushed to HDFS, IRC, HBase, ElasticSearch, File (or local file). Avro can also be used to facilitate communication with another agent.

Customization

If the previous path is the most classic, it is always possible to customize the route. For example, by adding an interceptor whose role is to sort and filter logs, directing them to the right repository.

In the same spirit, IT teams can create links between several agents, add several channels or sinks, or implement their own sources, channels or sinks from Java interfaces.

The route can then be much more complex than before, but it makes the data flow more intelligent. In all cases, the idea is to tailor log processing to the needs of the organization.

What are the advantages of Flume?

In demand by many companies, Apache Flume offers a multitude of advantages:

  • Simplicity: whether in terms of installation, configuration or operation, Apache Flume is very easy to use.
  • Customization: organizations can implement Java interfaces to meet specific business requirements. This provides additional functionality.
  • Compatibility: Flume was developed by Cloudera, a prominent player in the Hadoop ecosystem, under the Apache license. It is, therefore, a tool that belongs to the open-source Big Data ecosystem of Hadoop. As a result, it integrates seamlessly with most distributions of the Hadoop framework, allowing interaction with various technologies.

  • Performance: Being a distributed solution, Flume achieves excellent levels of performance and scalability. Businesses with complex information systems that handle thousands of events per second can effectively utilize this tool.

  • Accessibility: Apache Flume is a SaaS (Software as a Service) tool, making it compatible with all operating systems, including Windows, Mac, and mobile OS. This accessibility enables users to access it from any web browser.

  • Fault Tolerance: In the event of detecting faulty components, Flume utilizes backup components that automatically replace them, preventing service interruptions.

What are the drawbacks?

Although Flume has many advantages, it does have a few weaknesses:

  • Slow writing to disk: to maximize performance, data should be written to memory.
  • Lack of elasticity: adding a new node to the topology is not detectable.
  • Configuration: to optimize throughput speed, DevOps needs to configure as many routes as there are CPU cores available. This involves several hundred (or almost) identical configuration lines. To simplify reading, it is therefore necessary to equip yourself with a data generation script.

How does Flume Apache differ from other tools?

For log management, there are other tools such as Logstash and Kafka. So what are the differences between these solutions?

Flume Vs Logstasch

While Flume and Logstash share many similar features, it’s important to highlight the differences between the two.

In Flume, sending data to HDFS (Hadoop) is natively supported, whereas with Logstash, you need to install a plugin for this functionality. Additionally, Flume also allows for the use of Avro to optimize the tool’s serialization performance.

On the other hand, Logstash is generally considered to be much simpler to configure compared to Flume.

Flume vs Kafta

If Flume and Kafka are two Apache-licensed tools, they have several differences.

Indeed, Flume is responsible for collecting, aggregating, and moving large amounts of logs from various sources. The tool can continuously receive data from multiple sources, store it, and analyze it within Hadoop.

On the other hand, Kafka is specifically designed for the ingestion and real-time processing of continuous data. To do this, it treats each topic partition as an ordered set of messages.

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