ELK vs. Splunk Loading Data Shipping data to Splunk is fairly easy. After installation, the forwarders come pre-configured for a wide select...

ELK vs. Splunk

Loading Data

Shipping data to Splunk is fairly easy. After installation, the forwarders come pre-configured for a wide selection of data sources such as files and directories, network events, windows sources and application logs, and they are used to import data into Splunk as shown:

import data into splunk

In the ELK Stack, Logstash is used to ship data from the source to the destination. However, Logstash needs to be configured so that each field is identified before the data is shipped to Elasticsearch. This kind of configuration can be tricky for those who do not work with scripting languages (such as Bash, Python or Ruby), but there is good support online that can be found quite easily.


The Splunk web UI includes flexible controls that allow you to edit and add new components to your dashboard. Management and user controls can be configured differently for multiple users, with each having a customized dashboard. Splunk also supports visualizations on mobile devices with application and visualization components that are easy to customize using XML.

splunk xml customization

Kibana is the visualization tool in the ELK Stack, and like Splunk, the platform supports the creation of visualizations such as line charts, area arts and tables and the presentation of them in a dashboard. The search filter is always shown above the different views: If a query is used, it is automatically applied on elements of the dashboard. Splunk also has a similar option, but it involves configuration in XML. Still, Kibana does not support user management, but hosted ELK solutions provide it out of the box.


Search Capabilities

The search function is a key capability of any log management platform. Both the Splunk and ELK Stack’s web UIs support searching using a dedicated search field. The query syntax on Kibana is based on the Lucene query syntax while Splunk uses its own Splunk Search Processing Language (SPL). Those familiar with scripting languages may already be familiar with Lucene while SPL is proprietary and must be learned.

One other difference is that Splunk offers dynamic data exploration to help users to find and extract everything as a searchable field when formatted in a manner that allows searching for non-configured fields. Elasticsearch fields, on the other hand, need to be defined in advance to use aggregation over the log properties.

Here is one example of a query for each platform.


(beat.hostname: ES1 AND process) AND (system.process.username: root OR system.process.username: admin)


(index=* OR index=_*) (index=_audit)   | search ( action=search NOT dmauditsearch )  "06:54"

The difference between SPL syntax and Lucene queries is that SPL supports the search pipeline (as in the example above) in which consecutive commands are chained together using a pipe character that allows the output of one command to be used as the input of the next one. Lucene query syntax is more straightforward and can work to generate the output from the query without additional transforming.

Traction and Community Support

Both Splunk and ELK Stack have large communities of users and supporters. ELK also has its own clear and extensive documentation for each separate tool, making it easy to get started. In addition, Elastic itself offers educational sessions worldwide.

In addition to having good documentation and a forum, Splunk, too, has customer and support platforms that offer various professional services. Splunk’s education program and instructors are available virtually or on site.

The Learning Curve

The ELK Stack’s learning curve is flat for what it’s meant to do. Elastic offers paid courses, but there is a lot of free material online due to the popularity of the open-source platform.

For Splunk, the learning curve is moderate in size, especially when carrying out more specialized analyzes. The company offers a trial period with extensive documentation, but the advanced Splunk educational courses are fairly expensive.

User Management

The ELK Stack provides role-based security as a separate paid tool. Splunk and managed-ELK services offer user management out of the box with user auditing included.

Pricing Levels

As already mentioned, Splunk is proprietary software with a price tag. After one integrates several data sources with the platform, the cost will increase greatly as data is continuously generated.

The open-source ELK Stack is free, but the true picture is not so black and white. The cost of the platform’s hardware and maintenance also adds up. To lower the cost of using ELK, features, plugins and tools must be developed.


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