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What Are The Differences Between SNMP And Syslog?

Morgana Siggins
Morgana Siggins
Monitoring Specialist

In the network monitoring world, you might be faced with the challenge to choose between SNMP and Syslog protocols.

Both SNMP and Syslog are used by network administrators for remote monitoring their facilities. They can provide very comparable monitoring information but the way they go about it is different. Learning about both protocols can help you decide which make more sense for your network and application.

Let's take a look at the main differences between Syslog and SNMP.

What is Syslog?

Syslog is a communications protocol that is used to send data logs of different degrees of severity to a central location for storage. Logs can then be accessed and analyzed in order to provide monitoring and troubleshooting.

Due to its flexibility and ease of use, this logging method has been around since the 1980s. The Syslog protocol has maintained its popularity because it can be supported by a wide variety of equipment.

Syslog protocol
Syslog layered architecture.

Its layered architecture is formed by three components: the network device that generates the logs, the Syslog relay that forwards the logs to a collector, and the Syslog collector (or server) that will receive and store the logs.

Syslog messages are triggered by events within a system. They are designed to alert you when an important event happens within a system that might be of interest to you. There are different levels of Syslog messages from Level-0 (Emergency messages) to Level-7 (Debugging messages).

The format of each log includes timestamps, host IP addresses, event message, severity, diagnostics, and more. Examples of logs can be configuration changes and authentication attempts.

What is SNMP?

SNMP is an application-layer protocol that allows for exchanging management information between network devices. This protocol allows information about equipment to be collected in a standard way even between different hardware and software types.

SNMP messages are transmitted between managers and agents.

The SNMP manager is a centralized platform to which agents feed information. It will provide you with an interface for your monitoring system and will send you notifications about conditions that require you to take corrective action.

The SNMP agents collect data from the equipment located at remote sites and send this information to the manager. Some agents can also send you notifications about alarms and, in small networks, having only managed agents make sense. However, if you have more than a handful number of agents, the cost-efficient way to maintain your visibility is to deploy a manager to provide a centralized monitoring interface.

SNMP protocol
SNMP is based on the manager/agent model.

In the SNMP definition is also important to know that the communication can be started by polls or trap messages.

Polls or GetRequests are the most common SNMP message that a manager sends out to ask for information. The recipient device will reply with the requested data. Trap messages are sent by the managed devices without a request from the manager. When a change of status happens, managed devices will proactively send out traps to inform about the condition.

Differences Between Syslog and SNMP

SNMP allows for remote monitoring and control of SNMP-enabled devices on a network, while Syslog can be used for communicating log messages of different severities to network devices capable of supporting Syslog messages. This means that Syslog, different from SNMP, doesn't allow you to remotely control your network devices.

Logging messages is useful for debugging purposes and quick information, while SNMP traps are useful if you need a complete application that will collect, monitor, control and produce complete reports about your devices.

Another difference to keep in mind is that SNMP traps are real-time communication - as soon as a change of status happens the trap is sent. Syslog messages, on the other hand, can be queued so they will not necessarily be delivered as they occur.

SNMP Vs Syslog
Main differences between SNMP and Syslog.

So, in a nutshell, the most important differences between SNMP and Syslog are:

  • The SNMP protocol allows you to remote monitor and control your network devices. Syslog is just an alerting mechanism - it won't allow you to remotely take action when an alarm happens.
  • Syslog is often used for troubleshooting and debugging, while SNMP messages are used for device management and reporting.
  • Syslog messages vs SNMP MIB request: SNMP Get requests messages can be used for polling from agents using the local MIB. Syslog can't be used to poll information.
  • The SNMPv3, is the most secure version of SNMP. It features security measures such as authentication and privacy. Syslog messages, on the other hand, don't have any kind of security features.
  • SNMP traps messages are formally defined in the MIB, whereas Syslog messages are not formally defined.
  • SNMP traps are user-definable and vary based on the vendor, while Syslog messages are standard.

Similarities Between SNMP and Syslog

Although there are many differences between these two protocols, we can also find some similarities between them. If you are curious to know, here are some of them:

  • They both can provide similar remote monitoring data.
  • SNMP and Syslog alert messages are created by a remote device and then sent to a central master station.
  • Although SNMP can be a polled protocol, it can also send traps. This means that, just like Syslog, SNMP can send unsolicited messages when the agents need to inform about change of status.

SNMP Vs Syslog: Which is Better?

There's no good or bad protocol. Choosing between SNMP and Syslog will depend solely on your unique network and its requirements.

Syslog works more as a troubleshooting tool and is used when logs are needed for an investigation. This protocol is generally used for quick historical events. SNMP, on the other hand, works on device-based events. This means that it provides real-time information and allows for better management.

In most cases and depending on the needs of your network, using a combination of both is the best solution.

Unfortunately, it is hard to find RTUs that can report Syslog messages to your Syslog server. That is because most RTUs use only telecom or SCADA protocols, such as SNMP. This is a common problem that can lead you to invest in two different monitoring systems that can't work together.

Having RTUs for your SNMP gear and other monitoring gear uniquely for your Syslog equipment is not practical. Not only this means that you'd have to come up with a bigger budget, but also you'd have to keep an eye on many different screens because your systems will not be integrated.

The best practice here is to find a remote monitoring system that can handle both protocols. As a vertically integrated manufacturer, we provide custom-fit monitoring devices that can solve this problem. We can redesign one of our existing devices or completely build a brand-new RTU that will match your network needs and reports messages to your current master station - either a Syslog or an SNMP one.

Reach out to us today and learn how you can get the best of both worlds.

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