Your business generates enormous quantities of data every single day. Even if you run a simple shop, you almost certainly have data on the sales of each product, the purchasing habits of your customers, and your profits at different times of year and in different market conditions.

What’s more, you probably try to stay ahead of your rivals by collecting data on your market sector as it grows and changes and on the successes and failures of your competitors themselves. Nowadays, every business runs on information, including yours. There’s just one problem: your data isn’t all in one place. The chances are, your data is created and stored on various different systems and in different formats, which can make analysing it effectively very difficult.

Elasticsearch can help you organise, parse and analyse data and Kibana 4 can help you visualise it (therefore allowing you to spot patterns and trends almost instantly). However, these programs need to be able to access data that they can understand in order to help you. Luckily, there’s a piece of software that makes this possible: Logstash.

Logstash allows you to collect data from different systems. However, it also does something even more important: it normalises different schema. What does this mean? Simply put, Logstash allows you to put the data it gathers from your various systems into a single common format. This allows analytics engines like Elasticsearch and visualisation tools like Kibana to make the most of your data. If your data was stored in a wide variety of different formats, it would not be possible for Elasticsearch and Kibana to use it effectively.

By putting all your data into a shared format, Logstash makes it possible for you to interact with data from different systems simultaneously using Elasticsearch and Kibana 4. You can compare data sets or see how they impact on one another in a way that simply wouldn’t be possible if they were formatted differently.

Elasticsearch and Kibana 4 are the tools that you use to fully analyse your data. However, they’d be far less powerful without Logstash to facilitate them. That’s why we believe it’s fair to describe Logstash as the backbone of the ELK stack.