SigScalr vs Elasticsearch:
Scaling Observability

May 23, 2023

            Elasticsearch has historically been a popular choice for log management due to its strengths in scalability, free text searches, and customizability. However, the recent explosion in observability requirements makes Elasticsearch difficult to operate, maintain and scale. On the other hand, SigScalr is an unified observability system that is purpose built to process large volumes of observability data with minimal resources . While Elasticsearch aims to be a general purpose search engine for free text and analytical queries, SigScalr has a focused architecture to process large volumes of high cardinality data, effectively tackling some of observability's hardest problems. In this blog, we compare the performance of SigScalr and Elasticsearch at terabytes scale of observability data as well as the key differences between these two solutions.

Benchmark Result

SigScalr is 4x-8x faster than Elasticsearch for ⅘ query types and has 1.5x faster ingestion than Elasticsearch while consuming 85% less hardware resources.

Benchmark Setup


Data Volume: 1 TB
Event count: 1 Billion
Event Size: 1000 bytes
Number of Columns 34
Num of columns with 1 Billion cardinality 1
Num of columns with > 100 Million cardinality 6
Num of columns with free text 4
Sample Event:
    "_index": "ind-2",
    "address": "7253 Prairie shire, Chandler, Arizona 69577",
    "app_name": "Browncompany",
    "app_version": "1.3.9",
    "batch": "batch-683",
    "city": "Chandler",
    "country": "Honduras",
    "first_name": "Jameson",
    "gender": "female",
    "group": "group1",
    "hobby": "Reading",
    "http_method": "PUT",
    "http_status": 200,
    "ident": "65218bcc-8632-46f6-8864-40c29aa0c3d4",
    "image": "",
    "job_company": "Booz Allen Hamilton",
    "job_description": "Regional",
    "job_level": "Markets",
    "job_title": "Architect",
    "last_name": "Schowalter",
    "latency": 6798739,
    "latitude": 7.501476,
    "longitude": 62.881365,
    "question": "Swag beard polaroid polaroid poutine chicharrones tumblr paleo?",
    "ssn": "563566085",
    "state": "Arizona",
    "street": "7253 Prairie shire",
    "timestamp": 1683640434592,
    "url": "",
    "user_agent": "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1) AppleWebKit/5311 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/39.0.868.0 Mobile Safari/5311",
    "user_color": "PaleGoldenRod",
    "user_email": "",
    "user_phone": "9124648960",
    "weekday": "Monday",
    "zip": "69577"

Hardware Used:

Instance: i4i.2x large
vCPU: 8
RAM: 64 GB
Storage: 1.8 TB Nitro SSD

Node Setup Steps:

sudo mkfs -t xfs /dev/nvme1n1
sudo mkdir /data1
sudo mount /dev/nvme1n1 /data1
sudo chown ec2-user:ec2-user /data1/

ElasticSearch Setup Steps:

sudo mkfs -t xfs /dev/nvme1n1
cd /data1/es
tar -xvf elasticsearch-oss-7.9.3-linux-x86_64.tar.gz

Add following to config/elasticsearch.yml
discovery.type: single-node

Increase the jvm RAM of elasticsearch process by adding following to config/jvm.options:


Elasticsearch uses mmapfs for storing indices. As the default os limits were too low, we increased them by running:

sudo sysctl -w vm.max_map_count=262144

Start Elasticsearch:

nohup ./bin/elasticsearch > esstart.log 2>&1 &

Add template:

curl --location --request PUT 'http://<ES_IP>:9200/_template/temp1' \ --header 
'Content-Type: application/json' \ --data-raw '{ "index_patterns": "ind*", "settings": 
{ "number_of_shards": 6, "number_of_replicas": 0 }, "mappings": { "_source": 
{ "enabled": true }, "properties": { "timestamp": { "type": "date", "format": 
"epoch_millis" } } } }'

SigScalr Setup Steps:

mkdir /data1/sigscalr
cd /data/sigscalr
sudo nohup ./sigscalr > hyperion.out 2>&1 &

Client Setup Steps:

mkdir /data1/client 
cd /data/client
git clone

Run load against Elasticsearch:

nohup go run main.go ingest esbulk -b 1000 -t 1_000_000_000 -d 
http://<ES_IP>:9200 -p 10 > estest.log 2>&1 &
go run main.go query -d http://<ES_IP>:9200 -v -n 1

Run load against SigScalr:

nohup go run main.go ingest esbulk -b 1000 -t 1_000_000_000 -d
http://<SigScalr_IP>:8081/elastic -p 10 > sstest.log 2>&1 &
go run main.go query -d http://<SigScalr_IP>:80/elastic -v -n 1

Query Results:

Query Type SigScalr (ms) ElasticSearch (ms) Comparison
Q1 (match multiple) 104 803 7x
Q2 (range) 87 720 8x
Q3 (needle-in-haystack) 185 116 0.6x
Q4 (KeyValue) 44 182 4x
Q5 (Free Text) 120 875 7x

Ingestion Results:

Metric Name SigScalr ElasticSearch Comparison
Ingestion Rate 28,331 events/sec 18,023 events/sec 1.5x Faster
CPU 160% 770% 80% less CPU
RAM 4GB 32 GB 90% less RAM
Disk Utilization 192 GB 1200 GB 84% less disk space

Observability Systems Comparison:

Observability data is uniquely identified by fast, unstructured, multifaceted datasets that require ultra low latency for free text, analytical, and time-series queries. With high volumes of irregular data, traditional systems deal with this through an index everything, index something, or index nothing approach. When applied to observability data, these solutions have various degrees of success and failures.

Architecture Approach Pros Cons
Index Nothing Fast ingestion
Minimal storage requirements
Slower queries requires full table scans
Index Something Faster queries for indexed fields Slow query performance for unindexed fields
Determining which fields to index is not easy
Index Everything Fast queries Slower ingestion
Larger storage usage
Indices suffer on high cardinality data

SigScalr turns this on its head with a dynamic approach to indexing. Using an append-only columnar storage, SigScalr determines the optimal encoding format for a given column based on the data type and cardinality in real time.

These encoding formats are custom built and highly optimized for in memory processing, vectorized execution, and storage space.

SigScalr also dynamically generates mico-indices that take up less than 1% of storage space yet is able to drastically reduce the amount of file reads.

Elastic vs SigScalr:

Storage Systems:

ElasticSearch Indexes all incoming fields by default but also is possible to configure which fields to not index.
SigScalr Uses a columar storage format that generates segments and microindices.

CPU/RAM Resources:

ElasticSearch Uses inverted indices to answer queries. If these indices do not fit in memory, with high cardinality datasets, query performance suffers. Creating too many shards creates a lot of memory overhead. Requires proper planning, testing, and iterating to optimize performance.
SigScalr Zero copy ingestion and queries keeps CPU and Memory requirements low at all times. Query engine uses the amount of configured memory to preload the micro indices in memory.

Query Performance:

ElasticSearch If indices can fit in memory, query performance is extremely fast and highly reliable. If not, which will often happen for high cardinality data, then query performance suffers.
SigScalr The small nature of generated micro indices allow significant search space reduction even when resources are low. Vectorized execution and optimized file formats makes all queries for all data types and cardinalities blazing fast.

Setup and Maintenance:

ElasticSearch Highly tunable to get high performance. A lot of knobs to turn makes it hard to always get the “optimal” settings, yet makes it possible to iterate on performance.
SigScalr Needs minimal configuration to dynamically optimize encodings, indices, and memory management.

As Elasticsearch is a general purpose document search engine, it has other features SigScalr does not. For example, updating & deleting documents, different types of search and scoring functions, etc. SigScalr is purpose-built for the observability data types of logs, metrics, and traces.


Observability data has unique characteristics and generic purpose search engines do not work for today's cloud workload or are too expensive. SigScalr is solving this problem by building a database from the ground up specifically for the observability data. As demonstrated in this benchmark blog, SigScalr performs magnitudes better than Elasticsearch while consuming 1/10th of resources. Give SigScalr a try or book a demo to find out how you can implement observability at a price that does not break the bank.

Engineer at SigScalr
Sri is a founding engineer at SigScalr, utilizing first principles thinking to drive innovative solutions for complex problems. Prior to SigScalr, Sri worked at Salesforce where he was building and scaling observability solutions. When not immersed in engineering, Sri can be found riding his Pinarello around the scenic Bay Area, finding inspiration in the beauty of the surroundings.