Optimize log queries in Azure Monitor
Azure Monitor Logs uses Azure Data Explorer to store log data and run queries for analyzing that data. It creates, manages, and maintains the Azure Data Explorer clusters for you, and optimizes them for your log analysis workload. When you run a query, it's optimized and routed to the appropriate Azure Data Explorer cluster that stores the workspace data.
Azure Monitor Logs and Azure Data Explorer use many automatic query optimization mechanisms. Automatic optimizations provide significant boost, but there are some cases where you can dramatically improve your query performance. This article explains the performance considerations and several techniques to fix them.
Most of the techniques are common to queries that are run directly on Azure Data Explorer and Azure Monitor Logs. Several unique Azure Monitor Logs considerations are also discussed. For more Azure Data Explorer optimization tips, see Query best practices.
Optimized queries will:
- Run faster and reduce overall duration of the query execution.
- Have smaller chance of being throttled or rejected.
Pay particular attention to queries that are used for recurrent and simultaneous usage, such as dashboards, alerts, Azure Logic Apps, and Power BI. The impact of an ineffective query in these cases is substantial.
Here's a detailed video walkthrough on optimizing queries.
Query Details pane
After you run a query in Log Analytics, select Query details at the bottom right corner of the screen to open the Query Details pane. This pane shows the results of several performance indicators for the query. These performance indicators are described in the following section.
Query performance indicators
The following query performance indicators are available for every query that's executed:
- Total CPU: Overall compute used to process the query across all compute nodes. It represents time used for computing, parsing, and data fetching.
- Data used for processed query: Overall data that was accessed to process the query. Influenced by the size of the target table, time span used, filters applied, and the number of columns referenced.
- Time span of the processed query: The gap between the newest and the oldest data that was accessed to process the query. Influenced by the explicit time range specified for the query.
- Age of processed data: The gap between now and the oldest data that was accessed to process the query. It highly influences the efficiency of data fetching.
- Number of workspaces: How many workspaces were accessed during the query processing based on implicit or explicit selection.
- Number of regions: How many regions were accessed during the query processing based on implicit or explicit selection of workspaces. Multi-region queries are much less efficient, and performance indicators present partial coverage.
- Parallelism: Indicates how much the system was able to execute this query on multiple nodes. Relevant only to queries that have high CPU consumption. Influenced by usage of specific functions and operators.
The actual compute CPU that was invested to process this query across all the query processing nodes. Because most queries are executed on large numbers of nodes, this total will usually be much larger than the duration the query took to execute.
A query that uses more than 100 seconds of CPU is considered a query that consumes excessive resources. A query that uses more than 1,000 seconds of CPU is considered an abusive query and might be throttled.
Query processing time is spent on:
- Data retrieval: Retrieval of old data will consume more time than retrieval of recent data.
- Data processing: Logic and evaluation of the data.
In addition to the time spent in the query processing nodes, Azure Monitor Logs spends time in:
- Authenticating the user and verifying they're permitted to access this data.
- Locating the data store.
- Parsing the query.
- Allocating the query processing nodes.
This time isn't included in the query total CPU time.
Early filtering of records prior to using high CPU functions
Some of the query commands and functions are heavy in their CPU consumption. This case is especially true for commands that parse JSON and XML or extract complex regular expressions. Such parsing can happen explicitly via parse_json() or parse_xml() functions or implicitly when it refers to dynamic columns.
These functions consume CPU in proportion to the number of rows they're processing. The most efficient optimization is to add
where conditions early in the query. In this way, they can filter out as many records as possible before the CPU-intensive function is executed.
For example, the following queries produce exactly the same result. But the second one is the most efficient because the where condition before parsing excludes many records:
//less efficient SecurityEvent | extend Details = parse_xml(EventData) | extend FilePath = tostring(Details.UserData.RuleAndFileData.FilePath) | extend FileHash = tostring(Details.UserData.RuleAndFileData.FileHash) | where FileHash != "" and FilePath !startswith "%SYSTEM32" // Problem: irrelevant results are filtered after all processing and parsing is done | summarize count() by FileHash, FilePath
//more efficient SecurityEvent | where EventID == 8002 //Only this event have FileHash | where EventData !has "%SYSTEM32" //Early removal of unwanted records | extend Details = parse_xml(EventData) | extend FilePath = tostring(Details.UserData.RuleAndFileData.FilePath) | extend FileHash = tostring(Details.UserData.RuleAndFileData.FileHash) | where FileHash != "" and FilePath !startswith "%SYSTEM32" // exact removal of results. Early filter is not accurate enough | summarize count() by FileHash, FilePath | where FileHash != "" // No need to filter out %SYSTEM32 here as it was removed before
Avoid using evaluated where clauses
Queries that contain where clauses on an evaluated column rather than on columns that are physically present in the dataset lose efficiency. Filtering on evaluated columns prevents some system optimizations when large sets of data are handled.
For example, the following queries produce exactly the same result. But the second one is more efficient because the where condition refers to a built-in column:
//less efficient Syslog | extend Msg = strcat("Syslog: ",SyslogMessage) | where Msg has "Error" | count
//more efficient Syslog | where SyslogMessage has "Error" | count
In some cases, the evaluated column is created implicitly by the query processing engine because the filtering is done not just on the field:
//less efficient SecurityEvent | where tolower(Process) == "conhost.exe" | count
//more efficient SecurityEvent | where Process =~ "conhost.exe" | count
Use effective aggregation commands and dimensions in summarize and join
Some aggregation commands like max(), sum(), count(), and avg() have low CPU impact because of their logic. Other commands are more complex and include heuristics and estimations that allow them to be executed efficiently. For example, dcount() uses the HyperLogLog algorithm to provide close estimation to a distinct count of large sets of data without actually counting each value.
The percentile functions are doing similar approximations by using the nearest rank percentile algorithm. Several of the commands include optional parameters to reduce their impact. For example, the makeset() function has an optional parameter to define the maximum set size, which significantly affects the CPU and memory.
Join and summarize commands might cause high CPU utilization when they're processing a large set of data. Their complexity is directly related to the number of possible values, referred to as cardinality, of the columns that are used as the
summarize or as the
join attributes. For explanation and optimization of
summarize, see their documentation articles and optimization tips.
For example, the following queries produce exactly the same result because
CounterPath is always one-to-one mapped to
ObjectName. The second one is more efficient because the aggregation dimension is smaller:
//less efficient Perf | summarize avg(CounterValue) by CounterName, CounterPath, ObjectName
//make the group expression more compact improve the performance Perf | summarize avg(CounterValue), any(CounterName), any(ObjectName) by CounterPath
CPU consumption might also be affected by
where conditions or extended columns that require intensive computing. All trivial string comparisons, such as equal == and startswith, have roughly the same CPU impact. Advanced text matches have more impact. Specifically, the has operator is more efficient than the contains operator. Because of string handling techniques, it's more efficient to look for strings that are longer than four characters than short strings.
For example, the following queries produce similar results, depending on
Computer naming policy. But the second one is more efficient:
//less efficient – due to filter based on contains Heartbeat | where Computer contains "Production" | summarize count() by ComputerIP
//less efficient – due to filter based on extend Heartbeat | extend MyComputer = Computer | where MyComputer startswith "Production" | summarize count() by ComputerIP
//more efficient Heartbeat | where Computer startswith "Production" | summarize count() by ComputerIP
This indicator presents only CPU from the immediate cluster. In a multi-region query, it would represent only one of the regions. In a multi-workspace query, it might not include all workspaces.
Avoid full XML and JSON parsing when string parsing works
Full parsing of an XML or JSON object might consume high CPU and memory resources. In many cases, when only one or two parameters are needed and the XML or JSON objects are simple, it's easier to parse them as strings. Use the parse operator or other text parsing techniques. The performance boost will be more significant because the number of records in the XML or JSON object increases. It's essential when the number of records reaches tens of millions.
For example, the following query returns exactly the same results as the preceding queries without performing full XML parsing. The query makes some assumptions about the XML file structure, like the
FilePath element comes after
FileHash and none of them has attributes:
//even more efficient SecurityEvent | where EventID == 8002 //Only this event have FileHash | where EventData !has "%SYSTEM32" //Early removal of unwanted records | parse EventData with * "<FilePath>" FilePath "</FilePath>" * "<FileHash>" FileHash "</FileHash>" * | summarize count() by FileHash, FilePath | where FileHash != "" // No need to filter out %SYSTEM32 here as it was removed before
Data used for processed query
A critical factor in the processing of the query is the volume of data that's scanned and used for the query processing. Azure Data Explorer uses aggressive optimizations that dramatically reduce the data volume compared to other data platforms. Still, there are critical factors in the query that can affect the data volume that's used.
A query that processes more than 2,000 KB of data is considered a query that consumes excessive resources. A query that's processing more than 20,000 KB of data is considered an abusive query and might be throttled.
In Azure Monitor Logs, the
TimeGenerated column is used as a way to index the data. Restricting the
TimeGenerated values to as narrow a range as possible will improve query performance. The narrow range significantly limits the amount of data that has to be processed.
Avoid unnecessary use of search and union operators
Another factor that increases the data that's processed is the use of a large number of tables. This scenario usually happens when
search * and
union * commands are used. These commands force the system to evaluate and scan data from all tables in the workspace. In some cases, there might be hundreds of tables in the workspace. Try to avoid using
search * or any search without scoping it to a specific table.
For example, the following queries produce exactly the same result, but the last one is the most efficient:
// This version scans all tables though only Perf has this kind of data search "Processor Time" | summarize count(), avg(CounterValue) by Computer
// This version scans all strings in Perf tables – much more efficient Perf | search "Processor Time" | summarize count(), avg(CounterValue) by Computer
// This is the most efficient version Perf | where CounterName == "% Processor Time" | summarize count(), avg(CounterValue) by Computer
Add early filters to the query
Another method to reduce the data volume is to have where conditions early in the query. The Azure Data Explorer platform includes a cache that lets it know which partitions include data that's relevant for a specific
where condition. For example, if a query contains
where EventID == 4624, then it would distribute the query only to nodes that handle partitions with matching events.
The following example queries produce exactly the same result, but the second one is more efficient:
//less efficient SecurityEvent | summarize LoginSessions = dcount(LogonGuid) by Account
//more efficient SecurityEvent | where EventID == 4624 //Logon GUID is relevant only for logon event | summarize LoginSessions = dcount(LogonGuid) by Account
Avoid multiple scans of the same source data by using conditional aggregation functions and the materialize function
When a query has several subqueries that are merged by using join or union operators, each subquery scans the entire source separately. Then it merges the results. This action multiplies the number of times that data is scanned, which is a critical factor in large datasets.
A technique to avoid this scenario is by using the conditional aggregation functions. Most of the aggregation functions that are used in a summary operator have a conditioned version that you can use for a single summarize operator with multiple conditions.
For example, the following queries show the number of login events and the number of process execution events for each account. They return the same results, but the first query scans the data twice. The second query scans it only once:
//Scans the SecurityEvent table twice and perform expensive join SecurityEvent | where EventID == 4624 //Login event | summarize LoginCount = count() by Account | join ( SecurityEvent | where EventID == 4688 //Process execution event | summarize ExecutionCount = count(), ExecutedProcesses = make_set(Process) by Account ) on Account
//Scan only once with no join SecurityEvent | where EventID == 4624 or EventID == 4688 //early filter | summarize LoginCount = countif(EventID == 4624), ExecutionCount = countif(EventID == 4688), ExecutedProcesses = make_set_if(Process,EventID == 4688) by Account
Another case where subqueries are unnecessary is pre-filtering for a parse operator to make sure that it processes only records that match a specific pattern. They're unnecessary because the parse operator and other similar operators return empty results when the pattern doesn't match. The following two queries return exactly the same results, but the second query scans the data only once. In the second query, each parse command is relevant only for its events. The
extend operator afterward shows how to refer to an empty data situation:
//Scan SecurityEvent table twice union( SecurityEvent | where EventID == 8002 | parse EventData with * "<FilePath>" FilePath "</FilePath>" * "<FileHash>" FileHash "</FileHash>" * | distinct FilePath ),( SecurityEvent | where EventID == 4799 | parse EventData with * "CallerProcessName\">" CallerProcessName1 "</Data>" * | distinct CallerProcessName1 )
//Single scan of the SecurityEvent table SecurityEvent | where EventID == 8002 or EventID == 4799 | parse EventData with * "<FilePath>" FilePath "</FilePath>" * "<FileHash>" FileHash "</FileHash>" * //Relevant only for event 8002 | parse EventData with * "CallerProcessName\">" CallerProcessName1 "</Data>" * //Relevant only for event 4799 | extend FilePath = iif(isempty(CallerProcessName1),FilePath,"") | distinct FilePath, CallerProcessName1
When the preceding query doesn't allow you to avoid using subqueries, another technique is to hint to the query engine that there's a single source of data used in each one of them by using the materialize() function. This technique is useful when the source data is coming from a function that's used several times within the query.
Materialize is effective when the output of the subquery is much smaller than the input. The query engine will cache and reuse the output in all occurrences.
Reduce the number of columns that's retrieved
Because Azure Data Explorer is a columnar data store, retrieval of every column is independent of the others. The number of columns that are retrieved directly influences the overall data volume. You should only include the columns in the output that are needed by summarizing the results or projecting the specific columns.
Azure Data Explorer has several optimizations to reduce the number of retrieved columns. If it determines that a column isn't needed, for example, if it's not referenced in the summarize command, it won't retrieve it.
For example, the second query might process three times more data because it needs to fetch not one column but three:
//Less columns --> Less data SecurityEvent | summarize count() by Computer
//More columns --> More data SecurityEvent | summarize count(), dcount(EventID), avg(Level) by Computer
Time span of the processed query
All logs in Azure Monitor Logs are partitioned according to the
TimeGenerated column. The number of partitions that are accessed are directly related to the time span. Reducing the time range is the most efficient way of assuring a prompt query execution.
A query with a time span of more than 15 days is considered a query that consumes excessive resources. A query with a time span of more than 90 days is considered an abusive query and might be throttled.
You can set the time range by using the time range selector in the Log Analytics screen as described in Log query scope and time range in Azure Monitor Log Analytics. This method is recommended because the selected time range is passed to the back end by using the query metadata.
An alternative method is to explicitly include a where condition on
TimeGenerated in the query. Use this method because it assures that the time span is fixed, even when the query is used from a different interface.
Make sure that all parts of the query have
TimeGenerated filters. When a query has subqueries fetching data from various tables or the same table, each query has to include its own where condition.
Make sure all subqueries have the TimeGenerated filter
For example, in the following query, the
Perf table will be scanned only for the last day. The
Heartbeat table will be scanned for all of its history, which might be up to two years:
Perf | where TimeGenerated > ago(1d) | summarize avg(CounterValue) by Computer, CounterName | join kind=leftouter ( Heartbeat //No time span filter in this part of the query | summarize IPs = makeset(ComputerIP, 10) by Computer ) on Computer
A common case where such a mistake occurs is when arg_max() is used to find the most recent occurrence. For example:
Perf | where TimeGenerated > ago(1d) | summarize avg(CounterValue) by Computer, CounterName | join kind=leftouter ( Heartbeat //No time span filter in this part of the query | summarize arg_max(TimeGenerated, *), min(TimeGenerated) by Computer ) on Computer
You can easily correct this situation by adding a time filter in the inner query:
Perf | where TimeGenerated > ago(1d) | summarize avg(CounterValue) by Computer, CounterName | join kind=leftouter ( Heartbeat | where TimeGenerated > ago(1d) //filter for this part | summarize arg_max(TimeGenerated, *), min(TimeGenerated) by Computer ) on Computer
Another example of this fault is when you perform the time scope filtering just after a union over several tables. When you perform the union, each subquery should be scoped. You can use a let statement to ensure scoping consistency.
For example, the following query will scan all the data in the
Perf tables, not just the last day:
Heartbeat | summarize arg_min(TimeGenerated,*) by Computer | union ( Perf | summarize arg_min(TimeGenerated,*) by Computer) | where TimeGenerated > ago(1d) | summarize min(TimeGenerated) by Computer
To fix the query:
let MinTime = ago(1d); Heartbeat | where TimeGenerated > MinTime | summarize arg_min(TimeGenerated,*) by Computer | union ( Perf | where TimeGenerated > MinTime | summarize arg_min(TimeGenerated,*) by Computer) | summarize min(TimeGenerated) by Computer
Time span measurement limitations
The measurement is always larger than the actual time specified. For example, if the filter on the query is 7 days, the system might scan 7.5 or 8.1 days. This variance is because the system is partitioning the data into chunks of variable sizes. To ensure that all relevant records are scanned, the system scans the entire partition. This process might cover several hours and even more than a day.
There are several cases where the system can't provide an accurate measurement of the time range. This situation happens in most cases where the query's span is less than a day or in multi-workspace queries.
This indicator presents only data processed in the immediate cluster. In a multi-region query, it would represent only one of the regions. In a multi-workspace query, it might not include all workspaces.
Age of processed data
Azure Data Explorer uses several storage tiers: in-memory, local SSD disks, and much slower Azure Blobs. The newer the data, the higher the chance that it's stored in a more performant tier with smaller latency, which reduces the query duration and CPU. Other than the data itself, the system also has a cache for metadata. The older the data, the less chance its metadata will be in a cache.
A query that processes data that's more than 14 days old is considered a query that consumes excessive resources.
Some queries require the use of old data, but there are also cases where old data is used by mistake. This scenario happens when queries are executed without providing a time range in their metadata and not all table references include a filter on the
TimeGenerated column. In these cases, the system will scan all the data that's stored in the table. When the data retention is long, it can cover long time ranges. As a result, data that's as old as the data retention period is scanned.
Such cases can be, for example:
- Not setting the time range in Log Analytics with a subquery that isn't limited. See the preceding example.
- Using the API without the time range optional parameters.
- Using a client that doesn't force a time range, for example, like the Power BI connector.
See examples and notes in the previous section because they're also relevant in this case.
Number of regions
There are situations where a single query might be executed across different regions. For example:
- When several workspaces are explicitly listed and they're located in different regions.
- When a resource-scoped query is fetching data and the data is stored in multiple workspaces that are located in different regions.
Cross-region query execution requires the system to serialize and transfer in the back end large chunks of intermediate data that are usually much larger than the query final results. It also limits the system's ability to perform optimizations and heuristics and use caches.
If there's no reason to scan all these regions, adjust the scope so that it covers fewer regions. If the resource scope is minimized but many regions are still used, it might happen because of misconfiguration. For example, audit logs and diagnostic settings might be sent to different workspaces in different regions or there might be multiple diagnostic settings configurations.
A query that spans more than three regions is considered a query that consumes excessive resources. A query that spans more than six regions is considered an abusive query and might be throttled.
When a query is run across several regions, the CPU and data measurements won't be accurate and will represent the measurement of only one of the regions.
Number of workspaces
Workspaces are logical containers that are used to segregate and administer logs data. The back end optimizes workspace placements on physical clusters within the selected region.
Use of multiple workspaces can result from instances when:
- Several workspaces are explicitly listed.
- A resource-scoped query is fetching data and the data is stored in multiple workspaces.
Cross-region and cross-cluster execution of queries requires the system to serialize and transfer in the back end large chunks of intermediate data that are usually much larger than the query final results. It also limits the system's ability to perform optimizations and heuristics and use caches.
A query that spans more than five workspaces is considered a query that consumes excessive resources. Queries can't span more than 100 workspaces.
- In some multi-workspace scenarios, the CPU and data measurements won't be accurate and will represent the measurement of only a few of the workspaces.
- Cross workspace queries having an explicit identifier: workspace ID, or workspace Azure Resource ID, consume less resources and are more performant. See Create a log query across multiple workspaces
Azure Monitor Logs uses large clusters of Azure Data Explorer to run queries. These clusters vary in scale and potentially get up to dozens of compute nodes. The system automatically scales the clusters according to workspace placement logic and capacity.
To efficiently execute a query, it's partitioned and distributed to compute nodes based on the data that's required for its processing. In some situations, the system can't do this step efficiently, which can lead to a long duration of the query.
Query behaviors that can reduce parallelism include:
- Use of serialization and window functions, such as the serialize operator, next(), prev(), and the row functions. Time series and user analytics functions can be used in some of these cases. Inefficient serialization might also happen if the following operators aren't used at the end of the query: range, sort, order, top, top-hitters, and getschema.
- Use of the dcount() aggregation function forces the system to have a central copy of the distinct values. When the scale of data is high, consider using the
dcountfunction optional parameters to reduce accuracy.
- In many cases, the join operator lowers overall parallelism. Examine
shuffle joinas an alternative when performance is problematic.
- In resource-scope queries, the pre-execution Kubernetes role-based access control (RBAC) or Azure RBAC checks might linger in situations where there's a large number of Azure role assignments. This situation might lead to longer checks that would result in lower parallelism. For example, a query might be executed on a subscription where there are thousands of resources and each resource has many role assignments on the resource level, not on the subscription or resource group.
- If a query is processing small chunks of data, its parallelism will be low because the system won't spread it across many compute nodes.
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