If you’re going to deploy Security Onion, you should first decide on what type of deployment you want. This could be anything from a temporary Import installation in a small virtual machine on your personal laptop all the way to a large scalable enterprise deployment consisting of a manager node, multiple search nodes, and lots of forward nodes. This section will discuss what those different deployment types look like from an architecture perspective.


The simplest architecture is an Import node. An import node is a single standalone box that runs just enough components to be able to import pcap files using so-import-pcap or evtx files using so-import-evtx. You can then view those logs in Security Onion Console (SOC).


The next architecture is Evaluation. It’s a little more complicated than Import because it has a network interface dedicated to sniffing live traffic from a TAP or span port. Processes monitor the traffic on that sniffing interface and generate logs. Filebeat collects those logs and sends them directly to Elasticsearch where they are parsed and indexed. Evaluation mode is designed for a quick installation to temporarily test out Security Onion. It is not designed for production usage at all.



Standalone is similar to Evaluation in that all components run on one box. However, instead of Filebeat sending logs directly to Elasticsearch, it sends them to Logstash, which sends them to Redis for queuing. A second Logstash pipeline pulls the logs out of Redis and sends them to Elasticsearch, where they are parsed and indexed.

This type of deployment is typically used for testing, labs, POCs, or very low-throughput environments. It’s not as scalable as a distributed deployment.



A standard distributed deployment includes a manager node, one or more forward nodes running network sensor components, and one or more search nodes running Elastic search components. This architecture may cost more upfront, but it provides for greater scalability and performance, as you can simply add more nodes to handle more traffic or log sources.

  • Recommended deployment type
  • Consists of a manager node, one or more forward nodes, and one or more search nodes


If you install a dedicated manager node, you must also deploy one or more search nodes. Otherwise, all logs will queue on the manager and have no place to be stored. If you are limited on the number of nodes you can deploy, you can install a manager search node so that your manager node can act as a search node and store those logs. However, please keep in mind that overall performance and scalability of a manager search node will be lower compared to our recommended architecture of dedicated manager node and separate search nodes.


There is also an option to have a manager node and one or more heavy nodes.


Heavy nodes are NOT recommended for most users due to performance reasons, and should only be used for testing purposes or in low-throughput environments.

  • Recommended only if a standard distributed deployment is not possible
  • Consists of a manager node and one or more heavy nodes


Heavy nodes do not consume from the Redis queue on the manager. This means that if you just have a manager and heavy nodes, then the Redis queue on the manager will grow and never be drained. To avoid this, you have two options. If you are starting a new deployment, you can make your manager a manager search so that it will drain its own Redis queue. Alternatively, if you have an existing deployment with a manager and want to avoid rebuilding, then you can add a separate search node (NOT heavy node) to consume from the Redis queue on the manager.

Node Types


The manager node runs its own local copy of Elasticsearch, which manages cross-cluster search configuration for the deployment. This includes configuration for heavy nodes and search nodes (where applicable), but not forward nodes (since they do not run Elasticsearch). An analyst connects to the manager node from a client workstation (typically a Security Onion virtual machine installation) to execute queries and retrieve data. Please keep in mind that a dedicated manager node requires separate search nodes.

The manager node runs the following components:

Forward Node

A forward node is a sensor that forwards all logs via Filebeat to Logstash on the manager node, where they are stored in Elasticsearch on the manager node or a search node (if the manager node has been configured to use a search node). From there, the data can be queried through the use of cross-cluster search.

Forward Nodes run the following components:

Search Node

When using a search node, Security Onion implements distributed deployments using Elasticsearch’s cross cluster search. When you run Setup and choose Search Node, it will create a local Elasticsearch instance and then configure the manager node to query that instance. This is done by updating _cluster/settings on the manager node so that it will query the local Elasticsearch instance.

Search nodes pull logs from the Redis queue on the manager node and then parse and index those logs. When a user queries the manager node, the manager node then queries the storage nodes, and they return search results.

Search Nodes run the following components:

Heavy Node


Heavy nodes are NOT recommended for most users.

Heavy nodes perform sensor duties and store their own logs in their own local Elasticsearch instance. This results in higher hardware requirements and lower performance. Heavy nodes do NOT pull logs from the redis queue on the manager like search nodes do.

Heavy Nodes run the following components:

Fleet Standalone Node

A Fleet Standalone Node is ideal when there are a large amount of osquery endpoints deployed. It reduces the amount of overhead on the manager node by transferring the workload associated with managing osquery endpoints to a dedicated system. It is also useful for off-network osquery endpoints that do not have remote access to the Manager node as it can be deployed to the DMZ and TCP/8090 made accessible to your off-network osquery endpoints.

If the Manager Node was originally setup with Fleet, your grid will automatically switch over to using the Fleet Standalone Node instead as a grid can only have one Fleet instance active at a time.

Fleet Standalone Nodes run the following components: