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 Evaluation 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 a pcap using so-import-pcap. When you run so-import-pcap, it analyzes the pcap using Suricata and Zeek and the resulting logs are picked up by Filebeat and sent to Elasticsearch where they are parsed and indexed. 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 quick installations 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.

There is the option to utilize only two node types – the manager node and one or more heavy nodes, however, this is not recommended 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.

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, as they do not run Elastic Stack components. An analyst connects to the server from a client workstation (typically a Security Onion virtual machine installation) to execute queries and retrieve data.

The manager node runs the following components:

Forward Node

When using a forward node, Elastic Stack components are not installed. Filebeat forwards all logs 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 primarily collect logs from other nodes and store them for searching.

Search Nodes run the following components:

Heavy Node

Similar to search nodes, heavy nodes extend the storage and processing capabilities of the manager node. However, heavy nodes also perform sensor duties and thus have lower performance overall.

Heavy Nodes run the following components: