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What is Grafana? Let’s see its history and how it is related to other software!

February 19, 2019

What is Grafana? Let’s see its history and how it is related to other software!

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What is Grafana and how can we use it within the monitoring field?

Previously in Pandora FMS we briefly mentioned Grafana and in this occasion we present you: What is Grafana? What does Grafana do? That’s why we invite you to stay!

What is Grafana
Online example of Grafana (play.grafana.org)

What is Grafana?

Grafana is an open source tool, with Apache 2.0 license, designed by Torkel Ödegaard (who is still in charge of its development and maintenance) and created in January 2014. This Swedish developer began his career in the .NET field and since 2012, until nowadays, he continues offering development and consulting services through this popular proprietary platform, while developing free software at the same time.
Grafana is written in Go programming language (created by Google) and Node.js LTS together with a strong Application Programming Interface (API). This is an application that has been becoming more and more popular, with an enthusiastic community made up of more than 600 well integrated participants (there are 7 leading developers, Torkel in charge, and 5 part-time employees to be able to coordinate such a group of people). Of course, its source code has been made public on GitHub.

What does Grafana do?

Grafana is a tool that displays temporary series data. It can obtain a graphic overview of the situation of a company or organization from a bunch of collected data. How do they make it happen? Wikidata, the huge knowledge database, collaboratively edited, which progressively structures articles within the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, uses grafana.wikimedia.org publicly to show the editions that have been carried out (in our particular case, we do it regularly) by partners, and machines, with the created and edited “pages” (actually data sheets) in a certain period of time:

What is Grafana
What is Grafana and what does it mean for Wikidata/Wikipedia? (grafana.wikimedia.org)

What is Grafana for Wikipedia and/or Wikidata? It is just a way to represent statistical data fast and publicly, always using open source and/or free software. Other entities that usually use Grafana are:

  • European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)
  • DigitalOcean, a hosting service for virtual machines based entirely on free software.
  • Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FermiLab).
  • And many other private companies!

What are the advantages of Grafana?

What is Grafana in particular? What makes it unique?

It can work on TV mode (a particular euphemism for kiosk mode) so that from time to time, it displays different control panels that have been saved in playlists. The main purpose of this is solving two specific issues: firstly, if the screen cannot display everything at the same time, then it becomes divided into several sections and they are displayed automatically and periodically. Secondly, to make it more dynamic for us, human beings, by showing the same screen, with changing values of course, but which attracts our attention and that of the public, if necessary, by means of the graphic transition. To deactivate kiosk mode, press “d” plus “k” keys, which takes us to the next point.

Grafana loves keyboard use. What is Grafana without a keyboard shortcut? It is like a flower with no smell, poetically speaking. For developers this is a key point: being able to work without the use of a pointing device such as the mouse. Again, personally, we really appreciate this feature very much, not only in this software but in any other one.
If you want to see an online example, in this web link you can see something like this:

What is Grafana
Online example of Grafana (play.grafana.org)

Grafana Ecosystem

As we have already said, it is used to visualize information, which is collected and/or processed by third party applications. The sole objective of Grafana is presenting the monitoring data in a more user-friendly and enjoyable way. At this point, this must be clear: you can collect data from Cloudwatch, Graphite, Elasticsearch, OpenTSDB, Prometheus, Hosted Metrics and InfluxDB in a native way.

There is an Enterprise version (grafana.com) that uses plug-ins to get more data sources, but there is no reason for those other data source plug-ins to not be open-sourced created, since the Grafana ecosystem of plug-ins already offers many other data sources. For example in February 2018:

  • 37 data sources plug-ins.
  • 28 panel plug-ins.
  • 15 application plug-ins.
  • More than 600 control panels created for popular applications.

An option to manually send an alert to wherever you want by just enlarging the graphic and activating a pop-up menu has been recently added. While it is a welcomed addition that will not necessarily replace an alert platform, it can certainly help to provide a different perspective about the alert criteria (obviously it is unfeasible for massive use and criteria for hundreds of devices).

Grafana in the monitoring field

Elasticsearch is one of the data sources for which Grafana offers native support. This should not surprise you, considering that Grafana was initially a component within Kibana, from which it branched off. ELK platform is the combination of Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana. The first two components are used by Pandora FMS since version 712 (you will find more information about its implementation in this link) for log compiling and we show it summarized in the next image, which is worth a thousand words:

What is Grafana
Pandora FMS, Logstash and Elasticsearch

Note: Pandora FMS has a powerful web console and Metaconsole to unify them. It can operate on kiosk mode and it provides powerful tools related to monitoring as a whole. This article about Grafana is just a sample of the extraordinary flexibility of Pandora FMS, and it does not imply any kind of endorsement of the information here presented.

Time is an important factor regarding research and log display. Keywords will also be another key element, but who provides that keyword? To this effect, let us imagine non-routine scenarios: one or more executives who have a programmer at their disposal to create the boards required to represent a wide range of information, or perhaps a network administrator who wishes to take the information of a particular development applied to a production system. Actually, Grafana has many uses, in addition to offering a user-level user authentication that could be shared with Pandora FMS if it is used in both LDAP. However, we find more useful the possibility of Grafana logging in by authentication with GitHub so that the programmers can look for their own log information by themselves without affecting the system(s) to which Grafana is connected at all. What is Grafana for programmers? This is your opportunity to investigate and review the performance of your own applications, with no greater effort than creating the necessary boards whether they may be customized or not!

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You can have your own style when programming, working and doing things, either old-fashioned or however you may like it for our development team, but you always have to stay updated with the new developments and trends, which can become new useful tools as you see. Do not hesitate to contact us!


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