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Grafana Labs observability platform set to grow

Raj Dutt, co-founder and CEO of Grafana Labs, provides insight into what his company is doing and where it's headed, now that it has raised new money and is seeing new use cases for its data observability technology.

Data resides in many different places and getting observability of data is a key challenge for many database managers and other data professionals.

Among the most popular technologies for data observability is the open source Grafana project, which is led by commercial open source database vendor Grafana Labs. The company leads multiple open source projects and also sells enterprise-grade products and services that enable a full data observability platform.

On Oct. 24, Grafana Labs marked the next major phase of the vendor's evolution, raising $24 million in a Series A round of funding led by Lightspeed Venture Partners, with participation from Lead Edge Capital. The new money will help the vendor grow beyond its roots to address a wider range of data use cases, according to the company.

In this Q&A, Raj Dutt, co-founder and CEO, discusses the intersection of open source and enterprise software and where Grafana is headed.

Why are you now raising a Series A?

Raj Dutt: We just celebrated our five-year anniversary earlier this month and we've built a sustainable company that was running at cashflow breakeven.

So the reason why we've raised funding is because we think we've proven phase one of our business model and our platform. Now we're basically accelerating that to go well beyond Grafana Labs itself into a full stack, composable observability platform. So it's mainly around accelerating what we're doing in the observability ecosystem.

We're thinking about building this open and composable observability stack with the larger ecosystem that doesn't just include our own open source projects. You may know us obviously as the company behind Grafana, but we're actually the company behind Loki, which is another very interesting, very popular open source project. But we also participate in other projects that we don't necessarily own. We are one of the driving forces behind the Prometheus project and we are actively involved in the Graphite project

Raj DuttRaj Dutt

Grafana itself has a history since it was started of being database-neutral. So today, we're interoperating natively and in real time with 42 different data sources. We're all about bringing your data together, no matter where it lives.

While Grafana Labs as a company works with a Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) project such as Prometheus, have you considered contributing Grafana to the CNCF, or another open source organization?

Dutt: Not really, I said we work with some CNCF projects like Prometheus, but there's no desire on our part to put our own projects such as Grafana or Loki into the CNCF.

We are an open source observability company and this is our core competency and our  core brand. Part of our strategy for delivering differentiated solutions to our customers involves being more in control of our own destiny, so to speak.

We very much believe in the power of the community. We do have a pretty active community, though certainly more than 50 percent of the work is done by Grafana Labs. We have a habit of always hiring the top contributors within the community, which is how we scale our engineering team.

If you look at the Grafana plugin ecosystem, of which there are close to 100-plus plugins, the majority of those have been contributed by the community and not developed by Grafana Labs.

What are your plans for the next major release with Grafana 7?

Dutt: Grafana 7 is slated for 2020. We've generally done a major release of Grafana every year that normally coincides with our annual Grafana user conference, which next year will be coming back to Amsterdam.

The major theme for Grafana 7 is really about it becoming more of a developer platform for people to build use case specific experiences with and also going beyond metrics into logging and tracing. So we're really building this full observability stack and that is our 2020 product vision.

We think that the three pillars of observability are logging, metrics and traces, but it's really about how you bring that data together and contextualize it in a seamless experience and that's what we can do with Grafana at the center of this platform.

We can give people the choice to continue to use, say, Splunk for logging, Datadog for metrics, or New Relic for APM (application performance management), while not requiring them to store all their data in one database. We think it is a really compelling option to customers to give them the choice and flexibility to use best-of-breed open source software without locking them in.

What is the intersection between open source and enterprise software for Grafana Labs?

Dutt: With Grafana Enterprise, we take the open source version and we add certain capabilities and integrations to it. So we take Grafana, the open source version, and we add data sources, and we combine it with 24/7 support. We also add features generally around authentication and security clients that are generally appealing to our largest users.

With Grafana Labs, the company is all about creating these truly open source projects with communities under real open source licensing, and then finding ways generally under non-open source licensing to differentiate them.

If you want to have something be open source, then make it really open source, and if it doesn't work through a business model to make a particular thing open source, then don't make it open source.
Raj DuttCEO, Grafana Labs

You know, if you want to have something be open source, then make it really open source, and if it doesn't work through a business model to make a particular thing open source, then don't make it open source.

So our view is we have a lot of open source software, which is truly open source, meaning under a real open source license like Apache, and we also have our enterprise offerings that are not open.

We consider ourselves an open source company, because it's in our DNA, but we really don't want to play games with a lot of these newfangled open source licenses that you're seeing proliferate.

How is Grafana being used today for data management and analytics use cases?

Dutt: We have gone from seeing Grafana demand driven primarily from the development teams and the operations team. What's happened recently is, particularly with the support of things like SQL data sources as well as support for things like BigQuery and other data sources, we've seen a lot of business users and business metrics being brought into Grafana very organically.

So we're at this interesting intersection now where we're being pushed into business analytics by our developer centric customers and users. But we don't claim to compete head on with say, you know, Tableau or Power BI. We don't consider ourselves a BI company, but the open source Grafana project is definitely being pulled in that direction by its user base.

The Grafana project itself has always been use case agnostic. There's nothing in Grafana that is specific to IT, cloud native or anything like that, and that has been a deliberate decision. We're kind of excited to see where the community organically takes us.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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