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Grafana's "Big Tent": More than Just Choosing Your Own Observability Strategy

By Tom Wilkie, VP of Technology at Grafana Labs and a member of the CNCF Governing Board.

# A vision of interoperability for Grafana

Twenty years ago, those who fully embraced the fundamental advantages of open source software were considered heretics. The concept of truly open software was such an uncomfortable topic that many denied its existence, expecting it to quickly die as a passing fad. These days it's clear that open source development, which helped create much of the infrastructure we know and use in the technology world today, is our best path for continued rapid advancement.

At Grafana Labs, building on the open source way, we've taken a unique approach to our projects and products: We call it our "Big Tent" philosophy. It all started with the Grafana open source project.

The Grafana visualization and dashboarding tool is at the heart of our LGTM open source observability platform (Grafana Loki for logs, Grafana for graphs, Grafana Tempo for traces, and Grafana Mimir for metrics). Grafana is interoperable with over 160 different data sources, including a large number of CNCF projects such as Prometheus, Cortex, Thanos, and Jaeger, as well as with technologies in the CNCF landscape such as Graphite, Influx, MySQL, and Elasticsearch. 

We don't play favorites - we endeavor to make the experience consistent across all data sources. In fact, we put more development effort into the 157+ data sources (that aren't Mimir, Loki, or Tempo) combined, than we do into those three projects that we created. The data source model in Grafana avoids the tricky "lowest common denominator" problem by allowing each data source to expose a custom experience; we allow each data source to shine.

Grafana is one of the few pieces of open source software that touches hundreds of different data sources and tools, both open source and commercial. With Grafana's "Big Tent," disparate data sources, from different software providers, in different industries, built for completely different use cases, can come together in a composable observability platform. We believe that organizations should own their own observability strategy, choose their own tools, and have the freedom to bring all their data together in one view. Grafana makes this possible.

# How we've expanded the Big Tent

But the "Big Tent" philosophy doesn't stop at the Grafana project; it pervades everything we do at Grafana Labs. It's not something we often talk about, but today I want to tell you how.

  • "Big Tent" is how we work with others. It informs how we try to get Grafana out to as many people as possible by partnering with all the leading Cloud providers and ISVs (AWS, Tencent, Alibaba, and most recently Microsoft). We believe a rising tide lifts all boats; interoperability breeds growth in the observability space, which is good for everyone.
  • "Big Tent" is for backends. From how we ingest logs into Loki (shipping plugins for Elastic's logstash, Fluentbit, and Fluentd), to the formats for metrics we support in Mimir (Prometheus remote write, Influx wire protocol, and soon Graphite and Datadog), "Big Tent" is about choice, and not a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • "Big Tent" is about disrupting yourself from within. The wide array of integrations supported by Grafana allows us to spot trends as they develop. Not many people know that the first open source (AGPL-licensed) scalable TSDB project we launched, back in 2016, was Metrictank, and was Graphite-compatible. Through the Grafana project we saw the rising popularity of Prometheus, and set about investing in this space. Fast forward four years to Mimir, our AGPL-licensed Prometheus-compatible TSDB launched earlier this year, and we've come full circle.
  • "Big Tent" is bottom up. It's about a "yes, and'' approach to community-first engagement pattern vs. a "no, but" sales motion. You've all heard organizations proselytizing a single solution that will solve all problems if you just rip and replace. Having worked personally on these implementations in the past, I can tell you that again and again I've seen such solutions require lengthy consolidation projects and timeframes; often by the time such projects have been completed, the area has diverged into even more solutions! For Grafana Labs projects and products to succeed, it does not require others to fail. We don't enter into organizations and displace existing solutions; we complement them and make them work together. We're betting against consolidation.

# Welcome to the Big Tent

Simply put, "Big Tent" is in our DNA at Grafana Labs. It's sometimes hard to pin down. Sometimes hard to define. But you know it when you see it. This is why, along with Matt Toback and Mat Ryer, we started Grafana's Big Tent podcast. The podcast is an opportunity to share stories with the world from friends of Grafana, the people, the projects, and the communities. We want to offer insights into how we work, and use our platform to shine light on others.

We're looking forward to welcoming the cloud native community into our Big Tent at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Europe in May. Stop by, stay for a while, and see what happens when it all comes together.



Tom Wilkie VP of Technology at Grafana Labs, member of the CNCF Governing Board


Tom Wilkie is VP of Technology at Grafana Labs, a member of the Prometheus team, and one of the original authors of the Cortex and Loki projects. He serves as a member of the CNCF Governing Board. In his spare time, he builds 3D printers and makes craft beer.

Published Thursday, May 12, 2022 7:34 AM by David Marshall
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