Everything you need to know about Grafana

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What is Grafana?

According to GrafanaLabs, Grafana is an open source visualization and analytics software. It allows you to query, visualize, alert on, and explore your metrics no matter where they are stored. In plain English, it provides you with tools to turn your time-series database (TSDB) data into beautiful graphs and visualizations.

Why do companies use Grafana?

Companies use Grafana to monitor their infrastructure and log analytics, predominantly to improve their operational efficiency. Dashboards make tracking users and events easy because it automates the collection, management and viewing of data. Product leaders, security analysts, and developers use this data to guide their decisions. Studies show that companies who rely on database analytics and visualization tools like Grafana are far more profitable than their peers.

Why is Grafana important?

Grafana shows teams and companies what their users really do, not just what they say they do. These are known as revealed behaviors and they’re highly telling. Users aren’t very adept at predicting their own futures and having analytics allows tech teams to dig deeper than human-error prone surveys and monitoring.

“Grafana makes that data useful again by integrating all data sources into one single organized view.”

What Is a Grafana Dashboard?

A Grafana dashboard supports multiple panels in a single grid, you can visualize results from multiple data sources simultaneously. It is a powerful open source analytical and visualization tool that consists of multiple individual panels arranged in a grid. The panels interact with configured data sources, including (but not limited to) AWS CloudWatch, Microsoft SQL server, Prometheus, MySQL, InfluxDB, and many others. Because the Grafana dashboards.

“Grafana supports a huge list of data sources including (but not limited to) AWS CloudWatch, Microsoft SQL server, Prometheus, MySQL, InfluxDB, and many others.”

What features does Grafana provide?

The tools that teams actually use to uncover insights vary from organization to organization. The following are the most common (and useful) features they might expect of a data analytics/visualization tool like Grafana.

Common Grafana features:

  1. Visualize: Grafana has a plethora of visualization options to help you understand your data from graphs to histograms, you have it all.
  2. Alerts: Grafana lets you define thresholds visually, and get notified via Slack, PagerDuty, and more
  3. Unify: You can bring your data together to get better context. Grafana supports dozens of databases, natively.
  4. Open-Source: It’s completely open source. You can use Grafana Cloud, or easily install on any platform.
  5. Explore Logs: Using label filters you can quickly filter and search through the laundry list of logs.
  6. Display dashboards: Visualize data with templated or custom reports.Create and Share reports:
  7. Create and Share reports: Create and share reports to your customers and stakeholders. This feature is not available in the open-source version. However, you can upgrade to avail it. Learn more about affordable elasticsearch reporting tools here.

How to use Grafana

All data visualization platforms are built around two core functions which help companies answer questions about users and events:

  1. Tracking data: Capturing visits, events, and monitoring actions through logs
  2. Analyzing data: Visualizing data through dashboards and reports
    With data that’s been tracked, captured, and organized, companies are free to ask questions such as:
  3. What actions are our users taking on the device, network etc.?
  4. What is the typical behavior flow that users take through our network or app?
  5. What opportunities do we have to reduce SLA churn?

And more. The answers they receive arm them with statistically valid facts upon which to base security and operational decisions. Grafana is also commonly used to monitor synthetic metrics.

What are Synthetic Metrics?

Synthetic metrics are a collection of multi-stage steps required to complete an API call or transaction.

A set of metrics for an API call would contain:

  1. Time to connect to API (connect latency)
  2. Duration of request (response latency)
  3. Size of response payload
  4. Result Code of request (200, 204, 400, 500, etc)
  5. Success/Failure state of the request

From there, teams typically graduate to proving or disproving hypotheses. For instance, a patch management solution provider/user may get the following questions addressed --- “When is the best time to patch all the systems? Which are the unpatched systems in the network? What are the most vulnerable devices in a network etc.. Over time, teams build up a repository of data-backed evidence which allows them to create positive feedback loops. That is, the more data teams get back from Grafana, the more they can iterate their operations.

Getting started with Grafana is easy --- Install Grafana Locally > Configure your data source > Create your first dashboard

What Are Some of the Real-World Industry Use Cases of Grafana?

As mentioned by 8bitmen.com, Grafana dashboards are deployed all over the industry be it Gaming, IoT, FinTech or E-Comm.

StackOverflow used the tool to enable their developers & site reliability teams create tailored dashboards to visualize data & optimize their server performance.

Digital Ocean uses Grafana to share visualization data between their teams & have in place a common visual data sharing platform.

Wrapping it up

Grafana allows companies to fully understand the Hows and Whats of users/events with respect to their infrastructure or network. It is especially useful for security analytics teams where teams can track events as well as users’ digital footprints step-by-step to see what they are doing inside their network. Analytics is a critical piece of modern SecOps and DevOps because most apps and websites aren’t designed to run detailed reports or visualizations on themselves. Without proper visualizations, the data they collect is often inconsistent and improperly formatted (known as unstructured data). Grafana makes that data useful again by integrating all data sources into one single organized view.

Well, you might as well ask if Grafana is free to use. Yes, absolutely. Until you want to send reports of your dashboards to your customers and stakeholders. You can learn more about affordable elasticsearch reporting tools here.

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