Grafana is an open source analytics and monitoring solution that allows you to visualize time series metrics from a variety of data sources. It has become one of the most popular tools for building monitoring dashboards due to its flexibility, powerful visualizations, and ease of use.

At its core, Grafana revolves around building dashboards that allow you to visually explore your data. You can create a variety of chart types like line charts, bar charts, heat maps, pie charts, and more. Beyond just charts, you can add text panels, graphs, tables, and gauges to your dashboard. This allows you to design custom dashboards tailored to your specific needs.

Data Sources

Grafana supports dozens of data sources out of the box, including:

- Graphite
- Elasticsearch
- InfluxDB 
- Prometheus
- PostgreSQL
- Microsoft SQL Server
- AWS Cloudwatch

This means you can visualize metrics from all of your critical infrastructure like databases, application performance monitoring tools, and logs. Grafana handles the connection to these data sources and running the queries. You just have to focus on building the dashboard.

You can also install community built data source plugins to connect to additional backends. Or if you have a custom in-house metrics solution, Grafana makes it easy to build your own data source plugin. This extensibility makes integrating Grafana with your existing systems simple.


Alerting and notifications allow you to be proactively notified when certain metric thresholds are crossed. By adding alert rules directly in Grafana, you can specify alert conditions based on query results and metric thresholds.

When the alert condition is met, it will change state and trigger notifications. Notifications can be sent via Slack, PagerDuty, email, webhooks, or other systems. You can take automatic action when something goes wrong rather than having to continually watch dashboards.


Annotations overlay events directly on top of graphs so you can see the relationship between events and metric data. They are often used to mark deployments, changes, or incidents.

When you add an annotation, it shows up as a colored marker on all graphs within a dashboard. Mousing over the marker shows details about the annotation such as descriptions, links, or text. Grafana handles collecting and storing these events over time so annotations persist.


Template variables allow you to create reusable dashboard components that can be used with many data sources. You define the template variable with a name, options, and default value. It then becomes available as a variable to use in queries, titles, links, etc.

For example, you could have a template variable named “Region” with options for “us-east-1”, “us-west”, etc. Now you can build one dashboard and easily switch between regions simply by changing the template variable. No need to duplicate dashboards just to change one parameter.

User Management & Permissions

Grafana comes with fine-grained user permissions and roles. You can allow anonymous access, signed in access, or disable access completely. Granular organization permissions allow different teams access to their own dashboards and data sources.  

Dashboards can be tagged which enables additional access control capabilities. For example, you may tag dashboards by team, customer, or project which helps organize dashboards and restrict access. Folder based permissions provide additional ways to lock down dashboard access.

Extensibility & Plugins

One of Grafana’s standout features is extensibility. The plugin ecosystem allows you to customize and extend Grafana to meet your specific needs with a variety of plugin types:

-    Data Sources - Connect to additional backend data sources 
-    Panels - Visualize data differently with new panel types
-    App Plugins - Bring additional functionality with embedded web apps
-    Transformations - Manipulate query results before visualization

There are over 150 official and community built plugins available. Popular plugins include heatmap panels, histograms, svg image support, and more. You can browse available plugins directly within Grafana.


Without any plugins, Grafana includes support for different themes which allows you to customize the look and feel. Switch between light and dark themes instantly or create your own custom theme. Even the default Grafana theme is customizable with options to tweak colors, font sizes, borders, and more.

You can also focus customizations on specific dashboard elements like cards, dropdowns, forms, typeahead, tabs, tooltips, and pages. This way you can fine tune the UI with your brand styleguide. Any custom changes stay intact when upgrading Grafana to newer versions.

Open Source & Self-Managed

Grafana is open source software meaning you aren’t locked into proprietary technology or black box metrics. The project is permissively licensed under Apache 2.0. Anyone can inspect, modify, distribute, and enhance the Grafana software.

This has encouraged widespread community enhancement and feedback cycles not found in closed source projects. Being open source has accelerated Grafana’s rise to the most popular open source monitoring dashboard.

And since it is open source, you always have the option of downloading and directly running Grafana yourself. No need to route your sensitive monitoring data through a third party. You maintain full control over customizations, availability, backups, and upgrades when self-managed.

Hosted Grafana Options

While Grafana can be self-installed, there are some downsides of maintaining your own Grafana instance. Updating and patching requires additional work. Complex monitoring environments require significant engineering time to properly integrate and scale Grafana. 

Hosted Grafana options shift this operational burden to a team of Grafana specialists. With the software installed, optimized, secured, and maintained for you, your team is free to focus on building dashboards and gaining insights.

Popular hosted offerings include: 

-    Grafana Cloud - Fully managed Grafana-as-a-service solution created by Grafana Labs, the makers of Grafana
-    Grafana Enterprise - On-prem or cloud-hosted Grafana with additional enterprise data source plugins and support
-    AWS Managed Grafana - Grafana instance managed by Amazon Web Services

The choice between self-managed vs hosted Grafana depends on your use case, staff, and experience operating Grafana. Evaluate your requirements and expertise to determine which option is the best fit.

Getting Started

If you want to start using Grafana for your own metrics and monitoring, a few options to consider:

1. Sign up for Grafana Cloud - Fully hosted Grafana that lets you skip installing and maintaining infrastructure

2. Download and install Grafana locally -  Open source Grafana that you run yourself 

3. Start a free Grafana trial on AWS, Azure, or GCP - Evaluate Grafana without having to stand up servers

4. Launch demo or sandbox Grafana instances - Tinker in pre-built Grafana environments with test data

5. Take Grafana courses and tutorials - Learn how to use Grafana through online trainings and workshops
Grafana has an extensive getting started guide with step-by-step instructions tailored to your environment. Within minutes you can have sample dashboards up and running visualizing data from the built-in data sources.

Community Support

Grafana has fostered an active, engaged open source community. There are public Slack channels, forum discussions, meetup groups, conferences, blog posts, and feature requests.

It's easy to get quick answers to questions, share best practices, or influence the future of Grafana. The passionate community encourages contribution and creates a feedback loop with the Grafana developers. 

Anyone can shape Grafana's direction or scratch their own itch by submitting pull requests. Grafana Labs developers are responsive and do an excellent job providing transparency into upcoming changes.

The Future of Grafana

After 7 years of rapid innovation, Grafana's rise has shaped the expectations of monitoring tools. Slick interactive dashboards connected to vibrant data sources are now standard. The project shows no sign of slowing down as community and customers alike have come to rely on Grafana.

Here are some predictions for Grafana's future:

- Increased enterprise adoption with Grafana Enterprise enhancements
- Improved alerting workflows and visualization
- Tighter integrations between logs, traces, metrics tools  
- Streamlining dashboard building with UI enhancements 
- Expanding extensibility and customization
- Multi-cloud and cross environment support
- Enhanced access control and security compliance

Grafana helped pioneer monitoring dashboards and open source data visualization. As it continues to mature, Grafana has the potential to be the unified portal for observing all metrics, events, and logs. The future is bright for one of the most successful open source projects.