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May 21, 2021

Meet Raj Dutt, A 2021 Datanami Person to Watch

When it comes to visualizing observability data, including metrics, logs, and traces, it’s hard to avoid Grafana, which has become one of the most popular open source projects in the big data space.  We recently caught up with Raj Dutt, the CEO of Grafana Labs and a 2021 Datanami Person to Watch.

Datanami: Grafana seems to have come out of nowhere in recent years — or at least to have emerged from Elastic’s shadow. What do you attribute that higher market visibility to?

Raj Dutt: I don’t think about Elastic as casting a shadow, but quite the opposite: They’ve cast a lot of light into this space and open source. Tens of thousands of companies are using Grafana as their operational front-end and many rely on us for their back-end observability and monitoring needs too. I think with so many different vendors, Grafana is this key piece that brings together that chaos. Organizations are clearly saying that they own their own observability strategy vs. locking into a single platform for everything. Grafana gives them the freedom to “compose” their visualizations; for example, they may be looking at logs from Elasticsearch, Splunk and Loki, along with service tickets from ServiceNow in a single dashboard — which can be IT, operations or business.

Datanami: People are building dashboards to monitor everything these days, from servers to beehives. What is the underlying factor driving this activity?

Dutt: The journey was an amazing surprise for us. What started out as decoupling the dashboard from the underlying database for time series insights ended up exploding through community adoption. People had all these ideas of what they could now do with the freedom to use the data sources of their choice. It might sound cheesy, but IoT means that everything, from your Kubernetes clusters to someone’s Tesla and their toaster oven, is emitting information and events, and if you watch posts and comments on Twitter or Reddit about Grafana, you’ll find new examples nearly every day.

Datanami: Grafana is a product of the open source community, but the nature of open source seems to be changing. In some ways, it’s becoming less open. What is Grafana’s plan to navigate these changes?

Dutt: Grafana has an interesting story. Originally it was a fork of a popular open source tool called Kibana, which was eventually brought into Elastic and is the visualization piece of the ELK stack. Kibana was built to only show data from Elasticsearch, and it wasn’t at all optimized for time series data. Today, Grafana and Kibana share almost no code, and the “community” was really about two people early on: Rashid Khan, who created Kibana and wrote most of the code, and Torkel Ödegaard, who forked Kibana to create Grafana. Flash forward to today, and there is a vibrant community that pushes us consistently to make a better product and right now, we are heavily focused on delivering on very aggressive roadmaps… and continue to be quite open about them.

Datanami: Outside of the professional sphere, what can you share about yourself that your colleagues might be surprised to learn – any unique hobbies or stories?

Dutt: Aviation has been a big interest of mine for a really long time, and I actually got my private pilot’s license when I was in college. I even moonlighted as a cargo pilot in the early days of my first startup! Sadly, I’ve been grounded.

Dutt is one of 12 Datanami People to Watch for 2021. You can read the interviews with the other honorees at this link.