Introduction to Grafana

Grafana is a beautiful dashboard for displaying various Graphite metrics through a web browser.  Grafana is nice because it is simple to set up and maintain and is easy to use and displays metrics in a very nice Kibana like display style.  I would like to walk readers through the basics of this tool because although it is a very new project (beginning of 2014) it has an enormous amount of potential and I honestly believe that there is enough functionality to put it into production.

The guys over at Hosted Graphite have just recently released hosted Grafana as part of their standard plan.  If you are interested you can check it out over at Hosted Graphite.

One very nice feature of this product offering is that you do not need to worry about any of the behind the scenes details or intricacies of how all of the Graphite components work together.  You just click a few buttons and you are ready to go.  Highly recommended if you just need something that works, go check it out.

Anyway, Grafana gives you the ability to bolt on all kinds of bells and whistles to your graphs.  For example, there is a nice little node.js tool called statsd written by the guys over at etsy that sort of expands the capabilities of Graphite.  And since it hooks right in with Graphite, it makes it very simple to represent and output the various metrics into Grafana.

If you do choose to roll your own Grafana solution, there are a few gotchas that I was not aware of that I’d like to cover.  The first, which should seem easy enough is that you need to run but Graphite and Grafana simultaneously.  So that means you either need to create two virtual hosts depending on which web server you choose to use or you need to to create to different port bindings.  The Grafana documentation has a few examples of how to create new port binding, which uses Apache as the web server but it is pretty easy to find examples of configs on Github and other sites if you are interested in using nginx as your web server instead.  The important thing to remember is that you will want to have two sites listed in your sites-enabled directory inside of the apache directory.  One for Graphite (which I moved to port 8080 for simplicity) and one for Grafana (which I stuck on port 80).

If you choose to use authentication there are a few extra headers that need to be written as well so that Grafana is accessible correclty.  This is easy to add to either your nginx or you apache config.

Here is the adapted Apache configuration necessary to add in authentication, where website name is the globally reachable DNS name of your webserver:

Header set Access-Control-Allow-Origin "http://WEBSITENAME"
Header set Access-Control-Allow-Methods "GET, OPTIONS"
Header set Access-Control-Allow-Headers "origin, authorization, accept"
Header set Access-Control-Allow-Credentials true

<Location />
  AuthName "graphs restricted"
  AuthType Basic
  AuthUserFile /etc/apache2/htpasswd
  <LimitExcept OPTIONS>
    require valid-user

That is almost the entire configuration that I have for the Grafana webserver.  You will need to download and install an Apache lib tool to generate a hash to use for you AuthUserFile, directions can be pieced together from this.  The Graphite configuration is only a little bit more complex and was created by Chef, so I will go ahead and post that here as well:

<VirtualHost *:8080>
  ServerName SERVER
  ServerAdmin [email protected]
  DocumentRoot "/opt/graphite/webapp"
  ErrorLog /opt/graphite/storage/log/webapp/error.log
  CustomLog /opt/graphite/storage/log/webapp/access.log common

  Header set Access-Control-Allow-Origin "*"
  Header set Access-Control-Allow-Methods "GET, OPTIONS"
  Header set Access-Control-Allow-Headers "origin, authorization, accept"

  WSGIScriptAlias / /opt/graphite/conf/

  <Directory /opt/graphite>
    Require all granted

  <Location "/content/">
    SetHandler None

  <Location "/media/">
    SetHandler None

 # NOTE: In order for the django admin site media to work you
 # must change @DJANGO_ROOT@ to be the path to your django
 # installation, which is probably something like:
 # /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/django
 Alias /media/ "@DJANGO_ROOT@/contrib/admin/media/"


Again pretty straight forward.  If you choose to add authentication, it is done in a similar way.

The only other step is to add your metrics into Graphite.  I am using Sensu, which I have written a bit about and plan to write more about in the future.  Reference some of those writings to get an idea for metric gather and if you have any question let me know.  I will be writing a post in the near future about gathering and aggregating metrics with Sensu.  For now I will just assume that you already have a way to collect metrics.

Once you have everything set up you should be able to start playing around with the Grafana GUI.  After you have your configurations ironed out pretty much everything else is done through the GUI which is nice.

To illustrate the power of Grafana, here are a few example dashboards I have built recently:

grafana dashboard graph
Memory Used
grafana dashboard graph
CPU usage
grafana dashboard graph
Disk space used

If you want to check out the Grafana project you can find more information either on their Github page or their website.  The docs page on the main website is a great resource as well as the IRC channel.  In fact, the IRC channel is probably the most preferable place to go for help because it isn’t overcrowded and the creator of Grafana is in there quite a bit.

Josh Reichardt

Josh is the creator of this blog, a system administrator and a contributor to other technology communities such as /r/sysadmin and Ops School. You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.