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Why Netdata is free

· 6 min read
Costa Tsaousis

When I first started the project that became the Netdata Agent, I was trying to solve a painful, real-world problem: IT infrastructure monitoring tools fell short when it came to providing complete, granular metrics in real time. Believe me, I had no shortage of tools to choose from, but each of them lacked something either in the ability to see every metric I needed, or see it at the frequency required. A bird’s-eye view was fine for getting an overall sense of how things were going, but kept sending me back to the command line for troubleshooting.

When I had Netdata in a workable state, I thought it might be worthwhile to share what I had created with the rest of the world, mostly because I was confident that if I had problems with monitoring tools, so must many other people. As a long-time open source advocate, I knew that giving something back to the larger community not only made sense, but was the right thing to do. So I released the first version of Netdata as free, open-source software under GPL v3, and the rest is history, so to speak.

Netdata experienced rapid, widespread adoption and quickly became the most-loved open source monitoring solution available. I was truly humbled by the warm reception that the project received both from users and hundreds of contributors. I knew that I wanted to do more to invest in Netdata and continue to grow the usefulness of the product. So I started the company behind the Netdata project to bring on some of the open source contributors and other developers to build the best single-node monitoring system available today for anyone, anywhere, for free.

For the most part, that vision has been realized. We are continuing to invest in developing what we now call the Netdata Agent by innovating with new features and technologies; for example, we continue to lead the pack when it comes to Linux kernel tracing with eBPF. Our themes for this quarter have been further investment into both eBPF and container monitoring, as well as investigating how to expand our commitment to interoperability with both a generic Prometheus OpenMetrics collector as well as possible support for OpenTelemetry.

However, we aren’t content to stop there. I firmly believe that we can also build the best monitoring and troubleshooting platform that spans entire infrastructures. Netdata Cloud, which is still in its infancy, is a new service that enables teams and individuals to manage their entire infrastructure from any browser. Unlike other monitoring tools, however, Netdata Cloud is built on our distributed data architecture, meaning that we can display metrics at the Netdata level—meaning, every metric, across every system and app, in real time, with no compromises.  We built Netdata Cloud to display metrics streamed from Netdata Agents without the need for centralizing metrics or storing log files. This means that we can make Netdata Cloud infinitely scalable with very little overhead for us and no limits for our users.

Because of these architectural differences, Netdata Cloud’s core features can be offered to users for free. We don’t want to put any barriers between people and their ability to get up and running with monitoring and troubleshooting easily and quickly. Furthermore, we understand that the functionality available today within Netdata Cloud is somewhat limited. It is important to us that we roll out features slowly and that we get them right. So we are in constant dialogue with our user community about what we do have available (which I don’t want to undersell; it’s pretty great), but also about how things can work better as well as what needs to be done next. We have a vision for what a complete Netdata Cloud looks like, and we are working nonstop to deliver on that. In a nutshell, we want to take what we created with the Netdata Agent and build on that to increase the utility of the tool for infrastructure-wide troubleshooting so that teams can collaborate and work in parallel to resolve incidents faster and learn more along the way.

Since we released Netdata Cloud, we’ve had more questions coming up in the community about how we make money since we are a venture-funded company, not a nonprofit organization or foundation. I’ll be clear: right now, we don’t make money. We aren’t selling anything and don’t plan to for the near term. The Netdata Agent is free, open-source software and always will be. Netdata Cloud is free, closed-source, software as a service. We do plan to add paid features to Netdata Cloud to better support large, enterprise customers who have specific requirements around control, auditability, retention, and tracing. However, we believe that we can continue to offer the core value of Netdata Cloud for free to the vast majority of users. In fact, all of our development efforts are focused right now on making the core, free offering as feature-complete as possible.

So back to the subject of money. One of the concerns that users have raised is the old adage that if you don’t have to buy the product, you’re the product (or your data is). This is not the case with Netdata. Our investors believe in our roadmap, strategy, and vision one-hundred percent. We are well-capitalized and in an excellent position to deliver on our commitments. On our path to revenue, there are many milestones for Netdata Cloud. None of them involve selling data. That is anathema to us and our community, and would never be part of our monetization strategy. In fact, Netdata Cloud relies on metadata streamed from Netdata Agents, keeping our users in direct control of their data. We do not store this data on behalf of our users at all, nor do we track and sell this data in any way.

My goal is that the features that are currently freely available in Netdata Cloud will always be available for free. We will clearly articulate what features or limitations will require payment as they are introduced. And, as always, we will introduce new offerings in dialogue with the Netdata community.

Thank you for your continued support of Netdata, and we welcome you to join us on our journey.