On building real-time applications. Q&A with Tim Hall

1. You just announced InfluxDB’s enhancements to “enable developers building real-time applications quickly and to scale”. What are these new enhancements?

Our goal with these enhancements is to make writing code faster and easier for developers.  To that end, we’ve added new capabilities to the platform, which lets developers put together all the pieces for a great time series app – all within their browser. Essentially, we are building a developer workbench to explore data, perform analysis, visualize and more. Developers can then turn these things into “finished goods” such as scheduled tasks or dashboard cells. But, for developers who are building applications, we can also generate the code into one of over a dozen supported languages and include the associated Flux script they’ve just created. This makes it as easy as possible for developers to leverage their exploration within the platform and take that along with them to build time series applications. For those developers using Visual Studio Code as their IDE, the Flux extension for Visual Studio Code that we’ve created streamlines the process of writing Flux scripts with auto-complete and syntax checking and allows them to continue iterating and testing within the IDE. 

As far as features go, we’re providing developers with new ways to better organize and manage their data. Take the Explicit Schema Option, for example. While InfluxDB has always been a schema-less database, this new option allows developers to limit data at the ingestion point based on the defined schema. This can help reduce the signal-to-noise ratio of data and streamline the processing and analysis of that data. For some use cases, enforcing this higher degree of control outweighs the value of the schema-less option. So, now for those developers who need this level of control, it is available for them in InfluxDB Cloud.

We’ve also launched API Invocable Scripts, which let developers define parameterized Flux scripts that they can invoke in their applications. This can make applications simpler to develop, reducing the amount of code that needs to be distributed by centralizing common queries in a way that can be quickly referenced and reused. We’ve also built more capabilities into Flux itself. Now developers have more baked-in alerting options and time zone support, which can be critical when working with time series data.

2. A big focus of the announcement is “meeting developers where they are.” What do you mean by this? 

What we mean by this is we understand that not all developers use the same infrastructure, tools, programming languages or development procedures. Some are building applications in the cloud, some on-premises – and more and more we’re seeing developers doing both. Some developers simply want to perform time series analysis through specific dashboarding and alerting mechanisms that are provided within the platform and others have their own dashboarding tools and alerting sub-systems that they wish to leverage. So a critical part of our innovation strategy is to facilitate as many options as possible to make the experience of building applications and answering specific time series challenges as easy as possible. Whether it’s a custom application or a dashboard-driven solution, these are all fundamentally powered by the underlying time series data, so our focus is to make the experience for developers to reach their ultimate destination faster and more efficient for all of these use cases. It’s something that lies at the center of our innovation strategy – we’re working toward this every day. 

3. InfluxData continues to push out innovations focused on the developer experience. What new enhancements are you most excited about? 

This is a hard one to answer because it feels like you are asking me which of my children is my favorite. We are getting some great feedback and engagement from developers about the platform and how we can help make their experience of building on the platform easier.  So, the work we are doing to expand the developer workbench to support notebooks, tasks, alerts and API invocable scripts is pretty exciting. It provides a central focus and experience within the browser. But, in parallel, I am also super excited about the advancements that we’ve made through the Flux Extension to VS Code. We have so many developers building impactful applications leveraging their time series data, and anything we can do to speed the process of application building will fuel more of these incredible solutions.

4. What kinds of real-time applications can be built by using time series data?

The short answer is you can build any application that tracks change over time. We have many customers using time series data for real-time applications. Some are applications you would expect to see such as DevOps monitoring. But there are use cases in every industry: healthcare, transportation, aerospace, telecommunications, energy and manufacturing, to name a few. And these are companies of every size – early-stage startups to Fortune 500 enterprises. 

From agri- and aqua-culture to power generation to bike-sharing to supporting ferry operators on Sydney harbor, the kinds of applications feel endless. Allscripts uses InfluxDB to help healthcare organizations deliver better patient care. Hulu is using InfluxDB to achieve 100 percent uptime, while Zoom uses us to maintain the reliability of video conferencing while its business soared during the pandemic. I’m even using ​​InfluxDB to monitor my son’s gaming computer to ensure his homework is being done (I noticed he was playing a lot of video games at the start of the pandemic and used InfluxDB to monitor his usage and alert me if he was firing up a game during school hours!). Some of our developers are using our technology for homebrewing and barbequing. Another user is monitoring an aquarium to study algae and coral growth based on climate data.

5. What is the business value of the new features you’re announcing? 

At InfluxData, we strive toward two things: 

  1. Meet developers where they are – in their language of choice, using their preferred tools, running on their preferred cloud platform so they can build apps faster.
  2. Optimize for Time to Awesome – meaning the sooner developers can get up and running with InfluxDB, the sooner they can move on to other aspects of building and delivering their applications. 

We know how much work developers have on their plates. The faster they can finish a project, the sooner they can move on to the next development cycle. So the more efficient an entire development team is, the more code gets shipped, which means companies have more to offer their customers. The ability to deliver quickly impacts the entire business ecosystem, from the individual, to the team, to the company, to the customer. Every update and feature we’re announcing is aimed at improving this entire ecosystem.

6. The Vera C. Rubin Observatory uses InfluxDB for its mission-critical applications. What do they use InfluxDB for?

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is doing some really cool work with us. They’re working on measuring the properties of 37 billion stars and galaxies. 

One of their goals is to show changes in the sky over time and to create the first motion picture of the universe. Obviously, they collect a lot of data, and they’ve estimated that the whole project will be ~500PB. They use the metrics collected by their telescope to produce alerts for stars, planets, solar system objects, asteroids, galaxies, and other objects that change position or brightness every 60 seconds. So they use InfluxDB to handle all that time series data. They also use it to monitor changes to their internal systems and to make sure that all the work they do falls within the appropriate specifications. 

7. What is on the horizon for InfluxDB and InfluxDB Cloud? What did developers learn at your InfluxDays event this week? 

There’s a lot going on with InfluxDays. We had a great lineup of presenters talking about the innovative ways they’re using InfluxDB. Our leadership team also spoke about all the new tools and features we’re rolling out and previewed some of the items on our 2022 roadmap. We also hosted a Telegraf training session, and many of our InfluxDB experts were on-hand to talk to participants about all things InfluxDB. This year’s Influxdays North America was all-virtual, so all the recordings will be available starting November 5. So for those that weren’t able to attend live, they’ll still be able to check out all the great presentations on demand.

8. Anything else you wish to add?

The big takeaway is we’re really excited about what we’re building at InfluxData. We pride ourselves on the fact that InfluxDB is a platform by developers, for developers. We’re very invested in this commitment, and we feel strongly that these new tools and features reflect that.

More broadly, it’s tough to find a technical problem these days that can’t be solved using time series data. We’re seeing more companies – from startups to Fortune 500 enterprises – realize it too. That’s a big motivator for us – to make time series data as easy to work with as possible. We believe that meeting developers on their terms, lowering the barrier to entry with time series data, and enabling them to use InfluxDB with the languages they already know are key pieces to that puzzle. We’re going to continue to be a developer-friendly company and to embrace our developer community and the transformative time series applications they build with InfluxDB.


Tim Hall is the Vice President of Products at InfluxData. Prior to joining InfluxData, Tim was VP of Product Management at Hortonworks where he was responsible for leading the product management, documentation, and user experience design teams. Previously, Tim held management-level positions at Oracle, HP, Talking Blocks, and Xpedior. Tim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Claremont McKenna College in Science and Management with a concentration in Physics.

Sponsored by InfluxData.

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