Why I Joined InfluxData, and Why I’m Still Here – Four Years Later

Time Series Database.

That term resonated somewhere deep in the structures of my mind, as it jumped off the screen while semi-consciously thumbing through the usual stream of drivel in my LinkedIn feed.

Time Series Database? Ah yes, it was somewhere around Y2k at iPass, a global network access provider, which consumed me for more than a decade, and where I first encountered Evan Kaplan, now CEO of InfluxData, the company that created InfluxDB, a time series database.

Suddenly being transported into the past the fog began to clear bit by byte, and I recalled the technology du jour in those days — if you couldn’t afford HP OpenView and were brave enough to experiment with open source — was MRTG (multi-router traffic grapher) and RRDTool (round robin database tool).

At the time, we (iPass) were rolling out a global deployment of data centers with racks of network gear and Unix servers and needed to construct a network operations center rather quickly and efficiently to do the needful work of monitoring.

RRDTool stored time series data such as network bandwidth or CPU load, and MRTG was an open-source graphing tool that provided visualizations and integrated nicely with RRDTool (same developer, thanks Tobi!).

Back then – now more than 20 years ago, these solutions worked nicely for the relatively simple use cases we had, such as determining how many users were on our network at any given point in time.

For many years after that, I would karmically be directly or indirectly involved with time series data. Whether that meant building and using services that incorporated the collection and analysis of time series data, architecting a cloud security management platform built around a time series database, consulting at a fraud monitoring company that generated mathematical models of user behavior derived from time series data, and even receiving a patent along with my InfluxData colleague Darin Fisher for co-designing a global network supply chain monitoring system that performed analysis from multiple time series data input streams.

Time series databases are a logical evolution of the original database abstraction – from the flat, two-dimensional, relational model that represents entities and relationships, to a multi-dimensional model that represents the incremental state changes of each entity over time, specifically the successive moment-to-moment samples of various attributes describing the entity.

A monitoring solution that lacks a time series platform at its core should be considered deficient. While the relational model is useful in defining the ontology or static description of the assets comprising a system, the time series dimensional model is necessary to reflect the continuum of change of each of those assets.

If you consider time as the 4th dimension, we’re talking about a four-dimensional database containing a digital abstraction of change. And that’s cool! The reality is, every object, asset, or entity represented in a relational database is continuously changing with respect to time, which in a sense renders the relational model out-of-date the moment after it is constructed in terms of its ability to provide an accurate representation of current state. Time is the primary manifestation of change. Who said that? And it turns out, an infinity of applications and real-world use cases suddenly arise when regarding time series data.

Not to mention the mystical coolness of a time series database – the mindstream of Buddhism:

The moment-by-moment continuum of mental thoughts, impressions, and occurrences. It is the stream of successive moments of awareness, or movement of the mind.

Clearly the mind was designed with a time series database. Intriguing.

So, we return to that LinkedIn feed, when, now more than seven years ago, Evan updated his LinkedIn status saying that he was joining InfluxData as CEO, the company responsible for the InfluxDB time series database, that ring of resonance reverberated within me. We kept in touch over the years after our storied journey together at iPass – an experience that seemed tumultuous at the time, but was also magical and formative for me, and I remain grateful to this day for the doors that Evan opened for me.

Eventually, an opportunity to join InfluxData as its CISO materialized. I just couldn’t help but think of the potential future trajectory of a company that offered a novel, robust, and scalable enterprise-class time series database. Given the state of technological complexity in the world, there’s a need to manage it. For example, the internet of things, where every device needs to be properly accounted for, including all those robots which continue to self-propagate.

It’s also exciting to consider the possibilities for the security industry. A time series database might be instrumental in cloud security breach detection, like how the finance industry models time series data to detect fraudulent financial transactions.

But beyond the coolness of the technology is the quality of the people at InfluxData, starting with its co-founder and CTO, Paul Dix. Not only does Paul walk-the-walk by being actively involved in the technology stewardship of the company, but he has cool shoes too, something I distinctly noticed during my initial visits to the company. And his leadership couldn’t be more evident than the present, as InfluxData announces the launch of its third-generation time series database platform, code named IOx – a project which Paul personally shepherded to completion.

Smart people attract smart people. So as a CISO it was extremely important (and quite a relief!) to know that InfluxData has a very strong and competent engineering team with a deep bench of smart people, who can understand security natively and are both responsive and adaptive to it. The engineering team here continues to humble and astound me on a regular basis.

Obviously the past four years have not been without its trials and tribulations. Shortly after joining the company, the global pandemic arrived and like many other companies, we closed our offices and began the difficult transition to becoming a fully remote workforce without disrupting the business. Only to be followed by a wave of economic uncertainties which, like many technology companies, resulted in organizational changes and lost comrades.

Yet, just like the stability and resiliency you’d expect from a great database, the company and the people have shown great resilience in surfing these waves as they continue to operate and build the next generation of its technology. And like climbing a mountain, every now and then we may need to take a few steps down, traverse over to a new start point, and then resume our ascent. One thing I know about Evan is that he knows how to climb mountains.

Every reason I joined InfluxData in the first place is still evident today. The company continues to maintain its industry-leading technology, appears to have infinite markets to serve, possesses a creative and driven leadership team, and hosts a collective of smart people across the business who are easy and fun to work with. It’s no wonder why I am still here nearly four years later.