A different vision for the value of Big Data

UPDATE: Think we’re right? Think we’re wrong? Desperate to figure out a more elegant solution to self service BI on top of CouchDB, Hive, etc? Get in touch, and please let us know!

There’s a ton of swirling about Hadoop, Big Data, and NoSQL. In short, these systems have relaxed the relational model into schema(less/minimal) to do a few things:

  • Achieve massive scalability, resiliency and redundancy on commodity hardware for data processing
  • Allow for flexible evolution and disparity in content of data, at scale, over time
  • Process semi-structured data and algorithms on these (token frequencies, social graphs, etc)
  • Provide analytics and insights into customer behaviors using an exploding amount of data now available about customers (application reports, web logs, social networks, etc)

I won’t spend that much more time delving into the specifics of all the reasons that people are going so ape-sh*t over Big Data.

Big Data has a secret though:

It’s just a bunch of technology that propeller heads (I am one myself) sling code with that crunch data to get data into custom built reporting type applications. Unlike SQL databases, they’re NOT ACCESSIBLE to analysts, and reporting tools for easy report authoring and for businesses to quickly and easily write reports.

Until businesses get to ACTUALLY USE Big Data systems (and not via proxy built IT applications) it’s value to the business will be minimal. When businesses get to use Big Data systems directly; there will be dramatic benefit to the business in terms of timeliness, decision making, and insights.

And don’t get me wrong, there’s HUGE value in what these systems can do for APPLICATION developers. Sure sure sure. There’s Hive, and Pig, and all these other pieces but here’s the deal: Not a single set of technology has assembled, from start the finish, the single system needed to quickly and easily build reports on top of these Big Data systems.

It’s starting to get real confusing since vendors see Hadoop/Big Data exactly how they want you to see it:

  • If you’re a BI vendor, it’s a new datasource that people can write apps and stream data into your reports.
  • If you’re an ETL vendor, it’s a new datasource and you’ll simply make it practical.
  • If you’re an EII vendor, it’s a new target for federating queries.
  • If you’re an analytic DB vendor, it’s an extension point to do semi-structured or massive log processing.

We have a different vision for doing BI on Big Data; it’s different than the “our product now works with Big Data too” you’ve been told from other vendors:

  • Metadata matters: Build a single location/catalog for it!
    Where did this report on my dashboard actually come from? When I see this thing called “Average Bid Amount” on my report, which fields back in my NoSQL datastore was that calculated from? Why bother with a separate OLAP modeling tool when you already know your aggregation methods and data types. Current solutions where “it’s just another source” of data that shove summarized Big Data into MySQL databases for reporting miss a huge opportunity for data lineage, management, and understanding.
  • Summary levels require different “types” of data storage and access
    The total number of events can be represented and aggregated to many many different levels of aggregation. Some, very highly summarized figures (such as daily event counts) should be kept in memory and accessible extremely fast for dashboards. Relatively summarized figures (10s of thousands) should be kept in a database. Datamarts (star schemas) that represent some first or second level of aggregation (100m rows) should be kept in a fast column store database. The detail transaction data, and its core processing technologies (M/R, graph analytics, etc) are in the Big Data system. Current solutions provide only tools for data slinging between these levels of aggregation; none provide the ability to access and manage them in a single system.
  • Inexpensive BI tools allow for cheaper, quicker and better analytic solution development
    The “Business Intelligence” industry has been driving the application developer out of the required chain of events for building dashboards/analytic for years. In short, BI is a huge win for companies because it’s cheaper, helps get insights faster, and ultimately allows analysts to be somewhat self sufficient to do their job. Big Data has taken the industry back 10-15 years by making not just complicated reports but literally EVERY report be built by a developer! Current solutions allow for direct connect in reports to Big Data systems but you still have to write programs to access the data. Other solutions simply pull data out of Big Data systems and shove it at MySQL because of this exact reason!
  • SQL is familiar, well known, and matches with the “easy” data analytics
    How easy is it to find and hire someone who can write SQL and build reports (in Crystal/Pentaho/Actuate/etc)? There are literally millions of people that can know SQL. Like it? Who knows. Know it, can use it? MILLIONS! How about hiring someone to build reports who knows the ins and outs of cluster management in Hadoop, knows how to write multi step programs and write application code to push that data into visualization components in the application? 10s of thousands, maybe. And 70% of them right now are in Silicon Valley. Trust me; these skills won’t spread outside of Silicon Valley in great numbers (or at least quickly).
  • Reporting Only data matters! Make it easy to access/integrate
    Simple reporting rollups (say categories of products/web pages, etc) have no place being “pushed” into the Big Data system. Having a system that is doing BI on top of Big Data needs a way to easily, in a metadata driven fashion, match up the Big Data with other reporting only data. Current solutions require complex ETL development and assemble it as part of that stream of data to shove at a MySQL database.
  • Hot or Cold reporting, let the user choose via SQL
    For dashboards the user is almost certainly willing to use the previous load (last hours) data instead of waiting 17minutes to run in the Big Data system. For Ad Hoc analysis reports need to be speed of thought; big data systems can do OK here, but on smaller datasets the best choice is a columnar, high performance BI database (ahem!). For small summaries, or consistently accessed datasets it should be stored in memory. Current solutions require someone building reports to KNOW where the data that they want is, and then connect to an entirely different system (with different query languages such as MDX, SQL, and M/R) to build a report.

We’re building a system, with LucidDB at the center, that is the most complete solution for doing real, day to day, full featured (adhoc, metadata, etc), inexpensive analytics on top of Big Data. Ok, Yawn to that. Since Hadoop and Big Data is hype-du-jour I don’t expect you to believe my bold statements. We’re releasing LucidDB 0.9.4 in the coming weeks, and this core database release will be the infrastructure for the new UI, extensions, and pieces of our solution.

In short DynamoBI’s Big Data solution provides:

  • Ability to use inexpensive, commodity BI tools on top of Big Data directly and cached (Pentaho, BIRT, etc). Connect with your existing BI/DW system (via JDBC/ODBC).
  • Ability to connect, and make accessible via SQL Big Data systems (currently Hive/HDFS, CouchDB)
  • Easily define and schedule incremental updates of local, fast column store caches of data from Big Data systems for Ad Hoc analysis
  • Ability to quickly link and include data from other places (Flat File, JDBC, Salesforce, Freebase, etc) with Big Data
  • Define aggregations, rollups, and reporting metadata (hierarchies, aggregations, etc)
  • Drag and drop reports (via Saiku, Pentaho Analyzer, BIRT)
  • Easy, RESTful interaction with the server so our solution fits nicely with your existing systems.

Looking forward to blogging more about it in the coming weeks; if you’re sick and tired of hacking together and spending tons of developer time on building reports on top of Big Data systems please get in touch with us.

4 thoughts on “A different vision for the value of Big Data

  1. Pingback: SQL access to CouchDB views | Goodman on BI

  2. unholyguy

    *Metadata matters: Build a single location/catalog for it!

    It’s called HCatalog

    *Summary levels require different “types” of data storage and access

    *Inexpensive BI tools allow for cheaper, quicker and better analytic solution development

    It’s called Datameer or BigSheets

    *SQL is familiar, well known, and matches with the “easy” data analytics

    It’s called HIVE

    Agree on the last two points

    It’s called HBASE

  3. Nicholas Goodman Post author

    Thanks for commenting, unholyguy and pointing out the above projects. This might surprise you (given your state the obvious comment) but I actually know about the projects you mention… I’ve just determined they’re a solution to a world in which Hadoop is the only thing at the center. That’s not the world our customers live in now, and we’re betting that Big Data systems won’t be the CENTER of the world, just a part of it.

    There’s a lot of great, developer centric tools (like you mention) that are fantastic for developers who are trying to build analytic applications (ie, agg in Hive, push into Hbase, write a custom app to display).

    Not what we’re trying to do: We’re talking about how to make Big Data accessible to not just one BI tool (datameer) but all of them (Cognos, Crystal, BIRT, Jasper, …). After all, choice is good!

    Is datameer or bigsheets open source? I didn’t think either were but I don’t know.

    PS – Calling HiveQL SQL does take some liberty… 😛

  4. Pingback: Splunk is NoSQL-eee and queryable via SQL | Goodman on BI

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