Big Data is Important… the Phrase “Big Data” Has Become Meaningless

This week an “industry leader” stood in front of a large IT conference and stated that “big data” is any data volume or data complexity that puts you out of your comfort zone. This is not helpful. It makes the definition of big data subjective and psychological. I can see the cartoon now:

Dilbert: I just loaded some new data…

Freud: How does that make you feel, Dilbert?

Industry leaders are trying to get companies to come to grips with the software, hardware, and staffing/expertise issues related to a new opportunity. The operative word is “new”.

Here is the Google Trend for the term “Big Data“:

Big Data is new… it is NOT any data that makes you feel queasy. People have been uncomfortable with data since computing began.

Big data is about the collection, storage, and analysis of the detailed data that new technology is generating.

The problem is that everyone wants to use the phrase to expound whatever thing they have to sell: every product by every vendor supports big data… and every “industry leader” with every talk needs to include the phrase in the title of their talk and repeat it as many times as possible. So every data warehouse pitch is rehashed as a big data pitch, every data governance, master data management, OLAP, data mining, everything is now big data.

Let’s stop. I Big Data for one, Big Data refuse to Big Data pander to the Big Data boost one gets from Big Data using the phrase to get Big Data attention.

I almost forgot… here is my best previous post on the topic…

The Big Data Bang

There is still an open question over whether, after the Big Bang, there is enough mass in the Universe to slow the expansion and cause the universe to contract. While the Big Data Bang continues to expand the universe of bits and bytes… I would like to ask whether some of these numbers are overstated? I know that the sum of the bits and bytes is expanding but I wonder if the universe of information is expanding as much as we claim?

Note that by “information” I mean a unique combination of bits and bytes representing some new information. In other words, if the same information is copied redundantly over and over does that count?

There is a significant growth industry in deduplication software that can backup data without copying redundant information. The savings from these products is astounding. NetApp claims 70% of the unstructured data may be redundant (see here). Data Domain says that eliminating (and compressing) redundant data reduces storage requirements by 10X-30X (see here).  What’s up with that?

In the data warehouse space it is just as bad. The same data lives in OLTP systems, ETL staging areas, Operational Data Stores, Enterprise Data Warehouses, Data Marts, and now Hadoop clusters. The same information is replicated in aggregate tables, indexes, materialized views, and cubes.  If you go into many shops you can find 50TB of EDW data exploded into 500TB of sandboxes for the data scientists to play with. Data is stored in snapshots on an hourly basis where less than 10% of the data changes from hour to hour. There is redundancy everywhere. There is redundancy everywhere. 🙂

I believe that there is a data explosion… and I believe that it is significant… but  there is also a sort of laziness about copying data.

Soon we will see in production the first systems where a single copy of OLTP and EDW and analytic data can reside in the same platform and be shared. It will be sort of shocking to see the Big Data Bang slow a little…

Cloud Computing and Data Warehousing: Part 4 – IMDB Data Warehouse in a Cloud

In the previous blogs on this topic (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) I suggested that:

  1. Shared-nothing is required for an EDW,
  2. An EDW is not usually under-utilized,
  3. There are difficulties in re-distributing sharded, shared-nothing data to provide elasticity, and
  4. A SAN cannot provide the same IO bandwidth per server as JBOD… nor hit the same price/performance targets.

Note that these issues are tied together. We might be able to spread the EDW workload over so many shards and so many SANs that the amount of I/O bandwidth per GB of EDW data is equal to or greater than that provided on a DW Appliance. This introduces other problems as there are typically overhead issues with a great many nodes. But it could work.

But what if we changed the architecture so that I/O was not the bottleneck? What if we built a cloud-based shared-nothing in-memory database (IMDB)? Now the data could live on SAN as it would only be read at start-up and written at shut-down… so the issues with the disk subsystem disappear… and issues around sharing the SAN disappear. Further, elasticity becomes feasible. With an IMDB we can add and delete nodes and re-distribute data without disk I/O… in fact it is likely that a column store IMDB could move column-compressed data without re-building rows. IMDB changes the game by removing the expense associated with disk I/O.

There is evidence emerging  that IMDB technology is going to change the playing field (see here).

Right now there are only a few IMDB products ready in the market:

  • TimeTen: which is not shared-nothing scalable, nor columnar, but could be the platform for a very small, 400GB or less (see here), cloud-based EDW;
  • SQLFire: which is semi-shared-nothing scalable (no joins across shards), not columnar, but could be the platform for a larger, maybe 5TB, specialized EDW;
  • ParAccel: which is shared-nothing scalable, columnar, but not fully an IMDB… but could be (see C. Monash here); or
  • SAP HANA: which is shared-nothing, IMDB, columnar and scalable to 100TB (see here).

So it is early… but soon enough we should see real EDWs in the cloud and likely on Amazon EC2, based on in-memory database technologies.

A Big Data Sound Bite…

Here is a sound bite on Big Data I composed for another source…

Big Data is relative. For some firms Big Data will be measured in petabytes and for other in hundreds of gigabytes. The point is that very detailed data provides the vital statistics that quantify the health of your business.

To store and access Big Data you need to build on a scalable platform that can grow. To process Big Data you need a fully scalable parallel computing environment.

With the necessary infrastructure in place the challenge becomes: how do you gauge your business and how do you change the decision-making processes to use the gauges?

More on Big Data… and on Big Data Analytics… and on a definition of a Big Data Store…

After a little more thinking I’m not sure that Big Data is a new thing… rather it is a trend that has “crossed the chasm” and moved into the mainstream. Call Detail records are Big Data and they are hardly new. In the note below I will suggest that, contrary to the long-standing Teradata creed, Big Data is not Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) data. It belongs in a new class of warehouse to be defined…

The phrase “Big Data” refers to a class of data that comes in large volumes and is not usually joined directly with your Enterprise Data Warehouse data… even if it is stored on the same platform. It is very detailed data that must be aggregated and summarized and analyzed to meaningfully fit into an EDW. It may sit adjacent to the EDW in a specialized platform tailored to large-scale data processing problems.

Big Data may be data structured in fields or columns, semi-structured data that is de-normalized and un-parsed, or unstructured data such as text, sound, photographs, or video.

The machinery that drives your enterprise, either software or hardware, is the source of big Data. It is operational data at the lowest level.

Your operations staff may require access to the detail, but at this granular level the data has a short shelf life… so it is often a requirement to provide near-real-time access to Big Data.

Because of the volume and low granularity of the data the business usually needs to use it in a summarized form. These summaries can be aggregates or they can be the result statistical summarization. These statistical summaries are the result of Big Data analytics. This is a key concept.

Before this data can be summarized it has to be collected… which requires the ability to load large volumes of data within business service levels. The Big Data requires data quality control at scale.

You may recognize these characteristics as EDW requirements; but where an EDW requires support for a heterogeneous environment with thousands of data subject areas and thousands and thousands of different queries that cut across the data in an ever-increasing number of paths, a Big Data store supports billions of homogeneous records in a single subject area with a finite number of specialized operations. This is the nature of an operational system.

In fact, a Big Data store is really an Operational Data Store (ODS)… with a twist. In order to evaluate changes over time the ODS must store a deep history of the details. The result is a Big Data Warehouse… or an Operational Big Data Store.

What is Big Data? No kidding this time…

I posted a little joke on this topic here… this time I’ll try to say some a little more substantive…

Big Data is the new, new, thing. The phrase is everywhere. A Google search on the exact words “Big Data” updated in the last year yields 39,300,000 results. The Wikipedia entry for Big Data suggests that big data is related to data volumes that are difficult to process. There is specific mention of data volumes that are beyond the ability to process easily with relational technology. Examples are typically listed of weblog data and sensor data.

I am not a fan of the if-its-so-big-its-difficult-to-handle line of thinking. This definition lets anyone and everyone claim to process Big Data. Even the Wikipedia article suggests that for small enterprises “Big Data” could be under a Terabyte.

Nor I am a fan of the anti-relational approach. I have seen Greenplum relational technology solve 7000TB weblog queries on a fraction of the hardware required by Big Data alternatives like Hadoop in a fraction of the processing time. If relational can handle 7PB+ then Big Data means web-scale size… 1000’s of petabytes and only Google-sized companies can contain it. Big Data seems smaller than that.

Maybe the answer lies in focusing on the “new” part? An Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) can be smallish or large… but there are new data subject areas in the Big Data examples that may not be appropriate for an EDW. Sensor data might not be usefully joined to more than a few dimensions from the EDW… so maybe it does not make sense to store it in the same infrastructure? The same goes for click-stream and syslog data… and maybe for call detail records and smart meter reads in telcos and utilities?

So Big Data is associated with new subject areas not conventionally stored in an EDW… big enough… and made up of atomic data such that there is little business value in placing it in the EDW. Big Data can stand alone… value derived from it may be added to the EDW. Deriving that value come from another new buzzword: Big Data Analytics… surely the topic of another note…