Improving Spark Auto-Scaling On ElasticMapReduce

Udit Mehrotra explains some of the ways Amazon ElasticMapReduce reduces the pain of node loss in Spark jobs:

The Automatic Scaling feature in Amazon EMR lets customers dynamically scale clusters in and out, based on cluster usage or other job-related metrics. These features help you use resources efficiently, but they can also cause EC2 instances to shut down in the middle of a running job. This could result in the loss of computation and data, which can affect the stability of the job or result in duplicate work through recomputing.

To gracefully shut down nodes without affecting running jobs, Amazon EMR uses Apache Hadoop‘s decommissioning mechanism, which the Amazon EMR team developed and contributed back to the community. This works well for most Hadoop workloads, but not so much for Apache Spark. Spark currently faces various shortcomings while dealing with node loss. This can cause jobs to get stuck trying to recover and recompute lost tasks and data, and in some cases eventually crashing the job. 

Auto-scaling doesn’t always mean scaling up.

SparkSession and its Component Contexts

The folks at Hadoop in Real World explain the difference between SparkSession, SparkContext, SQLContext, and HiveContext:

SQLContext is your gateway to SparkSQL. Here is how you create a SQLContext using the SparkContext.
// sc is an existing SparkContext.
val sqlContext = new org.apache.spark.sql.SQLContext(sc)

Once you have the SQLContext you can start working with DataFrame, DataSet etc.

Knowing the right entry point is important.

Making Near-Zero Downtime Deployments Easier

I continue my series on developing for near-zero downtime deployments:

By default, SQL Server uses pessimistic locking, meaning that readers can block writers, writers can block readers, and writers can block writers. In most circumstances, you can switch from Read Committed to Read Committed Snapshot Isolation and gain several benefits. RCSI has certainly been in the product long enough to vet the code and Oracle has defaulted to an optimistic concurrency level for as long as I can remember.

The downtime-reducing benefit to using RCSI is that if you have big operations which write to tables, your inserts, updates, and deletes won’t affect end users. End users will see the old data until your transactions commit, so your updates will not block readers. You can still block writers, so you will want to batch your operations—that is, open a transaction, perform a relatively small operation, and commit that transaction. I will go into batching in some detail in a later post in the series, so my intent here is just to prime you for it and emphasize that Read Committed Snapshot Isolation is great.

Now that I have the core concepts taken care of, the next posts in the series move into practical implementation examples with a lot of code.

Spark RDDs and DataFrames

Ayush Hooda explains the difference between RDDs and DataFrames:

Spark SQL is a Spark module for structured data processing. Unlike the basic Spark RDD API, the interfaces provided by Spark SQL provide Spark with more information about the structure of both the data and the computation being performed. Internally, Spark SQL uses this extra information to perform extra optimizations.

One use of Spark SQL is to execute SQL queries. When running SQL from within another programming language the results will be returned as a Dataset/DataFrame.

Before exploring these APIs, let’s understand the need for these APIs.

I like the piece about RDDs being better at explaining the how than the what.

Searching Complex JSON With SQL Server

Kevin Feasel



Bert Wagner gives us a way that you can quickly search through complicated JSON:

Computed column indexes make querying JSON data fast and efficient, especially when the schema of the JSON data is the same throughout a table.

It’s also possible to break out a well-known complex JSON structure into multiple SQL Server tables.

However, what happens if you have different JSON structures being stored in each row of your database and you want to write efficient search queries against all of the rows of your complex JSON strings?

Bert’s solution is an example of a phenomenon I’ve noticed in relational databases: sometimes, the best solution is not the most straightforward. The most straightforward solution is to take the JSON as-is, but that hits a wall as Bert shows. Reshaping the data leads to much better performance…as long as you’re able to afford the time needed to reshape and don’t have JSON changing that frequently.

Postgres Tooling: Rant and Recommendations

Kevin Feasel



Ryan Booz is not pleased with the current state of tooling for Postgres:

/* Begin Brief Soapbox*/
Honestly, this is by far one of my biggest grips about Open Source software now that I’m older, busier, and don’t want to spin my wheels trying to make something simple work. When the tools make it hard to dig in and work effectively with the database, most developers and shops will default to code-first/ORM only development. In nearly 20 years of software development and leading multiple teams, I’m still surprised how little most developers really care about effectively using a database of any kind. During most interviews only about 30% of applicants can ever answer a few basic SQL questions. And now I think I’m starting to understand why. Most of them have been relegated to an Open Source world with Open Source tooling when it comes to SQL. Yes, it’s cheap and allows projects to spin up quickly, but once those students get past their little pizza ordering app from CompSci 402, they’ll be lost in the real world.
/* End Brief Soapbox */

I completely agree with the tooling point. Having worked with Postgres and MySQL a little bit makes me appreciate Management Studio (for all its flaws) all the more. If you want Azure Data Studio to support Postgres, there’s a GitHub issue that you can vote up.

Group Managed Service Accounts

Jamie Wick explains Group Managed Service Accounts and uses Powershell to create them for use on a new SQL Server instance:

Service Accounts are a requirement for installing and running a SQL Server. For many years Microsoft has recommended that each SQL Server service be run as a separate low-rights Windows account. Where possible, the current recommendation is to use Managed Service Accounts (MSA) or Group Managed Service Accounts (gMSA
). Both account types are ones where the account password is managed by the Domain Controller. The primary difference being that MSA are used for standalone SQL instances, whereas clustered SQL instances require gMSA. In this post, we’re going to use PowerShell to create Group Managed Service Accounts, and then deploy them for use on multiple SQL servers that will be hosting an Availability Group.

Click through for more explanation as well as several scripts showing how to create and use them.

Performance Testing Scalar UDF Improvements

Wayne Sheffield tests out the scalar UDF performance improvements in SQL Server 2019:

This blog post will examine changes to the query plan and performance when Scalar UDF Inlining is occurring.

I have previously blogged about function performance – here and here. For a quick recap, the performance test ranks these function in duration. The order of the types of functions by duration is Inline TVF, Scalar UDF, and then finally a Multi-Statement TVF (MSTVF) – and the MSTVF is way behind the other two types of functions.

I’m using a Linux (Ubuntu) VM with SQL Server 2019 to perform these comparison performance tests. I use one database in the SQL 2019 compatibility level, and another one in the SQL 2017 compatibility level. I’m using the same performance test used in the previous blog posts.

Wayne finds a definite performance improvement, but not enough in my mind to start creating a bunch of these.

Learning More About Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2

Melissa Coates shares a compendium of links pertaining to Azure Data Lake Storage Generation 2:

A couple of people have asked me recently about how to ‘bone up’ on the new data lake service in Azure. The way I see it, there are two aspects: A, the technology itself and B, data lake principles and architectural best practices. Below are some links to resources that you should find helpful.

There’s a lot of good stuff there.


Solomon Rutzky strives to solve the question, “What is the UNCOMPRESS function anyhow?”:

With no clear indications of what the UNCOMPRESS function does, we can at least pass in some simple values to see what comes back, and see if we can make sense of the output. For the following tests, please keep in mind that “8-bit” refers to the VARCHARCHAR, and TEXT (deprecated) datatypes. And, “16-bit” refers to the NVARCHARNCHARNTEXT (deprecated),and XML datatypes.

Read on as Solomon figures out what it does and how non-useful it is for anybody nowadays.


February 2019
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