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More ETL Antipatterns

Tim Mitchell continues a series on ETL anti-patterns. First up is lazy metadata:

Metadata management in ETL processes can be challenging. When exchanging data between systems and across different mediums (unstructured data, flat files, XML, or relational data), the definition of data types can get blurry. Some sources – including unstructured data and flat files – have little if any metadata configuration. On the other end of the spectrum is relational (RDBMS) data, which strictly defines data types and constraints.

Because of the challenges of this exchange process, many developers opt for an approach that I refer to as lazy metadata. In this design pattern, the ETL pipeline is configured very generically, using little if any metadata definition beyond that which is absolutely necessary for data movement.

Read on to see if you suffer from lazy metadata. If so, ask your doctor if Metatol is right for you.

Next, the lack of error handling logic:

Even the most robust extract-transform-load process will fail at some point. Even if there are no flaws in the ETL code, there are factors beyond the control of that process – network, authentication, and DNS, to name a few – that could break a load. When building ETL load logic, one must think beyond simply what the successful payload should look like, but what will happen if any component of that load fails.

This is infuriating in how common it is, even among people who know better. Err, please don’t look at my ETL processes…

Finally, Tim reminds us that ETL logic is source code:

In most data projects, building the extract-transform-load (ETL) logic takes a significant amount of time. Enterprise ETL processes must do several things well: retrieve enough data to satisfy the business needs, apply any needed transformations to that data, and load it to the destination(s) without interruption to any other business processes. The work that goes into building and validating that ETL logic can be significant, making the resulting code a very valuable asset to the enterprise.

However, in my travels I’ve discovered that there’s a lot of ETL code that doesn’t get the kind of care it deserves. Failing to treat ETL logic as source code can be a costly and time-consuming mistake.

I think much of this comes from SSIS building out giant XML files which were essentially binaries. BIML went a long way toward allowing us to treat ETL with SSIS as a proper language and store code in source control, but even if you’re hand-editing SSIS packages, I agree with Tim completely.