The Data Lake From 10,000 Feet

Pradeep Menon has a high-level explanation of what a data lake is and how it differs from traditional data warehouses:

With the changes in the data paradigm, a new architectural pattern has emerged. It’s called as the Data Lake Architecture. Like the water in the lake, data in a data lake is in the purest possible form. Like the lake, it caters to need to different people, those who want to fish or those who want to take a boat ride or those who want to get drinking water from it, a data lake architecture caters to multiple personas. It provides data scientists an avenue to explore data and create a hypothesis. It provides an avenue for business users to explore data. It provides an avenue for data analysts to analyze data and find patterns. It provides an avenue for reporting analysts to create reports and present to stakeholders.

The way I compare a data lake to a data warehouse or a mart is like this:

Data Lake stores data in the purest form caters to multiple stakeholders and can also be used to package data in a form that can be consumed by end-users. On the other hand, Data Warehouse is already distilled and packaged for defined purposes.

One way of thinking about this is that data warehouses are great for solving known business questions:  generating 10K reports or other regulatory compliance reporting, building the end-of-month data, and viewing standard KPIs.  By contrast, the data lake is (among other things) for spelunking, trying to answer those one-off questions people seem to have but which the warehouse never seems to have quite the right set of information.

Data Warehouse Automation

Koos van Strien provides some thoughts on data warehouse automation tools:

Currently, I think there are two main approaches to Data Warehouse Automation

  1. Data Warehouse Generation: You provide sources, mappings, datatype mappings etc.. The tool generates code (or artifacts).
  2. Data Warehouse Automation (DWA): The tool not only generates code / artifacts, but also manages the existing Data Warehouse, by offering continuous insight in data flows, actual lineage, row numbers, etc..

The difference might seem small, but IMHO is visible most clearly whenever changes occur in the Data Warehouse – the second class of tools can handle those changes (while preserving history). With the first class of tools provide you with the new structures, but you need to handle the preservation of history yourself (as you would’ve without DWA).

Read on for a contrast of these two approaches.

Dimensional Modeling

Jen Underwood explains the basics of dimensional modeling:

A dimensional model is also commonly called a star schema. It provides a way to improve report query performance without affecting data integrity. This type of model is popular in data warehousing because it can provide better query performance than transactional, normalized, OLTP data models. It also allows for data history to be stored accurately over time for reporting. Another reason why dimensional models are created…they are easier for non-technical users to navigate. Creating reports by joining many OLTP database tables together becomes overwhelming quickly.

Dimensional models contain facts surrounded by descriptive data called dimensions. Facts contains numerical values of what you measure such as sales or user counts that are additive, or semi-additive in nature. Fact tables also contain the keys/links to associated dimension tables. Compared to most dimension tables, fact tables typically have a large number of rows.

Jen’s post was built off of an early SQL Saturday presentation.  It’s still quite relevant today.

Polybase Design Patterns On Azure SQL DW

Simon Whiteley continues his Polybase on Azure SQL Data Warehouse series.  First, he covers data loading patterns:

That’s enough about data loading for now, there’s another major use case for Polybase that we haven’t yet discussed. Many data processing solutions have a huge, unwieldy overnight batch job that performs aggregates, lookups, analytics and various other calculations.

However, it is often the case that this is not timely enough for many business requirements. This is where Polybase can help.

If we have an External Table over the newest files, this will read these new records at query time. We can write a view that combines the External Table with our batch-produced table. This will obviously go a little slower than usual, given it has to read data from flat files each time, however the results returned will be up to date.

Simon then covers the Create Table As Select statement:

In order to utilise SQLDW effectively, we write SQL for our transformations, rather than relying on external tools such as SSIS. This ensures the work is being done by our compute nodes and, therefore, can be scaled up to increase performance.

General best practice, therefore, would be write stored procedures for each of the data movements we want to occur. This allows us to add in auditing, logging etc. But what we’re interested in here is the core data movement itself.

Writing a traditional INSERT statement isn’t the fastest way to get data into a table. There is a special syntax which creates a new table and inserts into it, that is automatically configured for optimal bulk loading, this is the CTAS, or “Create Table as Select” statement.

This is a pair of interesting posts from Simon.

Star-Schema Benchmark With Hive + Druid

Carter Shanklin and Slim Bouguerra run a Hadoop OLAP system running Hive and Druid against the Star-Schema Benchmark battery of queries:

How did we arrive at the query used to build the OLAP index? There is a systematic procedure:

  1. The union of all dimensions used by the SSB queries is included in the index.
  2. The union of all measures is included in the index. Notice that we pre-compute some products in the index.
  3. Druid requires a timestamp, so the date of the transaction is used as the timestamp.

You can see that building the index requires knowledge of the query patterns. Either an expert in the query patterns architects the index, or a tool is needed to analyze queries or to dynamically build indexes on the fly. A lot of time can be spent in this architecture phase, gathering requirements, designing measures and so on, because changing your mind after-the-fact can be very difficult.

One thing I don’t like so much is that they removed the ORDER BY clauses from some of the queries, as making this change makes it more difficult to use these results for “it’s totally not a comparison so don’t sue us Oracle” purposes.

Azure SQL DW Reference Architectures

James Serra shows how Azure SQL Data Warehouse can fit into various warehousing architectures:

Do staging, data refinement and reporting all from SQL DW.  You can scale compute power up when needed (i.e. during staging, data refinement, or large number of users doing reporting) or down to save costs (i.e. nights and weekends when user reporting is low).  The pros of this option are by reducing the number of technologies you are building a simpler solution and reducing the number of copies of the data.  The cons are since everything is done on SQL DW you can have performance issues (i.e. doing data refinement while users are reporting), can hit the SQL DW concurrent query limit, and can have a higher cost since SQL DW is the highest-cost product, especially if you are not able to pause it.  Pausing it reduces your cost to zero for compute, only having to pay for storage (see Azure SQL Data Warehouse pricing), but no one can use SQL DW when paused

Click through for three other architecture ideas.

Loading Azure SQL DW: Embrace The CTAS

John Hoang, Joe Sack, and Martin Lee explain different loading patterns for loading Azure SQL Data Warehouse:

SQL Data Warehouse supports many loading methods, including SSIS, BCP, the SQLBulkCopy API, and Azure Data Factory (ADF). These methods all share a common pattern for data ingestion. By comparison, the PolyBase technology uses a different approach that provides better performance.

PolyBase is by far the fastest and most scalable SQL Data Warehouse loading method to date, so we recommend it as your default loading mechanism. PolyBase is a scalable, query processing framework compatible with Transact-SQL that can be used to combine and bridge data across relational database management systems, Azure Blob Storage, Azure Data Lake Store and Hadoop database platform ecosystems (APS only).

If you’re curious about Azure SQL Data Warehouse, this is a must-read.

Designing A Data Warehouse Test Plan

Koos van Strien walks through some of the high-level concepts when automating data warehouse tests:

In my current project, I’ve got a database containing everything to perform these tests:

  • Tables with identical structure to the ones in the staging area (plus two columns “TestSuiteName” and “TestName”)
  • A table containing the mapping from test-input table to target database, schema and table
  • A stored procedure to purge the DWH (all layers) in the test environment
  • A stored procedure to insert the data for a specific testsuite / name

When preparing a specific test case (the “insert rows for test case” step from the diagram above), the rows needed for that case are copied into the DWH:

Testing warehouses is certainly not a trivial exercise but given how complex warehouse ETL tends to be, having good tests reduces the number of 3 AM pages.

Azure SQL Data Warehouse Max Size Property

Joey D’Antoni says not t freak out if you look at the Max Size property on an Azure SQL Data Warehouse database:

One of the promises of Azure SQL Data Warehouse is the ability to have petabyte scale. The ability to quickly scale data, and have that data scale independently of compute resources. So when one I my clients emailed me yesterday with this screenshot, needless to say I was concerned.

As you can see, when  the properties screen shows a max size of 5 GB.

Click through for the reason why.

Integrating Data Lake Storage With SQL Data Warehouse

Sachin Sheth alerts us to a new integration point between Azure Data Lake Storage and Azure SQL Data Warehouse via Polybase:

Most common patterns using Azure Data Lake Store (ADLS) involve customers ingesting and storing raw data into ADLS. This data is then cooked and prepared by analytic workloads like Azure Data Lake Analytics and HDInsight. Once cooked this data is then explored using engines like Azure SQL Data Warehouse. One key pain point for customers is having to wait for a substantial time after the data was cooked to be able to explore it and gather insights. This was because the data stored in ADLS would have to be loaded into SQL Data Warehouse using tools row-by-row insertion. But now, you don’t have to wait that long anymore. With the new SQL Data Warehouse PolyBase support for ADLS, you will now be able to load and access the cooked data rapidly and lessen your time to start performing interactive analytics. PolyBase support will allow to you access unstructured/semi-structured files in ADLS faster because of a highly scalable loading design. You can load the files stored in ADLS into SQL Data Warehouse to perform analytics with fast response times or you use can the files in ADLS as external tables. So get ready to unlock the value stored in your petabytes of data stored in ADLS.

I’ve been waiting for this support, and I’m happy that they were able to integrate the two products.

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