Data Warehousing Versus Data Virtualization

Koos van Strien contrasts data virtualization with data warehouse automation:

From a certain viewpoint, one could state that Data Virtualization is focused on the way the world should work: when integrating data, one shouldn’t have to store it everywhere. Why not let the system decide when to store? For some, to adopt this view might mean a paradigm shift: suddenly, the Data Warehouse the go-to integration point any more!

From this viewpoint, DWA a tool “from the trenches”: after years of struggle and hard work to build our warehouses, we’ve developed some smart ways to automate our warehouse-building based on abstract models.

Worth reading the whole thing.

Is Azure SQL DW A Good Fit For You?

Melissa Coates has a nice choose-your-own-adventure story around Azure SQL Data Warehouse:

Q4: How large is your database?

It is difficult to pinpoint an exact number for the absolute minimum size recommended for Azure SQL DW. Many data professionals in the industry see the minimum “practical” data size for Azure SQL DW in the 1-4TB range. Microsoft documentation has recently stated as low as 250GB for a minimum size. Since Azure SQL DW is an MPP (massively parallel processing) system, you experience a significant performance penalty with small data sizes because of the overhead incurred to distribute and consolidate across the nodes (which are distributions in a “shared-nothing” architecture). We recommend Azure SQL DW for a data warehouse which is starting to approach 1TB and expected to continue growing.

Great advice here.  I’ve heard too often of people looking at the name “Azure SQL Data Warehouse” and figuring that because they have data warehouses on-prem, this is the appropriate analog.  Azure SQL DW is not a typical data warehousing environment; it’s more of a specialized tool than that, so click through to see if it fits your needs.

Data Lakes Aren’t New

Shannon Lowder reveals one of the deep, dark data lake secrets:

Turns out there are three basic zones or areas to a data lake. Raw, Managed, and Presentation.

The raw zone should be optimized for fast storage.  The goal is to get the data in as quickly as possible.  Don’t make any changes to this data.  You want it stored as close to the original format as possible.  It sounds just like staged data to me.  Data you’d build an extract package to get from source to your staging environment, right?

Maybe you’re thinking this is just a coincidence…let’s move on.

Spoilers:  it’s not a coincidence.

Adding Public Holidays To A Date Dimension

Reza Rad continues his series on Power BI date dimensions:

To get public holidays live, you first need an API that is giving you up-to-date information. There are some web pages that has the list of public holidays. I have already explained in another blog post how to use a web page and query public holidays from there. That method uses custom functions as well, here you can read about that.

The method of reading data from a web page has an issue already; Web.Page function from Power Query is used to pull data from that page, and this function needs a gateway configuration to work. There is another function Xml.Document that can work even without the gateway. So because of this reason, we’ll use Xml.Document and get data from an API that provides the result set as XML.

WebCal.fi is a great free website with calendars for 36 countries which I do recommend for this example. This website, provides the calendars through XML format. There are other websites that give you the calendar details through a paid subscription. However, this website is a great free one which can be used for this example. WebCal.fi is created by User Point Inc.

This was an interesting approach to the problem, one I did not expect when first reading the article.  I figured it’d be some sort of date calculation script.

Fiscal Year Columns In A Power BI Date Dimension

Reza Rad takes a date dimension in Power BI and adds fiscal year details:

As you can see in the image above; June 2017 considered as fiscal year 2017. However, July 2017 is part of fiscal year 2018. So the simple logic can be like this:

if (calendar month >= fiscal year start)

then fiscal year = calendar year

else fiscal year = calendar year + 1

This code is pseudo code. don’t write that exactly in M! Let’s now implement it in M;

If you have to deal with multiple fiscal years (e.g., state and federal government fiscal years), the process is the same, only repeated.

Azure SQL Data Warehouse Patterns

Murshed Zaman shows us a couple of patterns and anti-patterns for Azure SQL Data Warehouse:

Azure SQL DW is a Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) data warehousing service. It is a service because Microsoft maintains the infrastructure and software patching to make sure it’s always on up to date hardware and software on Azure. The service makes it easy for a customer to start loading their tables on day one and start running queries quickly and allows scaling of compute nodes when needed.

In an MPP database, table data is distributed among many servers (known as compute or slave nodes), and in many MPP systems shared-nothing storage subsystems are attached to those servers. Queries come through a head (or master) node where the location metadata for all the tables/data blocks resides. This head node knows how to deconstruct the query into smaller queries, introduce various data movement operations as needed, and pass smaller queries on to the compute nodes for parallel execution. Data movement is needed to align the data by the join keys from the original query. The topic of data movement in an MPP system is a whole another blog topic by itself, that we will tackle in a different blog. Besides Azure SQL DW, some other examples of a MPP data warehouses are Hadoop (Hive and Spark), Teradata, Amazon RedShift, Vertica, etc.

The opposite of MPP is SMP (Symmetric Multiprocessing) which basically means the traditional one server systems. Until the invention of MPP we had SMP systems. In database world the examples are traditional SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL etc. These SMP databases can also be used for both OLTP and OLAP purposes.

Murshed spends the majority of this blog post covering things you should not do, which is probably for the best.

Basics Of Azure SQL Data Warehouse

Minette Steynberg has an article introducing Azure SQL Data Warehouse:

Azure SQL DW is best used for analytical workloads that makes use of large volumes of data and needs to consolidate disparate data into a single location.

Azure SQL DW has been specifically designed to deal with very large volumes of data. In fact, if there is too little data it may perform poorly because the data is distributed. You can imagine that if you had only 10 rows per distribution, the cost of consolidating the data will be way more than the benefit gained by distributing it.

SQL DW is a good place to consolidate disparate data, transform, shape and aggregate it, and then perform analysis on it. It is ideal for running burst workloads, such as month end financial reporting etc.

Azure SQL DW should not be used when small row by row updates are expected as in OLTP workloads. It should only be used for large scale batch operations.

Azure SQL Data Warehouse is fantastic when you’ve got a setup like above and are willing to pay a premium to make things faster.  And with appropriately distributed data, it certainly does get faster.

Managing Hive Slowly Changing Dimensions

Carter Shanklin shows how to manage Type 1, 2, and 3 slowly changing dimensions in Hive:

The most common SCD update strategies are:

  • Type 1: Overwrite old data with new data. The advantage of this approach is that it is extremely simple, and is used any time you want an easy to synchronize reporting systems with operational systems. The disadvantage is you lose history any time you do an update.

  • Type 2: Add new rows with version history. The advantage of this approach is that it allows you to track full history. The disadvantage is that your dimension tables grow without limit and may become very large. When you use Type 2 SCD you will also usually need to create additional reporting views to simplify the process of seeing only the latest dimension values.

  • Type 3: Add new rows and manage limited version history. The advantage of Type 3 is that you get some version history, but the dimension tables remain at the same size as the source system. You also won’t need to create additional reporting views. The disadvantage is you get limited version history, usually only covering the most recent 2 or 3 changes.

The Hive solution is getting closer and closer to a traditional relational warehouse solution.  And on the whole, that’s a good thing.

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.

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