Hadoop as your other data warehouse

Are data warehouses becoming victims of their own success? It’s hard to ignore the reality that the appetite for BI analytics has grown steadily – it’s one of the few enterprise IT software markets to continue enjoying steady growth over the past decade or more. While BI has not yet morphed into that long-promised democratic knowledge tool for the masses, there’s little question that it has become firmly embedded as a pillar of enterprise IT. Increasingly, analytics are being integrated with transactions, and there’s a movement for self-service BI that aims to address the everyman gap.

On the data side, there’s little question about the impact of data warehousing and BI. Enterprises have increasingly voracious appetite for data. And there are more kinds of data coming in. As part of our day job, we globally surveyed large enterprise data warehouse users (DWs over a terabyte) a couple years back and discovered over half of them were already routinely conducting text analytics in addition to conventionally structured data.

While SQL platforms have steadily increased scale and performance (it’s easy to forget that 30 years ago, conventional wisdom was that they would never scale to support enterprise OLTP systems), the legwork of operating data warehouses is becoming a source of bottlenecks. Data warehouses and transactional systems have traditionally been kept apart because their workloads significantly differed; they were typically kept at arm’s length with separate staging servers in the middle tier, where ETL operations were performed.

Yet, surging data volumes are breaking this pattern. With growing data volumes has come an emerging pattern where data and processing are brought together on the same platform. The “ELT” pattern was thus born based on the notion that collocating transformation operations inside the data warehouse would be more efficient as it would reduce data movements. The downside of ELT, however, is that data transformation compute cycles compete for finite resource with analytics.

Enter Hadoop. First developed for Internet companies for solving what were considered unique Internet problems (e.g., search indexes, ad optimization, gaming, etc.), enterprises are intrigued by the new platform for its ability to broaden the scope of their analytics to accommodate data outside the traditional purview of the data warehouse. Indeed, Hadoop allows organizations to broaden their analytic view. Instead of a traditional “360 view” of the customer that is largely transaction-based, add in social or mobile data to get a fuller picture. The same goes with machine data for operations, or weblog data for any Internet site.

But Hadoop can have another role in supplementing the data warehouse, performing the heavy lift at less cost. For starters, inserting a Hadoop platform to perform data transformation can offload cycles from the data warehouse to an environment where compute (and storage) are far less expensive. The software is far less expensive and the hardware is pure commodity (x86, standard Ethernet, and cheap 1 – 3 TB disk). And the system is sufficiently scalable that, should you need to commandeer additional resources to crunch higher transformation loads, they can be added economically by growing out your clusters.

Admittedly, there’s no free lunch; Hadoop is not free, as in free beer.
1. Like most open source software, you will pay for support. However, when compared to the cost of licensing commercial database software (where fees are related to installation size), the cost of open source should be far more modest.
2. In the short run, you will likely pay more for Hadoop skills because they are not (yet) as plentiful as SQL. This is a temporary state of affairs; as with Java 1999, the laws of supply and demand will eventually resolve this hurdle.
3. Hadoop is not as mature a platform as off-the-shelf SQL counterparts, but that is also a situation that time will eventually resolve.
4. Hadoop adds another tier to your analytic platform environment. If you embraced ELT, it does introduce some additional data movement; but then again, you may not have to load all of that data to a SQL target in the end.

But even if Hadoop is not free, it presents a lower cost target for shifting transform compute cycles. More importantly, it adds new options for analytic processing. With SQL and Hadoop converging, there are new paths for SQL developers to access data in Hadoop without having to learn MapReduce. These capabilities will not eliminate SQL querying to your existing data warehouse, as such platforms are well-suited for routine queries (with many of them carrying their own embedded specialized functions). But they supplement them by providing the opportunity to conduct exploratory querying that rounds out the picture and provides the opportunity to test drive new analytics before populating them to the primary data warehouse.

Emergence of Hadoop is part of a trend towards away from monolithic data warehousing environments. While enterprise DWs live on, they are no longer the sole focus of the universe. For instance, Teradata, which has long been associated with enterprise data warehousing, now promotes a unified data architecture that acknowledges that you’ll need different types of platforms for different workloads: operational data store, interactive analytics, and data deep dives. IBM, Oracle, and Microsoft are similarly diversifying their data platforms. Hadoop is just the latest addition, bringing capabilities for bulk transformation and exploratory analytics in SQL (and other) styles.

We will be discussing this topic in more detail later this week in a webinar sponsored by Cloudera. Catch our session “Hadoop: Extending your Data Warehouse” on Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 2:00pm ET/ 11:00a PT. You can register for the session here.