"real time analytics" entries

How real-time analytics integrates with our connected world

The O'Reilly Podcast: Scott Jarr on how real-time analytics applications can unlock value and automate decision-making.

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In this special-edition O’Reilly Podcast, O’Reilly’s Ben Lorica and VoltDB’s co-founder Scott Jarr discuss how VoltDB’s hybrid transaction, analytic system allows for real-time analytics and personalization of data across various industries.

Scaling transaction processing without losing the relational database

MIT’s Mike Stonebraker (VoltDB’s co-founder) wanted to scale traditional OLTP (online transaction processing) without losing performance. The project evolved and eventually commercialized as VoltDB around the time NoSQL systems introduced a paradigm shift to non-relational databases. Jarr describes how Stonebraker’s approach didn’t assume a relational database was a core issue:

To give you an old story, but it’s a good story, they took a traditional style OLTP database and they ran it in memory. What they found was that it was doing less than 10% of its effective workload in processing transactions. The rest was dealing with overhead in various forms. He said, ‘Without getting rid of any of the things that we know [are] involved in the database world — consistency, SQL, ACID transactions, relational structures, high-level query languages — let’s keep all that, but let’s see if we can make this thing go faster.’

When those [NoSQL] systems were coming out, and they were coming out very strong, it was around the same time we were coming out with VoltDB. People were asking questions, ‘Well you’re consistent and they’re not.’ Or, ‘You’re relational and they’re not.’ I think that really lost the true meaning of what the differences were … [let’s] not get mired in the details … let’s look at the workloads that people are trying to accomplish.

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Real-time analytics within the transaction

Integrated data stream platforms are poised to supplant the lambda architecture.

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Data generation is growing exponentially, as is the demand for real-time analytics over fast input data. Traditional approaches to analyzing data in batch mode overcome the computational problems of data volume by scaling horizontally using a distributed system like Apache Hadoop. However, this solution is not feasible for analyzing large data streams in real time due to the scheduling I/O overhead it introduces.

Two main problems occur when batch processing is applied to stream or fast data. First, by the time the analysis is complete, it may already have been outdated by new incoming data. Second, the data may be arriving so fast that it is not feasible to store and batch-process them later, so the data must be processed or summarized when it is received. The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope is a good public example of a system in which data must be preprocessed before storage. The SKA is a distributed radio observation project where each base station will receive 10-30 TB/sec and the Central Unit will process 4PB/sec. In this scenario, online summaries of the input data must be computed in real time and then processed — and significantly reduced in size — data is what’s stored.

In the business world, common examples of stream data are sensor networks, Twitter, Internet traffic, logs, financial tickers, click streams, and online bids. Algorithmic solutions enable the computation of summaries, frequency (heavy hitter) and event detection, and other statistical calculations on the stream as a whole or detection of outliers within it.

But what if you need to perform transaction-level analysis — scans across different dimensions of the data set, for example — as well as store the streamed data for fast lookup and retrospective analysis? Read more…

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A real-time tool for a real-time problem

Using VoltDB and the Lambda Architecture to locate abnormal behavior.

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Subscriber Identity Module box (SIMbox) fraud is a type of telecommunications fraud where users avoid an international outbound-calls charge by redirecting the call through voice over IP to a SIM in the country where the destination is located. This is an issue we helped a client address at Wise Athena.

Taking on this type of problem requires a stream-based analysis of the Call Detail Record (CDR) logs, which are typically generated quickly. Detecting this kind of activity requires in-memory computations of streaming data. You might also need to scale horizontally.

We recently evaluated the use of VoltDB together with our cognitive analytics and machine-learning system to analyze CDRs and provide accurate and fast SIMbox fraud detection. At the beginning, we used batch processing to detect SIMbox fraud, but the response time took too long, so we switched to a technology that allows in-memory computations in order to reach the desired time constraints.

VoltDB’s in-memory distributed database provides transactions at streaming speed in a fast environment. It can support millions of small transactions per second. It also allows streaming aggregation and fast counters over incoming data. These attributes allowed us to develop a real-time analytics layer on top of VoltDB. Read more…

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Why local state is a fundamental primitive in stream processing

What do you get if you cross a distributed database with a stream processing system?

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One of the concepts that has proven the hardest to explain to people when I talk about Samza is the idea of fault-tolerant local state for stream processing. I think people are so used to the idea of keeping all their data in remote databases that any departure from that seems unusual.

So, I wanted to give a little bit more motivation as to why we think local state is a fundamental primitive in stream processing.

What is state and why do you need it?

An easy way to understand state in stream processing is to think about the kinds of operations you might do in SQL. Imagine running SQL queries against a real-time stream of data. If your SQL query contains only filtering and single-row transformations (a simple select and where clause, say), then it is stateless. That is, you can process a single row at a time without needing to remember anything in between rows. However, if your query involves aggregating many rows (a group by) or joining together data from multiple streams, then it must maintain some state in between rows. If you are grouping data by some field and counting, then the state you maintain would be the counts that have accumulated so far in the window you are processing. If you are joining two streams, the state would be the rows in each stream waiting to find a match in the other stream.

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Expanding options for mining streaming data

New tools make it easier for companies to process and mine streaming data sources

Stream processing was in the minds of a few people that I ran into over the past week. A combination of new systems, deployment tools, and enhancements to existing frameworks, are behind the recent chatter. Through a combination of simpler deployment tools, programming interfaces, and libraries, recently released tools make it easier for companies to process and mine streaming data sources.

Of the distributed stream processing systems that are part of the Hadoop ecosystem0, Storm is by far the most widely used (more on Storm below). I’ve written about Samza, a new framework from the team that developed Kafka (an extremely popular messaging system). Many companies who use Spark express interest in using Spark Streaming (many have already done so). Spark Streaming is distributed, fault-tolerant, stateful, and boosts programmer productivity (the same code used for batch processing can, with minor tweaks, be used for realtime computations). But it targets applications that are in the “second-scale latencies”. Both Spark Streaming and Samza have their share of adherents and I expect that they’ll both start gaining deployments in 2014.

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Stream Mining essentials

At the most basic level, stream mining is about generating summaries that can be used to answer fundamental questions

A series of open source, distributed stream processing frameworks have become essential components in many big data technology stacks. Apache Storm remains the most popular, but promising new tools like Spark Streaming and Apache Samza are going to have their share of users. These tools excel at data processing and are also used for data mining – in many cases users have to write a bit of code1 to do stream mining. The good news is that easy-to-use stream mining libraries will likely emerge in the near future.

High volume data streams (data that arrive continuously) arise in many settings, including IT operations, sensors, and social media. What can one learn by looking at data one piece (or a few pieces) at a time? Can techniques that look at smaller representations of data streams be used to unlock their value? In this post, I’ll briefly summarize a recent overview given by stream mining pioneer Graham Cormode.

Generate Summaries
Massive amounts of data arriving at high velocity pose a challenge to data miners. At the most basic level, stream mining is about generating summaries that can be used to answer fundamental questions:

Stream Mining

Properly constructed summaries are useful for highlighting emerging patterns, trends, and anomalies. Common summaries (frequency moments in stream mining parlance) include a list of distinct items, recently trending items, heavy hitters (items that have appeared frequently), and the top k (most popular) items.

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Stream Processing and Mining just got more interesting

A general purpose stream processing framework from the team behind Kafka and new techniques for computing approximate quantiles

Largely unknown outside data engineering circles, Apache Kafka is one of the more popular open source, distributed computing projects. Many data engineers I speak with either already use it or are planning to do so. It is a distributed message broker used to store1 and send data streams. Kafka was developed by Linkedin were it remains a vital component of their Big Data ecosystem: many critical online and offline data flows rely on feeds supplied by Kafka servers.

Apache Samza: a distributed stream processing framework
Behind Kafka’s success as an open source project is a team of savvy engineers who have spent2 the last three years making it a rock solid system. The developers behind Kafka realized early on that it was best to place the bulk of data processing (i.e., stream processing) in another system. Armed with specific use cases, work on Samza proceeded in earnest about a year ago. So while they examined existing streaming frameworks (such as Storm, S4, Spark Streaming), Linkedin engineers wanted a system that better fit their needs3 and requirements:

Linkedin Samza

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Big Data and Advertising: In the trenches

Volume, variety, velocity, and a rare peek inside sponsored search advertising at Google

The $35B merger of Omnicom and Publicis put the convergence of Big Data and Advertising1 in the front pages of business publications. Adtech2 companies have long been at the forefront of many data technologies, strategies, and techniques. By now it’s well-known that many impressive large scale, realtime analytics systems in production, support3 advertising. A lot of effort has gone towards accurately predicting and measuring click-through rates, so at least for online advertising, data scientists and data engineers have gone a long way towards addressing4 the famous “but we don’t know which half” line.

The industry has its share of problems: privacy & creepiness come to mind, and like other technology sectors adtech has its share of “interesting” patent filings (see for example here, here, here). With so many companies dependent on online advertising, some have lamented the industry’s hold5 on data scientists. But online advertising does offer data scientists and data engineers lots of interesting technical problems to work on, many of which involve the deployment (and creation) of open source tools for massive amounts of data.

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Near realtime, streaming, and perpetual analytics

Hadoop moves from batch to near realtime: next up, placing streaming data in context

Simple example of a near realtime app built with Hadoop and HBase
Over the past year Hadoop emerged from its batch processing roots and began to take on interactive and near realtime applications. There are numerous examples that fall under these categories, but one that caught my eye recently is a system jointly developed by China Mobile Guangdong (CMG) and Intel1. It’s an online system that lets CMG’s over 100 million subscribers2 access and pay their bills, and examine their CDR’s (call detail records) in near realtime.

A service for providing detailed billing information is an important customer touch point. Repeated/extended downtimes and data errors could seriously tarnish CMG’s image. CMG needed a system that could scale to their current (and future) data volumes, while providing the low-latency responses consumers have come to expect from online services. Scalability, price and open source3 were important criteria in persuading the company to choose a Hadoop-based solution over4 MPP data warehouses.

In the system it co-developed with Intel, CMG stores detailed subscriber billing records in HBase. This amounts to roughly 30 TB/month, but since the service lets users browse up to six months of billing data it provides near realtime query results on much larger amounts of data. There are other near realtime applications built from Hadoop components (notably the continuous compute system at Yahoo!), that handle much larger data sets. But what I like about the CMG example is that it’s an application that most people understand right away (a detailed billing lookup system), and it illustrates that the Hadoop ecosystem has grown beyond batch processing.

Besides powering their online billing lookup service, CMG uses its Hadoop platform for analytics. Data from multiple sources (including phone device preferences, usage patterns, and cell tower performance) are used to compute customer segments and targeted promotions. Over time, Hadoop’s ability to handle large amounts of unstructured data opens up other data sources that can potentially improve CMG’s current analytic models.

Contextualize: Streaming and Perpetual Analytics
This leads me to something “realtime” systems are beginning to do: placing streaming data in context. Streaming analytics operates over fixed time windows and is used to identify “top k” trending items, heavy-hitters, and distinct items. Perpetual analytics takes what you’re observing now and places it in the context of what you already know. As much as companies appreciate metrics produced by streaming engines, they also want to understand how “realtime observations” affect their existing knowledge base.

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Pattern-detection and Twitter’s Streaming API

In some key use cases a random sample of tweets can capture important patterns and trends

Researchers and companies who need social media data frequently turn to Twitter’s API to access a random sample of tweets. Those who can afford to pay (or have been granted access) use the more comprehensive feed (the firehose) available through a group of certified data resellers. Does the random sample of tweets allow you to capture important patterns and trends? I recently came across two papers that shed light on this question.

Systematic comparison of the Streaming API and the Firehose
A recent paper from ASU and CMU compared data from the streaming API and the firehose, and found mixed results. Let me highlight two cases addressed in the paper: identifying popular hashtags and influential users.

Of interest to many users is the list of top hashtags. Can one identify the “top n” hastags using data made available throughthe streaming API? The graph below is a comparison of the streaming API to the firehose: n (as in “top n” hashtags) vs. correlation (Kendall’s Tau). The researchers found that the streaming API provides a good list of hashtags when n is large, but is misleading for small n.

streaming api vs firehose

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