"real time analytics" entries

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?

Ian_Sane_Texting_While_Farming

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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Moving from Batch to Continuous Computing at Yahoo!

Spark, Storm, HBase, and YARN power large-scale, real-time models.

My favorite session at the recent Hadoop Summit was a keynote by Bruno Fernandez-Ruiz, Senior Fellow & VP Platforms at Yahoo! He gave a nice overview of their analytic and data processing stack, and shared some interesting factoids about the scale of their big data systems. Notably many of their production systems now run on MapReduce 2.0 (MRv2) or YARN – a resource manager that lets multiple frameworks share the same cluster.

Yahoo! was the first company to embrace Hadoop in a big way, and it remains a trendsetter within the Hadoop ecosystem. In the early days the company used Hadoop for large-scale batch processing (the key example being, computing their web index for search). More recently, many of its big data models require low latency alternatives to Hadoop MapReduce. In particular, Yahoo! leverages user and event data to power its targeting, personalization, and other “real-time” analytic systems. Continuous Computing is a term Yahoo! uses to refer to systems that perform computations over small batches of data (over short time windows), in between traditional batch computations that still use Hadoop MapReduce. The goal is to be able to quickly move from raw data, to information, to knowledge:

On a side note: many organizations are beginning to use cluster managers that let multiple frameworks share the same cluster. In particular I’m seeing many companies – notably Twitter – use Mesos1 (instead of YARN) to run similar services (Storm, Spark, Hadoop MapReduce, HBase) on the same cluster.

Going back to Bruno’s presentation, here are some interesting bits – current big data systems at Yahoo! by the numbers:

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On reading Mike Barlow’s “Real-Time Big Data Analytics: Emerging Architecture”

Barlow's distilled insights regarding the ever evolving definition of real time big data analytics

Reading Barlow on a Sunday Afternoon

Reading Barlow on a Sunday afternoon

During a break in between offsite meetings that Edd and I were attending the other day, he asked me, “did you read the Barlow piece?”

“Umm, no.” I replied sheepishly. Insert a sidelong glance from Edd that said much without saying anything aloud. He’s really good at that.

In my utterly meager defense, Mike Loukides is the editor on Mike Barlow’s Real-Time Big Data Analytics: Emerging Architecture. As Loukides is one of the core drivers behind O’Reilly’s book publishing program and someone who I perceive to be an unofficial boss of my own choosing, I am not really inclined to worry about things that I really don’t need to worry about. Then I started getting not-so-subtle inquiries from additional people asking if I would consider reviewing the manuscript for the Strata community site. This resulted in me emailing Loukides for a copy and sitting in a local cafe on a Sunday afternoon to read through the manuscript.

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