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April 17, 2014

MongoDB is growing up

I caught up with my clients at MongoDB to discuss the recent MongoDB 2.6, along with some new statements of direction. The biggest takeaway is that the MongoDB product, along with the associated MMS (MongoDB Management Service), is growing up. Aspects include:

Read more

March 6, 2014

Splunk and inverted-list indexing

Some technical background about Splunk

In an October, 2009 technical introduction to Splunk, I wrote (emphasis added):

Splunk software both reads logs and indexes them. The same code runs both on the nodes that do the indexing and on machines that simply emit logs.

It turns out that the bolded part was changed several years ago. However, I don’t have further details, so let’s move on to Splunk’s DBMS-like aspects.

I also wrote:

The fundamental thing that Splunk looks at is an increment to a log – i.e., whatever has been added to the log since Splunk last looked at it.

That remains true. Confusingly, Splunk refers to these log increments as “rows”, even though they’re really structured and queried more like documents.

I further wrote:

Splunk has a simple ILM (Information Lifecycle management) story based on time. I didn’t probe for details.

Splunk’s ILM story turns out to be simple indeed.

Finally, I wrote:

I get the impression that most Splunk entity extraction is done at search time, not at indexing time. Splunk says that, if a <name, value> pair is clearly marked, its software does a good job of recognizing same. Beyond that, fields seem to be specified by users when they define searches.

and

I have trouble understanding how Splunk could provide flexible and robust reporting unless it tokenized and indexed specific fields more aggressively than I think it now does.

The point of what I in October, 2013 called

a high(er)-performance data store into which you can selectively copy columns of data

and which Splunk enthusiastically calls its “High Performance Analytic Store” is to meet that latter need.

Inverted-list indexing

Inverted list technology is confusing for several reasons, which start:  Read more

January 9, 2014

The games of Watson

IBM excels at game technology, most famously in Deep Blue (chess) and Watson (Jeopardy!). But except at the chip level — PowerPC — IBM hasn’t accomplished much at game/real world crossover. And so I suspect the Watson hype is far overblown.

I believe that for two main reasons. First, whenever IBM talks about big initiatives like Watson, it winds up bundling a bunch of dissimilar things together and claiming they’re a seamless whole. Second, some core Watson claims are eerily similar to artificial intelligence (AI) over-hype three or more decades past. For example, the leukemia treatment advisor that is being hopefully built in Watson now sounds a lot like MYCIN from the early 1970s, and the idea of collecting a lot of tidbits of information sounds a lot like the Cyc project. And by the way:

Read more

October 10, 2013

Libraries in Teradata Aster

I recently wrote (emphasis added):

My clients at Teradata Aster probably see things differently, but I don’t think their library of pre-built analytic packages has been a big success. The same goes for other analytic platform vendors who have done similar (generally lesser) things. I believe that this is because such limited libraries don’t do enough of what users want.

The bolded part has been, shall we say, confirmed. As Randy Lea tells it, Teradata Aster sales qualification includes the determination that at least one SQL-MR operator — be relevant to the use case. (“Operator” seems to be the word now, rather than “function”.) Randy agreed that some users prefer hand-coding, but believes a large majority would like to push work to data analysts/business analysts who might have strong SQL skills, but be less adept at general mathematical programming.

This phrasing will all be less accurate after the release of Aster 6, which extends Aster’s capabilities beyond the trinity of SQL, the SQL-MR library, and Aster-supported hand-coding.

Randy also said:

And Randy seemed to agree when I put words in his mouth to the effect that the prebuilt operators save users months of development time.

Meanwhile, Teradata Aster has started a whole new library for relationship analytics.

September 8, 2013

Layering of database technology & DBMS with multiple DMLs

Two subjects in one post, because they were too hard to separate from each other

Any sufficiently complex software is developed in modules and subsystems. DBMS are no exception; the core trinity of parser, optimizer/planner, and execution engine merely starts the discussion. But increasingly, database technology is layered in a more fundamental way as well, to the extent that different parts of what would seem to be an integrated DBMS can sometimes be developed by separate vendors.

Major examples of this trend — where by “major” I mean “spanning a lot of different vendors or projects” — include:

Other examples on my mind include:

And there are several others I hope to blog about soon, e.g. current-day PostgreSQL.

In an overlapping trend, DBMS increasingly have multiple data manipulation APIs. Examples include:  Read more

August 24, 2013

Hortonworks business notes

Hortonworks did a business-oriented round of outreach, talking with at least Derrick Harris and me. Notes  from my call — for which Rob Bearden* didn’t bother showing up — include, in no particular order:

*Speaking of CEO Bearden, an interesting note from Derrick’s piece is that Bearden is quoted as saying “I started this company from day one …”, notwithstanding that the now-departed Eric Baldeschwieler was founding CEO.

In Hortonworks’ view, Hadoop adopters typically start with a specific use case around a new type of data, such as clickstream, sensor, server log, geolocation, or social.  Read more

August 4, 2013

Data model churn

Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the many ways data models can be caused to churn. Here are some examples that are top-of-mind for me. They do overlap a lot — and the whole discussion overlaps with my post about schema complexity last January, and more generally with what I’ve written about dynamic schemas for the past several years..

Just to confuse things further — some of these examples show the importance of RDBMS, while others highlight the relational model’s limitations.

The old standbys

Product and service changes. Simple changes to your product line many not require any changes to the databases recording their production and sale. More complex product changes, however, probably will.

A big help in MCI’s rise in the 1980s was its new Friends and Family service offering. AT&T couldn’t respond quickly, because it couldn’t get the programming done, where by “programming” I mainly mean database integration and design. If all that was before your time, this link seems like a fairly contemporaneous case study.

Organizational changes. A common source of hassle, especially around databases that support business intelligence or planning/budgeting, is organizational change. Kalido’s whole business was based on accommodating that, last I checked, as were a lot of BI consultants’. Read more

June 13, 2013

How is the surveillance data used?

Over the past week, discussion has exploded about US government surveillance. After summarizing, as best I could, what data the government appears to collect, now I ‘d like to consider what they actually do with it. More precisely, I’d like to focus on the data’s use(s) in combating US-soil terrorism. In a nutshell:

Consider the example of Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

In response to this 2011 request, the FBI checked U.S. government databases and other information to look for such things as derogatory telephone communications, possible use of online sites associated with the promotion of radical activity, associations with other persons of interest, travel history and plans, and education history.

While that response was unsuccessful in preventing a dramatic act of terrorism, at least they tried.

As for actual success stories — well, that’s a bit tough. In general, there are few known examples of terrorist plots being disrupted by law enforcement in the United States, except for fake plots engineered to draw terrorist-leaning individuals into committing actual crimes. One of those examples, that of Najibullah Zazi, was indeed based on an intercepted email — but the email address itself was uncovered through more ordinary anti-terrorism efforts.

As for machine learning/data mining/predictive modeling, I’ve never seen much of a hint of it being used in anti-terrorism efforts, whether in the news or in my own discussions inside the tech industry. And I think there’s a great reason for that — what would they use for a training set? Here’s what I mean.  Read more

June 10, 2013

Where things stand in US government surveillance

Edit: Please see the comment thread below for updates. Please also see a follow-on post about how the surveillance data is actually used.

US government surveillance has exploded into public consciousness since last Thursday. With one major exception, the news has just confirmed what was already thought or known. So where do we stand?

My views about domestic data collection start:

*Recall that these comments are US-specific. Data retention legislation has been proposed or passed in multiple countries to require recording of, among other things, all URL requests, with the stated goal of fighting either digital piracy or child pornography.

As for foreign data: Read more

February 21, 2013

One database to rule them all?

Perhaps the single toughest question in all database technology is: Which different purposes can a single data store serve well? — or to phrase it more technically — Which different usage patterns can a single data store support efficiently? Ted Codd was on multiple sides of that issue, first suggesting that relational DBMS could do everything and then averring they could not. Mike Stonebraker too has been on multiple sides, first introducing universal DBMS attempts with Postgres and Illustra/Informix, then more recently suggesting the world needs 9 or so kinds of database technology. As for me — well, I agreed with Mike both times. :)

Since this is MUCH too big a subject for a single blog post, what I’ll do in this one is simply race through some background material. To a first approximation, this whole discussion is mainly about data layouts — but only if we interpret that concept broadly enough to comprise:

To date, nobody has ever discovered a data layout that is efficient for all usage patterns. As a general rule, simpler data layouts are often faster to write, while fancier ones can boost query performance. Specific tradeoffs include, but hardly are limited to: Read more

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