Analysis of issues in parallel computing, especially parallelized database management. Related subjects include:

May 1, 2014

MemSQL update

I stopped by MemSQL last week, and got a range of new or clarified information. For starters:

On the more technical side: Read more

April 30, 2014

Spark on fire

Spark is on the rise, to an even greater degree than I thought last month.

*Yes, my fingerprints are showing again.

The most official description of what Spark now contains is probably the “Spark ecosystem” diagram from Databricks. However, at the time of this writing it is slightly out of date, as per some email from Databricks CEO Ion Stoica (quoted with permission):

… but if I were to redraw it, SparkSQL will replace Shark, and Shark will eventually become a thin layer above SparkSQL and below BlinkDB.

With this change, all the modules on top of Spark (i.e., SparkStreaming, SparkSQL, GraphX, and MLlib) are part of the Spark distribution. You can think of these modules as libraries that come with Spark.

Read more

March 28, 2014

NoSQL vs. NewSQL vs. traditional RDBMS

I frequently am asked questions that boil down to:

The details vary with context — e.g. sometimes MySQL is a traditional RDBMS and sometimes it is a new kid — but the general class of questions keeps coming. And that’s just for short-request use cases; similar questions for analytic systems arise even more often.

My general answers start:

In particular, migration away from legacy DBMS raises many issues:  Read more

March 23, 2014

Wants vs. needs

In 1981, Gerry Chichester and Vaughan Merlyn did a user-survey-based report about transaction-oriented fourth-generation languages, the leading application development technology of their day. The report included top-ten lists of important features during the buying cycle and after implementation. The items on each list were very similar — but the order of the items was completely different. And so the report highlighted what I regard as an eternal truth of the enterprise software industry:

What users value in the product-buying process is quite different from what they value once a product is (being) put into use.

Here are some thoughts about how that comes into play today.

Wants outrunning needs

1. For decades, BI tools have been sold in large part via demos of snazzy features the CEO would like to have on his desk. First it was pretty colors; then it was maps; now sometimes it’s “real-time” changing displays. Other BI features, however, are likely to be more important in practice.

2. In general, the need for “real-time” BI data freshness is often exaggerated. If you’re a human being doing a job that’s also often automated at high speed — for example network monitoring or stock trading — there’s a good chance you need fully human real-time BI. Otherwise, how much does a 5-15 minute delay hurt? Even if you’re monitoring website sell-through — are your business volumes really high enough that 5 minutes matters much? eBay answered “yes” to that question many years ago, but few of us work for businesses anywhere near eBay’s scale.

Even so, the want for speed keeps growing stronger. :)

3. Similarly, some desires for elastic scale-out are excessive. Your website selling koi pond accessories should always run well on a single server. If you diversify your business to the point that that’s not true, you’ll probably rewrite your app by then as well.

4. Some developers want to play with cool new tools. That doesn’t mean those tools are the best choice for the job. In particular, boring old SQL has merits — such as joins! — that shiny NoSQL hasn’t yet replicated.

5. Some developers, on the other hand, want to keep using their old tools, on which they are their employers’ greatest experts. That doesn’t mean those tools are the best choice for the job either.

6. More generally, some enterprises insist on brand labels that add little value but lots of expense. Yes, there are many benefits to vendor consolidation, and you may avoid many headaches if you stick with not-so-cutting-edge technology. But “enterprise-grade” hardware failure rates may not differ enough from “consumer-grade” ones to be worth paying for.

Read more

March 17, 2014

Notes and comments, March 17, 2014

I have ever more business-advice posts up on Strategic Messaging. Recent subjects include pricing and stealth-mode marketing. Other stuff I’ve been up to includes:

The Spark buzz keeps increasing; almost everybody I talk with expects Spark to win big, probably across several use cases.

Disclosure: I’ll soon be in a substantial client relationship with Databricks, hoping to improve their stealth-mode marketing. :D

The “real-time analytics” gold rush I called out last year continues. A large fraction of the vendors I talk with have some variant of “real-time analytics” as a central message.

Basho had a major change in leadership. A Twitter exchange ensued. :) Joab Jackson offered a more sober — figuratively and literally — take.

Hadapt laid off its sales and marketing folks, and perhaps some engineers as well. In a nutshell, Hadapt’s approach to SQL-on-Hadoop wasn’t selling vs. the many alternatives, and Hadapt is doubling down on poly-structured data*/schema-on-need.

*While Hadapt doesn’t to my knowledge use the term “poly-structured data”, some other vendors do. And so I may start using it more myself, at least when the poly-structured/multi-structured distinction actually seems significant.

WibiData is partnering with DataStax, WibiData is of course pleased to get access to Cassandra’s user base, which gave me the opportunity to ask why they thought Cassandra had beaten HBase in those accounts. The answer was performance and availability, while Cassandra’s traditional lead in geo-distribution wasn’t mentioned at all.

Disclosure: My fingerprints are all over that deal.

In other news, WibiData has had some executive departures as well, but seems to be staying the course on its strategy. I continue to think that WibiData has a really interesting vision about how to do large-data-volume interactive computing, and anybody in that space would do well to talk with them or at least look into the open source projects WibiData sponsors.

I encountered another apparently-popular machine-learning term — bandit model. It seems to be glorified A/B testing, and it seems to be popular. I think the point is that it tries to optimize for just how much you invest in testing unproven (for good or bad) alternatives.

I had an awkward set of interactions with Gooddata, including my longest conversations with them since 2009. Gooddata is in the early days of trying to offer an all-things-to-all-people analytic stack via SaaS (Software as a Service). I gather that Hadoop, Vertica, PostgreSQL (a cheaper Vertica alternative), Spark, Shark (as a faster version of Hive) and Cassandra (under the covers) are all in the mix — but please don’t hold me to those details.

I continue to think that computing is moving to a combination of appliances, clusters, and clouds. That said, I recently bought a new gaming-class computer, and spent many hours gaming on it just yesterday.* I.e., there’s room for general-purpose workstations as well. But otherwise, I’m not hearing anything that contradicts my core point.

*The last beta weekend for The Elder Scrolls Online; I loved Morrowind.

February 9, 2014

Distinctions in SQL/Hadoop integration

Ever more products try to integrate SQL with Hadoop, and discussions of them seem confused, in line with Monash’s First Law of Commercial Semantics. So let’s draw some distinctions, starting with (and these overlap):

In particular:

Let’s go to some examples. Read more

January 3, 2014

Notes on memory-centric data management

I first wrote about in-memory data management a decade ago. But I long declined to use that term — because there’s almost always a persistence story outside of RAM — and coined “memory-centric” as an alternative. Then I relented 1 1/2 years ago, and defined in-memory DBMS as

DBMS designed under the assumption that substantially all database operations will be performed in RAM (Random Access Memory)

By way of contrast:

Hybrid memory-centric DBMS is our term for a DBMS that has two modes:

  • In-memory.
  • Querying and updating (or loading into) persistent storage.

These definitions, while a bit rough, seem to fit most cases. One awkward exception is Aerospike, which assumes semiconductor memory, but is happy to persist onto flash (just not spinning disk). Another is Kognitio, which is definitely lying when it claims its product was in-memory all along, but may or may not have redesigned its technology over the decades to have become more purely in-memory. (But if they have, what happened to all the previous disk-based users??)

Two other sources of confusion are:

With all that said, here’s a little update on in-memory data management and related subjects.

And finally,

December 8, 2013

DataStax/Cassandra update

Cassandra’s reputation in many quarters is:

This has led competitors to use, and get away with, sales claims along the lines of “Well, if you really need geo-distribution and can’t wait for us to catch up — which we soon will! — you should use Cassandra. But otherwise, there are better choices.”

My friends at DataStax, naturally, don’t think that’s quite fair. And so I invited them — specifically Billy Bosworth and Patrick McFadin — to educate me. Here are some highlights of that exercise.

DataStax and Cassandra have some very impressive accounts, which don’t necessarily revolve around geo-distribution. Netflix, probably the flagship Cassandra user — since Cassandra inventor Facebook adopted HBase instead — actually hasn’t been using the geo-distribution feature. Confidential accounts include:

DataStax and Cassandra won’t necessarily win customer-brag wars versus MongoDB, Couchbase, or even HBase, but at least they’re strongly in the competition.

DataStax claims that simplicity is now a strength. There are two main parts to that surprising assertion. Read more

December 5, 2013

Vertica 7

It took me a bit of time, and an extra call with Vertica’s long-time R&D chief Shilpa Lawande, but I think I have a decent handle now on Vertica 7, code-named Crane. The two aspects of Vertica 7 I find most interesting are:

Other Vertica 7 enhancements include:

Overall, two recurring themes in our discussion were:

Read more

November 19, 2013

How Revolution Analytics parallelizes R

I talked tonight with Lee Edlefsen, Chief Scientist of Revolution Analytics, and now think I understand Revolution’s parallel R much better than I did before.

There are four primary ways that people try to parallelize predictive modeling:

One confusing aspect of this discussion is that it could reference several heavily-overlapping but not identical categories of algorithms, including:

  1. External memory algorithms, which operates on datasets too big to fit in main memory, by — for starters — reading in and working on a part of the data at a time. Lee observes that these are almost always parallelizable.
  2. What Revolution markets as External Memory Algorithms, which are those external memory algorithms it has gotten around to implementing so far. These are all parallelized. They are also all in the category of …
  3. … algorithms that can be parallelized by:
    • Operating on data in parts.
    • Getting intermediate results.
    • Combining them in some way for a final result.
  4. Algorithms of the previous category, where the way of combining them specifically is in the form of summation, such as those discussed in the famous paper Map-Reduce for Machine Learning on Multicore. Not all of Revolution’s current parallel algorithms fall into this group.

To be clear, all Revolution’s parallel algorithms are in Category #2 by definition and Category #3 in practice. However, they aren’t all in Category #4.

Read more

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