Discussion of Google’s data management technologies MapReduce and BigTable. Related subjects include:

April 21, 2010

ITA Software and Needlebase

Rumors are flying that Google may acquire ITA Software. I know nothing of their validity, but I have known about ITA Software for a while. Random notes include:

ITA’s software does both price/reservation lookup/checking and reservation-making. I’ve had trouble keeping it straight, but I think the lookup is ITA’s actual business, and the reservation-making is ITA’s Next Big Thing. This is one of the ultimate federated-transaction-processing applications, because it involves coordinating huge OLTP systems run, in some cases, by companies that are bitter competitors with each other. Network latencies have to allow for intercontinental travel of the data itself.

Indeed, airline reservation systems are pretty much the OLTP ultimate in themselves. As the story goes, transaction monitors were pretty much invented for airline reservation systems in the 1960s.

A really small project for ITA Software is Needlebase. I stopped by ITA to look at Needlebase in January, and what it is is a very smart and hence interesting screen-scraping system. The idea is people publish database information to the web, and you may want to look at their web pages and recover the database records it is based on. Applications of this to the airline industry, which has 100s of 1000s of price changes per day — and I may be too low by one or two orders of magnitude when I say that — should be fairly obvious. ITA Software has aspirations of applying Needlebase to other sectors as well, or more precisely having users who do so. Last I looked, ITA hadn’t put significant resources behind stimulating Needlebase adoption — but Google might well change that.

Edit: I just re-found an old characterization of (some of) what ITA Software does by — who else? — Dan Weinreb:

I am working on our new product, an airline reservation system.  It’s an online transaction-processing system that must be up 99.99% of the time, maintaining maximum response time (e.g. on  It’s a very, very complicated system.  The presentation layer is written in Java using conventional techniques.  The business rule layer is written in Common Lisp; about 500,000 lines of code (plus another 100,000 or so of open source libraries).  The database layer is Oracle RAC.  We operate our own data centers, some here in Massachusetts and a disaster-recovery site in Canada (separate power grid).

Related links

March 12, 2010

Some NoSQL links

I plan to post a few things soon about MongoDB, Cassandra, and NoSQL in general. So I’m poking around a bit reading stuff on the subjects. Here are some links I found. Read more

February 11, 2010

More patent nonsense — Google MapReduce

Google recently received a patent for MapReduce. The first and most general claim is (formatting and emphasis mine): Read more

December 30, 2009

Clearing up MapReduce confusion, yet again

I’m frustrated by a constant need — or at least urge :) — to correct myths and errors about MapReduce. Let’s try one more time: Read more

October 18, 2009

Three big myths about MapReduce

Once again, I find myself writing and talking a lot about MapReduce. But I suspect that MapReduce-related conversations would go better if we overcame three fairly common MapReduce myths:

Read more

June 15, 2009

Google Fusion Tables

Google has announced an experimental cloud-based data management system called Fusion Tables. A press article and Slashdot thread ensued, based on some bizarre-sounding analyst quotes that I will not attempt to parse.

What Fusion Tables really seems to be is a spreadsheet without the formulae. That is, it’s a place to dump data in a grid of cells, comment on it, version it, and do elementary data manipulation.  This could, I guess, be useful as an alternative to traditional RDBMS — assuming, of course, that you want to have a row-by-row debate about 100 megs of data.

Seriously, while Google Fusion Tables bears some vague resemblance to what I’m thinking about for the future of both business intelligence and data marts, it sounds as if it has a long way to go before it’s something most enterprises should spend time looking at.

May 30, 2009

Reinventing business intelligence

I’ve felt for quite a while that business intelligence tools are due for a revolution. But I’ve found the subject daunting to write about because — well, because it’s so multifaceted and big. So to break that logjam, here are some thoughts on the reinvention of business intelligence technology, with no pretense of being in any way comprehensive.

Natural language and classic science fiction

Actually, there’s a pretty well-known example of BI near-perfection — the Star Trek computers, usually voiced by the late Majel Barrett Roddenberry. They didn’t have a big role in the recent movie, which was so fast-paced nobody had time to analyze very much, but were a big part of the Star Trek universe overall. Star Trek’s computers integrated analytics, operations, and authentication, all with a great natural language/voice interface and visual displays. That example is at the heart of a 1998 article on natural language recognition I just re-posted.

As for reality: For decades, dating back at least to Artificial Intelligence Corporation’s Intellect, there have been offerings that provided “natural language” command, control, and query against otherwise fairly ordinary analytic tools. Such efforts have generally fizzled, for reasons outlined at the link above. Wolfram Alpha is the latest try; fortunately for its prospects, natural language is really only a small part of the Wolfram Alpha story.

A second theme has more recently emerged — using text indexing to get at data more flexibly than a relational schema would normally allow, either by searching on data values themselves (stressed by Attivio) or more by searching on the definitions of pre-built reports (the Google OneBox story). SAP’s Explorer is the latest such view, but I find Doug Henschen’s skepticism about SAP Explorer more persuasive than Cindi Howson’s cautiously favorable view. Partly that’s because I know SAP (and Business Objects); partly it’s because of difficulties such as those I already noted.

Flexibility and data exploration

It’s a truism that each generation of dashboard-like technology fails because it’s too inflexible. Users are shown the information that will provide them with the most insight. They appreciate it at first. But eventually it’s old hat, and when they want to do something new, the baked-in data model doesn’t support it.

The latest attempts to overcome this problem lie in two overlapping trends — cool data exploration/visualization tools, and in-memory analytics. Read more

November 21, 2008

High-end MySQL use

To a large extent, MySQL lives in two different alternate universes from most other DBMS. One is for low-end, simple database applications. For example, of all the DBMS I write about, MySQL is the one I actually use in my own business — because MySQL sits underneath WordPress, and WordPress is what runs my blogs. My largest database (the one for DBMS2) contains 12 megabytes of data in 11 tables, none of which has yet reached 5000 rows in size. Read more

July 8, 2008

Google has thousands of internal data formats, mostly simple ones

In connection with the release of Protocol Buffers, Kenton Varda of Google wrote: Read more

January 20, 2008

More Google reliability woes

Google’s reliability issues are ever worse. As I previously pointed out, this is evidence against the notion that MapReduce is a replacement for established DBMS.

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