5 Fun Facts about HBase that you didn’t know

HBase has made inroads in companies across many industries and countries

With HBaseCon right around the corner, I wanted to take stock of one of the more popular1 components in the Hadoop ecosystem. Over the last few years, many more companies have come to rely on HBase to run key products and services. The conference will showcase a wide variety of such examples, and highlight some of the new features that HBase developers have added over the past year. In the meantime here are some things2 you may not have known about HBase:

Many companies have had HBase in production for 3+ years: Large technology companies including Trend Micro, EBay, Yahoo! and Facebook, and analytics companies RocketFuel and Flurry depend on HBase for many mission-critical services.

There are many use cases beyond advertising: Examples include communications (Facebook messages, Xiaomi), security (Trend Micro), measurement (Nielsen), enterprise collaboration (Jive Software), digital media (OCLC), DNA matching (Ancestry.com), and machine data analysis (Box.com). In particular Nielsen uses HBase to track media consumption patterns and trends, mobile handset company Xiaomi uses Hbase for messaging and other consumer mobile services, and OCLC runs the world’s largest online database of library resources on HBase.

Flurry has the largest contiguous HBase cluster: Mobile analytics company Flurry has an HBase cluster with 1,200 nodes (replicating into another 1,200 node cluster). Flurry is planning to significantly expand their large HBase cluster in the near future.

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Discovering Hadoop and HBase

By Ronan Stokes

Ronan Stokes

Ronan Stokes

My earliest introduction to Apache Hadoop, several years ago, was using Hadoop with one of the popular NoSQL databases to build data acquisition pipelines for a semantic search engine for a potential customer. Originally, I had used classic ETL and database tools but the resulting data acquisition, cleansing, and entity extraction pipeline took days to run over a workload of several million medium / large XML documents. Like many others adopting NoSQL, we could have scaled up our relational approach with expensive server and software purchases, but the budget constraints meant that we had to look at other alternatives.

I started to experiment with using a mix of Hadoop components, open source ETL tools, XSLT (as the source data was archives of XML documents), and NoSQL technologies along with custom Java components to perform entity detection and custom plugins for the particular ETL software. The resulting prototype solution performed the same corpus preparation in hours even on a small proof-of-concept cluster.

For many approaching Hadoop solutions for the first time, the natural tendency is to view Hadoop from the perspective of just one facet of existing technologies such as databases, machine-learning, cloud computing, distributed storage, or distributed computing. While this can be very useful as a learning tool, it can lead to some misconceptions about the Hadoop components and ecosystem or applicable use cases.

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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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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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Analytic engines that factor in security labels

Data stores are rolling out easy-to-use analysis tools

Originated by the NSA, Apache Accumulo is a BigTable inspired data store known for being highly scalable and for its interesting security model. Federal agencies and Defense contractors have deployed Accumulo on clusters of a thousand or more servers. It also uses “cell-level” security to control access to values stored in individual cells1.

What Accumulo was lacking were easy-to-use, standard analytic engines that allow users to interact with data. The release of Sqrrl Enterprise this past week fills that gap. Sqrrl Enterprise provides an initial set of analytic engines for the Accumulo ecosystem2. It includes support for interactive SQL, fulltext search, and queries over graph data. Each of these engines takes into account security labels placed on data: since every data object ingested into Sqrrl has a security label, (query & analytic) results incorporate those access levels. Analysts interact with data as they normally would. For example Sqrrl’s indexing technology accounts for security labels, and search queries are written in standard Lucene syntax. Reminiscent of the Phoenix project for HBase3, SQL queries4 in Sqrrl are converted into optimized Accumulo iterators.

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HBase looks more appealing to data scientists

New open source tools for interactive SQL analysis, model development and deployment

When Hadoop users need to develop apps that are “latency sensitive”, many of them turn to HBase1. Its tight integration with Hadoop makes it a popular data store for real-time applications. When I attended the first HBase conference last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of companies and applications that rely on HBase. This year’s conference was even bigger and I ran into attendees from a wide range of companies. Another set of interesting real-world case studies were showcased, along with sessions highlighting work of the HBase team aimed at improving usability, reliability, and availability (bringing down mean time to recovery has been a recent area of focus).

HBase: lines of code

HBase has had a reputation of being a bit difficult to use – its core users have been data engineers, not data scientists. The good news is that as HBase gets adopted by more companies, tools are being developed to open it up to more users. Let me highlight some tools that will appeal to data scientists.

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NoSQL conference coming to Boston

NoSQL conference coming to Boston

On March 11 Boston will join several other cities who have host conferences on the movement broadly known as NoSQL. Cassandra, CouchDB, HBase, HypergraphDB, Hypertable, Memcached, MongoDB, Neo4j, Riak, SimpleDB, Voldemort, and probably other projects as well will be represented at the one-day affair. The interviews I had with various projects leaders for this article turned up a recurring usage pattern for NoSQL. What connects the users is that they carry out web-related data crunching, searching, and other Web 2.0 related work. I think these companies use NoSQL tools because they’re the companies who understand leading-edge technologies and are willing to take risks in those areas. As the field gets better known, usage will spread.

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