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Building a Data Warehouse with Hadoop


10 July 2014

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Building a Data Warehouse with Hadoop

There have been several advancements within the Hadoop world that have positioned Hadoop closer to the data warehousing community than ever before. With a series of Hadoop 2.0 releases starting in October 2013, Hadoop is now much closer to being a platform for a data warehouse.

Hadoop is moving towards an architecture that is similar to a massively parallel processing (MPP) platform for data warehouses.  It now has the added capability of being able to pick and choose hardware and software that churn huge amounts of data, including the capability of processing non-relational data.

In a nutshell, the new Hadoop platform, combined with new offerings from third-party vendors, has potential to be both:

  • A data warehouse by itself.
  • A platform for pre-processing data before loading data to a data warehouse.

With respect to the use of Hadoop within a data warehouse, it can be any or all of the following:

  • A pre-processing staging area for large amounts of data that will be used as source for a data warehouse.
  • A platform that holds large amounts of data on inexpensive commodity hardware that can be scaled up or down on an as-needed basis for exploratory-type data analysis.
  • A platform where non-relational data can be stored, which then extends traditional data warehousing analytical capabilities. For instance, a data warehouse “confirmed” customer can be used in a Hadoop cluster to also analyze that confirmed customer’s call to do sentiment analysis.
  • A place for archiving data that is “queryable” unlike traditional tapes/flat files where data cannot be easily queried or accessed.

While it has been a much discussed fact that a Hadoop platform augments an existing data warehouse, it is far from the reality of completely replacing an existing data warehouse with Hadoop platform.

The concept of replacing an existing data warehouse with Hadoop is still in its early stages.  However, it is promising to see the new Hadoop capabilities, in combination with interfaces supported by vendors, that are making it a strong contender.

Bill Inmon has written in various places that he sees no relationship between Big Data and data warehouses, and still believes the Hadoop file system is only good to augment existing data warehouses. Ralph Kimball has taken a step forward in making it clear that Hadoop can be used as a platform for a destination data warehouse.

He has observed there are now major BI and Data Integration vendors that have interfaces in their tools for accessing data in the Hadoop platform that leverages features from the latest Hadoop release.

Below are three key advancements in Hadoop that promote the case for data warehousing:

YARN resource manager

YARN is a sub-project of Apache Hadoop 2.0 that separates resource management and processing components. Previously every tool/application that interfaces with Hadoop had to use Map/Reduce to access and process data stored in Hadoop. Developers were constrained to the limitations of Map/Reduce.

With YARN, applications can now manage resources independently of Map/Reduce and use Map/Reduce just for processing data. Due to the separation, applications can use their own logic for data processing other than Map/Reduce.

For instance, for Hadoop 1.0, IBM had Adaptive Map/Reduce technology for managing jobs that needed low latency isolated from batch processing. Now this capability is supported by YARN such that every vendor can utilize the resource scheduling/prioritization based on need.


No longer reliant on Map/Reduce

Until now, Map/Reduce was the biggest bottleneck due to its higher latency batch processing architecture. Map/Reduce was meant for indexing/sorting web pages and it worked very well for the purpose. Now with support of data processing other than Map/Reduce, vendors such as IBM and Cloudera are coming up with their own data processing capabilities that retrieve data faster than ever before.  For example, Cloudera’s Impala query engine now can process SQL queries on Hadoop about 10x faster compared to regular Hive SQL that uses Map/Reduce behind the scenes. Cloudera uses in-memory data processing for accessing data using SQL.

Similarly there are other vendors, such as MammothDB, who are also providing in-memory capability to reduce query latency thus helping tools query Hadoop similar to a traditional data warehouse. Same goes with IBM’s BigSQL that claims faster processing than Map/Reduce based Hive SQL processing.

The Microsoft/HortonWorks Stinger query engine claims 100X faster than Hive SQL for accessing data directly on Hadoop.

The tedious, painstaking Map/Reduce component is no longer a mandatory skillset necessary for developers.

In-Memory data processing

Today Hadoop is primarily used for batch processing where the data is written once and data processing is performed multiple times over the entire set sequentially. HDFS is not suitable for real time or online applications that require random access and support thousands of concurrent users at predictably low latencies. As a result, Hadoop is plagued with the same challenges as other MPP technologies in keeping up with the user concurrency requirement of their BI needs. With in-memory data processing, it brings the important potential of having enormous user concurrency and very low latency for data in a Hadoop cluster. This is very similar to the in-memory solution in a regular data warehouse. With the architecture of HDFS, you can leverage distributed memory across a large farm of commodity servers to offer very low latency SQL queries and updates.

Similar to other in-memory databases/solutions, a key thing to consider is that every dataset needing to utilize in-memory access will still need to be cached in advance.

With the Hadoop 2.0/YARN, Spark is included in the release. SPARK performs in-memory data processing on the HDFS file system.  It is about 100x faster than regular Hadoop map/reduce data processing.

In March, 2014, Gartner ( released its Magic Quadrant for Data Warehouse Database Management Systems—and for first time it included the Big Data vendor, Cloudera, in its database recommendations.  While Cloudera is within the “niche player” category and not within the challengers/leaders, it is still promising to see its entry among the database management systems.


In their analysis, Gartner does have a cautionary disclaimer, “Cloudera**is moving forward with its ‘data hub’ alternative to traditional data warehousing (a form of LDW). This is a diverse model that will be a challenge for its bandwidth to deliver.”

Despite all that is being discussed, the actual question of “can Hadoop really replace a Data Warehouse?” is still in its infancy.  Although vendors are now providing SQL capabilities that are getting data out of Hadoop much faster than before, it is still no match for the traditional SQL capabilities of a regular RDBMS.  There is still a long way to go in getting the performance of normal SQL queries on Hadoop.


All query engines discussed above have limitations and are not as robust and mature as the standard SQL query that runs on traditional warehouses. We still cannot expect to build a data warehouse on Hadoop in its entirety and expect business users to easily and quickly access data using these tools—yet.   An in-memory solution is not suitable for all type of data warehouse needs either.  But this is definitely a huge step forward considering where Hadoop 1.0 was just a year ago.

About the Author

Prakash Sukumar is a Principal Consultant at iOLAP, Inc., and specializes in Data Architecture.  He has had many years of experience architecting data warehouses in various capacities. Prakash has special interest in emerging technologies and is always looking for new and promising methods and technologies that help businesses perform better.

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