Posts

CAP Theorem

Understanding databases for storing, updating and analyzing data requires the understanding of the CAP Theorem. This is the second article of the article series Data Warehousing Basics.

Understanding NoSQL Databases by the CAP Theorem

CAP theorem – or Brewer’s theorem – was introduced by the computer scientist Eric Brewer at Symposium on Principles of Distributed computing in 2000. The CAP stands for Consistency, Availability and Partition tolerance.

  • Consistency: Every read receives the most recent writes or an error. Once a client writes a value to any server and gets a response, it is expected to get afresh and valid value back from any server or node of the database cluster it reads from.
    Be aware that the definition of consistency for CAP means something different than to ACID (relational consistency).
  • Availability: The database is not allowed to be unavailable because it is busy with requests. Every request received by a non-failing node in the system must result in a response. Whether you want to read or write you will get some response back. If the server has not crashed, it is not allowed to ignore the client’s requests.
  • Partition tolerance: Databases which store big data will use a cluster of nodes that distribute the connections evenly over the whole cluster. If this system has partition tolerance, it will continue to operate despite a number of messages being delayed or even lost by the network between the cluster nodes.

CAP theorem applies the logic that  for a distributed system it is only possible to simultaneously provide  two out of the above three guarantees. Eric Brewer, the father of the CAP theorem, proved that we are limited to two of three characteristics, “by explicitly handling partitions, designers can optimize consistency and availability, thereby achieving some trade-off of all three.” (Brewer, E., 2012).

CAP Theorem Triangle

To recap, with the CAP theorem in relation to Big Data distributed solutions (such as NoSQL databases), it is important to reiterate the fact, that in such distributed systems it is not possible to guarantee all three characteristics (Availability, Consistency, and Partition Tolerance) at the same time.

Database systems designed to fulfill traditional ACID guarantees like relational database (management) systems (RDBMS) choose consistency over availability, whereas NoSQL databases are mostly systems designed referring to the BASE philosophy which prefer availability over consistency.

The CAP Theorem in the real world

Lets look at some examples to understand the CAP Theorem further and provewe cannot create database systems which are being consistent, partition tolerant as well as always available simultaniously.

AP – Availability + Partition Tolerance

If we have achieved Availability (our databases will always respond to our requests) as well as Partition Tolerance (all nodes of the database will work even if they cannot communicate), it will immediately mean that we cannot provide Consistency as all nodes will go out of sync as soon as we write new information to one of the nodes. The nodes will continue to accept the database transactions each separately, but they cannot transfer the transaction between each other keeping them in synchronization. We therefore cannot fully guarantee the system consistency. When the partition is resolved, the AP databases typically resync the nodes to repair all inconsistencies in the system.

A well-known real world example of an AP system is the Domain Name System (DNS). This central network component is responsible for resolving domain names into IP addresses and focuses on the two properties of availability and failure tolerance. Thanks to the large number of servers, the system is available almost without exception. If a single DNS server fails,another one takes over. According to the CAP theorem, DNS is not consistent: If a DNS entry is changed, e.g. when a new domain has been registered or deleted, it can take a few days before this change is passed on to the entire system hierarchy and can be seen by all clients.

CA – Consistency + Availability

Guarantee of full Consistency and Availability is practically impossible to achieve in a system which distributes data over several nodes. We can have databases over more than one node online and available, and we keep the data consistent between these nodes, but the nature of computer networks (LAN, WAN) is that the connection can get interrupted, meaning we cannot guarantee the Partition Tolerance and therefor not the reliability of having the whole database service online at all times.

Database management systems based on the relational database models (RDBMS) are a good example of CA systems. These database systems are primarily characterized by a high level of consistency and strive for the highest possible availability. In case of doubt, however, availability can decrease in favor of consistency. Reliability by distributing data over partitions in order to make data reachable in any case – even if computer or network failure – meanwhile plays a subordinate role.

CP – Consistency + Partition Tolerance

If the Consistency of data is given – which means that the data between two or more nodes always contain the up-to-date information – and Partition Tolerance is given as well – which means that we are avoiding any desynchronization of our data between all nodes, then we will lose Availability as soon as only one a partition occurs between any two nodes In most distributed systems, high availability is one of the most important properties, which is why CP systems tend to be a rarity in practice. These systems prove their worth particularly in the financial sector: banking applications that must reliably debit and transfer amounts of money on the account side are dependent on consistency and reliability by consistent redundancies to always be able to rule out incorrect postings – even in the event of disruptions in the data traffic. If consistency and reliability is not guaranteed, the system might be unavailable for the users.

CAP Theorem Venn Diagram

Conclusion

The CAP Theorem is still an important topic to understand for data engineers and data scientists, but many modern databases enable us to switch between the possibilities within the CAP Theorem. For example, the Cosmos DB von Microsoft Azure offers many granular options to switch between the consistency, availability and partition tolerance . A common misunderstanding of the CAP theorem that it´s none-absoluteness: “All three properties are more continuous than binary. Availability is continuous from 0 to 100 percent, there are many levels of consistency, and even partitions have nuances. Exploring these nuances requires pushing the traditional way of dealing with partitions, which is the fundamental challenge. Because partitions are rare, CAP should allow perfect C and A most of the time, but when partitions are present or perceived, a strategy is in order.” (Brewer, E., 2012).

Data Warehousing Basiscs

Data Warehousing is applied Big Data Management and a key success factor in almost every company. Without a data warehouse, no company today can control its processes and make the right decisions on a strategic level as there would be a lack of data transparency for all decision makers. Bigger comanies even have multiple data warehouses for different purposes.

In this series of articles I would like to explain what a data warehouse actually is and how it is set up. However, I would also like to explain basic topics regarding Data Engineering and concepts about databases and data flows.

To do this, we tick off the following points step by step:

 

What Is Data Lake Architecture?

The volume of information produced by everyone in the world is growing exponentially. To put it in perspective, it’s estimated that by 2023 the big data analytics market will reach $103 billion.

Finding probable solutions for storing big data is a challenge. It’s no easy task to hold enormous amounts of information, clean it and transform it into understandable subsets — it’s best to take one step at a time.

Some reasons why companies access their big data is to:

  • Improve their consumer experience
  • Draw conclusions and make data-driven decisions
  • Identify potential problems
  • Create innovative products

There are ways to help define big data. Combining its characteristics with storage management methods help experts make their clients’ information digestible and understandable. Cue data lakes, which are repositories for big data in its native form.

Think of an actual lake with multiple water sources around the perimeter flowing into it. Picture these as three types of data: structured, semi-structured and unstructured. All this information can remain in a data lake and be accessed in its raw form at any time, making it an attractive storage method.

Here’s how data lakes are created, some of their components and how to avoid common pitfalls.

Creating a Data Lake

One benefit of creating and implementing a data lake is that structuring becomes much more manageable.  Pulling necessary information from a lake allows analysts to compare and contrast data and communicate any connections between datasets to their client.

There are four steps to follow when setting up a data lake:

  1. Choosing a software solution: Microsoft, Amazon and Google are cloud vendors that allow developers to create data lakes without using servers.
  2. Identifying where data is sourced: Where is your information coming from? Once sources are identified, determine how your data will be cleaned or transformed.
  3. Defining process and automation: It’s vital to outline how information should be processed once the data lake ingests it. This creates consistency for businesses.
  4. Establishing retrieval governance: Choosing who has access to what types of information is crucial for companies with multiple locations and departments. It helps with overall organization. Data scientists, for this reason, primarily access data lakes.

The next step would be to determine the extract, transform and load (ETL) process. ETL creates visual interpretations of data to provide context to businesses. When information from a data lake is sent to a warehouse, it can be analyzed.

Components of a Data Lake

Here is what happens to information once a data lake is created:

  • Collection: Data comes in from various sources.
  • Ingestion: Data is processed using management software.
  • Blending: Data is combined from multiple sources.
  • Transformation: Data is analyzed and made sense of.
  • Publication: Data can be used to drive business decisions.

There are other aspects of a data lake to keep in mind. These are the critical components that help provide business solutions:

  • Security: Data lakes require security to protect information — they do not have built-in safety measures.
  • Governance: Determine who can check on the quality of data and perform measurements.
  • Metadata: This provides information about other data to improve understanding.
  • Stewardship: Choose one or more employees to take on the responsibility of managing data.
  • Monitoring: Employ other software to perform the ETL process.

Big data lends itself to incorporating multiple processes to make it usable for companies. The volume of information one company produces is massive — to manage it, experts need to consider these components and steps when building a data lake.

What to Avoid When Using Data Lakes

The last thing people want for their data lake is to see it turn into a swamp. When big data is processed incorrectly, its value decreases, making it useless to the business sourcing it.

The first step in avoiding a common pitfall is to consider the sustainability of the data lake. Planning processes are necessary to ensure it’s secure, and governing and regulating incoming information will allow for long-term use.

A lack of security causes another problem that can arise in data lakes. Safety measures must be implemented. Because enterprises will build data lakes for different purposes, it’s easy for information to become unorganized and vulnerable to hacking. With security, the likelihood of data breaches decreases, and the quality of data remains high.

The most important thing to remember about data lakes is the planning stage. Without proper preparation, they tend to be overwhelming due to their size and complexity. Taking the time and care to establish the processes ahead of time is vital.

Using Data Lake Architecture for Business

Data lakes store massive amounts of information to be used later on to create subsets, analyze metadata and more. Their advantages allow businesses to be flexible, save money and have access to raw information at all times.

Simplify Vendor Onboarding with Automated Data Integration

Vendor onboarding is a key business process that involves collecting and processing large data volumes from one or multiple vendors. Business users need vendor information in a standardized format to use it for subsequent data processes. However, consolidating and standardizing data for each new vendor requires IT teams to write code for custom integration flows, which can be a time-consuming and challenging task.

In this blog post, we will talk about automated vendor onboarding and how it is far more efficient and quicker than manually updating integration flows.

Problems with Manual Integration for Vendor Onboarding

During the onboarding process, vendor data needs to be extracted, validated, standardized, transformed, and loaded into the target system for further processing. An integration task like this involves coding, updating, and debugging manual ETL pipelines that can take days and even weeks on end.

Every time a vendor comes on board, this process is repeated and executed to load the information for that vendor into the unified business system. Not just this, but because vendor data is often received from disparate sources in a variety of formats (CSV, Text, Excel), these ETL pipelines frequently break and require manual fixes.

All this effort is not suitable, particularly for large-scale businesses that onboard hundreds of vendors each month. Luckily, there is a faster alternative available that involves no code-writing.

Automated Data Integration

The manual onboarding process can be automated using purpose-built data integration tools.

To help you better understand the advantages, here is a step-by-step guide on how automated data integration for vendor onboarding works:

  1. Vendor data is retrieved from heterogeneous sources such as databases, FTP servers, and web APIs through built-in connectors available in the solution.
  2. The data from each file is validated by passing it through a set of predefined quality rules – this step helps in eliminating records with missing, duplicate, or incorrect data.
  3. Transformations are applied to convert input data into the desired output format or screen vendors based on business criteria. For example, if the vendor data is stored in Excel sheets and the business uses SQL Server for data storage, then the data has to be mapped to the relevant fields in the SQL Server database, which is the destination.
  4. The standardized, validated data is then loaded into a unified enterprise database that you can use as the source of information for business processes. In some cases, this can be a staging database where you can perform further filtering and aggregation to build a consolidated vendor database.
  5. This entire ETL pipeline (Step 1 through Step 4) can then be automated through event-based or time-based triggers in a workflow. For instance, you may want to run the pipeline once every day, or once a new file/data point is available in your FTP server.

Why Build a Consolidated Database for Vendors?

Once the ETL pipeline runs, you will end up with a consolidated database with complete vendor information. The main benefit of having a unified database is that it would have filtered information regarding vendors.

Most businesses have a strict process for screening vendors that follows a set of predefined rules. For example, you may want to reject vendors that have a poor credit history automatically. With manual data integration, you would need to perform this filtering by writing code. Automated data integration allows you to apply pre-built filters directly within your ETL pipeline to flag or remove vendors with a credit score lower than the specified threshold.

This is just one example; you can perform a wide range of tasks at this level in your ETL pipeline including vendor scoring (calculated based on multiple fields in your data), filtering (based on rules applied to your data), and data aggregation (to add measures to your data) to build a robust vendor database for decision-making and subsequent processes.

Conclusion

Automated vendor onboarding offers cost-and-time benefits to your organization. Making use of enterprise-grade data integration tools ensures a seamless business-to-vendor data exchange without the need for reworking and upgrading your ETL pipelines.

Integrate Unstructured Data into Your Enterprise to Drive Actionable Insights

In an ideal world, all enterprise data is structured – classified neatly into columns, rows, and tables, easily integrated and shared across the organization.

The reality is far from it! Datamation estimates that unstructured data accounts for more than 80% of enterprise data, and it is growing at a rate of 55 – 65 percent annually. This includes information stored in images, emails, spreadsheets, etc., that cannot fit into databases.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for a data-driven organization to leverage their non-traditional information assets to derive business value. We have outlined a simple 3-step process that can help organizations integrate unstructured sources into their data eco-system:

1. Determine the Challenge

The primary step is narrowing down the challenges you want to solve through the unstructured data flowing in and out of your organization. Financial organizations, for instance, use call reports, sales notes, or other text documents to get real-time insights from the data and make decisions based on the trends. Marketers make use of social media data to evaluate their customers’ needs and shape their marketing strategy.

Figuring out which process your organization is trying to optimize through unstructured data can help you reach your goal faster.

2. Map Out the Unstructured Data Sources Within the Enterprise

An actionable plan starts with identifying the range of data sources that are essential to creating a truly integrated environment. This enables organizations to align the sources with business objectives and streamline their data initiatives.

Deciding which data should be extracted, analyzed, and stored should be a primary concern in this regard. Even if you can ingest data from any source, it doesn’t mean that you should.

Collecting a large volume of unstructured data is not enough to generate insights. It needs to be properly organized and validated for quality before integration. Full, incremental, online, and offline extraction methods are generally used to mine valuable information from unstructured data sources.

3. Transform Unstructured Assets into Decision-Ready Insights

Now that you have all the puzzle pieces, the next step is to create a complete picture. This may require making changes in your organization’s infrastructure to derive meaning from your unstructured assets and get a 360-degree business view.

IDC recommends creating a company culture that promotes the collection, use, and sharing of both unstructured and structured business assets. Therefore, finding an enterprise-grade integration solution that offers enhanced connectivity to a range of data sources, ideally structured, unstructured, and semi-structured, can help organizations generate the most value out of their data assets.

Automation is another feature that can help speed up integration processes, minimize error probability, and generate time-and-cost savings. Features like job scheduling, auto-mapping, and workflow automation can optimize the process of extracting information from XML, JSON, Excel or audio files, and storing it into a relational database or generating insights.

The push to become a data-forward organization has enterprises re-evaluating the way to leverage unstructured data assets for decision-making. With an actionable plan in place to integrate these sources with the rest of the data, organizations can take advantage of the opportunities offered by analytics and stand out from the competition.