Spark Summit East: A Report (Updated)

Updated with links to slides where available.  Some links are broken, conference organizers have been notified.

Spark Summit East 2015 met on March 18 and 19 at the Sheraton Times Square in New York City.  Conference organizers announced another sellout (like the last two Spark Summits on the West Coast).

Competition for speaking slots at Spark events is heating up.  There were 170 submissions for 30 speaking slots at this event, compared to 85 submissions for 50 slots at Spark Summit 2014.  Compared to the last Spark Summit, presentations in the Applications Track, which I attended, were more polished, and demonstrate real progress in putting Spark to work.

The “father” of Spark, Matei Zaharia, kicked off the conference with a review of Spark progress in 2014 and planned enhancements for 2015.  Highlights of 2014 include:

  • Growth in contributors, from 150 to 500
  • Growth in the code base, from 190K lines to 370K lines
  • More than 500 known production instances at the close of 2014

Spark remains the most active project in the Hadoop ecosystem.

Also, in 2014, a team at Databricks smashed the Daytona GreySort record for petabyte-scale sorting.  The previous record, set in 2013, used MapReduce running on 2,100 machines to complete the task in 72 minutes.  The new record, set by Databricks with Spark running in the cloud, used 207 machines to complete the task in 23 minutes.

Key enhancements projected for 2015 include:

  • DataFrames, which are similar to frames in R, already released in Spark 1.3
  • R interface, which currently exists as SparkR, an independent project, targeted to be merged into Spark 1.4 in June
  • Enhancements to machine learning pipelines, which are sequences of tasks linked together into a process
  • Continued expansion of smart interfaces to external data sources, pushing logic into the sources
  • Spark packages — a repository for third-party packages (comparable to CRAN)

Databricks CEO Ion Stoica followed with a pitch for Databricks Cloud, which included brief testimonials from myfitnesspal, Automatic, Zoomdata, Uncharted Software and Tresata.

Additional keynoters included Brian Schimpf of Palantir, Matthew Glickman of Goldman Sachs and Peter Wang of Continuum Analytics.

Spark contributors presented detailed views on the current state of Spark:

  • Michael Armbrust, Spark SQL lead developer presented on the new DataFrames API and other enhancements to Spark SQL.
  • Tathagata Das delivered a talk on the current state and future of Spark Streaming.
  • Joseph Bradley covered MLLib, focusing on the Pipelines capability added in Spark 1.2
  • Ankur Dave offered an overview of GraphX, Spark’s graph engine.

Several observations from the Applications track:

(1) Geospatial applications had a strong presence.

  • Automatic, Tresata and Uncharted all showed live demonstrations of marketable products with geospatial components running on Spark
  • Mansour Raad of ESRI followed his boffo performance at Strata/Hadoop World last October with a virtuoso demonstration of Spark with massive spatial and temporal datasets and the ESRI open source GIS stack

(2) Spark provides a great platform for recommendation engines.

  • Comcast uses Spark to serve personalized recommendations based on analysis of billions of machine-generated events
  • Gilt Groupe uses Spark for a similar real-time application supporting flash sale events, where products are available for a limited time and in limited quantities
  • Leah McGuire of Salesforce described her work building a recommendation system using Spark

(3) Spark is gaining credibility in retail banking.

  • Sandy Ryza of Cloudera presented on Value At Risk (VAR) computations in Spark, a critical element in Basel reporting and stress testing
  • Startup Tresata demonstrated its application for Anti Money Laundering, which is built on a social graph built in Spark

(4) Spark has traction in the life sciences

  • Jeremy Freeman of HHMI Janelia Research Center, a regular presenter at Spark Summits, covered Spark’s unique capability for streaming machine learning.
  • David Tester of Novartis presented plans to build a trillion-edge graph for genomic integration
  • Timothy Danforth of Berkeley’s AMPLab delivered a presentation on next-generation genomics with Spark and ADAM
  • Kevin Mader of ETH Zurich spoke about turning big hairy 3D images into simple, robust, reproducible numbers without resorting to black boxes or magic

Also in the applications track: presenters from Baidu, myfitnesspal and Shopify.

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4 comments

  • Interesting. Thanks for sharing.It seems that Databricks has increasing ambition to push Spark in the Data Science world (Hadoop is still very much an engineering project for Engineers by Engineers). DataFrames and SparkSQL demonstrate it. I expect Spark to be able to perform Pandas/scikit-learn operations within a few years.

    On a side note, Spark’s CRAN is a good way to crowdsource (thus hastening) the development. Smart move.

    • Thanks for reading. Data science is the key driver behind Spark — data scientists were dissatisfied with MapReduce due to its need to persist after each pass through the data. Iterative algorithms run 100X faster on Spark.

      • I agree. I would also add that, considering the shortage of data scientists, companies need labor productivity (higher level languages) more than language speed. Most of the companies I serve are really struggling to hire talent.

  • We need both — faster engines AND higher-level languages

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