Spark is the Future of Analytics

At the 2016 Spark Summit, Gartner Research Director Nick Heudecker asked: Is Spark the Future of Data Analysis?  It’s an interesting question, and it requires a little parsing. Nobody believes that Spark alone is the future of data analysis, even its most ardent proponents. A better way to frame the question: Does Spark have a role in the future of analytics? What is that role?

Unfortunately, Heudecker didn’t address the question but spent the hour throwing shade at Spark.

Spark is overhyped! He declared. His evidence? This:

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One might question an analysis that equates real things like optimization with fake things like “Citizen Data Science.” Gartner’s Hype Cycle by itself proves nothing; it’s a conceptual salad, with neither empirical foundation nor predictive power.

If you want to argue that Spark is overhyped, produce some false or misleading claims by project principals, or documented cases where the software failed to work as claimed. It’s possible that such cases exist. Personally, I don’t know of any, and neither does Nick Heudecker, or he would have included them in his presentation.

Instead, he cited a Gartner survey showing that organizations don’t use Spark and Flink as much as they use other tools for data analysis. From my notes, here are the percentages:

  • EDW: 57%
  • Cloud: 44%
  • Hadoop: 42%
  • Stat Packages: 32%
  • Spark or Flink: 9%
  • Graph Databases: 8%

That 42% figure for Hadoop is interesting. In 2015, Gartner concern-trolled the tech community, trumpeting the finding that “only” 26% of respondents in a survey said they were “deploying, piloting or experimenting with Hadoop.” So — either Hadoop adoption grew from 26% to 42% in a year, or Gartner doesn’t know how to do surveys.

In any event, it’s irrelevant; statistical packages have been available for 40 years, EDWs for 25, Spark for 3. The current rate of adoption for a project in its youth tells you very little about its future. It’s like arguing that a toddler is cognitively challenged because she can’t do integral calculus without checking the Wolfram app on her iPad.

Heudecker closed his presentation with the pronouncement that he had no idea whether or not Spark is the future of data analysis, and bolted the venue faster than a jackrabbit on Ecstasy. Which begs the question: why pay big bucks for analysts who have no opinion about one of the most active projects in the Big Data ecosystem?

Here are eight reasons why Spark has a central role in the future of analytics.

(1) Nearly everyone who uses Hadoop will use Spark.

If you believe that 42% of enterprises use Hadoop, you must believe that 41.9% will use Spark. Every Hadoop distribution includes Spark. Hive and Pig run on Spark. Hadoop early adopters will gradually replace existing MapReduce applications and build most new applications in Spark. Late adopters may never use MapReduce.

The only holdouts for MapReduce will be those who want their analysis the way they want their barbecue: low and slow.

Of course, Hadoop adoption isn’t static. Forrester’s Mike Gualtieri argues that 100% of enterprises will use Hadoop within a few years.

(2) Lots of people who don’t use Hadoop will use Spark.

For Hadoop users, Spark is a fast replacement for MapReduce. But that’s not all it is. Spark is also a general-purpose data processing environment for advanced analytics. Hadoop has baggage that data science teams don’t need, so it’s no surprise to see that most Spark users aren’t using it with Hadoop. One of the key advantages of Spark is that users aren’t tied to a particular storage back end, but can choose from many different options. That’s essential in real-world data science.

(3) For scalable open source data science, Spark is the only game in town.

If you want to argue that Spark has no future, you’re going to have to name an alternative. I’ll give you a minute to think of something.

Time’s up.

You could try to approximate Spark’s capabilities with a collection of other projects: for example, you could use Presto for SQL, H2O for machine learning, Storm for streaming, and Giraph for graph analysis. Good luck pulling those together. H2O.ai was one of the first vendors to build an interface to Spark because even if you want to use H2O for machine learning, you’re still going to use Spark for data wrangling.

“What about Flink?” you ask. Well, what about it? Flink may have a future, too, if anyone ever supports it other than ten guys in a loft on the Tempelhofer Ufer. Flink’s event-based runtime seems well-suited for “pure” streaming applications, but that’s low-value bottom-of-the-stack stuff. Flink’s ML library is still pretty limited, and improving it doesn’t appear to be a high priority for the Flink team.

(4) Data scientists who work exclusively with “small data” still need Spark.

Data scientists satisfy most business requests for insight with small datasets that can fit into memory on a single machine. Even if you measure your largest dataset in gigabytes, however, there are two ways you need Spark: to create your analysis dataset and to parallelize operations.

Your analysis dataset may be small, but it comes from a larger pool of enterprise data. Unless you have servants to pull data for you, at some point you’re going to have to get your hands dirty and deal with data at enterprise scale. If you are lucky, your organization has nice clean data in a well-organized data warehouse that has everything anyone will ever need in a single source of truth.

Ha ha! Just kidding. Single sources of truth don’t exist, except in the wildest fantasies of data warehouse vendors. In reality, you’re going to muck around with many different sources and integrate your analysis data on the fly. Spark excels at that.

For best results, machine learning projects require hundreds of experiments to identify the best algorithm and optimal parameters. If you run those tests serially, it will take forever; distribute them across a Spark cluster, and you can radically reduce the time needed to find that optimal model.

(5) The Spark team isn’t resting on its laurels.

Over time, Spark has evolved from a research project for scalable machine learning to a general purpose data processing framework. Driven by user feedback, Spark has added SQL and streaming capabilities, introduced Python and R APIs, re-engineered the machine learning libraries, and many other enhancements.

Here are some projects under way to improve Spark:

— Project Tungsten, an ongoing effort to optimize CPU and memory utilization.

— A stable serialization format (possibly Apache Arrow) for external code integration.

— Integration with deep learning frameworks, including TensorFlow and Intel’s new BigDL library.

— A cost-based optimizer for Spark SQL.

— Improved interfaces to data sources.

— Continuing improvements to the Python and R APIs.

Performance improvement is an ongoing mission; for selected operations, Spark 2.0 runs 10X faster than Spark 1.6.

(6) More cool stuff is on the way.

Berkeley’s AMPLab, the source of Spark, Mesos, and Tachyon/Alluxio, is now RISELab. There are four projects under way at RISELab that will extend Spark capabilities:

Clipper is a prediction serving system that brokers between machine learning frameworks and end-user applications. The first Alpha release, planned for mid-April 2017, will serve scikit-learn, Spark ML and Spark MLLib models, and arbitrary Python functions.

Drizzle, an execution engine for Apache Spark, uses group scheduling to reduce latency in streaming and iterative operations. Lead developer Shivaram Venkataraman has filed a design document to implement this approach in Spark.

Opaque is a package for Spark SQL that uses Intel SGX trusted hardware to deliver strong security for DataFrames. The project seeks to enable analytics on sensitive data in an untrusted cloud, with data encryption and access pattern hiding.

Ray is a distributed execution engine for Spark designed for reinforcement learning.

Three Apache projects in the Incubator build on Spark:

— Apache Hivemall is a scalable machine learning library implemented as a collection of Hive UDFs designed to run on Hive, Pig or Spark SQL with MapReduce, Tez or Spark.

— Apache PredictionIO is a machine learning server built on top of an open source stack, including Spark, HBase, Spray, and Elasticsearch.

— Apache SystemML is a library of machine learning algorithms that run on Spark and MapReduce, originally developed by IBM Research.

MIT’s CSAIL lab is working on ModelDB, a system to manage machine learning models. ModelDB extracts and stores model artifacts and metadata, and makes this data available for easy querying and visualization. The current release supports Spark ML and scikit-learn.

(7) Commercial vendors are building on top of Spark.

The future of analytics is a hybrid stack, with open source at the bottom and commercial software for business users at the top. Here is a small sample of vendors who are building easy-to-use interfaces atop Spark.

Alpine Data provides a collaboration environment for data science and machine learning that runs on Spark (and other platforms.)

AtScale, an OLAP on Big Data solution, leverages Spark SQL and other SQL engines, including Hive, Impala, and Presto.

Dataiku markets Data Science Studio, a drag-and-drop data science workflow tool with connectors for many different storage platforms, scikit-learn, Spark ML and XGboost.

StreamAnalytix, a drag-and-drop platform for real-time analytics, supports Spark SQL and Spark Streaming, Apache Storm, and many different data sources and sinks.

Zoomdata, an early adopter of Spark, offers an agile visualization tool that works with Spark Streaming and many other platforms.

All of the leading agile BI tools, including Tableau, Qlik, and PowerBI, support Spark. Even stodgy old Oracle’s Big Data Discovery tool runs on Spark in Oracle Cloud.

(8) All of the leading commercial advanced analytics platforms use Spark.

All of them, including SAS, a company that embraces open source the way Sylvester the Cat embraces a skunk. SAS supports Spark in SAS Data Loader for Hadoop, one of SAS’ five different Hadoop architectures. (If you don’t like SAS architecture, wait six months for another.)

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Magic Quadrant for Advanced Analytics Platforms, 2016

— IBM embraces Spark like Romeo embraced Juliet, hopefully with a better ending. IBM contributes heavily to the Spark project and has rebuilt many of its software products and cloud services to use Spark.

— KNIME’s Spark Executor enables users of the KNIME Analytics Platform to create and execute Spark applications. Through a combination of visual programming and scripting, users can leverage Spark to access data sources, blend data, train predictive models, score new data, and embed Spark applications in a KNIME workflow.

— RapidMiner’s Radoop module supports visual programming across SparkR, PySpark, Pig, and HiveQL, and machine learning with SparkML and H2O.

— Statistica, which is no longer part of Dell, offers Spark integration in its Expert and Enterprise editions.

— Microsoft supports Spark in AzureHD, and it has rebuilt Microsoft R Server’s Hadoop integration to leverage Spark as well as MapReduce. VentureBeat reports that Databricks will offer its managed service for Spark on Microsoft Azure later this year.

— SAP, another early adopter of Spark, supports Vora, a connector to SAP HANA.

You get the idea. Spark is deeply embedded in the ecosystem, and it’s foolish to argue that it doesn’t play a central role in the future of analytics.

Disruption: It’s All About the Business Model

This post is an excerpt adapted from my book, Disruptive Analytics, available soon from Apress and Amazon. (Note: under my contract with Apress I am legally obligated to link to their site, but it’s not yet possible to order the book there. Use the Amazon link if you want the book.)

The analytics business is booming. Technology consultant IDC estimates total spending for analytic services, software and hardware exceeded $120 billion in 2015; through 2019, IDC forecasts that spending will increase to $187 billion, an 11% compound annual growth rate.

Powerful forces are at work in the economy today:

  • Digital transformation of the economy and rapidly declining storage costs combine to create a flood of data.
  • The number of data sources is exploding. Data sources are everywhere: on-premises, in the cloud, in consumers’ pockets, in vehicles, in RFID chips, and so forth.
  • The “long march” of Moore’s Law: cheap computing power makes machine learning and deep learning techniques practical.

So, if analytics is such a hot field, why are the industry leaders struggling?

  • Oracle’s cloud revenue growth fails to offset declining software and hardware sales.
  • SAP’s cloud revenue grows, but total software revenue is flat.
  • IBM reports seventeen straight quarters of declining revenue. Mass layoffs
  • Microsoft underperforms analysts’ expectations despite 120% growth in Azure cloud revenue.
  • Predictive analytics leader SAS reports five years of low single-digit revenue growth; Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer departs.
  • Data warehousing leader Teradata shuffles its leadership team after four years of declining product revenue.

Product quality is not the problem. Each company offers products that industry analysts rate highly:

  • Forrester and Gartner recognize IBM, SAS, SAP and Oracle as leaders in data quality tools.
  • Gartner rates Oracle, SAP, IBM, Microsoft and Teradata as leaders in data warehousing.
  • Forrester rates Microsoft, SAP, SAS, and Oracle as leaders in agile business intelligence.
  • Gartner recognizes SAS and IBM as leaders in Advanced Analytics.

The answer, in a word, is disruption. Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School outlined the theory of disruptive innovation in 1997. Summarizing the argument briefly:

  • Industries consist of value networks, collections of suppliers, channels, and buyers linked by relationships.
  • Innovations disrupt industries when they create a new value network.
  • Not all innovations are disruptive. Many are introduced by market leaders to sustain a competitive position.
  • Disruptive innovations tend to be introduced by outsiders.
  • Purely technological innovation is not disruptive; what matters is the business model enabled by the new technology.

For a more detailed exposition of the theory, read Christensen’s book.

Christensen identified two forms of disruption. Low-end disruption occurs when industry leaders enhance products faster than customers can assimilate the enhancements; the disruptor enters the market with a “good enough” product and a better value proposition. The disruptor’s innovation makes it possible to serve customers at a lower cost than the industry leaders can deliver.

New market disruption takes place when the disruptor innovates in ways enabling it to serve customers that are not served by the industry leaders.

Technology alone does not disrupt industries; incumbents can and do innovate. New business models enabled by new technology are the cutting edge of disruption. Frequently, incumbents cannot respond effectively to new business models; this is partly due to “blinders” caused by changing value networks, and partly out of fear of cannibalizing existing business arrangements. Two business models, in particular, are disrupting the business analytics world today:

  • Open source software business models offer an increasingly attractive alternative to commercial software licensing. The Hadoop ecosystem displaces conventional data warehousing; R and Python displace commercial software for advanced analytics.
  • The elastic business model made possible by cloud computing undercuts conventional software licensing. When customers pay only for what they use, they pay a lot less.

Disruption does not mean that leading companies like Oracle, IBM and SAS will go out of business. Blockbuster may be the poster child for disrupted businesses, but most cases are less dire; for the business analytics leaders, disruption means they will struggle to grow. Slow growth is less benign than it sounds. As McKinsey notes, the rule today is “Grow or Go”: companies that cannot define a credible growth strategy will be acquired by other companies or by private equity.

The alternative to revenue growth is increasing profitability. But when revenue is flat or declining, that usually means job cuts.

job-cuts
Disruption looks like this.

Consider what happened to Teradata. Late in 2012, the company started missing sales targets; in early 2013, it stunned investors by reporting an absolute decline in sales. Management offered excuses; Wall Street punished the stock, driving it down by half in the face of a bull market for tech stocks.

Teradata’s leadership continued to miss sales and earnings targets; Wall Street drove the stock price down to a fraction of its 2012 peak. While it is tempting to blame the problem on poor leadership, Teradata’s persistent failure to accurately forecast its sales and earnings is a clear sign that its leadership no longer understood the value networks in which they operated. The world had changed; the value networks created in Teradata’s rise to leadership no longer existed; the mental models managers used to understand the market no longer worked.

There are two distinct types of disruption. The first is disruptive innovation within the analytics value chain. Here are two recent examples:

Hadoop. The Hadoop ecosystem disrupts the data warehousing industry from below. Hadoop does not do everything a relational database can do, but it does just enough to offer an attractive value proposition for the right use cases. When first introduced, Hadoop’s capabilities were very limited compared to data warehouse appliances. But Hadoop’s flexibility and low cost were highly attractive for applications that did not need the performance and features of a data warehouse appliance. While established vendors struggle to maintain flat and declining revenue, companies that offer solutions built on Hadoop grow at double-digit rates.

Tableau. Tableau virtually created the market for agile, self-service discovery. The charting and visualization features in Tableau are available in mainstream business intelligence tools. But while business intelligence vendors target the IT organization and continually add complexity to their product, Tableau targets the end user with a simple, easy to use and versatile tool. As a result, Tableau has increased its revenue tenfold in five years, leapfrogging over many other BI vendors.

Disruption within the analytics value chain is pertinent for readers who plan to invest in analytics technology for their organization. Technologies at risk of disruption are risky investments; they may have abbreviated useful lives, and their suppliers may suffer from business disruption. Taking a “wait-and-see” attitude towards disrupted technologies makes good sense, if only because prices will likely decline in the future.

The second type is disruption by innovations in analytics. Examples of disruption by analytics are harder to find, but they do exist:

Credit Scoring. General-purpose credit scoring introduced by Fair, Isaac and Co. in 1987 virtually created a national market in credit cards.  Previously, banks issued credit cards to their local customers, with whom they had an established relationship. Uniform credit scoring enabled a few large issuers to identify creditworthy clients in the general population, without a prior relationship.

Algorithmic Trading. When the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission authorized electronic trading in regulated securities in 1998, market participants quickly moved to develop algorithms that could arbitrage between markets, arbitrage between indexes and the underlying stocks and exploit other short-term opportunities. Traders that most effectively deployed machine learning for electronic trading grew at the expense of other traders.

For startups and analytics practitioners, disruption by analytics is essential. Startups must disrupt their industries if they want to succeed. Using analytics to differentiate a product is a way to create a disruptive business model or to create new markets.

There is a common theme across the four examples: the business model enabled by the technology and not the technology itself drives the disruption. Hadoop and Tableau do less than the legacy products they compete against; what they do, however, is sufficient for a class of use cases, for which they provide a better value proposition. Credit scoring and algorithmic trading created fundamentally new ways to lend and invest; while these applications attracted technological innovations as they expanded, it was the new business models they created that disrupted the lending and investing industries.

To illustrate the importance of the business model, consider the case of columnar serialization, a significant innovation in data warehousing that did not disrupt the industry. In 2005, Vertica introduced a commercial columnar database, a technology that is well-suited to high-performance analytics (as we explain in Chapter Two of Disruptive Analytics). Vertica successfully built a customer base, but did not create a unique business model; by 2010 the leading data warehouse vendors had introduced columnar serialization into their products. HP acquired Vertica in 2011 for about $250 million, a price well below the $1.7 billion IBM paid for Netezza, a competing data warehouse appliance vendor.

Here are some takeaways for the reader to consider.

First, if you want to invest in new business analytics technology, ask yourself:

  • Are we paying for what we use, or for what we might use?
  • What particular value do commercial software options offer over open source alternatives?

Second, if you want to use analytics to create a disruptive innovation, ask yourself:

  • What new business model does this support?
  • Can we disrupt incumbents from below with a better value proposition?
  • Can we reach new markets and new customers who are underserved by existing value networks?

There is one additional takeaway: nobody ever disrupted anything by managing data. Keep that in mind the next time a data warehousing vendor tries to tell you that their Big Box is a “strategic” investment. We’ll explore that in another excerpt from the book.

Big Analytics Roundup (April 4, 2016)

Strata + Hadoop World sparks a number of commercial announcements: AtScale has a new release, Microsoft previews R Server on HDInsight, and IBM puts Spark on a mainframe, FWIW. We also have a nice harvest of explainers and perspectives.

Slides from Strata available here.

The folks at Domino Data ask: Is XGBoost 10X faster than H2O? We’ll never know the answer, since they took down the post. I’m guessing the answer is “no.”

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.47.32 AM

Databricks offers a collection of popular blog posts on Apache Spark as an eBook.

Explainers

On the Google Cloud Big Data Blog, Eric Anderson and Marian Dvorsky compare autoscaling in Dataflow/Beam to Spark and Hadoop. (h/t William Vambenepe)

Miles Yucht and Reynold Xin explain DeepSpark, a convolutional neural network that automates software development processes, such as writing test cases, fixing bugs and so forth.

Databricks’ Jules Damji explains how to process JSON data with Spark Datasets and DataFrames.

On the Airbnb engineering blog, Ricardo Bion explains how to scale data science with R.

Eduardo Ariño De La Rubia explains how The Climate Corporation created a high-throughput data science machine.

DataArtisans’ Kostas Tzoumas explains Flink internals, and how Flink counts elements in streams.

On the Insight Data Engineering blog, Daniel Blazevski explains Flink quadtrees.

H2O.ai’s Erin LeDell explains scalable ensemble learning with H2O. Also at Strata, Arno Candel explains why Deep Learning is eating your lunch.

On the Dataiku blog, someone named Margot explains automated model deployment with Data Science Studio.

On the DataTorrent blog, David Yan explains latency calculations in Apache Apex.

Christopher Crosbie explains SparkR on EMR, on the AWS Big Data blog.

Perspectives

Jack Vaughan notes the prominence of streaming analytics at Strata, quotes some old guy who thinks streaming is a thing.

On the Cloudera Vision Blog, Dan Sturman describes Cloudera’s response to what he characterizes as a software quality challenge.

Cloud vendor Altiscale’s Raymie Stata asks which is best for Spark and Hadoop: cloud or on-premises. Spoiler: he thinks you should choose cloud.

On LinkedIn, consultant Rick van der Lans touts Apache Drill.

Wikibon releases forecasts of Spark adoption and the Big Data market. You can either pay Wikibon for a subscription, or read George Leopold’s summary here or Mike Wheatley’s summary here.

Alex Woodie recaps Doug Cutting’s keynoter at Strata+Hadoop.

On the tech blog for Berlin-based online retailer Zalando, Javier Lopez and Mihail Vieru recap a recently completed Flink versus Spark bakeoff. They like Flink’s low latency which, as a fashion retailer, they totally think they need. The bottom line, though, seems to be that DataArtisans is just a few stops away on the U-Bahn, so they chose Flink.

Brandon Butler summarizes the Microsoft and Google challenges to Amazon in the cloud.

InfoWorld’s Martin Heller reviews Databricks’ Spark service, likes it.

In TechCrunch, Josh Klahr lists seven things to watch for at Strata + Hadoop World, which is still worth reading even though the show came and went.

Talend CMO Ashley Stirrup suggests you sharpen your customer reflexes with Apache Spark. If you want to improve your actual reflexes, read this.

Open Source Announcements

ASF announces Apache NiFi 0.6.0, with Kerberos authentication for its REST API and support for Amazon Kinesis, AWS Lambda, Splunk, and Apache Cassandra. (h/t Hadoop Weekly)

Commercial Announcements

OLAP-on-Hadoop vendor AtScale announces release 4.0. Key new bits: fine-grained security that links every query to an end user and an intelligent query optimizer that pushes down either as SQL or as MDX depending on end user tool. AtScale has also added to its platform integration, now supports  Business Objects, Cognos, Excel, Jaspersoft, Qlik, MicroStrategy, PowerBI, Spotfire, and Tableau on CDH, HDP, HDInsights and MapR with Hive/Tez, Impala and Spark SQL and an impressive list of data storage formats. Mike Wheatley reports.

Data integration startup Tamr announces “compatibility” with Spark. The press release does not specify whether that means connectivity, push-down integration or something else. Tamr is not certified by Databricks, and has not published anything on Spark Packages.

Pouring new wine into old bottles, IBM delivers Spark on a mainframe, as promised last July.  IBM touts this as a way to perform analysis of your data “in place”, which is great if all of your data is stuck on a mainframe.

IBM partners with Lightbend, the company formerly known as Typesafe, to deliver Scala training through the Big Data University.

Altiscale announces partnership with Tableau, will add visualization to its managed service for Big Data.

Databricks announces availability of APIs to automate Spark infrastructure. On the Databricks blog, Dave Wang explains.

Microsoft announces preview of R Server for HDInsight and an update to Apache Spark for Azure HDInsight. R Server for HDInsight is a rebranded version of Revolution Analytics’ ScaleR acquired last year. R Server is a distributed machine learning platform with push-down integration to MapReduce and Spark and an R API.

Flink promoter DataArtisans announces a 5.5 million Euro Series A financing round led by Intel Capital.

Dataiku announces a new release of Data Science Studio. The press release touts some new features, but I’ll refrain from commenting until the company posts release notes.

Big Analytics Roundup (October 26, 2015)

Fourteen stories this week, beginning with an announcement from IBM.  This week, IBM celebrates 14 straight quarters of declining revenue at its IBM Insight conference, appropriately enough at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas, where the restaurants are overhyped and overpriced.

Meanwhile, the first Spark Summit Europe meets in Amsterdam, in the far more interesting setting of the Beurs van Berlage.  There will be a live stream on Wednesday and Thursday — details here.  Sadly, I can’t make this one — the first Spark Summit I’ve missed — but am looking forward to the live stream.

(1) IBM Announces Spark on Bluemix

At its IBM Insight beauty show, IBM announces availability of its Apache Spark cloud service.  Actually, IBM announced it back in July, but that was a public beta.   On ZDNet, Andrew Brust gushes, noting that IBM has DB2, Watson, Netezza, Cognos, TM1, SPSS, Informix and Cloudant in its portfolio.  He fails to note that of those products, exactly one — Cloudant — actually interfaces with Spark.

There were rumors that IBM would have an exciting announcement about Spark at this show, but if this is it — yawn.  Looking at IBM’s “Spark in the cloud” offering, I don’t see anything that sets it apart from other available offerings unless you have a Blue fetish.

Update: Rod Reicks of IBM writes to note that IBM’s new release of SPSS Analytics Server runs processes in Spark.  For the uninitiated, Analytics Server is a product you license from IBM that enables SPSS Modeler user to run selected operations in Hadoop.  Previous versions ran through MapReduce only.  Reicks claims that the latest version runs through Spark when available.

I say “claims” because there is no reference to this feature in IBM’s Release Notes, Installation Guide or User’s Guide.  Spark is mentioned deep in the Administrator Guide, under Troubleshooting.  So the good news is that if the product fails, IBM has some tips — one of which should be “Install Spark.”

You’d think that with IBM’s armies of people they could at least find someone to write documentation.

(2) Mahout Book FAIL

Packt announces a book on Clustering with Mahout with an entire chapter devoted to Canopy Clustering, which the Mahout team just deprecated.

(3) Concurrent Adds Spark Support

Concurrent announces Release 2.0 of Driven, its oddly-named performance management software, which now includes support for Apache Spark.

(4) Flink Founder Touts Streaming Analytics

At Big Data Spain, Data Artisans co-founder Kostas Tzoumas argues that streaming is the basis for all analytics, which is a bit over the top: as they say, if all you have is a hammer, the world looks like a nail.  Still, his deck is a nice intro to Flink, which has made some progress this year.

(5) AtScale Announces Release 3.0

AtScale, one of the more interesting startups in the BI space, delivers Release 3.0 of its OLAP-on Hadoop platform.  Rather than introducing a new user interface into the mix, AtScale makes it possible for BI users to work with Hadoop tables without jumping back and forth to programming tools.  The product currently supports Tableau, Excel, Qlik, Spotfire, MicroStrategy and JasperSoft, and runs on CDH, HDP or MapR with Impala, Spark SQL or Hive on Tez.  The new release includes enhanced role-based security, including Kerberos, Username/Password or LDAP.

(6) Neo: Graphs are Eating the World

Graph database leader Neo announces immediate availability of Neo4j 2.3, which includes what it calls “intelligent applications at scale” and Docker support.  Exactly what Neo means by “intelligence applications at scale” means is unclear, but if Neo is claiming that you no longer have to dump a graph into Spark to run a PageRank, I’ll believe it when I see it.

(7) New Notebook Sharing for Databricks 

Databricks announces new notebook sharing capabilities for its eponymous product.  On the Databricks blog, Denise Li and Dave Wang explain.

(8) Teradata: Blah, Blah, Blah, IoT, Blah, Blah Blah

At its annual user conference, Teradata announces that it’s heard about IoT.    Teradata also announces that it will make Aster available on Hadoop, which would have been interesting in 2012.  Aster, for the uninitiated, includes a SQL on MapReduce engine, which is rendered obsolete by fast SQL engines like Presto, which Teradata has just embraced.

(9) Flink Forward Redux

As I noted last week, the first Flink Forward conference met in Berlin two weeks ago.  William Benton records his impressions.

Presentations are here.  Some highlights:

  • Dongwon Kim benchmarks Flink against MR, MR on Tez and Spark.  Flink wins.
  • Kostas Tzoumas outlines the Flink development roadmap through Release 1.0.
  • Martin Junghanns explains graph analytics with Flink.
  • Anwar Rizal demonstrates streaming decision trees with Flink.

Henning Kropp offers resources for diving deeply into Flink.

(10) Pyramid Analytics Lands New Funding

Amsterdam-based BI startup Pyramid Analytics announces a $30 million “B” round to help it try to explain why we need more BI software.

(11) Harte Hanks Switches from CDH to MapR

John Leonard explains why Harte Hanks switched from Cloudera to MapR.  Most likely explanation: they were able to cut a cheaper deal with MapR.

(12) Audience Modeling with Spark

Guest posting on the Databricks blog, Eugene Zhulenev explains audience modeling with Spark ML pipelines.

(13) New Functions in Drill

On the MapR blog, Neeraja Rentachintala describes new capabilities in Drill Release 1.2, including SQL window functions.

(14) Integrating Spark and Redshift

“Redshift is where data goes to die.”  — Rob Ferguson, Spark Summit East

On the Databricks blog, Sameer Wadkar of Axiomine explains how to use the spark-redshift package, first introduced in March of this year and now in version 0.5.2.  So you can yank your data out of Redshift and do something with it. (h/t Hadoop Weekly)

Big Analytics Roundup (September 14, 2015)

There are two big stories this week, the latest Spark release (story here) and Cloudera’s One Platform announcement.  The latter story is big enough to warrant its own section below.  I note, however, that Cloudera is simply announcing that it will continue to do what it is already doing: contribute heavily to Spark.

Here is a list of IBM’s contributions to Spark:

In other news, Gartner discovers Flink, which reminds me of what my science teacher said about the brontosaurus: stomp on his tail on Monday, and on Thursday he bleats.

Cloudera Announces “One Platform” for Spark and Hadoop

On Cloudera’s Vision blog, CSO Mike Olson announces plans to invest in Spark development, focusing on the following areas:

  • Security: encryption, secure access to the Web UI, plus additional security features for Spark SQL and Spark Streaming.
  • Scalability: improved scheduler logic, improvements to internal data movement, support for HDFS’ Discardable Distributed Memory, improvements to the Spark Job History Server and collaboration with Intel on hardware optimization.   Olson enumerates a scalability target of several  thousands of jobs running on multi-tenant clusters with more than 10,000 nodes.
  • Management: improvements to Spark-on-YARN for better multi-tenancy, performance and ease of use; better resource consumption and utilization metrics; simplified and automated configuration; better integration with Python.
  • Streaming: improved performance and resilience for the streaming engine (to support jobs that run “days, months or years”), plus higher-level language extensions and a simple declarative interface.

This chart summarizes past and future development in each area:

cloudera-spark-roadmap

Not surprisingly, the announcement sets off a firestorm of analysis (no pun intended).

In SiliconAngle, Maria Deutscher correctly notes that Cloudera’s initiative appears designed to head off competition from those who advocate using Spark without Hadoop.  This is a real threat to Cloudera and the other Hadoop distributors; roughly half of all Spark users do so outside of Hadoop.  You don’t really need Hadoop to leverage Spark — it works just fine with S3, Cassandra or a host of other datastores.

Gavin Clarke, in The Register, suggests that Cloudera is retiring MapReduce and replacing it with Spark.  In Fortune, Derrick Harris sings the same tune.  Nothing in Olson’s announcement supports that claim, although Cloudera certainly will promote Spark over MapReduce for new applications.  Cloudera’s graphics show a continuing, if reduced role for MapReduce.

oneplatform

It’s fair to say that Cloudera sees Spark supplanting MapReduce in the long run; this has not changed since Cloudera first announced its support for Spark in 2013.  In Information Week, Charles Babcock interviews CTO Eli Collins, who notes that Cloudera plans to include the enhancements detailed by Olson in a Spark release to be included in CDH 6.0 next year.

Timothy Prickett Morgan suggests that Cloudera will create its own Spark distribution.  But in an interview with Alex Woodie, Collins notes that Cloudera will continue to invest in the Apache open source projects.  Those two views aren’t completely inconsistent, but they highlight that this announcement simply says that Cloudera will do what it is already doing: contribute heavily to Spark, as shown below.

cloudera-spark-committers

As if to underscore the previous point, Justin Kestyln interviews Cloudera’s Spark committers for the Cloudera blog.

In ZDNet, Andrew Brust reports that Cloudera wants to integrate Spark with Cloudera Manager and Cloudera Navigator, which is only surprising if you thought this was done already.

Big Analytics Use Cases

Doug Henschen reports on three success stories for advanced analytics on Hadoop: Merck, Mercy Health Care and Progressive Insurance.

In eWeek, Darryl Taft reports on eight companies who use Spark to drive value.

Apache Drill

On Techopedia, Kaushik Pal explains how Apache Drill democratizes analysis.

Apache Flink

Gartner’s Nick Heudecker, who thinks that Spark is totally not enterprise-ready, discovers Flink, which is at least a year behind Spark on the maturity curve.

Apache Spark/Databricks

releases Spark 1.5.  Details here.   Serdar Yegulalp reports for InfoWorld.  On the Databricks blog, Reynold Xin and Patrick Wendell summarize the key new bits.

On the MarkLogic blog, Hemant Puranik explains how to use Spark with MarkLogic.

Sam Palani offers a guide to configuring Tableau with Spark.

On his eponymous blog, Eugene Zhulenev explains how to use Spark ML for audience modeling.

Steve Wooledge whiteboards a Spark use case for drug discovery on the MapR blog.

H20/H20.ai

Two items on Slideshare:

  • Amy Wang discusses how to predict loan defaults using Lending Club data.
  • Erin LeDell and Mark Landry detail the top ten pitfalls in data science.

On the Domino blog, Sean Lorenz explains Deep Learning with H2O.

XGBoost

On YouTube, Tianqi Chen offers a video covering boosted trees on XGBoost.

Big Analytics Roundup (March 23, 2015)

This week, Spark Summit East produced a deluge of news and analysis on Apache Spark and Databricks.  Also in the news: a couple of ventures landed funding, SAP released software and SAS soft-launched something new for SAS Visual Analytics.

Analytic Startups

Venture Capital Dispatch on WSJ.D reports that Andreeson Horowitz has invested $7.5 million in AMPLab spinout Tachyon Nexus.  Tachyon Nexus supports the eponymous Tachyon project, a memory-centric storage layer that runs underneath Apache Spark or independently.

Social media mining venture Dataminr pulls $130 million in “D” round financing, demonstrating that the real money in analytics is in applications, not algorithms.

Apache Flink

On the Flink project blog, Fabian Hueske posts an excellent article that describes how joins work in Flink.

Apache Spark

ADTMag rehashes the tired debate about whether Spark and Hadoop are “friends” or “foes”.  Sounds like teens whispering in the hallways of Silicon Valley High.  Spark works with HDFS, and it works with other datastores; it all depends on your use case.  If that means a little less buzz for Hadoop purists, get over it.

To that point, Matt Kalan explains how to use Spark with MongoDB on the Databricks blog.

A paper published by a team at Berkeley summarizes results from Spark benchmark testing, draws surprising conclusions.

In other commentary about Spark:

  • TechCrunch reports on the growth of Spark.
  • TechRepublic wonders if anything can dim Spark.
  • InfoWorld lists five reasons to use Spark for Big Data.

In VentureBeat, Sharmila Mulligan relates how ClearStory Data’s big bet on Spark paid off without explaining the nature of the payoff.  ClearStory has a nice product, but it seems a bit too early for a victory lap.

On the Spark blog, Justin Kestelyn describes exactly-once Spark Streaming with Apache Kafka, a new feature in Spark 1.3.

Databricks

Doug Henschen chides Ion Stoica for plugging Databricks Cloud at Spark Summit East, hinting darkly that some Big Data vendors are threatened by Spark and trying to plant FUD about it.  Vendors planting FUD about competitors that threaten them: who knew that people did such things?  It’s not clear what revenue model Henschen thinks Databricks should pursue; as Hortonworks’ numbers show, “contributing to open source” alone is not a viable business model.  If those Big Data vendors are unhappy that Databricks Cloud competes with what they offer, there is nothing to stop them from embracing Spark and standing up their own cloud service.

In other news:

  • On the Databricks blog, the folks from Uncharted Software describe PanTera, cool visualization software that runs in Databricks Cloud.
  • Rob Marvin of SD Times rounds up new product announcements from Spark Summit East.
  • In PCWorld, Joab Jackson touts the benefits of Databricks Cloud.
  • ConsumerElectronicsNet recaps Databricks’ announcement of the Jobs feature for Databricks Cloud, plus other news from Spark Summit East.
  • On ZDNet, Toby Wolpe reviews the new Jobs feature for production workloads in Databricks Cloud.
  • On the Databricks blog, Abi Mehta announces that Tresata’s TEAK application for AML will be implemented on Databricks Cloud.  Media coverage here, here and here.

Geospatial

MemSQL announced geospatial capabilities for its distributed in-memory NewSQL database.

J. Andrew Rogers asks why geospatial databases are hard to build, then answers his own question.

RapidMiner

Butler Analytics publishes a favorable review of RapidMiner.

SAP

SAP released a new on-premises version of Lumira Edge for visualization, adding to the list of software that is not as good as Tableau.  SAP also released Predictive Analytics 2.0, a product that marries the toylike SAP Predictive Analytics with KXEN InfiniteInsight, a product acquired in 2013.  According to SAP, Predictive Analytics 2.0 is a “single, unified analytics product” with two work environments, which sounds like SAP has bundled two different code bases into a marketing bundle with a common datastore.  Going for a “three-fer”, SAP also adds Lumira Edge to the bundle.

SAS

American Banker reports that SAS has “launched” SAS Transaction Monitoring Optimization for AML scenario testing; in this case, “launch”, means marketing collateral is available.  The product is said to run on top of SAS Visual Analytics, which itself runs on top of SAS LASR Server, SAS’ “other” distributed in-memory platform.

SAS Misses 2014 Growth Forecast

At the beginning of 2014, SAS EVP and CMO Jim Davis predicted double-digit revenue growth for 2014; in October, CEO Jim Goodnight walked that back to 5%, citing a challenging business climate in Europe.  Today, SAS announced 2014 revenue of $3.09 Billion, up 2.3%.

Meanwhile, IBM reported growth in analytics revenue of 7% in Q4.

The challenge for SAS is that the US market is saturated: virtually every enterprise that ever will use SAS already does so, and there are limits to the number of new products one can add to the stack.  Much of SAS’ growth comes from overseas, and a strong dollar impairs SAS’ ability to sell in foreign markets.

On the positive side, SAS reports a total of 3,400 sites for SAS Visual Analytics, its “Tableau-killer”, compared to 1,400 sites announced last year, for a net growth of 2,000 sites.  (In SAS’ parlance, a “site” is roughly equivalent to a server.)  Tableau has not yet released its 2014 results, but in Q3 Tableau reports that it added 2,500 customer accounts.

SAS also reports 24% revenue growth for its cloud services.   IT analyst Synergy Research Group reports that the cloud market is growing at a 49% annualized rate, although AWS, Microsoft, IBM and Google are all growing much faster than that.

In other news, the WSJ reports that Big Data analytics startup Palantir is now valued at $15 billion, which is about the same as what it would cost an acquirer to buy SAS at 5X revenue.

2015: Predictions for Big Analytics

First, a review of last year’s predictions:

(1) Apache Spark matures as the preferred platform for advanced analytics in Hadoop.

At the New York Strata/Hadoop World conference in October, if you took a drink each time a speaker said “Spark”, you would struggle to make it past noon.  At my lunch table, every single person said his company is currently evaluating Spark.  There are few alternatives to Spark for advanced analytics in Hadoop, and the platform has arrived.

(2) “Co-location” will be the latest buzzword.

Few people use the word “co-location”, but thanks to YARN, vendors like SAS and Skytree are now able to honestly position their products as running “inside” Hadoop.  YARN has changed the landscape for analytics in Hadoop, so that products that interface through MapReduce are obsolete.

(3) Graph engines will be hot.

Graph engines did not take off in 2014.  Development on Apache Giraph has flatlined, and open source GraphLab is quiet as well. Apache Spark’s GraphX is the only graph engine for Hadoop under active development; the Spark team recently promoted GraphX from Alpha to production.  However, with just 10 out of 132 contributors working on GraphX in Release 1.2, the graph engine is relatively quiet compared to the SQL, Machine Learning and Streaming modules.

(4) R approaches parity with SAS in the commercial job market.

As of early 2014, when Bob Muenchin last updated his job market statistics, SAS led R in job postings, but R was closing the gap rapidly.

Linda Burtch of Burtch Works is the nation’s leading executive recruiter for quants and data scientists.  I asked Linda what analytic languages hiring managers seek when they hire quants.  “My clients are still more frequently asking for SAS, although many more are now asking for either SAS or R,” she says.   “I also recommend to my clients who ask specifically for SAS skills to be open to those using R, and many will agree after the suggestion. ”

 (5) SAP emerges as the company most likely to buy SAS.

After much hype about the partnership in late 2013, SAS and SAP issued not a single press release in 2014.  The dollar’s strength against the Euro makes it less likely that SAP will buy SAS.

(6) Competition heats up for “easy to use” predictive analytics.

Software companies target the “easy to use” analytics market because it’s larger than the expert market and because expert analysts rarely switch.  Alpine, Alteryx, and Rapid Miner all gained market presence in 2014; Dell’s acquisition of Statsoft gives that company the deep pockets they need for a makeover.  In easy to use cloud analytics, StatWing has added functionality, and IBM Watson Analytics emerged from beta.

Four out of six ain’t bad.  Now looking ahead:

(1) Apache Spark usage will explode.

While interest in Spark took off in 2014, relatively few people actually use the platform, which appeals primarily to hard-core data scientists.  That will change in 2015, for several reasons:

  • The R interface planned for release in Q1 opens the platform to a large and engaged community of users
  • Alteryx, Alpine and other easy to use analytics tools currently support or plan to support Spark RDDs as a data source
  • Databricks Cloud offers an easy way to spin up a Spark cluster

As a result of these and other innovations, there will be many more Spark users in twelve months than there are today.

(2) Analytics in the cloud will take off.

Yes, I know — some companies are reluctant to put their “sensitive” data in the cloud.  And yet, all of the top ten data breaches in 2014 defeated an on-premises security system.  Organizations are waking up to the fact that management practices are the critical factor in data security — not the physical location of the data.

Cloud is eating the analytics world for three big reasons:

  • Analytic workloads tend to be lumpy and difficult to predict
  • Analytic projects often need to get up and running quickly
  • Analytic service providers operate in a variable cost world, with limited capital for infrastructure

Analytic software options available in the Amazon Marketplace are increasing rapidly; current options include Revolution R, BigML and YHat, among others.  For the business user, StatWing and IBM Watson Analytics provide compelling independent cloud-based platforms.

Even SAS seeks to jump on the Cloud bandwagon, touting its support for Amazon Web Services.  Cloud devotees may be disappointed, however, to discover that SAS does not offer elastic pricing for AWS,  lacks a native access engine for RedShift, and does not support its Hadoop interface with EMR.

(3) Python will continue to gain on R as the preferred open source analytics platform.

The Python versus R debate is at least as contentious as the SAS versus R debate, and equally tiresome.  As a general-purpose scripting language, Python’s total user base is likely larger than R’s user base.  For analytics, however, the evidence suggests that R still leads Python, but that Python is catching up.  According to a recent poll by KDNuggets, more people switch from R to Python than the other way ’round.

Both languages have their virtues. The sheer volume of analytic features in R is much greater than Python, though in certain areas of data science (such as Deep Learning) Python appears to have the edge.  Devotees of each language claim that it is easier to use than the other, but the two languages are at rough parity by objective measures.

Python has two key advantages over R.  As a general-purpose language, it is a better tool for application development; hence, for embedded analytic applications (such as recommendation engines, decision engines and online scoring), Python gets the nod over R.  Second, Python’s open source license is less restrictive than the R license, which makes it a better choice for commercial use.  There are provisions in the R license that scare the pants off some company lawyers, rightly or wrongly.

(4) H2O will continue to win respect and customers in the Big Analytics market.

If you’re interested in scalable analytics but haven’t checked out H2O, you should.  H2O is a rapidly growing true open source project for distributed analytics; it runs in clusters, in Hadoop and in Amazon Cloud; offers an excellent R interface together with Java and Scala APIs; and is accessible from Tableau.  H2O supports a rich and growing machine learning library that includes Deep Learning and the only available distributed Gradient Boosting algorithm on the market today.

While the software is freely available, H2O offers support and services for an attractive price.  The company currently claims more than two thousand users, including reference customers Cisco, eBay, Nielsen and Paypal.

(5) SAS customers will continue to seek alternatives.

SAS once had an almost religious loyalty from its customers.  This is no longer the case; in a recent report published by Gartner, surveyed executives reported they are more likely to discontinue use of SAS than any other business intelligence software.  While respondents rated SAS above average on sales experience and average on product quality, SAS fared poorly in measures of usability and ease of integration.  While the Gartner survey does not address pricing, it’s fair to say that no vendor can command premium prices without an outstanding product.

While few enterprises plan to pull the plug on SAS entirely, many are limiting growth of the SAS footprint and actively developing alternatives.  This is especially marked in the analytic services industry, which tends to attract people with the skills to use Python or R, and where cost control is important.  Even among big banks and pharma companies, though, SAS user headcount is declining.

Strata + Hadoop World 2014

A sellout crowd of 5,500 met at the Javits Center in New York last week for the 2014 Strata + Hadoop World conference.  There were three major themes:

Big Data in Action.   In his keynote address, Mike Olson of Cloudera noted the shift from talking about “geeky projects like Pig, Sqoop and Oozie” to talking about applications, such as fraud detection, product design and agriculture.   An entire track in the conference featured success stories from companies such as Goldman Sachs, Transamerica, American Express, L.L. Bean, FICO and Kaiser Permanente.

Symbiosis of Analytics and Big Data.  Paul Zikopoulos of IBM observed that “Big Data without analytics is just a bunch of data.”   Zikopoulos drew an analogy to the mining industry, which uses advanced technology to extract trace amounts of valuable material from large quantities of low-grade ore; in Big Data, we use advanced analytics to extract useful insight from large quantities of low-value per byte data.  Conference sessions reflected the critical role analytic technology plays in the Big Data value chain.

Spark has arrived.  The 2013 conference included two sessions about Spark; this year, thirteen sessions featured Spark, including the sold-out full day Spark Camp.  Moreover, vendors such as ClearStory Data and Platfora openly touted Spark integration, in the belief that this capability resonates with buyers.  Other conference sponsors recently certified on Spark include Pentaho, Skytree, Tableau, Talend and Trifacta; and MapR announced a project to deliver Apache Drill on Spark.

Among the notable Spark sessions:

  • Sean Owen of Cloudera delivered an excellent demonstration of Spark’s MLLib machine learning library for anomaly detection
  • Michael Armbrust of Databricks presented on Spark SQL and its uses as both a query language and a general framework for working with structured data

Advancing a theme he introduced last year, Olson speculated in his keynote that Hadoop will “disappear” this year because enterprises increasingly view Hadoop in the context of an overall data management strategy.  He cited the recent Teradata-Cloudera partnership as evidence of this trend.  That announcement is certainly significant, but it demonstrates the opposite of Olson’s high-level point; Teradata abandoned its exclusive relationship with Hortonworks because many of its customers prefer Cloudera to HDP, and they aren’t willing to switch simply because TD sells a “Unified Data Architecture.”  Most enterprises still make decisions about Hadoop separately from decisions about other elements in the warehousing mix, and there are currently few good reasons to change that behavior.

Rana El Kaliouby of Affectiva presented an excellent example of analytics and Big Data working together.  Affectiva uses streaming facial recognition to capture millions of data points as consumers react to content, and uses machine learning algorithms to draw insight from the data.  By mapping the streaming data to emotional states, they can identify what content resonates with consumers.

Several of the sponsored topics in the plenary sessions were quite good, including presentations by MapR, Intel, ClearStory and IBM; others were about what one expects from sponsored presentations.

There were also a number of entertaining presentations that had little to do with Big Data.  Shankar Vedantum of NPR, for example, spent ten minutes sermonizing about the propensity of the human mind to select facts that confirm existing biases, and selectively used facts to illustrate his point.  He should have paid attention in “Research Methods 101”; at best, his point seemed trite, like telling a convention of nutritionists that “dieting is hard.”

Eli Collins of Cloudera delivered the obligatory “ethics and Big Data” piece, in which he argued that we should “use data for good”; his piece was immediately followed, ironically, by a presentation about using facial recognition to get people to buy more candy.  Everyone agrees that doing good is a good thing, but a technologist delivering a sermon is as silly as a Baptist minister lecturing on Oozie.

SAS: 5% Revenue Growth in 2013

Today, SAS announced 2013 revenue of $3.02 billion, up 5.2% from 2012.  Reported revenue from “cloud-based” solutions grew by 20%; most of this revenue comes from SAS Solutions On Demand, a private hosting service.

SAS claims more than 1,400 “sites” for SAS Visual Analytics, an impressive figure but well short of SAS’ goal of 2,000 licenses in 2013.  (In SAS lingo, a “site” is a machine — customers have many sites).   Internally, SAS executives refer to Visual Analytics as its “Tableau killer”; Tableau hasn’t reported 2013 results yet, but Q3 revenue was up 90%.  SAS competitor IBM reports 2013 Business Analytics revenue up 9%; Smarter Planet revenue up 20%; Cloud revenue up 69%.

The SAS press release does not cite sales for SAS High Performance Analytics Server, the “other” new in-memory product.

SAS SVP Jim Davis attributed the results in part to a decline in sales to the U.S. Federal government.  Forrester reports that Federal tech spending grew 4% last year.