Over the last ten years, the role of data in modern enterprise has continued to evolve at a rapid pace. Companies launched initiatives to define and execute their data strategy, appointed Chief Data Officers, and created large teams to collect, manage, and generate insights from data. With increased awareness and higher demands for data, the concept of an analytics platform evolved as well.
It is now no longer enough to implement a data lake to manage increased volume, velocity, and variety of corporate data assets. The veracity, or trustworthiness of data has also become vital along with accessibility, ease of use, and support of DataOps and MLOps best practices. In this article, we will describe the blueprint for the modern analytics platform and the journey from a data lake to a modern data analytics toolset.
In the good old days, when data was small and structured, OLAP cubes ruled the world of analytics. EDW technologies and analytical databases coupled with reporting and limited machine learning capabilities were enough to manage corporate data assets and satisfy corporate analytics needs. The number of data sources was manageable and the vast majority of data collection was done in batches on a weekly or daily basis via ETLs.
But the digital era brought changes that traditional analytics ecosystems couldn’t deal with well:
EDWs couldn’t handle the new volumes, variety, and velocity of data. The new generation of systems called data lakes, which were often based on Hadoop (HDFS) and Spark technologies, took over the analytics world.
These data lakes quickly matured and by the mid-2010s most companies had deployed data lakes and used them to aggregate all enterprise data assets. The maturity of cloud computing was lagging so most deployments were done on-premise in data centers. It was surprisingly easy to dump the data in the lakes and the cost of storing data in the lakes wasn’t prohibitively large.
Unfortunately, getting value out of data was becoming a much bigger problem. The early data lakes had a variety of issues:
All those challenges led to a rapid deterioration of trust in the data from analysts, scientists, and business stakeholders. Companies quickly saw diminishing returns and observed their data lakes turning into data swamps.
By the mid 2010’s, the simplicity of getting data into the lakes resulted in many companies recognizing they had simply created data swamps. In many ways, it was a reasonable position to reach in the journey towards a truly data-driven organization. However, there is no excuse to repeat the same mistake in 2020 and get stuck with a basic data lake.
After helping a number of Fortune-1000 companies and tech startups build analytics platforms from scratch or migrate them to the cloud, Grid Dynamics created a technology blueprint for a modern Analytics Platform.
When coupled with the right data governance, DataOps, and MLOps best practices, processes, and organizational structure, it provides a robust set of capabilities to satisfy the data, analytics, and AI/ML needs of any enterprise. Let us briefly describe its capabilities.
The data lake still plays a central role in the picture. All data ingest and processing initially goes through the data lake. However, the new data lake is not limited to storing and processing data. It has a number of important capabilities:
The lake has two major ways to ingest data: batch and streaming. Batch processing is used to get data from services via API calls, import files, and database dumps. Stream processing relies on modern messaging middleware such as Kafka, or cloud services. Products such as Lenses.io help to maintain data quality at this level. The streaming data ingestion is not limited to clickstream and is often coupled with application design patterns such as CQRS.
While solving a number of new problems, data lakes do not completely replace enterprise data warehouse systems. EDW is an important part of a modern analytics platform and helps with fast and secure access to structured and pre-processed data. To ensure high performance and scalability, most reporting and visualization tooling should be implemented on top of EDWs instead of directly having access to data lakes. In many cases, data scientists will find it more convenient to work with “golden data” in EDW than having direct access to data lakes.
Reporting and visualization remain important capabilities of any analytics platform. Most business users still interact with data via reporting and visualization tooling instead of getting direct access to EDWs or data lakes.
The rise of AI and machine learning in recent years increased the importance of augmenting human decision-making processes. To be able to scale AI/ML efforts at the enterprise scale, and implement efficient MLOps processes, data scientists need a platform. Modern AI/ML platforms have a number of capabilities to make the life of data scientists easier including:
The AI/ML platform as well as the MLOps process deserves a separate blog post so we will not get into a detailed discussion here.
As with any code, data processing pipelines have to be developed, tested, and released. Analytics platforms often miss CI/CD capabilities, increasing the number of defects in data processing and leading to poor quality of data and unstable system performance. At the same time, DevOps and continuous delivery processes for data pipelines have their own specifics:
Overall, the principles we outlined in the article about the release process for microservices apply to testing of data pipelines. Data pipelines and data processing jobs can be thought of as microservices in the regular application architecture. Instead of API contracts in the case of microservices, data pipelines' contracts are files or data streams.
There are many technology options for each capability in the blueprint. Having practical experience with many of them, we will give several examples in the table below: one based on open source stack, one based on 3rd party paid products and services, and one based on cloud services of the three major cloud providers: Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.
|S3, Glue, EMR
|Google Storage, Dataproc, Dataflow
|Blob Storage, Data Catalog, HDInsight
|Azure Synapse is in GA phase
|Talend Datameer Informatica
|Data Lake Analyticse
|Reporting and visualization
|Generally N/A Specifically Google Analytics
|Microsoft Power BI
|Glue workflow Data Pipeline
|Cloud Composer (built on the Airflow)
|Glue Data Catalog
|Alation Ataccama Manta
|Google AI Platform
|Azure AI platform
Building an analytics platform with all the necessary capabilities may seem like a daunting task. No one wants to spend months building a core platform from scratch, learning, and making mistakes in the process. The “speed to insights” is too important.
At Grid Dynamics we help companies large and small build a robust platform from scratch, upgrade their existing lakes into enterprise-ready analytics platforms, and migrate their data lakes to the cloud while upgrading them. Whether you want to build a platform from scratch, migrate on-premise data to the cloud, or upgrade an existing cloud platform, we can recommend the best technology stack depending on the current state of the business and plan the journey towards the analytics platform together.
To further speed up the implementation of the core platform, we have implemented a number of starter kits for the entire platform and specific capabilities such as data quality, data monitoring, anomaly detection, and machine learning.
The data analytics needs of modern enterprises extend far beyond basic data lakes. To increase accessibility and trustworthiness of data and realize the value of data, companies need to implement capabilities such as data governance, access layers, API, data quality, and AI/ML platforms. Utilizing existing blueprints and starter kits that combine the best products from open source, 3rd party products, and cloud service offerings helps to minimize the time spent on building scaffolding and foundation, achieve high stability, and arrive at implementing value-added AI and ML capabilities faster.
At Grid Dynamics we’ve helped Fortune-1000 companies across industries design, implement, and upgrade their existing cloud analytics platform or migrate an on-premise platform to the cloud. Reach out to us to schedule a briefing or workshop to explore more details of the capabilities of modern analytics platforms, technology options, cloud migration journeys, and optimized paths to upgrade.