Monday, February 1, 2016

The Format War for Hadoop Structured Data

A war is raging that pits Hadoop distribution vendors against each other in determining exactly how to store structured big data. The battle is between the ORC file format, spearheaded by Hortonworks, and the Parquet file format, promoted by Cloudera.
ORC and Parquet are separate Apache projects with the similar goal of providing very fast analytics. To achieve performance, the formats have similar characteristics in that they both store data in columns rather than rows. This enables a majority of analytics to run faster than if the data was stored in rows or some semi-structured format. They also both support compression; when you store data in columns, it tends to compress very efficiently.  It’s easier to compress a column of dates, for example, than it is to compress mixed numbers, dates and strings. Compression saves you intensive disk access, a common bottleneck for analytics.
If you’re part of the HPE Vertica community, the goals of ORC and Parquet may sound familiar.  Columnar databases, including Vertica, have had columnar formats as part of the core product since the beginning. Before ORC and Parquet were in incubation, Vertica developed the ROS format for columnar, compressed big data storage.  Over the years, we have tuned and enhanced the format by adding a large number of compression algorithms designed to make the data storage and retrieval very efficient.  We’ve thought through features like backup and restore. After all, with a columnar store database, the concept of incremental backup/restore changes quite a bit.  We’ve had time to think through security, encryption and a long list of challenges when managing data in columnar format.

Orc vs Parquet – War, what is it good for?
Which format is better? Hortonworks has argued that ORC is ahead of Parquet in its capabilities to do predicate pushdown.  In layman terms, this claim is about performing analytics closer to where the data sits rather than spurring on excess network traffic. Cloudera has argued for Parquet in its efficient C++ code base.  It also argues that ORC data containers are primarily described with HIVE, while Parquet’s data containers can be described using HIVE, Thrift and AVRO.  The important thing to remember is that if you have chosen Hortonworks as your Hadoop distribution, it may be a little tricky to perform analytics on Parquet.  Accessing ORC files from Cloudera might also be a challenge.
At HPE, our goal is to seamlessly support ORC, Parquet and ROS as part of the Vertica analytics platform. Vertica has developed an ORC reader, in collaboration with Hortonworks, to be super-efficient at performing analytics on ORC files.  Just this week we also announced certification of Vertica on the CDH 5 platform and we have connectors into Parquet via our HDFS connector.  We’re also working with Cloudera to continuously optimize our Parquet file access. The goal is to read, write and federate multiple formats to minimize unnecessary data movement and transformations. For the information workers who need to run analytics, it shouldn’t matter where the data sits or in what format.

On the Horizon – Kudu
The aforementioned file formats are tied to analytical use cases.  In other words, if you have petabytes of data in your data lake and you need to crunch through it in short order, ORC, Parquet and ROS are valuable.  However, Cloudera recently announce a new data structure and project called Kudu (link) that also addresses the needs of an operational analytics use case – one where you need to small queries on the smaller data sets, particularly as they are ingested into the data lake. It’s still in incubation, but if the vision is realized, it will mean better efficiency and easier implementation for companies who need to do both analytical and operational systems.  We’ll explore this and its tie to Kafka and Spark in my next post.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.