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The Big Data Bottleneck: Uploading to the Cloud

If only we could get those gigando-bytes into the Cloud in the first place. And there’s the rub.

The problem with Big Data is that, well, Big Data are big. Really big. We’re talking terabytes. Petabytes. Zettabytes. Whatever’s-even-bigger-bytes. And of course, we want to solve all our Big Data challenges in the Cloud. If only we could get those gigando-bytes into the Cloud in the first place. And there’s the rub.

Uploading Big Data from our internal network to the Cloud via an Internet connection is as practical as filling a swimming pool through a drinking straw. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated our Big Data analytics, how super-duper our Hadoopers. If we can’t efficiently get our data where we need them when we need them, we’re stuck.

Optimize the Pipe
Fortunately, the Big Data upload problem isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around for years, under the moniker Wide Area Network (WAN) Optimization. Fortunate for us because vendors have been working on WAN Optimization techniques for a while now, and now several of them are repurposing those techniques to help with the Cloud.

For example, Aryaka has been peddling WAN Optimization appliances for several years. Put one appliance in your local data center, a second in the remote data center, and proprietary technology moves data from one to the other at a rapid clip. Now that the Cloud has turned their world upside down, they are providing a distributed service at the remote end, a “mesh of network connections” better suited to the Cloud. In other words, Aryaka is building an offering similar to Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) like Akamai.

RainStor, in contrast, focuses primarily on a proprietary compression algorithm that promises to squeeze data into one fortieth their original size. Furthermore, RainStor’s compressed data remain directly accessible using standard SQL or even MapReduce on Hadoop with no storage-eating, time-consuming reinflation.

Then there’s Aspera, who’s found a sophisticated way around the limitations of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) itself. After all, TCP’s tiny packets and penchant for resending them are a large part of the reason uploading Big Data over the Internet runs like such a dog in the first place. To teach this dog a new trick or two, Aspera transfers use one TCP port for session initialization and control, and one User Datagram Protocol (UDP) port for data transfer.

UDP is an older, fire-and-forget protocol that doesn’t perform the retries that provide TCP’s reliability, but by combining the two protocols, FASP achieves nearly 100% error-free data throughput. In fact, FASP reaches the maximum transfer speed possible given the hardware on which you deploy it, and maintains maximum available throughput independent of network delay and packet loss. FASP also aggregates hundreds of concurrent transfers on commodity hardware, addressing the drinking straw problem in part by supporting hundreds of straws at once.

CloudOpt is also a player worth mentioning. Their JetStream technology takes a soup-to-nuts approach that combines compression and transmission protocol optimization with advanced data deduplication, SSL acceleration, and an ingenious approach to getting the most performance out of cached data. Or Attunity Cloudbeam, that touts file to Cloud upload, file to Cloud replication, and Cloud to Cloud replication. Attunity’s Managed File Transfer (MFT) incorporates a secure DMZ architecture, security policy enforcement, guaranteed and accelerated transfers, process automation, and audit capabilities across each stage of the file transfer process.

Finally, there’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) itself. Yes, most if not all of the vendors discussed above can firehose data into AWS’s various storage services. But AWS also offers a simple, if decidedly low-tech approach as well: AWS Import/Export. Simply ship your big hard drives to Amazon. They’ll hook them up, copy the data to your Simple Storage Service (S3) or other storage service, and ship the drive back when you’re done. This SneakerNet or “Forklifting” approach, believe it or not, can even be faster than some of the over-the-Internet optimizations for certain Big Data sets, even considering the time it takes to FedEx AWS your drives.

On Beyond Drinking Straws
The problem with most of the approaches above (excepting only Aspera and Amazon’s forklift) is that they make the drinking straw we’re using to fill that swimming pool better, faster, and bigger – but we’re still filling that damn pool with a straw. So what’s better than a straw? How about many straws? If any optimization technique improves a single connection to the Internet, then it stands to reason that establishing many connections to your Cloud provider in parallel would multiply your upload speed dramatically.

Fair enough, but let’s think out of the box here. A fundamental Big Data best practice is to bring your analytics to your data. The reasoning is that it’s hard to move your data but easy to move your software, so once your data are in the Cloud, you should also run your analytics there.

But this argument also works in reverse. If your data aren’t in the Cloud, then it may not make sense to move them to the Cloud simply to run your software there. Instead, bring your software to your data, even if they’re on premise.

Perish the thought, you say! We’re sold on Big Data in the Cloud. We’ve crunched the numbers and we know it’s going to save us money, provide more capabilities, and facilitate sharing information across our organization and the world. Fair enough. Here’s another twist for you.

Why are your Big Data sets outside the Cloud to begin with? Sure, you’re stuck with existing, legacy data sets wherever they happen to be today. But as a rule, those don’t constitute Big Data, or will cease to qualify as being large enough to warrant the Big Data label relatively soon. By definition, Big Data sets keep expanding exponentially, which means that you keep creating them with generations of newfangled tools.

In fact, there are already multitudinous sources for raw Big Data, as varied as the Big Data challenges organizations struggle with today. But many such sources are already in the Cloud, or could be moved to the Cloud simply. For example, clickthrough data from your Web sites. Such data come from your Web servers, which should be in the Cloud anyway. If your Big Data come from Web Servers scattered here and there in the Cloud, then moving the clickthrough data to a Big Data repository for processing can be handled in the same Cloud. No need for uploading.

What about data sources that aren’t already in the Cloud? Many Big Data streams come from instrumentation or sensors of some sort, from seismographs underground to EKGs in hospitals to UPC scanners in supermarkets. There’s no reason why such instrumentation shouldn’t pour their raw data feeds directly to the Cloud. What good is storing a week’s worth of supermarket purchasing data on premise anyway? You’ll want to store, process, manage, and analyze those data in the Cloud, so the sooner you get it there, the better.

The ZapThink Take
The only reason we have to worry about uploading Big Data to the Cloud in the first place is because our Big Data aren’t already in the Cloud. And broadly speaking, the reason they’re not already in the Cloud is because the Cloud isn’t everywhere. Instead, we think of the Cloud as being locked away in data centers, those alien, air conditioned facilities packed full of racks of high tech equipment.

That may be true today, but as ZapThink has discussed before, there’s nothing in the definition of Cloud Computing that requires Cloud resources to live in data centers. You might have a bit of the Cloud in your pocket, or on your laptop, in your car, or in your refrigerator. For now, this vision of the Internet of Things meeting the Cloud is mostly the stuff of science fiction. We’re only now figuring out what it means to have a ubiquitous global network of sensors, from the aforementioned EKGs and UPC scanners to traffic cameras to home thermostats. But the writing is on the wall. Just as we now don’t think twice about carrying supercomputers in our pockets, it’s only a matter of time until the Cloud itself is fully distributed and ubiquitous. When that happens, the question of moving Big Data to the Cloud will be moot. They will already be there.

Are you one of the vendors mentioned in this article and have a correction, or a vendor who should have been mentioned but wasn’t? Please feel free to comment here.

Image Source: US Navy

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).