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Professional NoSQL

Professional NoSQL

by Shashank Tiwari

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A hands-on guide to leveraging NoSQL databases

NoSQL databases are an efficient and powerful tool for storing and manipulating vast quantities of data. Most NoSQL databases scale well as data grows. In addition, they are often malleable and flexible enough to accommodate semi-structured and sparse data sets. This comprehensive hands-on guide presents


A hands-on guide to leveraging NoSQL databases

NoSQL databases are an efficient and powerful tool for storing and manipulating vast quantities of data. Most NoSQL databases scale well as data grows. In addition, they are often malleable and flexible enough to accommodate semi-structured and sparse data sets. This comprehensive hands-on guide presents fundamental concepts and practical solutions for getting you ready to use NoSQL databases. Expert author Shashank Tiwari begins with a helpful introduction on the subject of NoSQL, explains its characteristics and typical uses, and looks at where it fits in the application stack. Unique insights help you choose which NoSQL solutions are best for solving your specific data storage needs.
Professional NoSQL:

  • Demystifies the concepts that relate to NoSQL databases, including column-family oriented stores, key/value databases, and document databases.
  • Delves into installing and configuring a number of NoSQL products and the Hadoop family of products.
  • Explains ways of storing, accessing, and querying data in NoSQL databases through examples that use MongoDB, HBase, Cassandra, Redis, CouchDB, Google App Engine Datastore and more.
  • Looks at architecture and internals.
  • Provides guidelines for optimal usage, performance tuning, and scalable configurations.
  • Presents a number of tools and utilities relating to NoSQL, distributed platforms, and scalable processing, including Hive, Pig, RRDtool, Nagios, and more.

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Professional NoSQL

By Shashank Tiwari

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-470-94224-6

Chapter One

NoSQL: What It Is and Why You Need It


* Defining NoSQL * Setting context by explaining the history of NoSQL's emergence

* Introducing the NoSQL variants

* Listing a few popular NoSQL products

Congratulations! You have made the first bold step to learn NoSQL.

Like most new and upcoming technologies, NoSQL is shrouded in a mist of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. The world of developers is probably divided into three groups when it comes to NoSQL:

* Those who love it — People in this group are exploring how NoSQL fits in an application stack. They are using it, creating it, and keeping abreast with the developments in the world of NoSQL.

* Those who deny it — Members of this group are either focusing on NoSQL's shortcomings or are out to prove that it's worthless.

* Those who ignore it — Developers in this group are agnostic either because they are waiting for the technology to mature, or they believe NoSQL is a passing fad and ignoring it will shield them from the rollercoaster ride of "a hype cycle," or have simply not had a chance to get to it.

I am a member of the first group. Writing a book on the subject is testimony enough to prove that I like the technology. Both the groups of NoSQL lovers and haters have a range of believers: from moderates to extremists. I am a moderate. Given that, I intend to present NoSQL to you as a powerful tool, great for some jobs but with its set of shortcomings, I would like you to learn NoSQL with an open, unprejudiced mind. Once you have mastered the technology and its underlying ideas, you will be ready to make your own judgment on the usefulness of NoSQL and leverage the technology appropriately for your specific application or use case.

This first chapter is an introduction to the subject of NoSQL. It's a gentle step toward understanding what NoSQL is, what its characteristics are, what constitutes its typical use cases, and where it fits in the application stack.


NoSQL is literally a combination of two words: No and SQL. The implication is that NoSQL is a technology or product that counters SQL. The creators and early adopters of the buzzword NoSQL probably wanted to say No RDBMS or No relational but were infatuated by the nicer sounding NoSQL and stuck to it. In due course, some have proposed NonRel as an alternative to NoSQL. A few others have tried to salvage the original term by proposing that NoSQL is actually an acronym that expands to "Not Only SQL." Whatever the literal meaning, NoSQL is used today as an umbrella term for all databases and data stores that don't follow the popular and wellestablished RDBMS principles and often relate to large data sets accessed and manipulated on a Web scale. This means NoSQL is not a single product or even a single technology. It represents a class of products and a collection of diverse, and sometimes related, concepts about data storage and manipulation.

Context and a Bit of History

Before I start with details on the NoSQL types and the concepts involved, it's important to set the context in which NoSQL emerged. Non-relational databases are not new. In fact, the first non-relational stores go back in time to when the first set of computing machines were invented. Non-relational databases thrived through the advent of mainframes and have existed in specialized and specific domains — for example, hierarchical directories for storing authentication and authorization credentials — through the years. However, the non-relational stores that have appeared in the world of NoSQL are a new incarnation, which were born in the world of massively scalable Internet applications. These non-relational NoSQL stores, for the most part, were conceived in the world of distributed and parallel computing.

Starting out with Inktomi, which could be thought of as the first true search engine, and culminating with Google, it is clear that the widely adopted relational database management system (RDBMS) has its own set of problems when applied to massive amounts of data. The problems relate to efficient processing, effective parallelization, scalability, and costs. You learn about each of these problems and the possible solutions to the problems in the discussions later in this chapter and the rest of this book.

Google has, over the past few years, built out a massively scalable infrastructure for its search engine and other applications, including Google Maps, Google Earth, GMail, Google Finance, and Google Apps. Google's approach was to solve the problem at every level of the application stack. The goal was to build a scalable infrastructure for parallel processing of large amounts of data. Google therefore created a full mechanism that included a distributed filesystem, a column-family-oriented data store, a distributed coordination system, and a MapReduce-based parallel algorithm execution environment. Graciously enough, Google published and presented a series of papers explaining some of the key pieces of its infrastructure. The most important of these publications are as follows:

* Sanjay Ghemawat, Howard Gobioff, and Shun-Tak Leung. "The Google File System"; pub. 19th ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, Lake George, NY, October 2003. URL: http://labs.google.com/papers/gfs.html

* Jeffrey Dean and Sanjay Ghemawat. "MapReduce: Simplified Data Processing on Large Clusters"; pub. OSDI'04: Sixth Symposium on Operating System Design and Implementation, San Francisco, CA, December 2004. URL: http://labs.google.com/ papers/mapreduce.html

* Fay Chang, Jeffrey Dean, Sanjay Ghemawat, Wilson C. Hsieh, Deborah A. Wallach, Mike Burrows, Tushar Chandra, Andrew Fikes, and Robert E. Gruber. "Bigtable: A Distributed Storage System for Structured Data"; pub. OSDI'06: Seventh Symposium on Operating System Design and Implementation, Seattle, WA, November 2006. URL: http://labs .google.com/papers/bigtable.html

* Mike Burrows. "The Chubby Lock Service for Loosely-Coupled Distributed Systems"; pub. OSDI'06: Seventh Symposium on Operating System Design and Implementation, Seattle, WA, November 2006. URL: http://labs.google.com/papers/chubby.html

The release of Google's papers to the public spurred a lot of interest among open-source developers. The creators of the open-source search engine, Lucene, were the first to develop an open-source version that replicated some of the features of Google's infrastructure. Subsequently, the core Lucene developers joined Yahoo, where with the help of a host of other contributors, they created a parallel universe that mimicked all the pieces of the Google distributed computing stack. This open-source alternative is Hadoop, its sub-projects, and its related projects. You can find more information, code, and documentation on Hadoop at http://adoop.apache.org.

Without getting into the exact timeline of Hadoop's development, somewhere toward the first of its releases emerged the idea of NoSQL. The history of who coined the term NoSQL and when is irrelevant, but it's important to note that the emergence of Hadoop laid the groundwork for the rapid growth of NoSQL. Also, it's important to consider that Google's success helped propel a healthy adoption of the new-age distributed computing concepts, the Hadoop project, and NoSQL.

A year after the Google papers had catalyzed interest in parallel scalable processing and nonrelational distributed data stores, Amazon decided to share some of its own success story. In 2007, Amazon presented its ideas of a distributed highly available and eventually consistent data store named Dynamo. You can read more about Amazon Dynamo in a research paper, the details of which are as follows: Giuseppe DeCandia, Deniz Hastorun, Madan Jampani, Gunavardhan Kakulapati, Avinash Lakshman, Alex Pilchin, Swami Sivasubramanian, Peter Vosshall, and Werner Vogels, "Dynamo: Amazon's Highly Available Key/value Store," in the Proceedings of the 21st ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles, Stevenson, WA, October 2007. Werner Vogels, the Amazon CTO, explained the key ideas behind Amazon Dynamo in a blog post accessible online at www.allthingsdistributed.com/2007/10/amazons_dynamo.html.

With endorsement of NoSQL from two leading web giants — Google and Amazon — several new products emerged in this space. A lot of developers started toying with the idea of using these methods in their applications and many enterprises, from startups to large corporations, became amenable to learning more about the technology and possibly using these methods. In less than 5 years, NoSQL and related concepts for managing big data have become widespread and use cases have emerged from many well-known companies, including Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo, EBay, Hulu, IBM, and many more. Many of these companies have also contributed by open sourcing their extensions and newer products to the world.

You will soon learn a lot about the various NoSQL products, including their similarities and differences, but let me digress for now to a short presentation on some of the challenges and solutions around large data and parallel processing. This detour will help all readers get on the same level of preparedness to start exploring the NoSQL products.

Big Data

Just how much data qualifies as big data? This is a question that is bound to solicit different responses, depending on who you ask. The answers are also likely to vary depending on when the question is asked. Currently, any data set over a few terabytes is classified as big data. This is typically the size where the data set is large enough to start spanning multiple storage units. It's also the size at which traditional RDBMS techniques start showing the first signs of stress.

Even a couple of years back, a terabyte of personal data may have seemed quite large. However, now local hard drives and backup drives are commonly available at this size. In the next couple of years, it wouldn't be surprising if your default hard drive were over a few terabytes in capacity. We are living in an age of rampant data growth. Our digital camera outputs, blogs, daily social networking updates, tweets, electronic documents, scanned content, music files, and videos are growing at a rapid pace. We are consuming a lot of data and producing it too.

It's difficult to assess the true size of digitized data or the size of the Internet but a few studies, estimates, and data points reveal that it's immensely large and in the range of a zettabyte and more. In an ongoing study titled, "The Digital Universe Decade Are you ready?" (http://emc.com/ collateral/demos/microsites/idc-digital-universe/iview.htm), IDC, on behalf of EMC, presents a view into the current state of digital data and its growth. The report claims that the total size of digital data created and replicated will grow to 35 zettabytes by 2020. The report also claims that the amount of data produced and available now is outgrowing the amount of available storage.

A few other data points worth considering are as follows:

* A 2009 paper in ACM titled, "MapReduce: simplified data processing on large clusters" — http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1327452.1327492&coll=GU IDE&dl=&idx=J79&part=magazine&WantType=Magazines&title=Communications% 20of%20the%20ACM — revealed that Google processes 24 petabytes of data per day.

* A 2009 post from Facebook about its photo storage system, "Needle in a haystack: efficient storage of billions of photos" — http//facebook.com/note.php?note_id=76191543919 — mentioned the total size of photos in Facebook to be 1.5 pedabytes. The same post mentioned that around 60 billion images were stored on Facebook.

* The Internet archive FAQs at archive.org/about/faqs.php say that 2 petabytes of data are stored in the Internet archive. It also says that the data is growing at the rate of 20 terabytes per month.

* The movie Avatar took up 1 petabyte of storage space for the rendering of 3D CGI effects. ("Believe it or not: Avatar takes 1 petabyte of storage space, equivalent to a 32-year-long MP3" — http://thenextweb.com/2010/01/01/avatar-takes-1-petabyte -storagespace-equivalent-32-year-long-mp3/.)

As the size of data grows and sources of data creation become increasingly diverse, the following growing challenges will get further amplified:

* Efficiently storing and accessing large amounts of data is difficult. The additional demands of fault tolerance and backups makes things even more complicated.

* Manipulating large data sets involves running immensely parallel processes. Gracefully recovering from any failures during such a run and providing results in a reasonably short period of time is complex.

* Managing the continuously evolving schema and metadata for semi-structured and un-structured data, generated by diverse sources, is a convoluted problem.

Therefore, the ways and means of storing and retrieving large amounts of data need newer approaches beyond our current methods. NoSQL and related big-data solutions are a first step forward in that direction.

Hand in hand with data growth is the growth of scale.


Scalability is the ability of a system to increase throughput with addition of resources to address load increases. Scalability can be achieved either by provisioning a large and powerful resource to meet the additional demands or it can be achieved by relying on a cluster of ordinary machines to work as a unit. The involvement of large, powerful machines is typically classifi ed as vertical scalability. Provisioning super computers with many CPU cores and large amounts of directly attached storage is a typical vertical scaling solution. Such vertical scaling options are typically expensive and proprietary. The alternative to vertical scalability is horizontal scalability. Horizontal scalability involves a cluster of commodity systems where the cluster scales as load increases. Horizontal scalability typically involves adding additional nodes to serve additional load.

The advent of big data and the need for large-scale parallel processing to manipulate this data has led to the widespread adoption of horizontally scalable infrastructures. Some of these horizontally scaled infrastructures at Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay, and Yahoo! involve a very large number of servers. Some of these infrastructures have thousands and even hundreds of thousands of servers. Processing data spread across a cluster of horizontally scaled machines is complex. The MapReduce model possibly provides one of the best possible methods to process large-scale data on a horizontal cluster of machines.

Definition and Introduction

MapReduce is a parallel programming model that allows distributed processing on large data sets on a cluster of computers. The MapReduce framework is patented (http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p =1&u=/netahtml/PTO/srchnum. htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=7,650,331.PN.&OS=PN/ 7,650,331&RS=PN/7,650,331) by Google, but the ideas are freely shared and adopted in a number of open-source implementations.

MapReduce derives its ideas and inspiration from concepts in the world of functional programming. Map and reduce are commonly used functions in the world of functional programming. In functional programming, a map function applies an operation or a function to each element in a list. For example, a multiply-by-two function on a list [1, 2, 3, 4] would generate another list as follows: [2, 4, 6, 8]. When such functions are applied, the original list is not altered. Functional programming believes in keeping data immutable and avoids sharing data among multiple processes or threads. This means the map function that was just illustrated, trivial as it may be, could be run via two or more multiple threads on the list and these threads would not step on each other, because the list itself is not altered.


Excerpted from Professional NoSQL by Shashank Tiwari Copyright © 2011 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Excerpted by permission of John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Shashank Tiwari is a technology entrepreneur, developer, author, and a well-recognized speaker and mentor. He is the Founder of Treasury of Ideas, www.treasuryofideas.com, a technology-driven innovation company.

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