Tuesday, August 26, 2008

MapReduce Functionality in Commercial Databases

If you use LinkedIn, then you have probably been impressed by their "People you may know" feature. I know that I have. From old friends and colleagues to an occasional person I don't necessarily want to see again, the list often contains quite familiar names.

LinkedIn is basically a large graph of connections among people, enhanced with information such as company names, date of link, and so on. We can imagine how they determine whether someone might be in someones "People you may know category", by using common names, companies, and even common paths (people who know each other).

However, trying to imagine how they might determine this information using SQL is more challenging. SQL provides the ability to store a graph of connections. However, traversing the graph is rather complicated in standard SQL. Furthermore, much of the information that LinkedIn maintains is complicated data -- names of companies, job titles, and dates, for instance.

It is not surprising, then, that they are using MapReduce to develop this information. The surprise, though, is that their data is being stored in a relational database, which provides full transactional-integrity and SQL querying capabilities. The commercial database software that supports both is provided by a company called Greenplum.

Greenplum has distringuished itself from other next-generation database vendors by incorporating MapReduce into its database engine. Basically, Greenplum developed a parallel framework for managing data, ported Postgres into this framework, and now has ported MapReduce as well. This is a strong distinction from other database vendors that provide parallel Postgres solutions, and particularly well suited to complex datatypes encountered on the web.

I do want to point out that the integration of MapReduce is at the programming level. In other words, they have not changed SQL; they have added a programming layer that allows data in the database to be readily accessed using MapReduce primitives.

As I've discussed in other posts, MapReduce and SQL are complementary technologies, each with their own strengths. MapReduce can definitely benefit from SQL functionality, since SQL has proven its ability for data storage and access. On the other hand, MapReduce has functionality that is not present in SQL databases.

Now that a database vendor has fully incorporated MapReduce into its database engine, we need to ask: Should MapReduce remain a programming paradigm or should it be incorporated into the SQL query language? What additional keywords and operators and so on are needed to enhance SQL functionality to include MapReduce?

1 comment:

  1. It's worth noting that Aster Data Systems has developed a tight integration between MapReduce and SQL in their RDBMS. Aster supports SQL/MR functions which "call" MapReduce parallelism, but are actually extensions to SQL and can be used by SQL developers and BI tools.

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