Tuesday, January 5, 2010

MapReduce versus Relational Databases?

The current issue of Communications of the ACM has articles on MapReduce and relational databases. One, MapReduce a Flexible Data Processing Tool, explains the utility of MapReduce by two Google fellows -- appropriate authors, since Google invented the parallel MapReduce paradigm.

The second article, MapReduce and Parallel DBMSs: Friend or Foe, is written by a team of authors, with Michael Stonebraker listed as the first author. I am uncomfortable with this article, because the article purports to show the superiority of a particular database system, Vertica, without mentioning -- anywhere -- that Michael Stonebraker is listed as the CTO and Co-Founder on Vertica's web site. For this reason, I believe that this article should be subject to much more scrutiny.

Before starting, let me state that I personally have no major relationships with any of the database vendors or with companies in the Hadoop/MapReduce space. I am an advocate of using relational databases for data analysis and have written a book called Data Analysis Using SQL and Excel. And, over the past three months, I have been learning Hadoop and MapReduce, as attested to by numerous blog postings on the subject. Perhaps because I am a graduate of MIT ('85), I am upset that Michael Stonebraker uses his MIT affiliation for this article, without mentioning his Vertica affiliation.

The first thing I notice about the article is the number of references to Vertica. In the main text, I count nine references to Vertica, as compared to thirteen mentions of other databases:
  • Aster (twice)
  • DataAllegro (once)
  • DB2 (twice)
  • Greenplum (twice)
  • Netezza (once)
  • ParAccel (once)
  • PostgreSQL (once)
  • SQL Server (once)
  • Teradata (once)
The paper describes a study which compares Vertica, another database, and Hadoop on various tasks. The paper never explains how these databases were chosen for this purpose. Configuration issues for the other database and Hadoop are mentioned. The configuration and installation of Vertica -- by the absence of problems -- one assumes is easy and smooth. I have not (yet) read the paper cited, which describes the work in more detail.

Also, the paper never describes costs for the different system, which is a primary driver of MapReduce. The software is free and runs on cheap clusters of computers, rather than expensive servers and hardware. For a given amount of money, MapReduce may provide a much faster solution, since it can support much larger hardware environments.

The paper never describes issues in the loading of data. I assume this is a significant cost for the databases. Loading the data for Hadoop is much simpler . . . since it just reads text files, which is a common format.

From what I can gather, the database systems were optimized specifically for the tasks at hand, although this is not explicitly mentioned anywhere. For instance, the second tasks is a GROUP BY, and I suspect that the data is hash partitioned by the GROUP BY clause.

There are a few statements that I basically disagree with.

"Lastly, the reshuffle that occurs between the Map and Reduce tasks in MR is equivalent to a GROUP BY operation in SQL." The issue here at first seems like a technicality. In a relational database, an input row can only into one group. MR can output multiple records in the map stage, so a single row can go into multiple "groups". This functionality is important for the word count example, which is the canonical MapReduce example. I find it interesting that this example is not included in the benchmark.

"Given this, parallel DBMSs provide the same computing model as MR, with the added benefit of using a declarative language (SQL)." This is not true in several respects. First, MapReduce does have associated projects for supporting declarative languages. Second, in order for SQL to support the level of functionality that the authors claim, they need to use user defined functions. Is that syntax declarative?

More importantly, though, is that the computing model really is not exactly the same. Well, with SQL extensions such as GROUPING SETs and window functions, the functionality does come close. But, consider the ways that you can add a row number to data (assuming that you have no row number function built-in) using MapReduce versus traditional SQL. Using MapReduce you can follow the two-phase program that I described in an earlier posting. With traditional SQL, you have to do a non-equi-self join. MapReduce has a much richer set of built-in functions and capabilities, simply because it uses java, an established programming language with many libraries.

On the other hand, MapReduce does not have a concept of "null" built-in (although users can define their own data types and semantics). And, MapReduce handles non-equijoins poorly, because the key is used to direct both tables to the same node. In effect, you have to limit the MapReduce job to one node. SQL can still parallelize such queries.

"[MapReduce] still requires user code to parse the value portion of the record if it contains multiple attributes." Well, parse is the wrong term, since a Writable class supports binary representations of data types. I describe how to create such types here.

I don't actually feel qualified to comment on many of the operational aspects of optimizing Hadoop code. I do note that the authors do not explain the main benefit of Vertica, which is the support of column partitioning. Each column is stored separate, which makes it possible to apply very strong compression algorithms to the data. In many cases, the Vertica data will fit in memory. This is a huge performance boost (and one that another vendor, Paracel takes advantage of).

In the end, the benchmark may be comparing the in-memory performance of a database to general performance for MapReduce. The benchmark may not be including the ETL time for loading the data, partitioning data, and building indexes. The benchmark may not have allocated optimal numbers of map and reduce jobs for the purpose. And, it is possible that the benchmark is unbiased and relational databases really are better.

A paper that leaves out the affiliations between its authors and the vendors used for a benchmark is only going to invite suspicion.


  1. I don't really understand how you can compare MR with a relational database. Does MR itself includes any framework for maintaining and updating the data? I thought you still needed some kind of storage to work with MR.

  2. An often missed functionality of a relational database (specifically SQL Server) is the ability to utilize CLR - run fully functioning .net code (e.g. C#) in the database procs.....

    This extends the functionality of a relational database enormously..

  3. Very informative post indeed!
    I am interested in knowing more on MapReduce and Large Data analytics..

    This one resource looks great... High Performance Analytics with MapReduce


Your comment will appear when it has been reviewed by the moderators.