Q&A: Hadoop creator expects surge in interest to continue

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Doug Cutting explains why 'upstart' is making in-roads with Microsoft, Oracle, others

Doug Cutting, the creator of the open-source Hadoop framework that allows enterprises to store and analyze petabytes of unstructured data, led the team that built one of the world's largest Hadoop clusters while he was at Yahoo. The former engineer at Excite, Apple and Xerox PARC is also the developer of Lucene and Nutch, two open-source search engine technologies now being managed by the Apache Foundation. Cutting is now an architect at Cloudera, which sells and supports a commercial version of Hadoop and which this week will host the Hadoop World conference in New York. In an interview, Cutting talked about the reasons for the surging enterprise interest in Hadoop.

How would you describe Hadoop to a CIO or a CFO? Why should enterprises care? At a really simple level it lets you affordably save and process vastly more data than you could before. With more data and the ability to process it, companies can see more, they can learn more, they can do more. [With Hadoop] you can start to do all sorts of analyses that just weren't practical before. You can start to look at patterns over years, over seasons, across demographics. You have enough data to fill in patterns and make predictions and decide, 'How should we price things?' and 'What should we be selling now?' and 'How should we advertise?' It is not only about having data for longer periods but also richer data about any given period, as well.

What are Hive and Pig? Why should enterprises know about these projects? Hive gives you [a way] to query data that is stored in Hadoop. A lot of people are used to using SQL and so, for some applications, it's a very useful tool. Pig is a different language. It is not SQL. It is an imperative data flow language. It is an alternate way to do higher level programming of Hadoop clusters. There is also HBase, if you want to have real time [analysis] as opposed to batch. There is a whole ecosystem of projects that have grown up around Hadoop and that are continuing to grow. Hadoop is the kernel of a distributed operating system and all the other components around the kernel are now arriving on the stage. Pig and Hive are good examples of those kinds of things. Nobody we know of uses just Hadoop. They use several of these other tools on top as well.

Are they replacing relational databases for the most part, or just supplementing them? They are augmenting and not replacing. There are a lot of things I don't think Hadoop is ever going to replace, things like doing payroll, the real nuts-and-bolts things that people have been using relational database[s] for forever. It's not really a sweet spot for Hadoop.

Microsoft, Oracle, IBM and other big vendors have all begun doing things with Hadoop these days. What do you think about the trend? It's a validation that this is real, that this is a real need that people have. I think this is good news. At Cloudera we are happy to have competitors. We think we can do a better job at the things we can do.

In a recent report, analyst firm Forrester had noted that Hadoop's relative immaturity, the lack of commercial applications and shortage of skills are likely to pose challenges for enterprises. Sure, they are challenges. But that's, in fact, like criticizing a kid for being young. Hadoop is young. A lot of enterprise technologies have been around for decades and there is a lot of tooling that has been built up over the decades, and applications and verticals and all kinds of stuff. It is not there yet with Hadoop. There's room for a lot of growth in the software around Hadoop. That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of problems it can't solve for people today that they can't solve otherwise, or problems that they can solve much more affordably today. For a lot of people, it is ready today. For some people and for some applications, it may be ready tomorrow.

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