Look Before You Leap Into Hadoop

Analysts and early users warn that most data centers lack the analytics expertise needed for the open-source big data technology.

Now that Apache.org has listed more than 150 enterprises as Hadoop users -- including JPMorgan Chase, IBM, Google, Booz Allen Hamilton and the New York Times -- it seems likely that the big data management system could soon become all the rage among corporate IT executives.

But analysts and early users warn that companies should move slowly to take advantage of the open-source technology, noting that Hadoop requires extensive training along with analytics expertise not seen in many IT shops today.

Some also noted that the swollen ranks of suppliers of Hadoop technology could soon thin out, leaving some users without vendor support for the complex technology.

To be sure, Hadoop clearly has some technical advantages over traditional database management systems, especially its ability to simultaneously handle both structured data and unstructured information such as video, audio and email messages. Hadoop systems can also scale with minimal fuss and bother.

Forrester Research analyst James Kobielus pointed out that only about 1% of U.S. enterprises are currently using Hadoop in production environments. That figure should remain small for now, perhaps growing to 2% or 3% over the course of the year, he projected.

Concurrent Computer and eBay may be more typical of today's early Hadoop adopters; they use the big data technology for specific applications while maintaining traditional relational database technology for the bulk of their IT operations.

As such IT operations build up expertise, they can figure out more things to do with Hadoop, Kobielus said.

Online auction house eBay stores unstructured data on Hadoop-based clusters running on "thousands" of nodes, while using relational databases for key tasks like transaction processing, said Hugh Williams, vice president of experience, search and platforms.

"We see value in using multiple technologies to work with our data," Williams said. "Hadoop is a terrific choice for certain uses, while other technologies work alongside it for other purposes."

In the long term, he said, the idea is to remain "flexible in what technologies we use; we don't see a world [with] one unifying technology."

Concurrent, a maker of video-streaming systems, uses Hadoop to "do the heavy lifting, such as large-scale data processing," said William Lazzaro, director of engineering.

Concurrent continues to use multiple relational databases, including MySQL, PostgreSQL and Oracle for other tasks, Lazzaro added.

Kobielus also warned that today's market for Hadoop technology is "turbulent," with a fast-growing community of vendors that continues to "rapidly evolve."

Marcus Collins, an analyst at Gartner, suggested that IT managers take the time needed to seek out hard-to-find Hadoop experts before getting too immersed in the technology. "You need to train your staff and invest in analytics," he said.

"It's not trivial," agreed eBay's Williams. "We've put a lot of training in place, so our engineers know how to use Hadoop and can write code. Don't underestimate that."

Analysts and users also stressed the need to educate corporate executives on the use of an open-source system for mission-critical applications.

Using it for a few under-the-radar kinds of projects is one thing, but using it to develop a massive system for all the world to see is another thing entirely.

Weiss is a freelance technology writer.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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