Hadoop is in the Mind of the Beholder

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Mar 24, 2014
Nick Heudecker and Merv Adrian


In the early days of Hadoop (versions up through 1.x), the project consisted of two primary components: HDFS and MapReduce. One thing to store the data in an append-only file model, distributed across an arbitrarily large number of inexpensive nodes with disk and processing power; another to process it, in batch, with a relatively small number of available function calls. And some other stuff called Commons to handle bits of the plumbing. But early adopters demanded more functionality, so the Hadoop footprint grew. The result was an identity crisis that grows progressively more challenging for decisionmakers with almost every new announcement.

This expanding footprint included a sizable group of “related projects”, mostly under the Apache Software Foundation. When Gartner published How to Choose the Right Apache Hadoop Distribution in early February 2012, the leading vendors we surveyed (Cloudera, MapR, IBM, Hortonworks, and EMC) all included Pig, Hive, HBase, and Zookeeper. Most were willing to support Flume, Mahout, Oozie, and Sqoop. Several other projects were supported by some, but not all. If you were asked at the time, “What is Hadoop?” this set of ten projects, the commercially supported ones, would have made a good response.

In 2013, Hadoop 2.0 arrived, and with it a radical redefinition. YARN muddied the clear definition of Hadoop by introducing a way for multiple applications to use the cluster resources. You have options. Instead of just MapReduce, you can run Storm (or S4 or Spark Streaming), Giraph, or HBase, among others. The list of projects with abstract names goes on. At least fewer of them are animals now.

During the intervening time, vendors have selected different projects and versions to package and support. To a greater or lesser degree, all of these vendors call their products Hadoop – some are clearly attempting to move “beyond” that message. Some vendors are trying to break free from the Hadoop baggage by introducing new, but just as awful, names. We have data lakes, hubs, and no doubt more to come.

But you get the point. The vague names indicate the vendors don’t know what to call these things either. If they don’t know what they’re selling, do you know what you’re buying? If the popular definition of Hadoop has shifted from a small conglomeration of components to a larger, increasingly vendor-specific conglomeration, does the name “Hadoop” really mean anything anymore?

Today the list of projects supported by leading vendors (now Cloudera, Hortonworks, MapR, Pivotal and IBM) numbers 13. Today it’s HDFS, YARN, MapReduce, Pig, Hive, HBase, and Zookeeper, Flume, Mahout, Oozie, Sqoop – and Cascading and HCatalog. Coming up fast are Spark, Storm, Accumulo, Sentry, Falcon, Knox, Whirr… and maybe Lucene and Solr. Numerous others are only supported by their distributor and are likely to remain so, though perhaps MapR’s support for Cloudera Impala will not be the last time we see an Apache-licensed, but not Apache project, break the pattern. All distributions have their own unique value-add. The answer to the question, “What is Hadoop?” and the choice buyers must make will not get easier in the year ahead – it will only become more difficult.

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