Review: Databricks Lakehouse Platform

Databricks Lakehouse Platform combines cost-effective data storage with machine learning and data analytics, and it's available on AWS, Azure, and GCP. Could it be an affordable alternative for your data warehouse needs?

dock on lake at sunset
At a Glance

Data lakes and data warehouses used to be completely different animals, but now they seem to be merging. A data lake was a single data repository that held all your data for analysis. The data was stored in its native form, at least initially. A data warehouse was an analytic database, usually relational, created from two or more data sources. The data warehouse was typically used to store historical data, most often using a star schema or at least a large set of indexes to support queries.

Data lakes contained a very large amount of data and usually resided on Apache Hadoop clusters of commodity computers, using HDFS (Hadoop Distributed File System) and open source analytics frameworks. Originally, analytics meant MapReduce, but Apache Spark made a huge improvement in processing speed. It also supported stream processing and machine learning, as well as analyzing historic data. Data lakes didn’t impose a schema on data until it was used—a process known as schema on read.

Data warehouses tended to have less data but it was better curated, with a predetermined schema that was imposed as the data was written (schema on write). Since they were designed primarily for fast analysis, data warehouses used the fastest possible storage, including solid-state disks (SSDs) once they were available, and as much RAM as possible. That made the storage hardware for data warehouses expensive.

Databricks was founded by the people behind Apache Spark, and the company still contributes heavily to the open source Spark project. Databricks has also contributed several other products to open source, including MLflow, Delta Lake, Delta Sharing, Redash, and Koalas.

This review is about Databricks’ current commercial cloud offering, Databricks Lakehouse Platform. Lakehouse, as you might guess, is a portmanteau of data lake and data warehouse. The platform essentially adds fast SQL, a data catalog, and analytics capabilities to a data lake. It has the functionality of a data warehouse without the need for expensive storage.

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