Ust Oldfield's Blog

Data Flow Pt 2: Vertexes In Azure Data Lake

Following on from my previous post on Job Execution in the Azure Data Lake, this post will explore the concept of Extents and how they are utilised by Vertexes in the actual Job processing in Azure.

The U-SQL script that has been authored, compiled and deployed is the logical plan of how the author intends to transform input data into output data. This creates a total amount of work – essentially the amount of data it has to process – which is decomposed into a set of vertexes. Each vertex will process a subset of data, or extents (see Azure Data Lake Storage for more information) and represent a fraction of the total.

Vertexes are displayed, or grouped, in a super vertex, also known as a stage. Vertexes in each stage are doing the same operation on a different part of the same data. The number of vertexes in a stage indicates the maximum theoretical parallelisation of that stage. The containers requested for the job will be allocated to complete each vertex. Say there is a 10GB file. This file will be split into 40 Extents and allocated to at least 10 Vertexes. If one wants to process all of the file in parallel then requesting 10 containers will allow for concurrent parallelism.

All this is visualised as the job graph.


If you have multiple transformations going on in your USQL script this will create multiple stages, and the output of one vertex becomes the input of another vertex in a dependent stage. As a result, dependent stages can begin processing even if preceding stages haven’t completed processing.


If dependency does exist, it will create a critical path – which is the dependency chain of vertexes which keep the job running to the very end because the vertex on the bottom depends on the output of the vertex on the top. This can be seen in the Vertex Execution View in the Visual Studio Azure Data Lake Tools view. It’s useful for optimising job, by re-positioning or re-writing elements of your script, by checking which vertex takes the longest.

It may not be possible to use all the reserved parallelism during a stage if there are fewer vertexes than Azure Data Lake Analytics Units (ADLAUs) available.


For example, if I have 10 ADLAUs – it’s great for an early stage as all ADLAUs will be allocated a vertex. But with later stages, more and more ADLAUs will be idle. So by the last stage only 2 of the 14 are utilised. Unfortunately it is not currently possible to dynamically de-allocate ADLAUs during a job.

In conclusion, understanding how vertexes interact with extents and can influence parallelism, you should be able to provision adequate resources for your jobs as well as know where to start the investigation for any long running queries you might have with the Vertex Execution View. In the next post of the series I will be looking into resource costs and optimising spend and time taken to process data.

Data Flow: Job Execution in the Azure Data Lake

In this blog we will deep dive into the job execution of the Azure Data Lake Analytics (ADLA). If you’ve used ADLA you will have come across the following image:


This is the graphical representation of the job execution. But what is is doing at each stage?


The job execution begins with the authoring of the U-SQL script. The U-SQL script itself is the logical plan of how you intend to transform input data into output data. The script gets compiled, which will translate your U-SQL script primarily into C#, as well as a few other items such as XML– which will contain metadata information and the job graph. Once compiled it will create an initial plan – which will then be optimised thus producing an optimised plan. If it fails at this stage it will mostly be down to your U-SQL script failing to compile successfully. Fortunately, the error codes at this stage are fairly helpful and will indicate the line in question.


Once compiled and optimised the job progresses to the queued stage. There are a few things which can cause the a job to queue and these are:

  • Running Jobs
    • The default setting per subscription is 3. So if you or someone else in your subscription is already running a series of jobs, your job will be queued until at least one of them completes
  • Higher priority jobs
    • As the queue is ordered by job priority, with loser numbers having a higher priority, other jobs can jump to the top of the queue thus forcing your job to queue for longer
  • Lack of resources
    • Even if there are no running jobs and there are no jobs ahead of yours in the queue, your job will continue to queue if there are not enough Azure Data Lake Analytic Units (ADLAUs) to start the job.



Once the job has finished queuing it will run. The Job Manager allocates vertexes, which are collections of data to be processed, to the ADLAUs and uses YARN to orchestrate it. The vertexes will then execute. At this stage, if there is a vertex failure you can download the vertex locally and debug in visual studio.

When the vertexes have successfully completed you will be able to consume the end product – either locally, if you have run the job locally, or in the Azure Data Lake Store.


Job Execution

The above process can be visualised in this graph. Knowing how ADLA executes your job is the first of many steps to being able to write performant U-SQL and debug effectively. Be on the look out for more blogs on the technical deep dive into ADLA!

Testing the Waters: An Overview of Data Science using Azure Data Lakes

Data Science can fit seamlessly within the ecosystem of the data lake, whether this is through HDInsight or the extensibility of Azure Data Lake Analytics and U-SQL. This blog will give a brief overview of what Data Science is; how to link Data Science toolkits to the Azure Data Lake; and best practices for managing the data output from experiments.


Data Science

Data Science is the relatively new kid on the block. One way to consider data science is as an evolutionary step in interdisciplinary fields like business analysis that incorporate computer science, modelling, statistics, analytics, and mathematics.
At its core, data science involves using automated methods to analyse massive amounts of data and to extract insight from them. Data science is helping to create new branches of science, and influencing areas of social science and the humanities. The trend is expected to accelerate in the coming years as data from mobile sensors, sophisticated instruments, the web, and more, grows.


Data Science In The Data Lake

The nature of the Azure Data Lake Store lends itself to Data Science in that it can hold any data, which the data scientist will want to access, transform and analyse.


HDInsight contains many implementations for data science, such as Spark, R Server and others. Hooking HDInsight to Azure Data Lake Store is pretty simple and follows these steps:

In the Azure Portal Marketplace, select HDInsight which will bring up a series of blades. In this blog, I will be using Spark as my cluster type on HDInsight.


In the storage settings you can then link your HDInsight cluster to Azure Data Lake Store


Confirm your configuration on the next blade and wait around 20 minutes for your cluster to deploy and you’re good to go!


With Azure Data Lake Analytics, you incorporate data science by extending the capabilities of U-SQL and you do this by installing a series of files.

Open up your Azure Data Lake Analytics account and click on Sample Scripts at the top. This will bring forward the following blade


From there you’ll want to click on the U-SQL Advanced Analytics tab, which will copy about 1.5GB of files to the default Azure Data Lake Store associated to your ADLA account. This will take about 3 minutes to complete.

When it’s finished copying the files it will then call a job to register the extension, which can be found in the assemblies folder of the master database.


More resources about extensibility of U-SQL can be found here:

The Laboratory

Within Azure Data Lake Store, Folder and File Management is incredibly important for a well running data lake. See my blogs on Storage and Best Practices and Shaping The Lake for more information on how to set up your Azure Data Lake Store.

The Laboratory is an area to be exclusively used by a data scientist. It’s an area where they can persist the results of experiments and data sets without impacting the day-to-day operations within the data lake or other data scientists. The laboratory is organised in to two broad area: Desks and Exhibits.

Desks contain personal workspaces, the contents of which can be organised however the person wishes. It can be as well organised, or disorganised, as the person themselves. The Exhibit contains data sources produced in the Laboratory which are ready to be consumed by other users or systems. Both of which are laid out below.


As always, if you have any feedback or comments do let me know!

Shaping The Lake: Data Lake Framework

The Azure Data Lake has just gone into general availability and the management of Azure Data Lake Store, in particular, can seem daunting especially when dealing with big data. In this blog, I will take you through the risks and challenges of working with data lakes and big data. Then I will take you through a framework we’ve created to help best manage these risks and challenges.

If you need a refresh as to what a data lake is and how to create your first Azure Data Lake Store and your first Azure Data Lake Analytics job, please feel free to follow the links.

Risks and Challenges of Big Data and Data Lake

The challenges posed by big data are as follow:

  • Volume – is the sheer amount of data becoming unmanageable?
  • Variety – Structured tables? Semi-structured JSON? Completely unstructured text dumps? We can normally manage with systems that contain just one of these, but if we’re dealing with a huge mix, it gets very tricky
  • Velocity – How fast is the data coming in? And how fast do we need to get it to the people who need it?
  • Veracity - How do we maintain accuracy, veracity, when the data is of varying volumes, the sources and structures are different and the speed in which they arrive in the Lake are of differing velocities?

Managing all four simultaneously is where the challenges begin.

It is very easy to treat a data lake as a dumping ground for anything and everything. Microsoft’s sale pitch says exactly this – “Storage is cheap, Store everything!!”. We tend to agree – but if the data is completely malformed, inaccurate, out of date or completely unintelligible, then it’s no use at all and will confuse anyone trying to make sense of the data. This will essentially create a data swamp, which no one will want to go into. Bad data & poorly managed files erode trust in the lake as a source of information. Dumping is bad.

There is also data drowning – as the volume of the data tends towards the massive and the velocity only increases over time we are going to see more and more information available via the lake. When it gets to that point, if the lake is not well managed, then users are going to struggle to find what they’re after. The data may all be entirely relevant and accurate, but if users cannot find what they need then there is no value in the lake itself. Essentially, data drowning is when the amount of data is so vast you lose the ability to find what’s in there.

If you ignore these challenges, treat the lake like a dumping ground, you will have contaminated your lake and it will no longer be fit for purpose.

If no one uses the Data Lake, it’s a pointless endeavour and not worth maintaining.

Everyone needs to be working together to ensure the lake stays clean, managed and good for a data dive!

Those are the risks and challenges we face with Azure Data Lake. But how do we manage it?

The Framework

Data Lake


We’ve carved the lake up into different sections. The key point is that the lake contains all sorts of different data – some that’s sanitised and ready to consume by the business user, some that’s indecipherable raw data that needs careful analysis before it is of use. By ensuring data are carefully managed you can instantly understand the level of preparation that data has undergone.

Data flows from left to right – the further left areas represent where data has been input directly from source systems. The horizontal sections describe the level of preparation – Manual, Stream and Batch.

Manual – aka, the laboratory. Here data is manually prepared with ad-hoc scripts.

Stream – The data here flows in semi-real time, coming from event hubs and being landed after processing through stream-specific tools such as Streaming Analytics. Once landed, there is no further data processing – the lake is essentially a batch processing tool.

Batch – This is more traditional data processing, the kind of “ETL” seen by many BI developers. We have a landing area for our raw data, a transitional area where data is cleaned, validated, enriched and augmented with additional sources and calculation, before finally being placed in a curated area where it is ready for consumption by the business.

We’re taking the blank-canvas of the Data Lake Store and applying a folder structure, a file management process and a curation process over the top.

The folder structure itself can be as detailed as you like, we follow a specific structure ourselves:

Data Lake 2


The Raw data area, the landing place for any files entering the lake, has sub-folders for each source of data. This allows for the easy browsing of the data sources within the Lake and ensures we are not receiving the same data twice, even if we use it within different systems.

The Enriched and Curated layers however, have a specific purpose in mind. We don’t take data and enrich/clean/process it without a business driver, it’s not something we do for fun. We can therefore assign a project or system name to it, at this point it is organised into these end-systems. This means we can view the same structure within Enriched as within Curated.

Essentially Raw data is categorised by Source whilst Enriched and Curated data is categorised by Destination.

There’s nothing complicated about the Framework we’ve created or the processes we’ve ascribed to it, but it’s incredibly important that everyone is educated on the intent of it and the general purpose of the data lake. If one user doesn’t follow process when adding data, or an ETL developer doesn’t clean up test files, the system starts to fall apart and we succumb to the challenges we discussed at the start.

To summarise, structure in your Azure Data Lake Store is key to maintaining order:

• You need to enforce and maintain folder structure.

• Remember that structure is necessary whether using unstructured data or tables & SQL

• Bear in mind that schema on read applies temporary structure – but if you don’t know what you’re looking at, this is going to be very hard to do!

SQL PASS Summit–Day 2

Day 2, Thursday, started off with a keynote from David DeWitt on cloud data warehousing, scalable storage and scalable compute. This set my theme for the majority of the day – which turned out to be big data tech.


My first session was with James Rowland-Jones and Kevin Ngo on sizing Azure SQL Data Warehouse for proposals – essentially answering “how much is this going to cost me?”. There are various factors to consider, which I will blog on separately. I’ve already briefly fed back to members of the team and they’re excited to know what I learnt in more detail.


My second session was about best practices for Big BI which, unfortunately, ended up being a sales pitch and I came away having felt that I’ve didn’t learn anything. There’s a lot of promise for BI in the big data space, so watch this space as we explore Azure SQL Data Warehouse, Azure Data Lake (Store and Analytics), and other big data technology for BI.


The third session was with Michael Rys on Tuning and Optimising U-SQL Queries for Maximum Performance. It was a full on session, learnt loads and took loads of notes. I need time to digest this information as Michael covered off a very complex topic, very quickly. I will, however, be blogging on it in due course.


After an intense third session, I chose a less intense session for the last session of the day: a Q&A with the SQL Engineering team. This was a great opportunity to learn from other users how they’re using SQL. Most users who asked questions were wanting to know about indexing, backups and High Availability.


Tonight – packing, and networking before the last day of PASS tomorrow!

SQL PASS Summit–Day 1

Day 1, Wednesday, technically started on Tuesday with a newbies speed networking event in which we had to rotate through a crowd of 10 other people - introducing ourselves and asking questions about our professional lives. This was awkward to begin with but, as the evening wore on, introducing ourselves to strangers became a lot easier and more normal. We then moved on to the Welcome Reception and then a #SQLKaraoke event. Great opportunities to meet new people from different areas of the world and parts of the community.

Wednesday morning proper, began with a keynote from Joseph Sirosh. This keynote from Joseph essentially set the tone and theme for a large part of the conference sessions - Azure, Big Data and the Cortana Intelligence Suite.

The first session I attended was on Design Patterns for Azure SQL Database (for which a separate blog will be forthcoming).

The next session I attended was about incorporating Azure Data Lake Analytics into a BI environment (again, another blog is in the pipeline).

My final session of the day was Going Under the Hood with Azure Data Lake. This was the most insightful session of the day, which has subsequently sparked my brain into Data Lake mode (expect many blogs on this), and went through how Azure Data Lake works as well as how the U-SQL language works and resources are allocated.

Tonight - more networking.

So far, the community has been so welcoming and I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow where I’ll be learning about Big Data solutions and best practices. I’m also looking forward to sharing all my experiences and learning's with my colleagues and wider SQL Community.

Introduction to Data Lakes

Data Lakes are the new hot topic in the big data and BI communities. Data Lakes have been around for a few years now, but have only gained popular notice within the last year. In this blog I will take you through the concept of a Data Lake, so that you can begin your own voyage on the lakes.

What is a Data Lake?

Before we can answer this question, it's worth reflecting on a concept which most of us know and love - Data Warehouses. A Data Warehouse is a form of data architecture. The core principal of a Data Warehouse isn't the database, it's the data architecture which the database and tools implement. Conceptually, the condensed and isolated features of a Data Warehouse are around:

1.     Data acquisition

2.     Data management

3.     Data delivery / access

A Data Lake is similar to a Data Warehouse in these regards. It is an architecture. The technology which underpins a Data Lake enables the architecture of the lake to flow and develop. Conceptually, the architecture of a Data Lake wants to acquire data, it needs careful, yet agile management, and the results of any exploration of the data should be made accessible. The two architectures can be used together, but conceptually the similarities end here.


Conceptually, Data Lakes and Data Warehouses are broadly similar yet the approaches are vastly different. So let's leave Data Warehousing here and dive deeper into Data Lakes.


Fundamentally, a Data Lake is just not a repository. It is a series of containers which capture, manage and explore any form of raw data at scale, enabled by low cost technologies, from which multiple downstream applications can access valuable insight which was previously inaccessible.


How Do Data Lakes Work?


Conceptually, a Data Lake is similar to a real lake - water flows in, fills up the reservoir and flows out again. The incoming flow represents multiple raw data formats, ranging from emails, sensor data, spreadsheets, relational data, social media content, etc. The reservoir represents the store of the raw data, where analytics can be run on all or some of the data. The outflow is the analysed data, which is made accessible to users.


To break it down, most Data Lake architectures come as two parts. Firstly, there is a large distributed storage engine with very few rules/limitations. This provides a repository for data of any size and shape. It can hold a mixture of relational data structures, semi-structured flat files and completely unstructured data dumps. The fundamental point is that it can store any type of data you may need to analyse. The data is spread across a distributed array of cheap storage that can be accessed independently.


There is then a scalable compute layer, designed to take a traditional SQL-style query and break it into small parts that can then be run massively in parallel because of the distributed nature of the disks.


In essence – we are overcoming the limitations of traditional querying by:

·       Separating compute so it can scale independently

·       Parallelizing storage to reduce impact of I/O bottlenecks



There are various technologies and design patterns which form the basis of Data Lakes. In terms of technologies these include:

·        Azure Data Lake

·        Cassandra

·        Hadoop

·        S3

·        Teradata

With regards to design patterns, these will be explored in due course. However, before we get there, there are some challenges which you must be made aware of. These challenges are:

1.     Data dumping - It's very easy to treat a data lake as a dumping ground for anything and everything. This will essentially create a data swamp, which no one will want to go into.

2.     Data drowning - the volume of the data could be massive and the velocity very fast. There is a real risk of drowning by not fully knowing what data you have in your lake.

These challenges require good design and governance, which will be covered off in the near future.


Hopefully this has given you a brief, yet comprehensive high-level overview of what data lakes are. We will be focusing on Azure Data Lake, which is a management implementation of the Hadoop architectures. Further reading on Azure Data Lake can be found below.


Further Reading


In order to know more about Data Lakes the following resources are invaluable.

Getting Started With Azure Data Lake Store

Getting Started With Azure Data Lake Analytics and U-SQL

Azure Data Lake Overview