Apache Iceberg: What It Is and The Problems It Solves

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Celso Crivelaro
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Celso Crivelaro
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Head of Engineering
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Learn more about what Apache Iceberg is, and how it can help to store and manage large datasets.
Published on
July 20, 2023
Updated on
April 11, 2024

With the advent of big data, the reliance on data has become even more pronounced. Companies are constantly seeking ways to use their data more effectively and base their decisions on accurate insights. As such, data lakes have become increasingly popular. Data lakes are repositories of massive datasets that store and analyze data from multiple sources.

Useful as data lakes are, managing such huge collections can be a challenge. While Apache Hive can solve some data processing issues encountered with data lakes, it falls short in other areas. This is where Apache Iceberg comes in. Apache Iceberg has emerged as an even more efficient solution for managing big data due to its ability to optimize data storage, simplify data management, and improve query performance.

This article will provide an overview of Apache Iceberg and its benefits to data lakes. We’ll explain what Apache Iceberg is and the problems it solves.

What Is Apache Iceberg?

Cloud computing platforms, such as Google Cloud, Delta Lake, and Apache Hive, have become essential components of big data solutions. However, they may not be enough to meet the demands of today’s data-driven world.

Apache Iceberg is an open table format designed to address the issues associated with using existing data lake formats such as Apache Hive. Designed by Netflix in 2018, Apache Iceberg is a table snapshot format that works with huge analytic datasets to store collections of files in the same structure. This ensures transparent, low-latency performance when working with large data lakes and helps make the entire process easier.

The open-source table format is compatible with various sources and can be used for batch and streaming data. Apache Iceberg uses a structured data representation that supports ACID transactions, meaning that any changes to the table are atomic. This allows for easier management and manipulation of data in data lakes.

Apache Iceberg Architecture

With Iceberg, Apache architecture enables best practices for efficient and consistent data management in several ways:

  • First, the format creates immutable snapshots of data. It tracks any changes to the table and stores them in a separate file, allowing for better control over tables that are changing. It also ensures that changes are atomic transactions, meaning they can’t be partially applied or undone.
  • Second, its time travel feature uses a transactional data format to consistently apply any changes made to the table through reproducible queries. This helps maintain data integrity and simplifies updating and manipulating external tables.
  • Finally, it uses a columnar representation of data using column names to improve query performance. This allows for faster queries when accessing large datasets.

For all this to be possible, Iceberg uses four main components: metadata files, manifest lists, manifest files, and data files.

  • Metadata files: Metadata files contain information about the table structure and data types. They are stored separately from the data files, allowing for more efficient metadata storage.
  • Manifest list: The manifest list is a set of metadata and data files stored on a disk. This helps with efficient access to the table, as it constantly eliminates the need to read from the manifest file.
  • Manifest file: The manifest file stores information about the data files and metadata files stored in the table. This allows for easier tracking of data changes and simplifies the process of updating a table.
  • Data files: Data files are the actual data stored in the table. They can be stored in various formats, including Apache Parquet, CSV, and JSON.

Apache Iceberg Examples

To better understand the capabilities of Apache Iceberg, let’s consider a few examples.

  • Streaming data: Apache Iceberg can store and manage streaming data, such as real-time stock prices. It tracks changes and ensures that new data is consistently added to the table. This lets users quickly access the latest data and make decisions based on the most recent information.
  • Change data capture: Change data capture (CDC) tracks changes in data over time. Apache Iceberg can ensure that it tracks changes and stores them consistently so that users can access data from any point in time.
  • Large-scale analytics: Apache Iceberg is well suited for large-scale analytics, such as analyzing customer data to predict future sales. Its performance-oriented structure ensures that queries run quickly, even with large datasets.
  • Data warehouse: Apache Iceberg can store and manage data in a data warehouse or data lake. Data warehouses and data lakes can often be challenging to manage due to their complexity.  However, Apache Iceberg simplifies the process by providing a clear structure for data management.  This makes it easier to access, process, and analyze the data.

What File Formats Are Supported?

Apache Iceberg supports a variety of file formats, including:

  • Apache Parquet: Apache Parquet is a columnar file format that supports efficient data storage and retrieval. It can store large amounts of structured data, making it ideal for data warehouses and lakes.
  • Apache Avro: Apache Avro is a serialization format for storing and transferring data. It stores data in a compact, binary format, and different programming languages can read it.
  • Apache ORC: Apache ORC is an optimized columnar file format designed to improve query performance. It can store data in various formats, including text, integers, and floats, making it ideal for large-scale analytics.

Advantages of Apache Iceberg

Apache Iceberg is a highly versatile and efficient solution for data lake management. It offers several advantages, including:

  • Improved query performance: Apache Iceberg is designed to optimize data storage and improve query performance. Its structured format ensures that queries run quickly and efficiently, even with large datasets.
  • Easier data management: Apache Iceberg simplifies the process of managing data in a data lake. Its immutable snapshots and transactional data format ensure that changes are tracked and can be undone.
  • Compatibility with multiple execution engines and file formats: Apache Iceberg is compatible with various execution engines and file formats, making it a flexible solution for data lake management. For instance, it is compatible with Apache Hive, Apache ORC, Apache Parquet, Apache Avro, Apache Iceberg Snowflake, and AWS Glue.
  • Transparency: Apache Iceberg provides a clear, unified view of data in the data lake. This makes it easier to access and manipulate data without having to jump between different systems.
  • Cost savings: Apache Iceberg can help reduce costs associated with data lake management. Its efficient storage and query performance help to minimize the amount of storage space needed and increase efficiency. This can help businesses save money and resources.
  • Increased scalability: Apache Iceberg is designed to scale, making it ideal for large-scale environments. Its columnar representation of data allows for faster queries and more efficient storage of large datasets.
  • Online support: There is plenty of online support available for Iceberg, including Apache Iceberg tutorials and official documentation. Several open-source projects on Apache Iceberg GitHub provide additional support.

Disadvantages of Apache Iceberg

While Apache Iceberg is a powerful solution for data lake management, it does have some drawbacks. These include:

  • Dependency on metadata: Apache Iceberg relies heavily on metadata to store and retrieve data. As a result, it is vulnerable to errors if the metadata is not updated regularly.
  • Limited support for query types: Apache Iceberg supports only some types of queries, such as group by and count. This can limit its usefulness in some instances where complex queries are needed.
  • Limited support for different types of data: Apache Iceberg is limited in its support for different types of data, such as text, integers, and floats. This can make it challenging to store certain types of data in the table format, such as images.

What Issues Does Apache Iceberg Solve?

Apache Iceberg is designed to solve many of the common issues encountered when managing large data lakes using existing formats such as Apache Hive. These issues include:

Missing and Inconsistent Data

Iceberg's hidden partitioning, transactional data format, and immutable snapshots make certain that any changes to the table are appropriately tracked. This facili to find missing or inconsistent data and simplifies the process of updating the table. For instance, the time travel feature allows the user to access data from any point in time, making it easier to find missing or inconsistent values. Additionally, its columnar representation of data helps to improve query performance when accessing large datasets.

Underperforming Data

Iceberg's columnar representation of data makes queries run faster when accessing large datasets. This improves query performance and helps to minimize the amount of storage space needed to store the data. Additionally, its transactional data format ensures that any changes to the table are applied in a consistent order, helping maintain data integrity. This minimizes the amount of underperforming data and ensures that queries are always up-to-date.

Identifying Analytic Table Schema

Iceberg's metadata files provide detailed information about the table structure and data types. This makes identifying an analytic table schema easier, as all the relevant information is stored in the metadata files. Additionally, the columnar representation of data makes it easier to query large datasets without constantly reading from the manifest file.

Optimize Your Data with an Apache Iceberg Expert

Apache Iceberg is the future of data lake management. Its advanced features, such as its columnar representation of data, time travel feature, and transactional data format, help to improve query performance, simplify data management, and increase scalability. This makes it an ideal solution for large-scale analytics and provides businesses with a powerful tool for making data-driven decisions.

If your organization is looking for a better way to manage its data using Apache Iceberg, you may need professionals to optimize your data. However, professionals with experience in Apache Iceberg can be challenging to find. Revelo's talent marketplace can connect you with pre-vetted professionals with the skills and experience to help you get the most out of your data. Contact us today to find the talent you need for your Apache Iceberg projects.

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