SQL v Hadoop: The Wrong Conversation

“No SQL!”

“Hadoop doesn’t require you to work in SQL!”

The claims are everywhere, but do they mean anything? To ruin the suspense: No.

There seems to be a big misunderstanding or a big lack of communications in the realm of big data. I keep hearing company after company compare Hadoop to SQL, claiming the former is somehow better than the later. Sadly, that’s comparing apples to screwdrivers.

Hadoop is a database technology. It’s based on MPP architecture for the Cloud. Hadoop compares to flat files, relational databases and other methods for storing information in structures.

SQL is an query language. It’s similar to an API in that it’s just a way to communicate with the data source. Long ago, in the dawn of time, SQL was tightly tied to DB2 and the relational environment that spawned the syntax. However, along came the 1980s, Unix servers and PCs, and the need to access lots of different data sources and an unwillingness to have to have very separate query languages for each data source.

Along came ODBC to the rescue. It standardized core query syntax using the SQL paradigm and allowed, under the covers, the ODBC developer to use an API to translate almost standard queries into the language of each data source. It extended SQL to access new things.

In the meantime, as RDBMS technologies began to try to find ways around the basic limitations of relational databases, the companies added extra features such as stored procedures that extended SQL even further from the origins of basic definition and query of relational structures.

So now we have a mass of coders who have only worked with large, primarily Web oriented databases using non-RDBMS technology. No surprise, they had to code their own interfaces and queries, getting into the details of the newer systems. At the same time, they probably brushed through and overview of RDBMS and SQL in school and then never used it again.

That meant a misunderstanding of the difference between database and query. Therefore, the message of No SQL will retard their progress in integrating their solutions with the existing IT data infrastructure.

There’s a large need for people who can work with Hadoop and other younger data sources. There’s also a vast pool of people who know SQL. Yes, there will always be a need for Hadoop gurus just as there is for every technology, but the folks wanting to get information out of data sources don’t need to know the data sources, they need to get the information – and they know SQL.

A number of vendors have figured that out and are now offering SQL as a means to access Hadoop. It’s a natural fit, an extension of what the people pushing Hadoop are hoping to achieve. Hadoop and other distributed, non-row based architectures are there to expand knowledge. They’re great ways to better understand the vast body of data coming in from many new sources. However, until you can get that data to the business knowledge worker, it’s not information. SQL is the clearest way to quickly bridge that gap.

The people who realize that it’s not an either/or decision, who understand that Hadoop and SQL not only can but should work together are the people who will drive their companies forward by quickly addressing real business needs.

SQL v Hadoop is the wrong conversation. SQL and Hadoop is the right one.

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