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Nessie - An Alternative to Hive & JDBC for Self-Managed Apache Iceberg Catalogs

January 08, 2024

Unlike traditional table formats, Apache Iceberg provides a comprehensive solution for handling big data’s complexity, volume, and diversity. It’s designed to improve data processing in various analytics engines like Apache Spark, Apache Flink, and others. One of Iceberg’s key features is its ability to maintain massive datasets efficiently while ensuring reliable data snapshots, schema evolution, and hidden partitioning.

However, the utility of Apache Iceberg is greatly enhanced by the use of a catalog. A catalog in the context of Iceberg tables is essentially a metadata management tool that tracks table locations, schema versions, and other critical information. The primary role of a catalog is to simplify the portability of tables between different computing tools and environments. It acts as a centralized repository for all table-related metadata, making it easier for users to manage, access, and evolve their data structures without losing consistency or integrity.

The need for a catalog becomes particularly crucial in complex data environments. As organizations increasingly migrate their workloads across various cloud platforms and processing tools, maintaining consistency and accessibility of data becomes a significant challenge. A robust catalog system ensures that tables are easily portable across different environments without losing their essential characteristics. This portability is critical for businesses that require flexibility in their data processing and analytics operations, enabling them to leverage the best tools for each specific task without being hindered by compatibility issues.

Limitations of Traditional Self-Managed Catalog Options

Traditionally, data engineers have relied on self-managed catalog options like Hive Metastore and JDBC catalogs (mySQL, Postgres, etc.). While these systems have been instrumental in the evolution of data management, they come with their own set of challenges, particularly when integrated with Apache Iceberg tables.

Firstly, configuring and deploying these traditional catalogs can be a tedious and complex process. They often require significant effort to set up and maintain, especially in dynamic and scalable cloud environments. This complexity can lead to increased operational overhead and a greater potential for misconfiguration, which can be detrimental to fast-paced data operations.

Moreover, Hive and JDBC catalogs may not fully leverage the latest features offered by Apache Iceberg. Many new features are now only being introduced through the “REST catalog” OpenAPI specification, which has no open-source or self-managed implementation. Right now, the only option that is open-source and self-managed that adds new functionality to Apache Iceberg tables is Nessie.

The Rising Need for Self-Managed Infrastructure

Despite the challenges, the need for self-managed catalog infrastructure is more relevant than ever, driven primarily by regulatory and security reasons. Many organizations operate under strict data governance and compliance requirements. These regulations often mandate specific data handling, storage, and processing protocols, which can be challenging to adhere to with third-party managed services.

Self-managed catalogs offer greater control over data, allowing organizations to implement customized security measures, comply with specific regulations, and maintain data sovereignty. This control is crucial for businesses handling sensitive information or operating in heavily regulated industries like finance, healthcare, and government.

Nessie: Bridging the Gap in Catalog Management

Project Nessie is an innovative open-source technology that revolutionizes the way Apache Iceberg catalogs are managed. Designed to enable new possibilities over traditional systems like Hive Metastore and JDBC catalogs, Nessie introduces a new paradigm in catalog management, one that is more aligned with the modern requirements of big data analytics.

Why Nessie Stands Out

Nessie is not just another catalog; it’s a solution crafted with the complexities and challenges of modern data architectures in mind. Here’s why Nessie is rapidly becoming the go-to choice for managing Apache Iceberg catalogs:

  • Open-Source and Self-Managed: Nessie is an open-source project, making it accessible and modifiable according to specific organizational needs. This aspect is particularly appealing for teams looking to implement a self-managed infrastructure, providing them the flexibility to tailor the catalog to their regulatory and security requirements. Although, cloud managed Nessie-based catalogs are offered by Dremio, which also include automated table maintenance and cleanup.
  • Compatibility with Leading Data Tools: One of Nessie’s significant advantages is its compatibility with a wide range of data processing tools. It seamlessly integrates with popular engines like Dremio, Apache Spark, Apache Flink, Presto and Trino. This compatibility ensures that organizations can continue using their preferred tools without worrying about catalog compatibility issues.
  • Enabling Advanced Features: Nessie is not just about maintaining the status quo; it’s about pushing the boundaries. It enables features that are not fully supported by traditional catalogs, such as catalog versioning, zero-copy clones, catalog-level rollbacks, and multi-table transactions. These features bring a new level of efficiency and capability to data management, allowing for more complex and sophisticated data operations.
  • Simplifying Data Operations: With Nessie, the complexity of managing large-scale data across different environments is greatly reduced. Its ability to handle versioning and rollback at the catalog level simplifies data governance and compliance, a crucial aspect for many organizations.
  • Future-Proofing Data Management: As data architectures continue to evolve, Nessie offers a future-proof solution. Its design is inherently scalable and adaptable, ready to meet the growing demands of big data analytics and the ever-changing landscape of data management technologies.

Getting Hands on with Nessie

Here are many articles for getting hands on with Nessie locally on your laptop so you can see its power in action:

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