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What is the Data Lakehouse and the Role of Apache Iceberg, Nessie and Dremio?

February 21, 2024

Organizations are constantly seeking more efficient, scalable, and flexible solutions to manage their ever-growing data assets. This quest has led to the development of the data lakehouse, a novel architecture that promises to revolutionize the way businesses store, access, and analyze data. By combining the strengths of data lakes and data warehouses, data lakehouses offer a unified platform that addresses the limitations of its predecessors. This blog post delves into the essence of a data lakehouse, explores the significance of table formats, and introduces Apache Iceberg and Nessie—two cutting-edge technologies that are shaping the future of data management.

What is a Data Lakehouse?

A data lakehouse is an innovative architecture that merges the expansive storage capabilities of data lakes with the structured querying and transactional features of data warehouses. This hybrid model is designed to support both the vast data volumes typical of big data initiatives and the sophisticated analytics usually reserved for structured data environments. Data lakehouses aim to provide a single, coherent platform for all types of data analysis, from real-time analytics to machine learning, without sacrificing performance, scalability, or cost-effectiveness.

The data lakehouse architecture is distinguished by several key characteristics:

Unified Data Management: It eliminates the traditional boundaries between data lakes and warehouses, offering a consolidated view of all data assets.

Cost-Efficiency: By leveraging low-cost storage solutions and optimizing query execution, data lakehouses reduce the overall expense of data storage and analysis.

Scalability: The architecture effortlessly scales to accommodate growing data volumes and complex analytical workloads, ensuring that performance remains consistent as demands increase.

Real-Time Analytics and AI: Data lakehouses enable direct analytics on raw and structured data, supporting advanced use cases like real-time decision-making and artificial intelligence applications.

Understanding Table Formats and their Importance

The concept of a table format is fundamental in data storage and analysis, referring to the method by which data is structured and organized within a database or storage system. An effective table format is critical for optimizing data accessibility, query performance, and storage efficiency. In the data lakehouse world, table formats ensure that data can be easily read, written, and processed by various analytical tools and applications.

Table formats play several vital roles in data management:

Efficient Data Retrieval: They enable quick and efficient data access by organizing data in a way that aligns with common query patterns.

Data Integrity and Reliability: Proper table formats help maintain data accuracy and consistency, ensuring that data remains reliable and trustworthy over time.

Schema Evolution: They support the ability to evolve data schema over time without disrupting existing data, allowing for the addition of new fields and the modification of existing structures as business requirements change.

In the context of data lakehouses, selecting the right table format is even more critical, as it directly impacts the system’s ability to deliver on the promise of high-performance analytics on diverse datasets.

Apache Iceberg - The Standard in Lakehouse Tables

Apache Iceberg emerges as a groundbreaking table format designed to enhance the capabilities of data lakehouses by addressing several limitations of traditional table formats used in big data environments. As an open-source table format, Iceberg is engineered to improve data reliability, performance, and scalability for analytical workloads.

Key Features and Advantages of Apache Iceberg:

Schema Evolution: Iceberg supports adding, renaming, and deleting columns while maintaining backward compatibility and forward compatibility. This feature ensures that data consumers can access the data even as the schema evolves, without the need for complex migration processes.

Hidden Partitioning: Unlike traditional methods that require explicit partition paths in the directory structure, Iceberg handles partitioning behind the scenes. This approach simplifies data management and enhances query performance without the need for users to manage partition metadata manually.

Snapshot Isolation: Iceberg provides snapshot isolation for data operations, enabling consistent and repeatable reads. This feature allows for concurrent reads and writes without impacting the integrity of the data being analyzed.

Incremental Updates: It supports atomic and incremental updates, deletions, and upserts, facilitating more dynamic and fine-grained data management strategies. This capability is crucial for real-time analytics and data science applications that require frequent updates to datasets.

Compatibility and Integration: Apache Iceberg is designed to be compatible with popular compute engines like Apache Spark, Dremio, and Flink. This ensures that organizations can adopt Iceberg without having to replace their existing data processing tools and infrastructure.

By addressing these critical areas, Apache Iceberg significantly enhances the efficiency and reliability of data lakehouse architectures, making it a cornerstone technology for modern data management.

Nessie - Data Lakehouse Catalog with Git-like Versioning

Project Nessie introduces the concept of version control to the world of data lakehouses, akin to what Git has done for source code. Nessie enables data engineers and data scientists to manage and maintain versions of their data lakehouse catalog, providing a robust framework for data experimentation, rollback, and governance.

Understanding Nessie’s Role and Benefits:

Data Versioning: Nessie allows for versioning of entire data lakehouses, enabling users to track changes, experiment with datasets, and roll back to previous states if necessary. This capability is especially valuable in complex analytical environments where changes to data models and structures are frequent.

Branching and Merging: Similar to Git, Nessie supports branching and merging of data changes. This feature facilitates parallel development and experimentation with data, allowing teams to work on different versions of datasets simultaneously without interfering with each other’s work.

Simplified Data Governance: With Nessie, organizations can enforce better governance and compliance practices by maintaining a clear history of data changes, access, and usage. This transparency is critical for adhering to regulatory requirements and conducting audits.

Enhanced Collaboration: By enabling branching and merging, Nessie fosters a collaborative environment where data practitioners can share, review, and integrate data changes more efficiently. This collaborative workflow is crucial for accelerating innovation and ensuring data quality in analytics projects.

Nessie’s introduction of version control for data fundamentally changes how organizations approach data management, offering a more flexible, secure, and collaborative environment for handling complex data landscapes.

Use Cases for Catalog Versioning

The Nessie approach to data lakehouse catalogs opens up a range of possibilities for how data is accessed, manipulated, and maintained over time. Here are several key use cases that highlight the importance and utility of catalog versioning:

A/B Testing for Data-Driven Decisions: Catalog versioning enables organizations to maintain multiple versions of data simultaneously, allowing for A/B testing of different analytical models or business strategies. By comparing outcomes across different data sets, businesses can make more informed decisions based on empirical evidence.

Data Rollback and Recovery: In the event of erroneous data manipulation or accidental deletion, catalog versioning allows for quick rollback to a previous state, ensuring data integrity and continuity of business operations. This capability is critical for minimizing the impact of mistakes and maintaining trust in data systems.

Collaborative Data Science and Engineering Workflows: By enabling branching and merging of data changes, catalog versioning supports collaborative workflows among data scientists and engineers. Teams can work on different aspects of a project in isolation, then merge their changes into a unified dataset, thereby accelerating innovation and ensuring consistency.

Compliance and Audit Trails: Catalog versioning provides a comprehensive audit trail of changes to data, including who made changes, what changes were made, and when they were made. This level of transparency is invaluable for compliance with regulatory requirements and for conducting internal audits.

Dremio - The Data Lakehouse Platform

Dremio is a platform designed to realize the full potential of the data lakehouse architecture. By integrating cutting-edge technologies like Apache Iceberg and Nessie, Dremio offers a seamless and efficient solution for managing, querying, and analyzing data at scale.

Key Features and Capabilities of Dremio:

Data Virtualization: Dremio’s data virtualization capabilities allow users to access and query data across various sources as if it were stored in a single location. This eliminates the need for data movement and transformation, thereby reducing complexity and increasing efficiency.

SQL-Based Data Access: Dremio provides a SQL layer that enables analysts and data scientists to perform complex queries on data stored in a lakehouse using familiar SQL syntax. This feature democratizes data access, allowing a broader range of users to derive insights from big data.

High-Performance Analytics: Leveraging Apache Arrow, Dremio optimizes query performance, enabling lightning-fast analytics on large datasets. This capability is essential for real-time analytics and interactive data exploration.

Scalability and Flexibility: Dremio is designed to scale horizontally, supporting the growth of data volumes and concurrent users without sacrificing performance. Its flexible architecture allows organizations to adapt to changing data needs and technologies over time.

Unified Data Governance and Security: Dremio incorporates robust security features, including data access controls and encryption, to ensure data privacy and compliance. Its integration with Nessie further enhances governance by providing version control and auditability of data assets.

By converging the benefits of Apache Iceberg, Nessie, and data virtualization into one easy-to-use platform, Dremio not only simplifies the data management landscape but also empowers organizations to harness the full value of their data in the lakehouse model. This integration paves the way for advanced analytics, machine learning, and data-driven decision-making, positioning Dremio at the forefront of the data lakehouse movement.

Integrating Apache Iceberg, Nessie, and Data Virtualization with Dremio

The integration of Apache Iceberg and Project Nessie with Dremio’s data virtualization capabilities represents a significant advancement in data lakehouse technology. This combination addresses the complex challenges of data management at scale, providing a cohesive solution that enhances performance, flexibility, and governance. Here’s how Dremio brings these technologies together to offer a powerful data lakehouse platform:

Leveraging Apache Iceberg for Scalable Data Management: Dremio enables full DDL/DML/Optimization with Apache Iceberg tables on any data lake source like Hadoop/Hive/Glue/S3/Nessie/ADLS/GCP and more. Not only do you have full featured freedom to work with Iceberg tables, it is Iceberg tables that fuels Dremio’s unique query acceleration feature, Reflections, that eliminates the need for materialized views, cubes and BI extracts. Also, any Iceberg tables cataloged in Dremio’s Nessie based integrated catalog can have automatic table optimization enabled so they “just work”.

Version Control and Governance with Nessie: Incorporating Nessie into the data lakehouse architecture, Dremio introduces robust version control capabilities akin to Git for data. This allows for branching, committing, and merging of data changes, enabling collaborative workflows and easier management of data evolution. Nessie’s versioning also supports data governance by providing an immutable audit log of changes, essential for compliance and data quality assurance. Nessie is the backbone of Dremio Cloud’s integrated catalog that also provides an easy-to-use UI for managing commits, tags and branches.

Data Virtualization for Seamless Data Access: Dremio’s data virtualization layer abstracts the complexity of data storage and format, presenting users with a unified view of data across the lakehouse. This enables seamless access and query capabilities across diverse data sources and formats, without the need for data movement or transformation. Data virtualization simplifies analytics, reduces time to insight, and democratizes data access across the organization.

Unified Analytics and AI Platform: By integrating these technologies, Dremio transforms the data lakehouse into a comprehensive platform for analytics and AI. Users can perform complex SQL queries and bring the data to their desired environments and use cases with JDBC/ODBC, a REST API, or Apache Arrow Flight. The enables the data to fuel machine learning models and analytics directly on diverse and large-scale datasets. The platform’s optimization for performance ensures that these operations are fast and efficient, catering to the needs of data-driven businesses.


The advent of the data lakehouse, powered by technologies like Apache Iceberg, Project Nessie, and Dremio’s Data Lakehouse Platform, marks a new era in data management and analytics. This integrated approach addresses longstanding challenges in data scalability, performance, and governance, offering a versatile and powerful platform for organizations to leverage their data assets fully.

In embracing these technologies, businesses can position themselves at the forefront of the data revolution, unlocking new opportunities for innovation, efficiency, and competitive advantage. The journey towards a more integrated, intelligent, and intuitive data ecosystem is just beginning, and the potential for transformation is boundless.

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