Introduction to Apache Spark

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Sergey Lobko-Lobanovsky
Chief Executive Officer, Geomotiv
Published: Apr 29, 2019

Emerging as a next-gen engine for companies that actively use massive data sets in their projects, the Spark framework is in great demand now.

What Spark Framework Is

The Spark framework is an open-code general-purpose computational engine. It is ready to process vast data loads at a high speed. Spark’s high-level tools contribute to delivering powerful analytical insights that help to reduce developers’ time and build competitive applications and services.

Spark emerged to become one of the most perspective systems to process Big Data. But before we proceed to its success, let’s review the story of its emergence first.

When Spark Emerged

Before Spark was introduced in 2013, Hadoop’s MapReduce hegemony was unquestioned. The framework was used to provide linear processing of huge data sets. However, it was slow in delivering the results when the system was running against steady streams of unstructured data. 

Large amounts of unstructured data and the urge to acquire live analytics were driving enterprises to search for alternatives to MapReduce and other Big Data computational solutions. That’s where Spark has stepped in with its in-memory parallel processing as well as its ability to provide for prompt and insightful analytics.

Apache invested in Spark as a way to find a replacement for Hadoop. The Software Foundation wanted to work out an easy-to-use platform. The one that could deliver the results fast and support iterative processing. Since 2013, Apache has been actively developing Spark to make it available for various Big Data projects.

Spark Core Capabilities

Spark is able to simultaneously process zettabytes of data in both real-time and batch modes. It further distributes that data across multiple servers. These capabilities make the framework the most powerful computational engine so far. What is more, Spark has a simple interface. So it's possible to track every operation with the aid of accompanying user-friendly tools.

Spark caters for a variety of tasks. Its flexibility is exceptional for tackling use cases individually. The platform is actively attracting investors and developers. Let’s explore why.

Which Features Make Spark Stand Out

  1. Fast processing
    In contrast to MapReduce, the number of read-write operations within Spark is next to negligible. That is why the platform is ready to process the data ten times faster than MapReduce on both physical and virtual disks.
  2. Ease of use
    Spark provides native bindings to Java, Python, and several other languages. As compared to Hadoop that’s accessible only in Java, Spark is significantly easier to program.
  3. In-memory processing
    Spark has in-memory processing. It means that the data flows into the RAM storage and is processed in parallel. This allows large data sets to be analysed for certain detectable patterns. The data that doesn’t fit into RAM can be recalculated or dumped to disk.
  4. Tools for interactive analytics
    Spark comprises several tools to analyze the incoming data through ML, interactive and SQL queries.
  5. Stream processing
    Spark solves the notorious problem with getting the results immediately. In a situation where data streams in from multiple sources, Spark can both process the data and take decisions on it simultaneously.
  6. Fault tolerance
    Spark relies on RDD (Resilient Distributed Datasets) to recover from faults. In case of a failure, Spark is able to retrieve the lost data from other nodes through various RDD methods. The latest versions of Spark are using DataFrame. It helps to organize the data into named columns for enhanced productivity.
  7. Efficiency 
    Users can significantly minimize the time of each operation by computing only relevant values. This feature arises from the lazy nature of all transformations that take place inside Spark. Actual computations don’t occur until they are necessary. That is how programmers can cut down the time spent to execute the RDD operations.

Who Uses Spark

These days we see massive loads of data coming in different chunks and through different engines. What’s more, we see the data coming arbitrarily in steady streams or in an unstructured format.

That's why today many companies are seeking out an adequate tool for Big Data processing. Today, the spheres where the Spark framework is applicable vary greatly. It ranges from Internet of Things and marketing to business and social media. Let’s see who uses Spark and where the technology is efficient most of all.

Where Spark Is Used: Examples and Use Cases

  1. Machine learning
    Among the many useful components within the Spark framework, there is the Machine Learning Library. This tool is able to combine several functions that are applicable to Big Data:
    • Customer segmentation
    • Fraud detection and risk authentication
    • Predictive analytics
    • Network security.
  2. Data analysis
    Spark delivers interactive analytics combined with extensive visualization. It's crucial when the data comes from multiple sources and requires multiple approaches. This, together with a rich set of high-level APIs, simplifies data access from various programming languages.
  3. Data streaming
    Spark’s parallel processing capabilities go hand in hand with its computational powers. The platform combines static and interactive queries. It makes it possible to “reuse the same code for batch processing, join streams against historical data, or run ad-hoc queries on stream state”, as Spark’s official webpage states. 

Which Industries Use Spark

Today, more than 5,000 companies are actively using the Spark framework in their daily operations. As the list of major Spark clients suggests, it's evident that the scope of industries is rather varied:

The number of industries benefiting from Spark is expected to rise in the coming years.

Spark as an Antidote Against Big Data Problems

Massive data sets are becoming the new norm almost everywhere. The need to process them as promptly and efficiently as possible is a major driver for changes in numerous industries. That's why more and more data engineers consider the prospect of combining batch processing and interactive data analysis. In this regard, Apache Spark is a robust computing engine. It provides extremely powerful data pipelines to deliver the desired results with relative ease.

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