Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

A New Year and New Technology

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Happy New Year!

With a new year here, I’ve been thinking about ways to expand my skill set and the technologies to learn more about in 2012.  As I’m still a data guy at heart, it should be no surprise that the technologies that interest me are related to data and databases.


I hoping to do a lot of work with MongoDB this year.  In the past, I’ve played around with it some, but it looks as if there will be at least one project at work that will let me get some deep experience using MongoDB.  I’m currently reading “MongoDB: The Definitive Guide” by Kristina Chodorow and Michael Dirolf and am really enjoying it.  Based on what I’ve read so far, I would say this is one of those classic O’Reilly books: specialized, but so well-written that you almost forget that you’re reading something highly technical.


I attended a number of talks at QCon SF back in November and one topic that recurred frequently was how companies are using Hadoop.  It seemed as if every presenter described how their company is finding a way to use at least part of the Hadoop ecosystem.  And Hadoop is truly that: an entire ecosystem, encompassing not only the core project, but also Pig, ZooKeeper, Mahout, HBase, and still others.  You can find more information at the Apache Hadoop project page.  I’m hoping to get a proof-of-concept cluster up and running by the middle of the year.


Full-text search technology falls into an area that, like MongoDB, I have had some exposure to in the past, but would like very much to learn more about.  I’m planning to spend some time this year on Lucene first, and then move onto the search server, Solr.  I’m fortunate to have some colleagues with a lot of experience in this area, and I intend to mine their knowledge whenever possible.


I believe that those of us steeped in the relational database world can take a great step toward a more data architect mindset by having a deep understanding of XML and its related technologies.  My plan this year to is to get a firmer understanding of XML, XPath, XSLT, XML Schema, etc.  I’ve done quite a bit of work with XML in the past, but this has typically been in relation to Oracle’s handling of XML documents within the database.  I want to gain a broader understanding.

Of course JSON is coming on strong in supplanting XML in some of its previous strongholds.  For example, MongoDB’s data model relies on JSON-formatted documents.

This seems like enough to keep me busy outside of my day job for one year!

Book Review: “HBase: The Definitive Guide” by Lars George (O’Reilly Media)

October 5, 2011 Leave a comment


(Disclosure: O’Reilly Media provided me with a free ebook copy of this book for the purposes of this review. I have done my best not to let that influence my opinions here.)

When a book bills itself as “The Definitive Guide,” well, that’s a tall order to fill. But, except for updates as new releases of HBase roll out, I can’t imagine another book surpassing this one by Lars George.

Lars George has been working with HBase since 2007 and is a full committer to the project as of 2009.  He now works for Cloudera (a company providing a commercial flavor of Hadoop, as well as Hadoop support).  After reading this book, there’s no question in my mind that George has deep understanding, not only of HBase as a data solution, but of the internal workings of HBase.

My Reactions

George gives the background and history of HBase in the larger context of relational databases and NoSQL, which I found to be very helpful. The many diagrams throughout the book are extremely useful in explaining concepts, especially for those of us coming from a relational database background.

George has an excellent and clear writing style. Take, for example, the section where he discusses The Problem with Relational Database Systems, giving a quick rundown of the typical steps for getting an RDBMS to scale up.  The flow of his summary reads like the increasing levels of panic that many of us have gone through when dealing with a database-backed application that will not scale.

As an example of how thorough and comprehensive the book is, look at chapter 2, where there is an extensive discussion of the type and class (not desktop PCs!) of machines suitable for running HBase. George gives a truly helpful set of configuration practices, even down to a recommendation for having redundant power supply units.

Another example of his thoroughness comes where George discusses delete methods (Chapter 3). He shows how you can use custom versioning, while admitting that the example is somewhat contrived. Indeed, right after elaborating the example, there is a distinct “Warning” box that admits that custom versioning is not actually recommended.  So, even though you may not implement custom versioning, you do understand it as a feature that HBase provides.

Many of the programming examples come with excellent remarks or discussions of the tradeoffs implicit in the techniques, including performance and scaling concerns.  Java developers will be most comfortable with the majority of examples, but they can be followed by anyone with some object-oriented programming experience.

I really appreciated the thorough discussion in chapter 8 (“Architecture”) of subjects like B+ trees vs. Log-Structured Merge Trees (LSMs), the Write-Ahead Log, and seeks vs. transfers, topics which are relevant not only to HBase but to many database systems of varying architectures.

The level of thoroughness is also the book’s only weakness.  I’m not sure who the target audience for this book is, because it serves both developers and system or database administrators.  While nearly every imaginable HBase topic is touched upon, some would have been better off merely listed, with appropriate references given to sources of more information (for example, all those hardware recommendations). The print edition of the book is 552 pages.

Still, a complaint that a book is too detailed shouldn’t be interpreted as much of a complaint.  Anyone with an interest in NoSQL databases in general, and HBase in particular should read and study this book.  It’s not likely to be superseded in the future.

The catalog page for “HBase: The Definitive Guide”.

Categories: Book Reviews, Books, NoSQL Tags: ,