Making the Most of Your Hadoop Data Lake, Part 2: Optimized File Formats

by Kristen Hardwick
Published July 01, 2014

One major factor of making the conversion to Hadoop is the concept of the Data Lake. That idea suggests that users keep as much data as possible in HDFS in order to prepare for future use cases and as-yet-unknown data integration points. As your data grows, it is important to make sure that the data is being stored in a way that prolongs that behavior. Data compression is not the only technique that can be used to speed up job performance and improve cluster organization. In addition to the Text and Sequence File options that are typically used by default, Hadoop offers a few more optimized file formats that are specifically designed to improve the process of interacting with the data. In the second part of this two-part series, “Making the Most of Your Hadoop Data Lake”, we will address another important factor in improving manageability—optimized file formats.

Using a smarter file for your data: RCFile

RCFile stands for Record Columnar File, and it serves as an ideal format for storing relational data that will be accessed through Hive. This format offers performance improvements by storing the data in an optimized way. First, the data is partitioned horizontally, into groups of rows. Then each row group is partitioned vertically, into collections of columns. Finally, the data in each column collection is compressed and stored in column-row format, as if it were a column-oriented database.

The first benefit of this altered storage mechanism is apparent at the row level. All HDFS blocks used to form RCFiles will be made up of the horizontally partitioned collections of rows. This is significant because it ensures that no row of data will be split across multiple blocks, and will therefore always be on the same machine. This is not the case for traditional HDFS file formats, which typically use data size to split the file. This optimized data storage will reduce the amount of network bandwidth that is required to serve queries.

The second benefit comes from optimizations at the column level, in the form of disk I/O reduction. Since the columns are stored vertically within each row group, the system will be able to seek directly to the required column position in the file, rather than being required to scan across all columns and filter out data that is not necessary. This is extremely useful in queries that only require access to a small subset of the existing columns.

RCFiles can be used natively in both Hive and Pig with very little configuration.

In Hive



SET hive.default.fileformat=RCFile;

In Pig:

register …/piggybank.jar;

a = LOAD '/user/hive/warehouse/table' USING…);

The Pig jar file referenced here is just one option for enabling the RCFile. At the time of writing, there was also an RCFilePigStorageclass available through Twitter’s Elephant Bird open source library.

Hortonworks’ ORCFile and Cloudera’s Parquet formats

RCFiles provide optimization for relational files primarily by implementing modifications at the storage level. New innovations have provided improvements on the RCFile format, namely the ORCFile format from Hortonworks and the Parquet format from Cloudera.

When storing data using the Optimized Row Columnar file or Parquet formats, several pieces of metadata are automatically written at the column level within each row group; for example, minimum and maximum values for numeric data types and dictionary-style metadata for text data types. The specific metadata is also configurable. One such use case would be for a user to configure the dataset to be sorted on a given set of columns for efficient access.

This excess metadata allows for queries to take advantage of an improvement on the original RCFiles–predicate pushdown. That technique allows Hive to evaluate the where clause during the record gathering process, instead of filtering data after all records have been collected. The predicate pushdown technique will evaluate the conditions of the query against the metadata associated with a particular row group, allowing it to skip over entire file blocks if possible, or to seek directly to the correct row. One major benefit of this process is that the more complex a particular where clause is, the more potential there is for row groups and columns to be filtered as irrelevant to the final result.

Cloudera’s Parquet format is typically used in conjunction with Impala, but just like with RCFiles, ORCFiles can be incorporated into both Hive and Pig. HCatalog can be used as the primary method to read and write ORCFiles using Pig. The commands for Hive are provided below:

In Hive:



SET hive.default.fileformat=Orc


This post has detailed the alternatives to the default file formats that can be used in Hadoop in order to optimize data access and storage. This information combined with the compression techniques described in the previous post (part 1) will provide some guidelines that can be used to ensure that users can make the most of the Hadoop Data Lake.

About the author

Kristen Hardwick has been gaining professional experience with software development in parallel computing environments in the private, public, and government sectors since 2007. She has interfaced with several different parallel paradigms including Grid, Cluster, and Cloud. She started her software development career with Dynetics in Huntsville, AL, and then moved to Baltimore, MD, to work for Dynamics Research Corporation. She now works at Spry where her focus is on designing and developing big data analytics for the Hadoop ecosystem.

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