Data Pipelines 101: Key Types, Components, and Use Cases Simplified

on Data Aggregation, Data Analytics, Data Driven Strategies, Data Extraction, Data Integration • June 15th, 2021 • Write for Hevo

Most modern businesses make use of a large number of platforms to smoothly run their day-to-day operations. This is a result of the developments in Cloud-based technologies. For example, the Marketing team might be using a combination of Marketo and HubSpot for Marketing Automation, whereas the Sales team might be leveraging Salesforce to manage leads, and the Product team might be using MySQL to store customer insights. This would lead to the fragmentation of data across numerous tools and result in the formation of Data Silos. As a result, there is no single location where all data is present and cannot be accessed if required. Data Silos can make it extremely difficult for businesses to fetch even simple business insights.

Hence, there is a need for a robust mechanism that can consolidate data from various sources automatically into one common destination. This data can then be used for further analysis or to transfer to other Cloud or On-premise systems.

This article will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of what Data Pipelines are, what their components and key types are, and the various architectures that are implemented to create Data Pipelines.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Data Pipelines

Data Pipelines
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A Data Pipeline can be defined as a series of steps implemented in a specific order to process data and transfer it from one system to another. The first step in a Data Pipeline involves extracting data from the source as input. The output generated at each step acts as the input for the next step. This process continues until the pipeline is completely executed. In addition, some independent steps might run in parallel as well in some cases.

Data Pipelines usually consist of three main elements, i.e., a data source, processing steps, and a final destination or sink. Data Pipelines give users the ability to transfer data from a source to a destination and make some modifications to it during the transfer process. Data Pipelines may also have the same source and destination, with the Data Pipeline only being used to transform the data as per requirements.

However, the variety, volume, and velocity of data have changed drastically and become more complex in recent years. Hence, Data Pipelines now have to be powerful enough to handle the Big Data requirements of most businesses. It is of paramount importance to businesses that their pipelines have no data loss and can ensure high accuracy since the high volume of data can open opportunities for operations such as Real-time Reporting, Predictive Analytics, etc.

Big Data Pipelines are built to accommodate all three traits of Big Data, i.e., Velocity, Volume, and Variety. The velocity with which data is generated means that pipelines should be able to handle Streaming Data. This data has to be processed in real-time by the pipeline. The volume of the generated can vary with time which means that pipelines must be scalable. The Data Pipelines should be able to accommodate all possible varieties of data, i.e., Structured, Semi-structured, or Unstructured.

Simplify ETL Using Hevo’s No-code Data Pipeline

Hevo is a No-code Data Pipeline that offers a fully managed solution to set up data integration from 100+ data sources (including 30+ free data sources) to numerous Business Intelligence tools, Data Warehouses, or a destination of choice. It will automate your data flow in minutes without writing any line of code. Its fault-tolerant architecture makes sure that your data is secure and consistent. Hevo provides you with a truly efficient and fully-automated solution to manage data in real-time and always have analysis-ready data.

Let’s look at Some Salient Features of Hevo:

  • Secure: Hevo has a fault-tolerant architecture that ensures that the data is handled in a secure, consistent manner with zero data loss.
  • Schema Management: Hevo takes away the tedious task of schema management & automatically detects schema of incoming data and maps it to the destination schema.
  • Minimal Learning: Hevo, with its simple and interactive UI, is extremely simple for new customers to work on and perform operations.
  • Hevo Is Built To Scale: As the number of sources and the volume of your data grows, Hevo scales horizontally, handling millions of records per minute with very little latency.
  • Incremental Data Load: Hevo allows the transfer of data that has been modified in real-time. This ensures efficient utilization of bandwidth on both ends.
  • Live Support: The Hevo team is available round the clock to extend exceptional support to its customers through chat, email, and support calls.
  • Live Monitoring: Hevo allows you to monitor the data flow and check where your data is at a particular point in time.

Explore more about Hevo by signing up for the 14-day trial today!

Data Pipeline vs ETL

ETL and Data Pipeline are terms that are often used interchangeably. ETL stands for Extract, Transform, and Load. ETL pipelines are primarily used to extract data from a source system, transform it based on requirements and load it into a Database or Data Warehouse, primarily for Analytical purposes.

However, Data Pipeline can be seen as a broader term that encompasses ETL as a subset. It refers to a system that is used for moving data from one system to another. This data may or may not go through any transformations. It may be processed in batches or in real-time; based on business and data requirements. This data might be loaded onto multiple destinations, such as an AWS S3 Bucket or a Data Lake, or it might even be used to trigger a Webhook on a different system to start a specific business process.

Types of Data Pipelines

The four types of Data Pipelines are as follows:

  • Batch: Batch processing of data is leveraged when businesses want to move high volumes of data at regular intervals. Batch processing jobs will typically run on a fixed schedule (for example, every 24 hours), or in some cases, once the volume of data reaches a specific threshold.
Batch Processing Data Pipeline
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  • Real-time: Real-time Data Pipelines are optimized to process the necessary data in real-time, i.e., as soon as it is generated at the source. Real-time processing is useful when processing data from a streaming source, such as the data from financial markets or telemetry from connected devices.
Real-time Processing Data Pipeline
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  • Cloud-native: These pipelines are optimized to work only with Cloud-based data sources, destinations, or both. These pipelines are hosted directly in the Cloud, allowing businesses to save money on infrastructure and expert resources.
  • Open-source: These pipelines are considered to be suitable for businesses that need a low-cost alternative to commercial pipelines or wish to develop a pipeline to fit their unique business and data requirements. However, these pipelines require the support of trained professionals for their development and maintenance.

However, it is important to understand that these types are not mutually exclusive. This means that a Data Pipeline can have all characteristics of two different types. For example, Data Pipelines can be Cloud-native Batch Processing or Open-Source Real-time processing, etc.

Components of a Data Pipeline

Components of a Data Pipeline
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The components of a Data Pipeline are as follows:

  • Origin: Origin is the point of entry for data from all data sources in the pipeline. Most pipelines have transactional processing applications, application APIs, IoT device sensors, etc., or storage systems such as Data Warehouses, Data Lakes, etc. as their origin.
  • Destination: This is the final point to which data is transferred. The final destination depends on the use case. The destination is a Data Warehouse, Data Lake, or Data Analysis and Business Intelligence tool for most use cases.
  • Dataflow: This refers to the movement of data from origin to destination, along with the transformations that are performed on it. One of the most widely used approaches to data flow is called ETL (Extract, Transform, Load). The three phases in ETL are as follows:
    • Extract: Extraction can be defined as the process of gathering all essential data from the source systems. For most ETL processes, these sources can be Databases such as MySQL, MongoDB, Oracle, etc., Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) tools, or various other files, documents, web pages, etc.
    • Transform: Transformation can be defined as the process of converting the data into a format suitable for analysis such that it can be easily understood by a Business Intelligence or Data Analysis tool. The following operations are usually performed in this phase:
      • Filtering, de-duplicating, cleansing, validating, and authenticating the data.
      • Performing all necessary translations, calculations, or summarizations on the extracted raw data. This can include operations such as changing row and column headers for consistency, standardizing data types, and many others to suit the organization’s specific Business Intelligence (BI) and Data Analysis requirements.
      • Encrypting, removing, or hiding data governed by industry or government regulations.
      • Formatting the data into tables and performing the necessary joins to match the Schema of the destination Data Warehouse.
    • Load: Loading can be defined as the process of storing the transformed data in the destination of choice, normally a Data Warehouse such as Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, Snowflake, etc.
  • Storage: Storage refers to all systems that are leveraged to preserve data at different stages as it progresses through the pipeline.
  • Processing: Processing includes all activities and steps for ingesting data from sources, storing it, transforming, and loading it into the destination. While data processing is associated with the data flow, the focus in this step is on the implementation of the data flow.
  • Workflow: Workflow defines a sequence of processes along with their dependency on each other in the Data Pipeline.
  • Monitoring: The goal of monitoring is to ensure that the Data Pipeline and all its stages are working correctly and performing the required operations.
  • Technology: These are the infrastructure and tools behind Data Flow, Processing, Storage, Workflow, and Monitoring. Some of the tools and technologies that can help build efficient Data Pipelines are as follows:
    • ETL tools: Tools used for Data Integration and Data Preparation, such as Hevo, Informatica PowerCenter, Talend Open Studio, Apache Spark, etc.
    • Data Warehouses: Central repositories that are used for storing historical and relational data. A common use case for Data Warehouses is Business Intelligence. Examples of Data Warehouses include Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, etc.
    • Data Lakes: Data Lakes are used for storing raw Relational or Non-relational data. A common use case for Data Lakes in Machine Learning applications being implemented by Data Scientists. Examples of Data Lakes include IBM Data Lake, MongoDB Atlas Data Lake, etc.
    • Batch Workflow Schedulers: These schedulers give users the ability to programmatically specify workflows as tasks with dependencies between them to automate and monitor these workflows. Examples of Batch Workflow Schedulers include Luigi, Airflow, Azkaban, Oozie, etc.
    • Streaming Data Processing Tools: These tools are used to handle data that is continuously generated by sources and has to be processed as soon as it is generated. Examples of Streaming Data Processing tools include Flink, Apache Spark, Apache Kafka, etc.
    • Programming Languages: These are used to define pipeline processes as code. Python and Java are widely used to create Data Pipelines.

Examples of Data Pipeline Architectures

Some examples of the most widely used Data Pipeline Architectures are as follows:

  • Batch-based Pipeline: In this example, you have a data source which might be an application such as a point-of-sale system that generates numerous data points that need to be pushed to a Data Warehouse or any other Analytics database. The pipeline for this use case will have the following architecture:
Batch-based Pipeline
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  • Stream-based Pipeline: In this example, data from the source system has to be processed as it is generated. The Stream Processing engine in this pipeline will feed outputs from the pipeline to Data Stores, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, Marketing applications, etc. A Stream-based Pipeline will have the following architecture:
Stream-based pipeline
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  • Lambda Pipeline: This pipeline is a combination of Batch and Streaming Data Pipelines. This architecture is widely used in Big Data environments as it gives developers the ability to account for historical Batch analysis and Real-time Streaming use cases. A vital aspect of this architecture is that it encourages storing data in a raw form, allowing developers to run new Data Pipelines to correct any errors in prior pipelines or integrate new data destinations as per the use case. The following image shows the Lambda Architecture:
Lambda Pipeline
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This article provided you with a comprehensive understanding of what Data Pipelines are. It also helped you understand the fundamental types and components of most modern Data Pipelines.

Most businesses today, however, have an extremely high volume of data with a dynamic structure. Creating a Data Pipeline from scratch for such data is a complex process since businesses will have to utilize a high amount of resources to develop it and then ensure that it can keep up with the increased data volume and Schema variations. Businesses can instead use automated platforms like Hevo.

Hevo helps you directly transfer data from a source of your choice to a Data Warehouse or desired destination in a fully automated and secure manner without having to write the code or export data repeatedly. It will make your life easier and make data migration hassle-free. It is User-Friendly, Reliable, and Secure.

Details on Hevo pricing can be found here. Give Hevo a try by signing up for the 14-day free trial today.

No-code Data Pipeline For Your Data Warehouse