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📄 Contents

  1. Hadoop Suitability
  2. Big Data Analytics: Evolution of Machine Learning Realizations
  3. Closing Remarks
  4. References
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This chapter is from the book

Big Data Analytics: Evolution of Machine Learning Realizations

I will explain the different paradigms available for implementing ML algorithms, both from the literature and from the open source community. First of all, here’s a view of the three generations of ML tools available today:

  1. The traditional ML tools for ML and statistical analysis, including SAS, SPSS from IBM, Weka, and the R language. These allow deep analysis on smaller data sets—data sets that can fit the memory of the node on which the tool runs.
  2. Second-generation ML tools such as Mahout, Pentaho, and RapidMiner. These allow what I call a shallow analysis of big data. Efforts to scale traditional tools over Hadoop, including the work of Revolution Analytics (RHadoop) and SAS over Hadoop, would fall into the second-generation category.
  3. The third-generation tools such as Spark, Twister, HaLoop, Hama, and GraphLab. These facilitate deeper analysis of big data. Recent efforts by traditional vendors such as SAS in-memory analytics also fall into this category.

First-Generation ML Tools/Paradigms

The first-generation ML tools can facilitate deep analytics because they have a wide set of ML algorithms. However, not all of them can work on large data sets—like terabytes or petabytes of data—due to scalability limitations (limited by the nondistributed nature of the tool). In other words, they are vertically scalable (you can increase the processing power of the node on which the tool runs), but not horizontally scalable (not all of them can run on a cluster). The first-generation tool vendors are addressing those limitations by building Hadoop connectors as well as providing clustering options—meaning that the vendors have made efforts to reengineer the tools such as R and SAS to scale horizontally. This would come under the second-/third-generation tools and is covered subsequently.

Second-Generation ML Tools/Paradigms

The second-generation tools (we can now term the traditional ML tools such as SAS as first-generation tools) such as Mahout (http://mahout.apache.org), Rapidminer, and Pentaho provide the capability to scale to large data sets by implementing the algorithms over Hadoop, the open source MR implementation. These tools are maturing fast and are open source (especially Mahout). Mahout has a set of algorithms for clustering and classification, as well as a very good recommendation algorithm (Konstan and Riedl 2012). Mahout can thus be said to work on big data, with a number of production use cases, mainly for the recommendation system. I have also used Mahout in a production system for realizing recommendation algorithms in financial domain and found it to be scalable, though not without issues. (I had to tweak the source significantly.) One observation about Mahout is that it implements only a smaller subset of ML algorithms over Hadoop—only 25 algorithms are of production quality, with only 8 or 9 usable over Hadoop, meaning scalable over large data sets. These include the linear regression, linear SVM, the K-means clustering, and so forth. It does provide a fast sequential implementation of the logistic regression, with parallelized training. However, as several others have also noted (see Quora.com, for instance), it does not have implementations of nonlinear SVMs or multivariate logistic regression (discrete choice model, as it is otherwise known).

Overall, this book is not intended for Mahout bashing. However, my point is that it is quite hard to implement certain ML algorithms including the kernel SVM and CGD (note that Mahout has an implementation of stochastic gradient descent) over Hadoop. This has been pointed out by several others as well—for instance, see the paper by Professor Srirama (Srirama et al. 2012). This paper makes detailed comparisons between Hadoop and Twister MR (Ekanayake et al. 2010) with regard to iterative algorithms such as CGD and shows that the overheads can be significant for Hadoop. What do I mean by iterative? A set of entities that perform a certain computation, wait for results from neighbors or other entities, and start the next iteration. The CGD is a perfect example of iterative ML algorithm—each CGD can be broken down into daxpy, ddot, and matmul as the primitives. I will explain these three primitives: daxpy is an operation that takes a vector x, multiplies it by a constant k, and adds another vector y to it; ddot computes the dot product of two vectors x and y; matmul multiplies a matrix by a vector and produces a vector output. This means 1 MR per primitive, leading to 6 MRs per iteration and eventually 100s of MRs per CG computation, as well as a few gigabytes (GB)s of communication even for small matrices. In essence, the setup cost per iteration (which includes reading from HDFS into memory) overwhelms the computation for that iteration, leading to performance degradation in Hadoop MR. In contrast, Twister distinguishes between static and variable data, allowing data to be in memory across MR iterations, as well as a combine phase for collecting all reduce phase outputs and, hence, performs significantly better.

The other second-generation tools are the traditional tools that have been scaled to work over Hadoop. The choices in this space include the work done by Revolution Analytics, among others, to scale R over Hadoop and the work to implement a scalable runtime over Hadoop for R programs (Venkataraman et al. 2012). The SAS in-memory analytics, part of the High Performance Analytics toolkit from SAS, is another attempt at scaling a traditional tool by using a Hadoop cluster. However, the recently released version works over Greenplum/Teradata in addition to Hadoop—this could then be seen as a third-generation approach. The other interesting work is by a small start-up known as Concurrent Systems, which is providing a Predictive Modeling Markup Language (PMML) runtime over Hadoop. PMML is like the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) of modeling, allowing models to be saved in descriptive language files. Traditional tools such as R and SAS allow the models to be saved as PMML files. The runtime over Hadoop would allow these model files to be scaled over a Hadoop cluster, so this also falls in our second-generation tools/paradigms.

Third-Generation ML Tools/Paradigms

The limitations of Hadoop and its lack of suitability for certain classes of applications have motivated some researchers to come up with alternatives. The efforts in the third generation have been to look beyond Hadoop for analytics along different dimensions. I discuss the approaches along the three dimensions, namely, iterative ML algorithms, real-time analytics, and graph processing.

Iterative Machine Learning Algorithms

Researchers at the University of Berkeley have proposed “Spark” (Zaharia et al. 2010) as one such alternative—in other words, Spark could be seen as the next-generation data processing alternative to Hadoop in the big data space. The key idea distinguishing Spark is its in-memory computation, allowing data to be cached in memory across iterations/interactions. The main motivation for Spark was that the commonly used MR paradigm, while being suitable for some applications that can be expressed as acyclic data flows, was not suitable for other applications, such as those that need to reuse working sets across iterations. So they proposed a new paradigm for cluster computing that can provide similar guarantees or fault tolerance (FT) as MR but would also be suitable for iterative and interactive applications. The Berkeley researchers have proposed BDAS as a collection of technologies that help in running data analytics tasks across a cluster of nodes. The lowest-level component of the BDAS is Mesos, the cluster manager that helps in task allocation and resource management tasks of the cluster. The second component is the Tachyon file system built on top of Mesos. Tachyon provides a distributed file system abstraction and provides interfaces for file operations across the cluster. Spark, the computation paradigm, is realized over Tachyon and Mesos in a specific embodiment, although it could be realized without Tachyon and even without Mesos for clustering. Shark, which is realized over Spark, provides a Structured Query Language (SQL) abstraction over a cluster—similar to the abstraction Hive provides over Hadoop. Zacharia et al. article explores Spark, which is the main ingredient over which ML algorithms can be built.

The HaLoop work (Bu et al. 2010) also extends Hadoop for iterative ML algorithms—HaLoop not only provides a programming abstraction for expressing iterative applications, but also uses the notion of caching to share data across iterations and for fixpoint verification (termination of iteration), thereby improving efficiency. Twister (http://iterativemapreduce.org) is another effort similar to HaLoop.

Real-time Analytics

The second dimension for beyond-Hadoop thinking comes from real-time analytics. Twitter from Storm has emerged as the best contender in this space. Storm is a scalable Complex Event Processing (CEP) engine that enables complex computations on event streams in real time. The components of a Storm cluster are

  • Spouts that read data from various sources. HDFS spout, Kafka spout, and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) stream spout are examples.
  • Bolts that process the data. They run the computations on the streams. ML algorithms on the streams typically run here.
  • Topology. This is an application-specific wiring together of spouts and bolts—topology gets executed on a cluster of nodes.

An architecture comprising a Kafka (a distributed queuing system from LinkedIn) cluster as a high-speed data ingestor and a Storm cluster for processing/analytics works well in practice, with a Kafka spout reading data from the Kafka cluster at high speed. The Kafka cluster stores up the events in the queue. This is necessary because the Storm cluster is heavy in processing due to the ML involved. The details of this architecture, as well as the steps needed to run ML algorithms in a Storm cluster, are covered in subsequent chapters of the book. Storm is also compared to the other contenders in real-time computing, including S4 from Yahoo and Akka from Typesafe.

Graph Processing Dimension

The other important tool that has looked beyond Hadoop MR comes from Google—the Pregel framework for realizing graph computations (Malewicz et al. 2010). Computations in Pregel comprise a series of iterations, known as supersteps. Each vertex in the graph is associated with a user-defined compute function; Pregel ensures at each superstep that the user-defined compute function is invoked in parallel on each edge. The vertices can send messages through the edges and exchange values with other vertices. There is also the global barrier—which moves forward after all compute functions are terminated. Readers familiar with BSP can see why Pregel is a perfect example of BSP—a set of entities computing user-defined functions in parallel with global synchronization and able to exchange messages.

Apache Hama (Seo et al. 2010) is the open source equivalent of Pregel, being an implementation of the BSP. Hama realizes BSP over the HDFS, as well as the Dryad engine from Microsoft. It might be that they do not want to be seen as being different from the Hadoop community. But the important thing is that BSP is an inherently well-suited paradigm for iterative computations, and Hama has parallel implementations of the CGD, which I said is not easy to realize over Hadoop. It must be noted that the BSP engine in Hama is realized over MPI, the father (and mother) of parallel programming literature (www.mcs.anl.gov/research/projects/mpi/). The other projects that are inspired by Pregel are Apache Giraph, Golden Orb, and Stanford GPS.

GraphLab (Gonzalez et al. 2012) has emerged as a state-of-the-art graph processing paradigm. GraphLab originated as an academic project from the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). GraphLab provides useful abstractions for processing graphs across a cluster of nodes deterministically. PowerGraph, the subsequent version of GraphLab, makes it efficient to process natural graphs or power law graphs—graphs that have a high number of poorly connected vertices and a low number of highly connected vertices. Performance evaluations on the Twitter graph for page-ranking and triangle counting problems have verified the efficiency of GraphLab compared to other approaches. The focus of this book is mainly on Giraph, GraphLab, and related efforts.

Table 1.1 carries a comparison of the various paradigms across different nonfunctional features such as scalability, FT, and the algorithms that have been implemented. It can be inferred that although the traditional tools have worked on only a single node and might not scale horizontally and might also have single points of failure, recent reengineering efforts have made them move across generations. The other point to be noted is that most of the graph processing paradigms are not fault-tolerant, whereas Spark and HaLoop are among the third-generation tools that provide FT.

Table 1.1 Three Generations of Machine Learning Realizations


First Generation

Second Generation

Third Generation


Statistical Analysis System (SAS), R, Weka, SPSS in native form

Mahout, Pentaho, Revolution R, SAS In-memory Analytics (Hadoop), concurrent systems

Spark, HaLoop, GraphLab, Pregel, SAS In-memory Analytics (Greenplum/Teradata), Giraph, Golden ORB, Stanford GPS, ML over Storm



Horizontal (over Hadoop)

Horizontal (beyond Hadoop)

Algorithms Available

Huge collection of algorithms

Small subset—sequential logistic regression, linear SVMs, Stochastic Gradient Descent, K-means clustering, Random Forests, etc.

Much wider—including CGD, Alternating Least Squares (ALS), collaborative filtering, kernel SVM, belief propagation, matrix factorization, Gibbs sampling, etc.

Algorithms Not Available

Practically nothing

Vast number—Kernel SVMs, Multivariate Logistic Regression, Conjugate Gradient Descent (CGD), ALS, etc.

Multivariate Logistic Regression in general form, K-means clustering, etc.; work in progress to expand the set of algorithms available

Fault Tolerance (FT)

Single point of failure

Most tools are FT, because they are built on top of Hadoop

FT: HaLoop, Spark Not FT: Pregel, GraphLab, Giraph

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