A data pipeline is a set of actions organized into processing steps that integrates raw data from multiple sources to one destination for storage, AI software, business intelligence (BI), data analytics, and visualization.
Data pipelines play a core role in network operations. For example, a company might be looking to pull raw data from a database or CRM system and move it to a data lake or data warehouse for predictive analytics. To ensure this process is done efficiently, a comprehensive data strategy needs to be deployed – and the data pipeline is at the center of this process.
Understanding data pipelines
There are three key elements to a data pipeline: source, processing, and destination. The source is the starting point for a data pipeline. Data sources may include relational databases and data from SaaS applications. There are two different methods for processing or ingesting models: batch processing and stream processing.
- Batch processing: Occurs when the source data is collected periodically and sent to the destination system. Batch processing enables the complex analysis of large datasets. As patch processing occurs periodically, the insights gained from this type of processing are from information and activities that occurred in the past.
- Stream processing: Occurs in real-time, sourcing, manipulating, and loading the data as soon as it’s created. Stream processing may be more appropriate when timeliness is important because it takes less time than batch processing. Additionally, stream processing comes with lower cost and lower maintenance.
The destination is where the data is stored, such as an on-premises or cloud-based location like a data warehouse, a data lake, a data mart, or a certain application. The destination may also be referred to as a “sink.”
Data pipeline vs. ETL pipeline
One popular subset of a data pipeline is an ETL pipeline, which stands for extract, transform, and load. While popular, the term is not interchangeable with the umbrella term of “data pipeline.”
An ETL pipeline is a series of processes that extract data from a source, transform it, and load it into a destination. The source might be business systems or marketing tools with a data warehouse as a destination.
There are a few key differentiators between an ETL pipeline and a data pipeline. First, ETL pipelines always involve data transformation and are processed in batches, while data pipelines ingest in real-time and do not always involve data transformation. Additionally, an ETL Pipeline ends with loading the data into its destination, while a data pipeline doesn’t always end with the loading. Instead, the loading can instead activate new processes by triggering webhooks in other systems.
Uses for Data Pipelines:
- To move, process, and store data
- To perform predictive analytics
- To enable real-time reporting and metric updates
Uses for ETL Pipelines:
- To centralize your company’s data
- To move and transform data internally between different data stores
- To Enrich your CRM system with additional data
9 popular data pipeline tools
Although a data pipeline helps organize the flow of your data to a destination, managing the operations of your data pipeline can be overwhelming. For efficient operations, there are a variety of useful tools that serve different pipeline needs. Some of the best and most popular tools include:
- AWS Data Pipeline: Easily automates the movement and transformation of data. The platform helps you easily create complex data processing workloads that are fault tolerant, repeatable, and highly available.
- Azure Data Factory: A data integration service that allows you to visually integrate your data sources with more than 90 built-in, maintenance-free connectors.
- Etleap: A Redshift data pipeline tool that’s analyst-friendly and maintenance-free. Etleap makes it easy for business to move data from disparate sources to a Redshift data warehouse.
- Fivetran: A platform that emphasizes the ability to unlock “faster time to insight,” rather than having to focus on ETL. It uses robust solutions with standardized schemas and automated pipelines.
- Google Cloud Dataflow: A unified stream and batch data processing platform that simplifies operations and management and reduces the total cost of ownership.
- Keboola: Keboola is a SaaS platform that starts for free and covers the entire pipeline operation cycle.
- Segment: A customer data platform used by businesses to collect, clean, and control customer data to help them understand the customer journey and personalize customer interactions.
- Stitch: Stitch is a cloud-first platform that rapidly moves data to the analysts of your business within minutes so that it can be used according to your requirements. Instead of focusing on your pipeline, Stitch helps reveal valuable insights.
- Xplenty: A cloud-based platform for ETL that is beginner-friendly, simplifying the ETL process to prepare data for analytics.
About the author:
Dibongo (Dibo) Ngoh is a Solutions Engineer at 2nd Watch.