What is a Data Pipeline? Process and Architecture

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Data integration is becoming increasingly necessary as businesses depend more and more on their data to drive their growth. Data integration is the process of connecting data from multiple sources to help companies gain a more comprehensive view of their operations and gain valuable insights into their customers, products, and processes. In short, data integration is essential for any organization that wants to remain competitive in today’s data-driven world.

Data integration can be a challenging process due to the complexity of the data and the type of forms it can come in. Data can come from many different sources and be stored in many other formats, hence complicating the process of transforming and combining data. This is where data pipelines come into play.

What is a Data Pipeline?

Data pipelines are automated processes that move data from one system to another. This can involve extracting data from one system, transforming it, and then loading it into another system. They allow data to be efficiently moved and processed so that it can be used for analysis or other business-related tasks. They also move data between various stages of the data lifecycle such as data ingestion, cleaning, transformation, analysis, and visualization. These stages are connected by the data pipeline, which enables each stage to be automated and optimized. 

Data Pipeline Process

The data pipeline process includes a set of steps used to transform raw data into actionable insights. The process involves multiple stages, each of which has its own distinct tasks and objectives. In this section, we will look at the different steps involved in the data pipeline process. 

1. Data Collection Origin

The first step in the data pipeline process is the collection of data from various sources. This can include data from databases, web APIs, and other sources such as CSV files. The data must be collected in a structured format and stored in a data warehouse for easy access and analysis. 

2. Data Storage Destination

Data storage is an essential component of any data pipeline process. They provide the necessary infrastructure for storing and organizing data and enabling it to be processed and analyzed. 

The main data storage components of a data pipeline include databases, data warehouses, cloud storage, and data lakes

Databases 

Databases are used to store data in a structured format. These are typically relational databases, such as Oracle, MySQL, SQL Server, etc. They are commonly used for transactional systems, such as invoicing and order processing. 

Data warehouses 

Data warehouses store large amounts of structured data in a centralized repository. They are used for analytics, such as customer segmentation, customer lifetime value, and predictive analytics.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage is used to store large amounts of unstructured data in the cloud. This includes data such as images, videos, audio files, and text documents. 

Data lakes

Data lakes are used to store large amounts of unstructured data in a distributed, flexible, and scalable manner. They are typically used for advanced analytics and this data storage step at the destination is an essential component of any data pipeline process, as they provide the necessary infrastructure for storing and managing data. 

3. Data Transformation

After storing the data in the desired destination the data needs to be transformed in an organized and structured way that makes it easier to use and analyze. In this step, the data undergoes some transformation steps as mentioned below depending on the format it comes in: 

  1. Standardization of data formats: 

It is the process of ensuring that all data within an organization is stored in a consistent format that can be easily understood by users and applications. This standardization helps to ensure that all data is stored in a consistent manner, and that data is accurately exchanged between different systems helping to reduce errors, improve data quality, and reduce the complexity of data usage.

  1. Deduplicating data: 

Deduplicating data is an important step in the data processing workflow. It involves removing or consolidating duplicate or redundant information from a dataset so that the data is accurate and consistent. This is a critical step when dealing with large datasets, as duplicate information can lead to incorrect results. 

  1. Filtering and sorting:

Filtering data is a process used to isolate and view only specific data points in a larger set of data. This process often entails sorting data into subsets and narrowing down the viewable data to a manageable amount. Filtering and sorting of data can be used to find and analyze trends, outliers, and correlations, as well as to identify patterns.

  1. Handling missing values:

Missing values can occur in datasets due to errors in data collection or entry, or simply because the value was not available. It is important to consider the consequences of the termination of missing values when dealing with datasets. Depending on the data set and the analysis, it may be appropriate to delete observations with missing values or to impute values for those observations. 

  1. Dealing with anomalies:

Anomalies are a part of any data set, and handling them is an important part of any data analysis process. They can be caused by errors in data collection or entry, changes in underlying data distributions, or outliers. To handle anomalies first start by identifying them by plotting the data, calculating summary statistics, or using data mining techniques. Once identified, you can discard them, replace them with any statistical value, or perform a deeper analysis to determine the root cause. It is important to be mindful of the assumptions you make when dealing with anomalies, as incorrect assumptions can lead to incorrect conclusions thus posing a threat to the business.

4. Processing:

The data pipeline processing begins with the data ingestion phase. This is when data is collected from multiple sources, then the data is cleansed, which involves removing any invalid or irrelevant data points. Following that, the data is transformed into a structured format that can be used by the data pipeline. After that, the data is stored in a data warehouse or other data storage system. Finally, data analysis can be conducted to identify patterns, generate insights, and make informed decisions. 

5. Automating pipelines 

Monitoring a data pipeline is an important part of ensuring that the data flowing through it remains accurate and up-to-date. It involves tracking the performance of the pipeline and any changes to it, as well as ensuring that data is flowing through the system as expected. Additionally, it is important to monitor the health of the data sources that feed the pipeline, as any changes or disruptions to these sources can affect the data flowing through the pipeline. By monitoring the data pipeline, organizations can ensure that the data flowing through it is accurate and up-to-date, enabling them to make better decisions and improve their overall data-driven operations.

These are the main steps involved in the data pipeline process. Each step is necessary to ensure that data is ready to be used and analyzed. By going through the processes mentioned above, businesses can ensure that they are making the most out of their data.

Why do we need data pipelines?

Earlier people used to work for hours to generate analysis by storing thousands of data files in the drive to get insights into it but with the advent of data more technology grew making the tedious process easier. Data pipelines are an essential tool for businesses of all sizes that rely on data-driven decision-making. They help to automate the process of extracting, transforming and loading data from disparate sources into a single, centralized location. Data pipelines also help improve the accuracy of data by ensuring that data is consistent and up-to-date, making sure businesses are always making decisions based on the most accurate information. 

If you want to make use of a data pipeline then it totally depends on the business requirements and the amount of data generated by your business.

Data Pipeline architecture

Data pipeline architecture is a framework that connects data sources to data storage and then to analytics tools, resulting in a seamless flow of data throughout the organization. It is the arrangement of components to enable data gathering, processing, and storage securely. In today's world, there are a couple of designs that come with data pipelines let us discuss them one by one in detail.

  1. ETL data pipeline

An ETL data pipeline is a system designed to extract data from a source system, transform it into a format that other systems can use, and then load it into a destination system. ETL pipelines are essential for businesses to quickly and accurately move data from one location to another as well as to ensure data accuracy and integrity. 

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Benefits of ETL pipelines

  1. ETL helps in the integration of data from various sources in a unified manner and helps to transform and keep only data that is relevant to the analysis.
  2. It helps in easy data migration from one system to another.

Complex data transformations can be difficult to set up. This can lead to a lot of wasted time and effort, as well as incorrect results. One major drawback of the ETL pipeline is that if the business needs are changed then the whole pipeline process according to new needs is to be redone. To overcome this problem ELT data pipeline design can be considered.

  1. ELT data pipeline

ELT data pipelines are important in data engineering and data science. They are a combination of Extract, Load, and Transform (ELT) operations designed to move data between different systems and databases. ELT is similar to ETL but the difference is in loading the data. In ELT data is first loaded into the data repository and then data transformation is performed. ELT pipelines are particularly useful for data-heavy organizations, as they can reduce manual processing and increase the speed at which data can be transformed.

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Benefits of ELT pipelines

  1. When the user is not clear about the business requirement or the requirements are changing frequently then ELT is preferred as data is first loaded into the data repository and then transformed
  2. ELT helps to save data egress costs when data exits from the data warehouse.
  3. ELT pipelines can easily handle large volumes of data and helps to improve efficiency.
  4. ELT eliminates the need for loading and transforming data in separate systems and allows the data to be processed in a single system. This reduces the time taken for data processing 

ELT gives more flexibility than ETL but still, there are fewer tools in the market that follows the ELT architecture. Both ETL and ELT data pipeline architectures can be used depending on the business needs.

  1. Real-time data pipeline

Real-time data pipeline is powerful for capturing, analyzing, and acting on streaming data. It is a process of collecting and processing data as quickly as possible, which allows businesses to make decisions and take action in real time. By using this system, businesses can receive up-to-date and accurate insights on customer behavior, activity, and trends.

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  1. Batch data pipeline

Batch processing pipelines are a type of data processing system that allows for the high-volume, automated, and sequential execution of data processing jobs. This type of pipeline is used to efficiently move large volumes of data and to execute various tasks such as data extraction, transformation, and loading. Batch processing pipelines are designed to break down the data processing tasks into manageable chunks(batches), allowing for more efficient handling of the data. The pipeline can be configured to run on a schedule, so that the same set of data processing tasks can be run at regular intervals, ensuring the data remains up-to-date.

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Data pipeline tools

Data pipeline tools are a combination of all the components together from extracting to managing data effectively and then storing it in a unified place. If you want to make use of a data pipeline for your business then you should make use of the technologies mentioned below. Some of the tools required to extract, process, store, manage and monitor data are mentioned below:  

  1. Data Warehouse: A data warehouse is a unified repository where all of your data can sit. Some popular data warehouses are BigQuery, Redshift, Athena, Snowflake, etc
  2. ETL/ELT tools: ETL/ELT tools are used to extract, transform and load data in a unified repository making use of different sequences. They are primarily used to deal with data transformation making data ready for analysis. Some ETL tools are SAS ETL, Qlik ETL, Talend, etc. One of the most famous ELT tools among all the other tools in the space is Sprinkle Data.
  3. Data Lakes: A data lake is a centralized data repository that holds a vast amount of data in its raw format being structured, unstructured or semi-structured. Some data lake tools are Azure, AWS, Qubole, etc.
  4. Real-time data streaming tools: These types of tools process real-time data efficiently by making use of automated data pipelines for data analytics purposes. Some of the real-time data streaming tools are IBM stream analytics, Google data flow, etc.

Conclusion 

Before building a data pipeline you should consider the business requirements first and then should go ahead with the process. But if you are unsure about the requirements and just want to proceed with keeping your data in a unified place then an ELT tool with automated data pipelines should be preferred. A tool that has support for a large number of data sources should be considered if your business data is generated from various sources. To fulfill these needs Sprinkle data, a no-code fully automated data pipeline and analytics solution should be considered. It has more than 100+ connectors that offer flexibility and scalability to its users.

Written by
Rupal Sharma

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What is a Data Pipeline? Process and Architecture