Best Practices

The following document describes patterns and best practices particularly oriented to IT Designers and System Administrators.

Organizational Roles

Kylo supports the division of responsibility between IT designers, administrators, operations, and end-users.

Role separation

A key tenet of Kylo is IT governed self-service. Most activities such as data ingest and preparation are possible by data analysts who may have deep understanding of their data but not appreciate the advanced data processing concepts of Hadoop. It is the responsibility of the Designer to build models that incorporate best practices and maintain the ability for end-users to easily configure feeds.

Designers are responsible for developing templates for pipelines using Apache NiFi. When configured in Kylo provide the processing model for feeds created by end-users. System Administrators are responsible for activities such as install, configuration, connections, security, performance tuning and role-based security.

Designers

Designers are responsible for developing templates for pipelines using Apache NiFi. When configured in Kylo provide the processing model for feeds created by end-users. System Administrators are responsible for activities such as install, configuration, connections, security, performance tuning and role-based security.

Designers should limit the properties exposed to end-users and assume a user has limited knowledge of the internal working of the pipeline. For example, it is poor practice to expose Spark parameters, paths to libraries, memory settings, concurrency settings, etc. However, a user creating a feed should would know the name of file(s) to load, whether they want to do a snapshot or merge, and target table names and business metadata.

Designers use the NiFi expression language and Kylo’s built-in metadata properties to auto-wire processor components in the NiFi flow to the wizard UI.

Administrators

NiFi/Hadoop Administrators are typically system administrators who need to control resource utilization, such as memory and concurrency. These activities are typically configured directly in NiFi.

The Administrator is also responsible for configuring NiFi Controller Services, which may contain privileged database and services login configuration.

The Administrator must review new pipelines to understand how shared resources are utilized. For example, a flow may use excessive resources on the edge node or may need to be properly tuned for the size of the target cluster. Administrators may modify resource behavior such as concurrency, back-pressure settings, Spark driver memory, and number of mappers.

The Administrator should also evaluate new flows and understand security implications or security vulnerabilities introduced as NiFi operates as a privileged user.

Operations

An Operator uses the Operations Manager dashboard to monitor activity in the system and relies on alerts. The Designer should consider that an Operations user may need to respond to problems and recover from errors.

Users

Users can include data analytics, data scientists, and data stewards who interact with the Kylo application. Administrator determines what features are available to users based on roles. Designers determine how users are able to configure feeds based on templates.

Designers

Guidance for designers who design pipeline templates and enable self-service.

NiFi Template Design

The Designer is responsible for developing Apache NiFi templates, which provide the processing model for feeds in Kylo. Once a template has been registered with the Kylo framework through the administrative template UI, Kylo allows end-users to create and configure feeds (based on that model) through a user-friendly, guided wizard. The use of templates embodies the principle of “write-once, use-many”.

The Designer determines which parameters are settable by an end-user in the wizard UI, how the field is displayed (for example: picklist, SQL window, numeric field), and any defaults or constraints. The Designer may also wire parameters to environment-specific properties and any standard metadata properties provided by the UI wizard used by end-users.

After a template is registered in Kylo, an end-user will be able to create new feeds based on that template using the UI-wizard. End-users may only set parameters exposed by the template designer.

A well-written template may support many feeds. It should incorporate best practices and consider security, regulatory requirements, and error handling.

A good reference model is Kylo’s standard ingest template. This can serve as a model for best practices and can be adapted to an organization’s individual requirements.

Use Reusable Flows

When possible, consider using re-usable flows.  A reusable flow is a template that creates just a single instance of a flow.  A single instance simplifies administration and future updates. All feeds utilizing a reusable flow will inherit changes automatically.

A re-usable flow will require at least two templates: 1) The feed flow instance template, and 2) the re-usable flow template.

The feed flow instance will be generated each time a feed is created and will have the feed-specific configuration defined by the end-user. The feed-instance defines an output to the re-usable flow. The re-usable flow template will have an input from the feed-instance flow.

When a Designer registers the re-usable template and the feed instance template, the Designer is prompted to wire together the input and output. Kylo will take care of auto-wiring these each time a new feed is created.

Error Handling

Error handling is essential to building robust flows.

NiFi processors have the ability to route to success or failure paths. This allows the Designer to setup standard error handling. The Designer should ensure that data is never lost and that errors allow an Operator to recover.

Kylo is configured to look for any activity along standard failure paths and trigger alerts in Ops Mgr.

A best practice is to handle errors in consistent ways through a reusable “error flow”. Potentially, a custom NiFi processor could be developed to make this convenient for Designers.

Some processors automatically support retries, providing a penalty to incoming flowfiles. An example of this case is when a resource is temporarily unavailable. Rather than failing, the flowfile will be penalized (delayed) and re-attempted at a later point.

Preserve Edge Resources

The edge node is a limited resource, particularly compared to the Hadoop cluster. The cluster will have a magnitude greater IO and processing capacity than the edge, so if possible avoid moving data through Apache NiFi. Strive to move data directly from source to Hadoop and performing any data processing in the cluster.

There may be good arguments to perform data processing through the edge node, in this case a single edge node may be insufficient and require a small NiFi cluster along the edge.

Note

The advantage of external Hive tables is the ability to simply mount an HDFS file (external partition). This means data can be moved to HDFS, and then surfaced in a table through a simple DDL (ADD PARTITION).

Generalize Templates

Templates allow the Designer to promote the “write-once,use-many” principle. That is, once a template is registered with Kylo, any feeds created will utilize the model provided. The Designer should consider parameterizing flows to support some derivative data use cases, while always striving to maintain ease of use for end-users, who have to create feeds and ensure their testability.

An example of this type of flexibility is a flow that allows the end-user to select from a set of sources (for example: kafka, filesystem, database) and write to different targets (for example: HDFS, Amazon S3). A single template could feasibly provide this capability. There is no need to write nxn templates for each possible case.

It may be necessary to write “exotic templates” that will only be used once by a single feed. This is also fine. The Designer should still consider other best practices, such as portability. See chaining feeds below for a possible alternative to this.

Chaining Feeds

Instead of creating long special-purposed pipelines, consider breaking the pipeline into a series of feeds. Each feed then represents a significant movement of data between source and sink (for example: ingest feed, transform feed A, transform feed B, export feed).

Kylo provides the ability to chain feeds together via preconditions. Preconditions define a rule for the “event” that will trigger a feed. Preconditions allow triggering based on the completion of one or more predecessor jobs.  The ability to define preconditions can be enabled by a Designer and configured by a Data Analyst during the feed creation process.  This allows for sophisticated chaining of feeds without resorting to the need to build specially-purpose pipelines.

One-Time Setup and Deletion

The Designer should incorporate any one-time setup, and any processing flow required for deletion of a feed. One time setup is referred to as registration within a feed. The metadata server can route a flow through a one-time registration process to setup Hive tables and HDFS paths.

A proper deletion routine should delete all the Hadoop artifacts created by a feed. Delete allows a user to test a feed and easily delete it if needed.

Lineage Tracking

Kylo framework only automatically maintains lineage at the “feed-level” and by any sources and sinks identified by the template designer when registering the template.

A Designer may utilize additional capabilities of Kylo’s metadata server by issuing REST calls from a NiFi flow. This can be done one time at registration, or for each feed instance. For example, the Designer may wish to track detailed lineage between a series of transforms and data sources. See Metadata Server REST API documentation.

Idempotence

Pipelines and template steps should be idempotent, such that if work is replayed it will produce the same result without a harmful side effect such as duplicates.

Environment Portability

NiFi Templates and associated Kylo configuration can be exported from one environment and imported into another environment. The Designer should ensure that Apache NiFi templates are designed to be portable across development, test and production environments .

Environment-specific settings such as library paths or URLs should be specified in the environment-specific settings file in Kylo. See documentation. Environment-specific variables can be set through an environment specific properties file. Kylo provides an expression syntax for a Designer to utilize these properties when registering the template.  An Administrator typically maintains the environment-specific settings.

Data Confidence

In addition to NiFi templates for feeds, a Designer can and should create templates for performing Data Quality (DQ) verification of those feeds. Data Quality verification logic can vary but often can be designed to be generalized into a few common patterns.

Examples of a DQ template might evaluate the profile statistics from the latest run and use those statistics such as ratio of valid-to-invalid records. Another check could compare aggregates in the source table against Hadoop to verify that totals match at certain intervals (for example: nightly revenue roll-ups match).

A special field identifies the template as a DQ check related to a feed and used for Data Confidence KPI, alerts, and feed health by the Ops manager. See Manual.

Data Ingestion

Archival: It is best practice to preserve original raw content and consider regulatory compliance. Also, consider security and encryption at rest since raw data may contain sensitive information.  After a retention period is passed, information may be deleted. ILM feeds can be created to do this type of house-keeping. Retention policies can optionally be defined by a feed or business metadata at the category-level.

Make sure to secure intermediate tables and HDFS locations used for data processing. These tables may contain views of raw, sensitive data. Intermediate tables may require different security requirements than the managed table.  Additionally, the data may need to go on an encryption zone on HDFS. Administrators and Operators may need visibility for troubleshooting, but typical end-users should not see intermediate data.

Avoid “transformations” to raw.  Best practice is to ingest the raw source (although consider protecting sensitive data) and avoid transformation of the data.

Cleanup Intermediate Data

The intermediate data generated by feed processing should be periodically deleted. It may be useful to have a brief retention period (for example: 72 hours) for troubleshooting. A single cleanup feed can be created to do this cleanup.

Data Cleansing and Standardization

Kylo includes a number of useful cleansing and standardization functions that can be configured by an end-user in the feed creation wizard UI.

Avoid using the cleansing and standardization capabilities to do complex “transformation” data. It should be primarily used for manipulating data into conventional or canonical formats (for example: simple datatype conversion such as dates, stripping special characters) or data protection (for example: masking credit cards, PII, etc.)

Kylo provides an extensible Java API for developing custom cleansing and standardization routines.

Validation

Hive is extremely tolerant of inconsistencies between source data and the HCatalog schema. Using Hive without additional validation will allow data quality issues to go unnoticed and extremely difficult to detect.

Kylo automatically provides schema validation, ensuring that source data conforms to target schema.  For example, if a field contains alpha characters and is destined for a numeric column, Kylo will flag the record as invalid.

Additionally users can define field-level validation to protect against data quality issues.

Kylo provides an extensible Java API for developing custom validation routines.

Data Profiling

Kylo’s Data profiling routine generates statistics for each field in an incoming dataset.

Beyond being useful to Data Scientists, profiling is useful for validating data quality (See Data Quality checking).

RDBMS Data

Joins in Hadoop are inefficient. Consider de-normalizing data during ingest.  One strategy is to ingest data via views.

File Ingest

One common problem with files is ensuring they are fully written from a source before they are picked up for processing. A strategy for this is to set the process writing the file to either change permissions on the file after the write is complete, or append a suffix such as DONE.

Character Conversion and Hive

Hive works with UTF-8. Character conversion may be required for any records that should be queried from Hive.  NiFi provides a character conversion processor that can be used for this. Kylo can detect source encoding using Tikka.

Development Patterns

Best practices and guidance oriented to the development process, release, and testing.

Development Process

NiFi templates should be developed and tested in a personal development environment. Do not develop NiFi templates in the production NiFi instance used by Kylo.

It is recommended to do initial testing in NiFi. Once the flow has been tested and debugged within NiFi, then register the template with Kylo in the development environment, where one can test feed creation.

Note

Controller Services that contain service, cluster, and database connection information should be setup by the Developer using their personal login information. In production, an Administrator manages these controller services, and they typically operate as an application account with elevated permissions.

Template Export/Import

As stated previously, it is recommended that Apache NiFi template development occur in a development environment. This is a best practice from a security and operations perspective. Kylo allows templates and the registration metadata to be exported to a ZIP file. This file can be imported into a new environment.

Feed Export/Import

Although Kylo can be used for self-service feed creation in production, some organizations prefer to lock this ability down and perform feed development and testing in a separate environment.

Version Control

It is recommended to manage exported templates and feeds through an SCM tool such as git, subversion, or CVS.

Users

Best practices and guidance oriented to end-users (users of the Kylo application).

When to Use Snapshot

Kylo allows users to configure feeds to do incremental updates or to enable the use of a snapshot (replacing the target with the entire contents). In the case of RDBMS, where there small source tables, it may be more efficient to simply overwrite (snapshot) the data each time. Tables with less than 100k records probably fit the snapshot pattern.

When to Use Timer (vs. Cron)

Timer is a good scheduling technique for lightweight polling behavior. Be aware, however, that all timers fire concurrently when NiFi starts. Avoid using for processors that place heavy demand on a source when triggered. For example: database sources or launching a transformation workflow. Cron is a more appropriate scheduling option for these resource-intensive processors.

Wrangling

The wrangling utility allows for users to do visual drag-drop SQL joins and apply transform functions to build complex transformations in a WYSIWG, Excel-like interface. This is a recommended method for performing transformations on raw data.

Service Level Agreements

Service level agreements are created by users to enforce service levels, typically related to feeds. An SLA may set a threshold tolerance for data arrival time or feed processing time. An SLA can enforce ratio of invalid data from a source.

SLAs are useful for alerting and measuring service level performance over-time.

Administrators

Back-Pressure

Administrators (and Designers) should understand NiFi capabilities regarding back-pressure. Administrators can configure backpressure limits at the processor level to control how many flow files can be queued before upstream processors start to throttle activity. This can assure that a problem with a service doesn’t cause a huge queue or result in a large number of failed jobs.

Business Metadata

Business metadata is any information that enriches the usefulness of the data, or is potentially helpful for future processing or error handling.

Kylo allows an Administrator to setup business metadata fields that a user sees when creating a feed.  These business metadata templates can be setup either globally or at the category-level.  Once setup, the user is prompted to fill this information in the Properties step of the Ingest wizard.

Security

Guidance around security.

Security Vulnerabilities

Designers and Administrators should be aware of introducing a backdoor for malicious users,or even for developers.  Although NiFi components are extremely powerful, be aware of SQL Injection or exposing the ability for a user to paste script.

Consider issues such a malicious user configuring an ingestion path that accesses secure files on the file system.

When importing feeds from other environments, the Administrator should always ensure that the security group is appropriate to the environment. A security group that may be appropriate in a development environment might not be inappropriate for production.