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Rick van der Lans

Welcome to my blog where I will talk about a variety of topics related to data warehousing, business intelligence, application integration, and database technology. Currently my special interests include data virtualization, NoSQL technology, and service-oriented architectures. If there are any topics you'd like me to address, send them to me at

About the author >

Rick is an independent consultant, speaker and author, specializing in data warehousing, business intelligence, database technology and data virtualization. He is managing director and founder of R20/Consultancy. An internationally acclaimed speaker who has lectured worldwide for the last 25 years, he is the chairman of the successful annual European Enterprise Data and Business Intelligence Conference held annually in London. In the summer of 2012 he published his new book Data Virtualization for Business Intelligence Systems. He is also the author of one of the most successful books on SQL, the popular Introduction to SQL, which is available in English, Chinese, Dutch, Italian and German. He has written many white papers for various software vendors. Rick can be contacted by sending an email to

Editor's Note: Rick's blog and more articles can be accessed through his BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel.

Data replication tools have been available since the 1990s.  They have been used primarily to increase the availability and scalability of IT systems and their data. Nowadays, they are also used to replicate data to data warehouses for supporting operational BI. Besides being able to efficiently and non-intrusively replicate data from source to target systems, a powerful feature has always been that they can operate in heterogeneous environments, in which the source and targets are different products. But they have always limited themselves to SQL or SQL-like systems. An intriguing question is whether it is difficult for these data replicators to support the new generation of NoSQL systems? For example, will we be able to use them to replicate data stored in a NoSQL system to a staging area or data warehouse?

Many of the NoSQL systems have built-in data replication features--data is automatically stored multiple times. In fact, the developers can set how many replicas have to be created. However, the replication features of NoSQL systems are limited to a homogenous environment. It's not possible to use these features when, for example, data has to be replicated from a NoSQL system to a classic SQL system.

Today, most data replication products can't replicate from or to NoSQL systems. However, if they can in the future, what will be important is that they handle the non-relational concepts of NoSQL systems efficiently. The keyword here is efficiently. Most existing data replication tools have been designed and optimized to copy data between SQL systems. So, they have been optimized to efficiently process relatively short records with a fixed structure. However, NoSQL records are not always short and fixed with respect to structure. NoSQL systems support a wide range of concepts:

  • Many NoSQL systems, including the key-value stores, the document stores, and the column-family stores support extremely long records. These records can be magnitudes longer than what is common in SQL systems. Current data replicators have been optimized to replicate short records.
  • Almost all NoSQL systems support tables in which each record can have a different structure. This is new for data replication products. For example, what will that do to compression algorithms that assume that all records have the same structure?
  • Document stores and column family stores support hierarchical structures. If that type of data has to be replicated into SQL systems, it has to be flattened somehow. The challenge is to do that very fast. But can it be done fast enough? Data replicators are usually not strong at transformations, because it slows down the replication process too much.
  • Column-family stores support what the relational world used to call repeating groups. The same as for hierarchical structures, how can they be mapped to relational structures by the data replication tools efficiently.
There is no question about whether we need data replication technology to replicate between NoSQL and SQL systems. But the key question is whether it can do this efficiently. This is more than adding one extra source to their list of supported products. It requires a substantial redesign of the internals of these products. This is the challenge these vendors are confronted with in the coming years. Hopefully, they will not claim to support NoSQL, while in fact they only replicate data from NoSQL systems if that data has a relational form.

Note: For more on this topic, see the whitepaper Empowering Operational Business Intelligence with Data Replication.

Posted April 29, 2013 1:16 AM
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