Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi checked in because he disagreed with part of my recent post about Databricks . Ali’s take on Databricks’ position in the Spark world includes:
- What I called Databricks’ “secondary business” of “licensing stuff to Spark distributors” was really about second/third tier support. Fair enough. But distributors of stacks including Spark, for whatever combination of on-premise and cloud as the case may be, may in many cases be viewed as competitors to Databricks cloud-only service. So why should Databricks help them?
- Databricks’ investment in Spark Summit and similar evangelism is larger than I realized.
- Ali suggests that the fraction of Databricks’ engineering devoted to open source Spark is greater than I understood during my recent visit.
Ali also walked me through customer use cases and adoption in wonderful detail. In general:
- A large majority of Databricks customers have machine learning use cases.
- Predicting and preventing user/customer churn is a huge issue across multiple market sectors.
The story on those sectors, per Ali, is:
- First, Databricks penetrated ad-tech, for use cases such as ad selection.
Databricks’ second market was “mass media”.
- Disclosed examples include Viacom and NBC/Universal.
- There are “many” specific use cases. Personalization is a big one.
- Conviva-style video operations optimization is a use case for several customers, naturally including Conviva. (Reminder: Conviva was Ion Stoica’s previous company.)
Health care came third.
- Use cases here seem to be concentrated on a variety of approaches to predict patient outcomes.
- Analytic techniques often combine machine learning with traditional statistics.
- Security is a major requirement in this sector; fortunately, Databricks believes it excels at that.
Next came what he calls “industrial IT”. This group includes cool examples such as:
- Finding oil.
- Predictive maintenance of wind turbines.
- Predicting weather based on sensor data.
Finally (for now), there’s financial services. Of course, “financial services” comprises a variety of quite different business segments. Example use cases include:
- Credit card marketing.
- Investment analysis (based on expensive third-party data sets that are already in the cloud).
At an unspecified place in the timeline is national security, for a use case very similar to anti-fraud — identifying communities of bad people. Graph analytics plays a big role here.
And finally, of course we discussed some technical stuff, in philosophy, futures and usage as the case may be. In particular, Ali stressed that Spark 2.0 is the first that “breaks”/changes the APIs; hence the release number. It is now the case that:
- There’s a single API for batch and streaming alike, and for machine learning “too”. This is DataFrames/DataSets. In this API …
… everything is a table. That said:
- Tables can be nested.
- Tables can be infinitely large, in which case you’re doing streaming.
- Based on this, Ali thinks Spark 2.0 is now really a streaming engine.
Other tidbits included:
Ali said that every Databricks customer uses SQL. No exceptions.
- Indeed, a “number” of customers are using business intelligence tools. Therefore …
- … Databricks is licensing connector technology from Simba.
- They’re working on model serving, with a REST API, rather than just model building. This was demoed at the recent Spark Summit, but is still in the “nascent” stage.
- Ali insists that every streaming system with good performance does some kind of micro-batching under the hood. But the Spark programmers no longer need to take that directly into account. (In earlier versions, programmatic window sizes needed to be integer multiples of the low-level system’s chosen interval.)
- In the future, when Databricks runs on more than just the Amazon cloud, Databricks customers will of course have cloud-to-cloud portability.