Chapter 1. Why Hadoop in the Cloud?

Before embarking on a new technical effort, it’s important to understand what problems you’re trying to solve with it. Hot new technologies come and go in the span of a few years, and it should take more than popularity to make one worth trying. The short span of computing history is littered with ideas and technologies that were once considered the future of their domains, but just didn’t work out.

Apache Hadoop is a technology that has survived its initial rush of popularity by proving itself as an effective and powerful framework for tackling big data applications. It broke from many of its predecessors in the “computing at scale” space by being designed to run in a distributed fashion across large amounts of commodity hardware instead of a few, expensive computers. Many organizations have come to rely on Hadoop for dealing with the ever-increasing quantities of data that they gather. Today, it is clear what problems Hadoop can solve.

Cloud computing, on the other hand, is still a newcomer as of this writing. The term itself, “cloud,” currently has a somewhat mystical connotation, often meaning different things to different people. What is the cloud made of? Where is it? What does it do? Most importantly, why would you use it?

What Is the Cloud?

A definition for what “the cloud” means for this book can be built up from a few underlying concepts and ideas.

First, a cloud is made up of computing resources, which encompasses everything from computers themselves (or instances in cloud terminology) to networks to storage and everything in between and around them. All that you would normally need to put together the equivalent of a server room, or even a full-blown data center, is in place and ready to be claimed, configured, and run.

The entity providing these computing resources is called a cloud provider. The most famous ones are companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, and this book focuses on the clouds offered by these three. Their clouds can be called public clouds because they are available to the general public; you use computing resources that are shared, in secure ways, with many other people. In contrast, private clouds are run internally by (usually large) organizations.


While private clouds can work much like public ones, they are not explicitly covered in this book. You will find, though, that the basic concepts are mostly the same across cloud providers, whether public or private.

The resources that are available to you in the cloud are not just for you to use, but also to control. This means that you can start and stop instances when you want, and connect the instances together and to the outside world how you want. You can use just a small amount of resources or a huge amount, or anywhere in between. Advanced features from the provider are at your command for managing storage, performance, availability, and more. The cloud provider gives you the building blocks, but it is up to you to know how to arrange them for your needs.

Finally, you are free to use cloud provider resources for whatever you wish, within some limitations. There are quotas applied to cloud provider accounts, although these can be negotiated over time. There are also large, hard limits based on the capacity of the provider itself that you can run into. Beyond these somewhat “physical” limitations, there are legal and data security requirements, which can come from your own organization as well as the cloud provider. In general, as long as you are not abusing the cloud provider’s offerings, you can do what you want. In this book, that means installing and running Hadoop clusters.

Having covered some underlying concepts, here is a definition for “the cloud” that this book builds from:

“The cloud” is a large set of computing resources made available by a cloud provider for customers to use and control for general purposes.

What Does Hadoop in the Cloud Mean?

Now that the term “cloud” has been defined, it’s easy to understand what the jargony phrase “Hadoop in the cloud” means: it is running Hadoop clusters on resources offered by a cloud provider. This practice is normally compared with running Hadoop clusters on your own hardware, called on-premises clusters or “on-prem.”

If you are already familiar with running Hadoop clusters on-prem, you will find that a lot of your knowledge and practices carry over to the cloud. After all, a cloud instance is supposed to act almost exactly like an ordinary server you connect to remotely, with root access, and some number of CPU cores, and some amount of disk space, and so on. Once instances are networked together properly and made accessible, you can imagine that they are running in a regular data center, as opposed to a cloud provider’s own data center. This illusion is intentional, so that working in a cloud provider feels familiar, and your skills still apply.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing new to learn, or that the abstraction is complete. A cloud provider does not do everything for you; there are many choices and a variety of provider features to understand and consider, so that you can build not only a functioning system, but a functioning system of Hadoop clusters. Cloud providers also include features that go beyond what you can do on-prem, and Hadoop clusters can benefit from those as well.

Mature Hadoop clusters rarely run in isolation. Supporting resources around them manage data flow in and out and host specialized tools, applications backed by the clusters, and non-Hadoop servers, among other things. The supporting cast can also run in the cloud, or else dedicated networking features can help to bring them close.

Reasons to Run Hadoop in the Cloud

Many concepts have been defined so far, but the core question has not yet been answered: Why run Hadoop clusters in the cloud at all? Here are just a few reasons:

Lack of space

Your organization may need Hadoop clusters, but you don’t have anywhere to keep racks of physical servers, along with the necessary power and cooling.


Without physical servers to rack up or cables to run, it is much easier to reorganize instances, or expand or contract your footprint, for changing business needs. Everything is controlled through cloud provider APIs and web consoles. Changes can be scripted and put into effect manually or even automatically and dynamically based on current conditions.

New usage patterns

The flexibility of making changes in the cloud leads to new usage patterns that are otherwise impractical. For example, individuals can have their own instances, clusters, and even networks, without much managerial overhead. The overall budget for CPU cores in your cloud provider account can be concentrated in a set of large instances, a larger set of smaller instances, or some mixture, and can even change over time.

Speed of change

It is much faster to launch new cloud instances or allocate new database servers than to purchase, unpack, rack, and configure physical computers. Similarly, unused resources in the cloud can be torn down swiftly, whereas unused hardware tends to linger wastefully.

Lower risk

How much on-prem hardware should you buy? If you don’t have enough, the entire business slows down. If you buy too much, you’ve wasted money and have idle hardware that continues to waste money. In the cloud, you can quickly and easily change how many resources you use, so there is little risk of undercommitment or overcommitment. What’s more, if some resource malfunctions, you don’t need to fix it; you can discard it and allocate a new one.


An organization using a cloud provider to rent resources, instead of spending time and effort on the logistics of purchasing and maintaining its own physical hardware and networks, is free to focus on its core competencies, like using Hadoop clusters to carry out its business. This is a compelling advantage for a tech startup, for example.

Worldwide availability

The largest cloud providers have data centers around the world, ready for you from the start. You can use resources close to where you work, or close to where your customers are, for the best performance. You can set up redundant clusters, or even entire computing environments, in multiple data centers, so that if local problems occur in one data center, you can shift to working elsewhere.

Data storage requirements

If you have data that is required by law to be stored within specific geographic areas, you can keep it in clusters that are hosted in data centers in those areas.

Cloud provider features

Each major cloud provider offers an ecosystem of features to support the core functions of computing, networking, and storage. To use those features most effectively, your clusters should run in the cloud provider as well.


Few customers tax the infrastructure of a major cloud provider. You can establish large systems in the cloud that are not nearly as easy to put together, not to mention maintain, on-prem.

Reasons to Not Run Hadoop in the Cloud

As long as you are considering why you would run Hadoop clusters in the cloud, you should also consider reasons not to. If you have any of the following reasons as goals, then running in the cloud may disappoint you:


Cloud providers start you off with reasonable defaults, but then it is up to you to figure out how all of their features work and when they are appropriate. It takes a lot of experience to become proficient at picking the right types of instances and arranging networks properly.

High levels of control

Beyond the general geographic locations of cloud provider data centers and the hardware specifications that providers reveal for their resources, it is not possible to have exacting, precise control over your cloud architecture. You cannot tell exactly where the physical devices sit, or what the devices near them are doing, or how data across them shares the same physical network.1 When the cloud provider has internal problems that extend beyond backup and replication strategies already in place, there’s not much you can do but wait.

Unique hardware needs

You cannot have cloud providers attach specialized peripherals or dongles to their hardware for you. If your application requires resources that exceed what a cloud provider offers, you will need to host that part on-prem away from your Hadoop clusters.

Saving money

For one thing, you are still paying for the resources you use. The hope is that the economy of scale that a cloud provider can achieve makes it more economical for you to pay to “rent” their hardware than to run your own. You will also still need a staff that understands system administration and networking to take care of your cloud infrastructure. Inefficient architectures, especially those that leave resources running idly, can cost a lot of money in storage and data transfer costs.

What About Security?

The idea of sharing resources with many other, unknown parties is sure to raise questions about whether using a public cloud provider can possibly be secure. Could other tenants somehow gain access to your instances, or snoop on the shared network infrastructure? How safe is data stashed away in cloud services? Is security a reason to avoid using public cloud providers?

There are valid arguments on both sides of this question, and the answer for you varies depending on your needs and tolerance for risk. Public cloud providers are certainly cognizant of security requirements, and as you’ll see throughout this book, they use many different mechanisms to keep your resources private to you and give you control over who can see and do what. When you use a cloud provider, you gain their expertise in building and maintaining secure systems, including backup management, replication, availability, encryption support, and network management. So, it is reasonable to expect that clusters running in the cloud can be secure.

Still, there may be overriding reasons why some data simply cannot be put up into the cloud, for any reason, or why it’s too risky to move data to, from, and around the cloud. In these situations, limited use of the cloud may still be possible.

Hybrid Clouds

Running Hadoop clusters in the cloud has compelling advantages, but the disadvantages may restrict you from completely abandoning an on-prem infrastructure. In a situation like that, a hybrid cloud architecture may be helpful. Instead of running your clusters and associated applications completely in the cloud or completely on-prem, the overall system is split between the two. Data channels are established between the cloud and on-prem worlds to connect the components needed to perform work.

“Cloud-Only or Hybrid?” explores the pattern of hybrid clouds, including some examples for when they are appropriate or even necessary. Creating a hybrid cloud architecture is more challenging than running only on-prem or only in the cloud, but you are still able to benefit from some advantages of the cloud that you otherwise couldn’t.

Hadoop Solutions from Cloud Providers

There are ways to take advantage of Hadoop technologies without doing the work of creating your own Hadoop clusters. Cloud providers offer prepackaged compute services that use Hadoop under the hood, but manage most of the cluster management work themselves. You simply point the services to your data and provide them with the jobs to run, and they handle the rest, delivering results back to you. You still pay for the resources used, as well as the use of the service, but save on all of the administrative work.

So, why ever roll your own clusters when these services exist? There are some good reasons:2

  • Prepackaged services aim to cover the most common uses of Hadoop, such as individual MapReduce or Spark jobs. Their features may not be sufficient for more complex requirements, and may not offer Hadoop components that you already rely on or wish to employ.

  • The services obviously only work on the cloud provider offering them. Some organizations are worried about being “locked in” to a single provider, unable to take advantage of competition between the providers.

  • Useful applications that run on top of Hadoop clusters may not be compatible with a prepackaged provider service.

  • It may not be possible to satisfy data security or tracking requirements with a prepackaged service, since you lack direct control over the resources.

Despite the downsides, you should investigate Hadoop-based provider solutions before rushing into running your own clusters. They can be useful and powerful, save you a lot of work, and get you running in the cloud more quickly. You can use them for prototyping work, and you may decide to keep them around for support tasks even while using your own clusters for the rest.

Here are some of the provider solutions that exist as of this writing. Keep an eye out for new ones as well.

Elastic MapReduce

Elastic MapReduce, or EMR, is Amazon Web Services’ solution for managing prepackaged Hadoop clusters and running jobs on them. You can work with regular MapReduce jobs or Apache Spark jobs, and can use Apache Hive, Apache Pig, Apache HBase, and some third-party applications. Scripting hooks enable the installation of additional services. Data is typically stored in Amazon S3 or Amazon DynamoDB.

The normal mode of operation for EMR is to define the parameters for a cluster, such as its size, location, Hadoop version, and variety of services, point to where data should be read from and written to, and define steps to execute such as MapReduce or Spark jobs. EMR launches a cluster, performs the steps to generate the output data, and then tears the cluster down. However, you can leave clusters running for further use, and even resize them for greater capacity or a smaller footprint.

EMR provides an API so that you can automate the launching and management of Hadoop clusters.

Google Cloud Dataproc

Google Cloud Dataproc is similar to EMR, but runs within Google Cloud Platform. It offers Hadoop, Spark, Hive, and Pig, working on data that is usually stored in Google Cloud Storage. Like EMR, it supports both transient and long-running clusters, cluster resizing, and scripts for installing additional services. It can also be controlled through an API.


Microsoft Azure’s prepackaged solution, called HDInsight, is built on top of the Hortonworks Data Platform (HDP). The service defines cluster types for Hadoop, Spark, Apache Storm, and HBase; other components like Hive and Pig are included as well. Clusters can be integrated with other tools like Microsoft R Server and Apache Solr through scripted installation and configuration. HDInsight clusters work with Azure Blob Storage and Azure Data Lake Store for reading and writing data used in jobs. You control whether clusters are torn down after their work is done or left running, and clusters can be resized. Apache Ambari is included in clusters for management through its API.

Hadoop-Like Services

The solutions just listed are explicitly based on Hadoop. Cloud providers also offer other services, based on different technologies, for managing and analyzing large amounts of data. Some offer SQL-like query capabilities similar to Hive or Apache Impala, and others offer processing pipelines like Apache Oozie. It may be possible to use those services to augment Hadoop clusters, managed either directly or through the cloud provider’s own prepackaged solution, depending on where and how data is stored.

Of course, these tools share the same disadvantages as the Hadoop-based solutions in terms of moving further away from the open source world and its interoperability benefits. Since they are not based on Hadoop, there is a separate learning curve for them, and the effort could be wasted if they are ever discarded in favor of something that works on Hadoop, or on a different cloud provider, or even on-prem. Their ready availability and ease of use, however, can be attractive.

A Spectrum of Choices

It’s perhaps ironic that much of this chapter describes how you can avoid running Hadoop clusters in the cloud, either by sticking with on-prem clusters (either partially or completely), by using cloud provider services that take away the management work, or by using tools that do away with Hadoop completely. There is a spectrum of choices, where at one end you work with your data at a conceptual level using high-level tools, and at the other end you build workflows, analyses, and query systems from the ground up. The breadth of this spectrum may be daunting.

However, one fact remains true: Hadoop works everywhere. When you focus on the core components in the Hadoop ecosystem, you have the freedom and power to work however you like, wherever you like. When you stick to the common components of Hadoop, you can carry your expertise with them to wherever your code runs and your data lives.

Cloud providers are eager for you to use their resources. They offer services to take over Hadoop cluster administration for you, but they are just as happy to let you run things yourself. Running your own clusters does not require you to forgo all of the benefits of a cloud provider, and Hadoop components that you deploy and run can still make effective use of cloud services. This book, in fact, explores how.

Getting Started

Have you figured out why you want to run Hadoop in the cloud? Ready to get started?

If you already know which cloud provider you’ll use, skip ahead to Part II for a primer on the major concepts of cloud instances, networking, and storage. Otherwise, continue to the next chapter for an overview of the major cloud providers so that you can understand the landscape.

1 An exception: some cloud providers have infrastructure dedicated to US government use where stricter controls are in place.

2 If there weren’t, this book would not be very useful!

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