Apartment-sharing startup Airbnb has open sourced a tool called Airpal that the company built to give more of its employees access to the data they need for their jobs. Airpal is built atop the Presto SQL engine that Facebook created in order to speed access to data stored in Hadoop.
Airbnb built Airpal about a year ago so that employees across divisions and roles could get fast access to data rather than having to wait for a data analyst or data scientist to run a query for them. According to product manager James Mayfield, it’s designed to make it easier for novices to write SQL queries by giving them access to a visual interface, previews of the data they’re accessing, and the ability to share and reuse queries.
At this point, Mayfield said, “Over a third of all the people working at Airbnb have issued a query through Airpal.” He added, “The learning curve for SQL doesn’t have to be that high.”
He shared the example of folks at Airbnb tasked with determining the effectiveness of the automated emails the company sends out when someone books a room, resets a password or takes any of a number of other actions. Data scientists used to have to dive into Hive — the SQL-like data warehouse framework for Hadoop that [company]Facebook[/company] open sourced in 2008 — to answer that type of question, which meant slow turnaround times because of human and technological factors. Now, lots of employees can access that same data via Airpal in just minutes, he said.
As cool as Airpal might be for Airbnb users, though, it really owes its existence to Presto. Back when everyone was using Hive for data analysis inside Hadoop — it was and continues to be widely used within web companies — only 10 to 15 people within Airbnb understood the data and could write queries using its somewhat complicated version of SQL. Because Hive is based on MapReduce, the batch-processing engine most commonly associated with Hadoop, Hive is also slow (although new improvements have increased its speed drastically).
Airbnb also used [company]Amazon[/company]’s Redshift cloud data warehouse for a while, said software engineer Andy Kramolisch, and while it was fast, it wasn’t as user-friendly as the company would have liked. It also required replicating data from Hive, meaning more work for Airbnb and more data for the company to manage. (If you want to hear more about all this Hadoop and big data stuff from leaders at [company]Google[/company], Cloudera and elsewhere, come to our Structure Data conference March 18-19 in New York.)
A couple years ago, Facebook created and then open sourced Presto as a means to solve Hive’s speed problems. It still accesses data from Hive, but is designed to deliver results at interactive speeds rather than in minutes or, depending on the query, much longer. It also uses standard ANSI SQL, which Kramolisch said is easier to learn than the Hive Query Language and its “lots of hidden gotchas.”
Still, Mayfield noted, it’s not as if everyone inside Airbnb, or any company, is going to be running SQL queries using Airpal — no matter how easy the tooling gets. In those cases, he said, the company tries to provide dashboards, visualizations and other tools to help employees make sense of the data they need to understand.
“I think it would be rad if the CEO was writing SQL queries,” he said, “but …”