Current Technology Foreshadowed in Movies

The way to introduce things into mainstream technology, is to blend in gradually.

Who remembers Star Trek:

The Jetsons:

Lost in Space:

War Games (we're in!):

Short Circuit (artificial intelligence):

Lots of current technology was predicted right before our eyes.



Quantum Mechanics will Blast through the BI & AI Limitations

Business Intelligence is extraction of value and insight through analysis of data.  Artificial Intelligence is a layer above, crunching data to process data into models, and finding insights, value and predictions.

We find value from data by assembling, cleansing, positioning, joining and consolidation into logic units, applies to both BI and AI.

And we do that using code.  Code is simply logical commands interpreted by computer processor.  Those commands are currently written by humans, assisted by machines.  At some point, the humans will not be necessary.  Computers will write the instructions, based on logic derived over time.  It will possibly write numerous commands, in real time, to derive the "best" insight based on current knowledge.  It will also infer things based on that data and past experience.

At that point, the machines will be smarter than humans.  Because they are fast, logical and can present multiple scenarios simultaneous, in real time.

That is the true goal of "intelligent machines".  Humans are the stepping stone to get there.  At some point, our role will diminish, as computers leap past.  That time may be closer that we think.

Will there be bias in the data decision.  Maybe.  Do humans apply bias currently, you betcha.  Our brains are pre-wired to be biased.  To synthesize volumes of incoming data, apply our filters which are our opinions and experience over time, to derive fast knowledge, so we don't get eaten by the lion.  Humans are biased due to legacy survival system.  Machines are not inherently biased, they are not fighting for survival.  They are non participating bystanders, with no skin in the game.  They apply rational logic based on data patterns.  Machines know binary concepts, true or false, or if we add Quantum Mechanics, opens up a lot of possibilities, true, false and maybe.

It seems that introducing QM will blast through the current limitations of too much data and too many possibilities, to streamline humongous complex data into numerous simplified weighted possibilities.  Until then, we can still obtain careers in the programming / data space with rudimentary models in specific domains.  QM will be the game changer.


Azure Data Factory with Azure Databricks or Azure Data Lake Analytics U-SQL

We have been building and supporting Data Warehouses for two decades plus.  Lots of standardization and design patterns have been flushed out.

With the advent of Cloud, new tools and architectures provide new options to developers.

With change, there's been discussion, on comparison, between traditional SQL Server Integration Services and Azure Data Factory for Extract Transform and Load.

SSIS can pick up, transform and push data with specific design patterns, to handle multiple scenarios across variety of data sources.  

Packages are run in variety of ways, to automate and orchestrate data loads to assist in the heavy lifting required to populate and refresh data warehouses.

Azure Data Factory is a new tool for developers to get the data to Azure.  You can set Pipelines to lift and shift the data, in a secure environment, which can be scheduled, automated, logged and monitored over time.

Once data lands in the Azure Portal, using Azure Blob Storage or Azure Data Lake Store, the ETL transformations need to cleans the data, and then move data to your landing zone, Azure SQL Data Warehouse.  

Within Azure Data Factory, you have the ability to use Azure Databricks to apply those transformation.  

Azure Databricks is an Azure Service, which sits atop Apache Spark, which opens up in memory processing, variety of languages including Scala, Python, R, Java and SQL.  

Programmers use Notebooks to interact with the data, by selecting a single language or combining multiple languages to process the data.  

These jobs can be automated in a schedule, resulting in a push to your Azure SQL Data Warehouse.

This simulates our traditional SSIS ETL data process and transformation.

However, there is another approach within Azure Portal, using similar methodology.  

Instead of using Azure Databricks from within Azure Data Factory, you also have the option to use Azure Data Lake Analytics.  ADLA uses the U-SQL language.  

U-SQL combines many flavors of familiar languages, like SQL, c#, Linq and the language is quite powerful.

You can string series of commands together, to pull in data, mount it, apply transformations, filters, place the data into a variety of formats and locations within Azure Portal.  

U-SQL handles structured data, unstructured data, CSV, Text files, JSON files, IoT and Streaming Data, using Avro, Orc, Text and Parquet data storage types.  

And the output can be sent back to Azure Data Lake Store, Azure SQL Database and even to your Azure SQL Data Warehouse.

A nice thing about U-SQL is the ability to write, modify and execute code from Visual Studio 2015 and 2017, which integrates nicely with Team Foundation Server and Git source code repositories.

The jobs are executed on the Azure Poral Cloud platform, you can specify the number of Analytic Units to process the query and results are stored for audit trail and to Success and Failure along with Error Codes, and it stores the exact query and timestamp.

U-SQL is a great language addition to the Azure Data Platform.

And here's a video of the Azure Data Factory / Azure Databricks use case on YouTube:

So regarding the discussions between traditional SSIS and Azure Data Factory, each has benefits depending on the use case.

And when using Azure Data Factory, you have two good options: 
Azure Databricks or Azure Data Lake Analytics.

Thanks for reading~!


Just Tech, No More Fluff

Winding down vacation, some much needed downtime.

With that said, this blog will be about tech going forward. 

No more random blogs about non tech stuff.

Technology blogs should be about technology.

I won't be doing side projects going forward.

So I hope you've enjoyed the non-traditional posts.

Going forward, just tech.

Thanks for reading~!


SSIS & U-SQL Project Using Multi-Hops to Flow Data to Azure

Building out an Azure solution, using SSIS to pull from source database, apply some data messaging with dynamic Derived Columns to swap out "\n", flow data to Azure Data Lake Store using SSIS component, pick up the CSV file using U-SQL .Csv Extractor, into U-SQL database table.

Solid concept, yet it's also automated, to build out each independent SSIS file, based on source table / field name / field type, Derived Column's also built dynamically for any Strings (Varchar  Char) fields, Data Lake Store file path dynamic, as well as U-SQL dynamically built for each table, and dynamically swap back the "\n" characters,

If you've ever looked under the hood of an SSIS package, the XML is a complex set of code, yet it has patterns, and those patterns can be duplicated.  How is this accomplished?

Using an SSIS Script Component using c#, reading from Config file and Package Variables.  It also builds unique dtsConfig file, same naming convention of package DTSX file.

Files can be set to run using series of parent packages, executed from DTExec BAT file.

I've used Visual Studio 2015 with all the required installs and Add-Ons, and then tried VS2017, and prefer the newer version.  Have ability to create U-SQL projects to write U-SQL, execute jobs from on-premise VS, view job progress in Azure Solution Explorer, and verify data on Azure side, make sure it lands in correct place, data in correct format, and lands in U-SQL, and view all previous job, both success and failure.  No ability to set breakpoints on U-SQL code in real time, so execute view, modify script, repeat.

VS integrates with source control.

One thing to keep in mind, are Nulls.  When creating tables and writing U-SQL scripts, must append "?" indicate Nulls allowed.  And when pushing data to Azure Data Lake, it transposes Nulls to "\N", so you have to handle them in the U-SQL code, although a built Null Escape function handles this.  You do need to handle special characters embedded within source raw columns such as tabs, commas, new line feeds, etc. or the column counts will be off and throw errors.

U-SQL is quite powerful, as you can nest statements, use variables, reference DLL assemblies, and have a variety of formats to work with, such as CSV, Text, JSON file source data, and variety of data formats like Avro, ORC, Parquet and Text.  You can source data from Azure Data Lake Store, Blob Storage as well as other Azure data storage types.  So it goes beyond traditional Relational Database requirements of knowing Structure ahead of time, so semi-structured and Un-Structured data is okay.

After job runs, you can view run times, description of errors and it points to the specific error with "#' sign, and keeps exact script ran for future reference, and of course, its in the Cloud so others can view what jobs are running in real time.

With U-SQL databases, you can specify Database name, apply Schema names, Table names, Column names.  Data Types are standard, although there's no direct mapping from Source system to CSV to Database to SQL Server. 

You can write your own custom functions, in c#, upload the DLL to Azure, register and reference code to handle specific scenarios.

Because you can ingest JSON, you can pull in Streaming data from Azure Blob Storage or Azure Data Lake Store, pull the data in, parse, apply rules, and send data along the trail for storage and analysis.  This is nice for IoT data, reading in lots of data from mini-packets from sensors and devices out in the field.

As you know, storing data is not terribly expensive in Azure, so archiving data from On-Premise data can save money in the long run, make the data available for Ad-Hoc reporting, as well as integrate into other data sets like Azure SQL Data Warehouse,

U-SQL is a nice addition to the Azure platform, it provides coders much flexibility, easy ramp up time and handles Unstructured data.  Basically provides a language to do the heavy lifting once data reaches the cloud.

Combing with Azure Data Factory opens up lots of opportunity, flexibility and choices.  I'm just waiting to sink teeth into building out that next.

Thanks for reading~!


In With the New U-SQL

I worked on a solid Microsoft Business Intelligence project, went okay, then off to another.  Parallel Data Warehouse, for a while, then off to another.  Then a Hadoop - PolyBase - Microsoft BI - MDS - Tabular project, went okay, then off to another.  Then a quick Tableau project, went okay, then off to another.  Then a SQL against AWS Hadoop project, went okay, then off to another.

Where are we at now?  Building out an Archive project, using Microsoft SSIS, c# script component to automate, Azure Data Lake Store and Azure Data Lake Analytics components, U-SQL Databases.

You can see, the projects differ every time.  Get up to speed, become expert level, deliver, then change technology.

Traditional Data Warehousing never excited me, I was late to the party, will slowly lose luster and support, for variety of reasons.  I think the Cloud is the place to be.

U-SQL is a newer language that combines SQL, c#, Linq and ETL.  It runs as a job, can be kicked off from On Premise IDE Visual Studio or in the Cloud.  It's dynamic, works with Structured and Unstructured data.

I think the language will mature, the IDE install will be streamlined, the reporting on U-SQL Databases will be available to more Reporting tools and Intellisense will improve.

U-SQL reminds me of combination of Hive and Pig, in the familiar Visual Studio IDE we've known for years, executes in the Cloud Azure, stores past jobs both Success and Failed, run time, Error Messages.

Quite tasty.


Current State of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Machine Learning has three main features.  

For some, recommendation engines one websites are valuable tools, perhaps suggesting good movies similar to ones you've watched already, based on preferences

For some, clustering of homes on real estate sites are good tools.  What is my home value based on similar homes within the region.

And for others, classifying images is a good tool, perhaps recognizing your friends in a picture on social media, without having to enter the tags in manually.

Recommendation, Clustering and Classifying.  Three solid pieces of machine learning or types.  And a variety of algorithms to get to that goal.

There's also Neural Networks, that are useful for artificial intelligence, they have weights that get toggled true or false, depending on incoming variables, with multiple layers, which produce an end result weighted probability.

Some common themes are lots of data, to train the model, to learn from known data.  some data needs to be labeled ahead of time, which is "Supervised Learning".  The opposite is having the model learn on its own, with the luxury of "tagged" data ahead of time, called "Unsupervised Learning".

There're also models that learn from other models, to reinforce learned behavior, the event happened, this was the result, let me track that, for future reference.

Some Neural Nets are very large, with hundreds of layers deep, to get fairly precise results.  They do require more compute power and memory and take time to process.

There are a slew of languages and tools to use when working with machine learning and artificial intelligence, both on-premise, virtual machines and in the Cloud.

The fact we have bigger data sets, better compute power, more ram and machines chips that can crunch more data faster.  In the past, typically large institutions had access to these types of machines, so Universities or large computer organizations were the only place to work on this technology.  Now you can program this on a laptop in you living room if you desire.  So things have tricked down into the hands of the many.  Thus, faster progress, cleaner solutions, better results.

The results have gotten better, in image recognition, speech recognition, translation tools from language to language, some in real time and many more.  At this point machine learning is a useful tool to assist humans in everyday activities.  It has not gotten to the point where AI is replacing everyday jobs, in most cases.  But the tides will shift at some point, where people are competing with smart machines for everyday jobs.  And when robots are tasked with specific tasks, that too will automate some of the workforce.  And when smart machines can perform complex tasks in real time with minimal error, then we will take notice as computers do not necessarily require vacation time, or health insurance, or 401k matching contributions, and they work 24/7 without complaining or forming Unions.

So, we have come a long way, computers can crunch data and translate into meaningful information for consumption, to lower costs and automate menial tasks.  Where do we go from here?  More automation, easier to use tools, better integration across domains, access in everyday tasks, embedded IoT devices that assist in real time.  Artificial Intelligence should not be interpreted strictly as computers rising up, taking over man kind.  Surely, anything is possible, at this point in time, we are still telling the machines what to do.  And they do their specific tasks, in a sort of black box, and we do not necessarily know exactly how the results were derived.

With Moore's Law, things will only get faster, cheaper, easier to use and proliferate through everyday society.  That should keep us busy for a while, for sure.


Hop Aboard the Data Bandwagon

It does appear the Cloud is the place to be, certainly gained traction past few years.  Few key players to choose from.  Offer mostly the same services, just depends on what flavor you prefer, how well it integrates into current stack, and your developer pool staff skills and availability.

It seems Machine Learning is still hot along with Artificial Intelligence, although it bypassed many folks from the data pool skills set, requiring new languages like Python, R, Scala, Spark, Notebooks and algorithms.

Big Data didn't solve all our problems, but it's a nice addition to the data stack, has some good hooks to get data in and out, as well as reporting, although it won't be our traditional transaction database as expected.

Organizations still want their data, in readable format, in timely manor, with accuracy expected.  Although hiccups in the Extract Transform and Load still seem to play havoc on our daily reporting needs.

Data Science still seems hot, although just because you have talented DS, doesn't mean they can write standard SQL or knock out some traditional reports.  The two seem mutual exclusive and don't necessarily overlap, as new college grads jump straight into DS with little to no knowledge of traditional data ecosystem.

Data Engineer is a hot position, joining disparate data sets for others to work with.

Data Management has probably risen the fastest, as new GDPR rules necessitate solid data practices.  With that, having knowledge of where all the data resides, what it contains, how to access has pushed the Metadata into the spotlight, with Data Catalogs to handle such requests.

We are no longer at the point where knowing SQL or Access or Excel can guarantee you a data position.  Data skills have proliferated, grown, splintered, gone sideways and every which way.  The Data Ecosystem has exploded and many new comers have entered the arena, as developers, architects, software vendors and applications.

Throw in Blockchain, Agile Methodology, Streaming, IoT and Domain Knowledge, you can clearly have your hands full for the next decade or so.

Suffice to say, data is hot.  Anyone entering the workforce that's looking for a solid career, should look no further than data.  It's the bread and butter of every department in every organization.  There are some good companies foaming at the mouth, to get some talent in the door, to hit the ground running, and add value across the board.

So hop aboard the Data Bandwagon.


Automated Solution to Repetitive Coding

What if you were tasked with creating an SSIS package.  To pull from a database, send the data to Azure Data Lake Store as CSV.  Then pick up that data, flow to U-SQL database table.

Well, you'd probably need a source ODBC connection to the database.  And an SSIS package component to flow to Azure Data Lake Store.  And another to flow to U-SQL db.

So, once you go through the effort to complete the task, let's say you had to build 500 similar SSIS packages.  Well, it if takes 2 hours per package, and you don't make any errors, you may get done this month or next.

Or.  You could automate.  As in, build out each package, line by line, using an SSIS package Script component.  Maybe use XML template for repeatable code snippets, pass in data as variables, and create the 500 SSIS packages, in under a minute.

Well, that's what the team's been working on.  And it's been quite tasty.  Building c# code certainly is fun, different from writing standard SQL reports.  One of the great things about coding, you certainly get a different perspective every so often as projects change.

I've been working with SSIS package when they were DTS packages, not DTSX.  And pulling data from databases for a very long time.  Except flowing to Azure is sort of new.  I was lucky enough to figure out the solution, there's some documentation on the web, blogs and such, but for the most part, you have to figure it out yourself.  Those are the juicy projects and this is my 2nd one in the past few years.  The other project being the Hortonworks Hadoop Enterprise Data Warehouse using Visual Studio components and Polybase and Master Data Services.

Being an expert in anything is daunting task, as things change, nobody knows everything.  It's when you approach a project with fresh eyes, you stay open minded to see different options, try this, try that, see what works, document as you go.  And perhaps you become expert for a moment, until the next projects begins.

Programming is still a descent job.  I work out of my house, past 5 years actually.  You begin the day before most people, and you end the day after most people.  There's no commute.  There's no off button.  Yet, it seems to work just fine.  If you can work fast, if you're responsive, if you can deliver solutions to tough problems, what more can you ask for.

And so it goes~!


Supporting Public Facing Java Applications

I once supported a web application, public facing, many users.  First task was to add Cookies & Captcha.  After that, a re-branding of the website to update with different color schemes for consistent look and feel.

It actually was written in Java using IBM VA Java, which I was hired to be a Senior Java Developer.  Luckily I learned it on my own years back, they were just looking for someone that knew that flavor of Java.

In fact, it hooked to the Mainframe on the back end.  So we had copybook frameworks which mapped to the back end, which connected to Mainframe COBOL and returned data, pieces at a time.

Then we migrated to use Web Services with XML, and then migrated the entire application to JDeveloper java.

Also, the application had hooks into the IVR system which I supported, to accept credit card payments over the phone.  Was interesting to test the application using break points and calling in the number and seeing the code stop on specific line of Java code.

Lastly, it also hooked into the Kiosks which we had a few around town, which also accepted payments, and it too was written in Java connecting to the Mainframe back end.

It was fun to program in Java, although we had internal teams moving to Struts and I didn't get to work on much of that.

I also supported other applications in Java, it was a high profile position as all were public facing.  In addition to being the Business Objects Admin for a while, introducing Crystal Reports to the ecosystem and also had a stint of Project Management.

Overall an excellent job.  Lasted more than 4 years.  Not too shabby~!