Data January 30, 2024
7 min read
How to Get Started with Zero-ETL
man holding a hammer with zero-etl written on it
Lily McFadden
Lily McFadden Peaka / Tech Evangelist

How to Get Started with Zero-ETL

Zero-ETL (extract, transform, and load) is an approach to data integration that eliminates the need for complex and time-consuming ETL processes. As organizations deal with rapidly growing data loads and need faster access to business insights, Zero-ETL provides a more streamlined way to make data readily available for analysis.

What Is Zero-ETL?

Zero-ETL represents a shift in data processing strategies. Rather than moving data from source systems into a data warehouse and transforming it along the way like in traditional ETL, zero-ETL integrates data in its raw format directly from where it resides.

Zero-ETL eliminates lengthy data transformation and movement and allows the data to be available faster for analytical and operational use cases. Technologies like data virtualization and data lakes make it possible to query data in its native format directly from source systems.

Key characteristics include:

  • There is](https://atlan.com/zero-etl/) no data movement between systems

  • No transformations during data integration

  • Ability to directly query raw data at the source

  • Leverages technologies like data virtualization and data lakes

  • Optimized for analytics and operational use cases

Implementing zero-ETL offers faster access to business insights, flexibility, and efficiency.

Challenges with Traditional ETL

Though ETL processes play an indispensable role in data processing pipelines, they come with considerable challenges:

1. Time-consuming

The different steps of ETL extracting from sources, transforming, and loading into target databases are complex and take substantial time. This delays the availability of actionable insights.

2. Costly to Scale

As data volumes grow, traditional ETL infrastructure has to be continually expanded to handle bigger workloads. The costs of hardware, software, maintenance, and skill sets required can spiral quickly.

3. Data Quality Issues

Data that needs to move through multiple systems and undergo transformations presents more opportunities for errors to creep in and degrade accuracy and reliability.

4. Inflexible

Any change to upstream data sources requires modifying and retesting ETL jobs, making adapting to evolving data landscapes challenging. By removing cumbersome ETL steps, zero-ETL makes it possible to overcome many limitations of traditional approaches.

The 3 Key Components of Zero-ETL

Query federation, streaming ingestion, and change data capture (CDC) are the three components of zero-ETL.

Query Federation

Query federation is a collection of data structures that allow clients access to heterogeneous data stored in multiple locations. Federation makes querying data from remote systems effortless, exponentially speeding up traditional processing times.

Streaming Ingestion

Streaming ingestion processes data in real time as it is generated, which is ideal for applications that demand instant actions or real-time insights. This component allows organizations to act on time-sensitive situations immediately. Streaming ingestion also minimizes latency.

Change Data Capture

Change data capture (CDC) in zero-ETL tracks all changes made in a database. The CDC identifies changes and updates downstream systems and processes accordingly, ensuring that data is in sync across systems. By replacing nightly batch updates, the CDC provides users with fresh data and makes real-time data analytics possible.

Key Technologies for Zero-ETL Integrations

Two pivotal technologies make zero-ETL integrations feasible:

Data Virtualization

Data virtualization creates a simplified, unified view of data from disparate sources without needing physical data movement or replication. The virtualization layer maps metadata from sources and enables direct queries on source data as required. This approach avoids having to create copies of data while providing quick access.

Data Lakes

Data lakes are centralized repositories that store structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data in native formats. Storing raw data eliminates lengthy preprocessing and enables on-demand transformation later. Technologies like Apache Spark allow running analytics directly against data lakes. Data virtualization and data lakes eliminate delays in moving, staging, and processing data, making analytical insights readily derivable from source data.

Step-by-Step Guide for Implementing Zero-ETL

Follow these key steps to adopt a zero-ETL approach:

1. Identify Data Sources

Catalog all internal and external data sources from which analytics use cases need to derive insights. These may include databases, CRM systems, cloud storage, social media feeds, and IoT data streams.

2. Design Data Access Architecture

Design a solution architecture that enables direct access to source data systems using technologies like data virtualization and data lakes.

3. Build Data Connectivity

Implement the designed architecture by establishing integrations with source systems, leveraging their native connectivity capabilities or platform APIs.

4. Create Unified Data Views

Use metadata mapping and data modeling methodologies to create an abstracted, unified view of data sources. This provides a single access point to query data.

5. Make Data Discoverable

Compile metadata in a data catalog to make the integrated data's availability, lineage, and meaning discoverable to users.

6. Provide Self-Service Access

Leverage capabilities like SQL interfaces, data visualization tools, notebooks, and custom applications to empower users with self-service access to integrated data.

7. Govern Data Access

To manage users' access to the data, implement role-based access, usage monitoring, and security controls aligned to governance policies. Adopting these practices can lead to a successful zero-ETL implementation, making unified data readily accessible for business insights.

Key Considerations for Zero-ETL

Like any technology strategy, zero-ETL comes with some key considerations. While Zero-ETL offers faster access to analytics-ready data, its effectiveness depends on several factors:

Heterogeneous Data Landscape

Zero-ETL works best when integrating varied data types like databases, files, streams, and cloud data. For homogenous sources like multiple relational databases, traditional ETL may still be preferable.

Data Governance Controls

Since data transformations are minimized, strong governance practices for security, privacy, and lifecycle management are critical.

Analytical vs Transactional Systems

Zero-ETL provides quick insights by directly querying source transaction systems. However, for certain heavy analytical workloads, staging a data warehouse may still be appropriate.

High-Performance Data Access

The connectivity and infrastructure powering access to source data must offer the throughput, concurrency, availability, and low latency needed for zero-ETL performance.

Skills Availability

Zero-ETL relies heavily on emerging data integration technologies. Ensure teams have skills in areas like virtualization, big data, and cloud architecture. While zero-ETL streamlines access to business insights from data, traditional ETL continues to retain value in certain cases. The decision between the approaches depends on the specific data environment, integration challenges, and analytical objectives.

Zero-ETL in Action: Programmatic Advertising

Consider a digital marketing platform that needs to optimize bidding on ad exchanges and targeting based on campaign performance data. Waiting days for batched ETL would result in missed opportunities. Zero-ETL integrates real-time data from ad networks, CRM, web analytics, and other systems, enabling faster optimization.

The implementation follows four key steps:

1. Streaming Data Ingestion

Ingest real-time streams of ad impressions, clicks, costs, and target audience events using Apache Kafka.

2. Storing Raw Data

Land streaming data in compressed, partitioned storage on cloud object stores for cost efficiency.

3. Providing Unified Access

Use a metastore catalog to abstract technical metadata and give SQL access to raw data.

4. Powering Analytics

Connect business intelligence tools directly to cataloged data sources to visualize and identify optimization opportunities. This zero-ETL approach delivers sub-second insights, maximizing advertising ROI through real-time monitoring and optimization.

The Bottom Line

Zero-ETL bypasses complex traditional ETL processes and directly enables analytics on raw source data. Modern data architecture patterns powered by data virtualization and data lake technologies eliminate delays in making diverse data readily available for business use.

Zero-ETL presents a versatile approach as organizations aim to accelerate insight velocity across heterogeneous and rapidly growing data landscapes. Using the concepts and best practices covered here, you can assess if zero-ETL aligns with your analytics objectives and begin adopting it to tap into the value of your data.

Peaka’s data integration platform can connect to any API. See our growing library of custom integrations.

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