Data Insights

We forced a bot to understand the Data Nets debate so you don't have to (nobody does)

October 20, 2022
3 min read

The hottest data debate in years is upon us: Data Nets or Data Mesh?

The Data Elite had a meeting and voted

  • On one side, the proponents of Data Nets argue that this new approach to data management is the natural evolution of the data stack, and that it heralds the end of the modern data stack in favor of an AI-first data stack.
  • On the other side, those in favor of Data Mesh contend that this new trend is nothing more than a rehashing of old ideas with a few new bells and whistles. They countered that while Neural Nets and Generative AI might be good for some things, they weren't well suited for managing enterprise data at scale. And besides, they argued, training models on raw data was a recipe for disaster when it came to maintaining consistent results across different environments.

In this essay, we will explore both sides of the debate, and attempt to come to a conclusion about which approach is best suited for the needs of today's data teams.

What are Data Nets?

Data Nets are a new breed of data architecture that aim to take advantage of the latest advances in Neural Nets and Generative AI. 

The Four Fundamental Ideas of Data Nets:

  • Data is no longer restricted to a single source or format. Data Nets can easily ingest data from multiple sources and formats, including streaming data, and make it available for analysis without any human intervention.
  • Data can be automatically cleansed, transformed and aggregated as needed.
  • Neural networks can be used to automatically generate realistic data mocks for privacy, bootstrapping and testing purposes, eliminating the need for time-consuming, insecure and error-prone manual processes.
  • Outages and schema changes can be automatically detected and healed in real-time, ensuring that data is always accurate and up-to-date.

The implication of a fully AI-first Data Net architecture is that data engineering as we know it today will cease to exist. Data engineers will be replaced by AI-powered data pipelines that are able to automatically ingest, cleanse, transform, and aggregate data from multiple sources and formats. These data pipelines will also be able to automatically detect and recover from downtime or schema changes, minimizing the impact on business operations.

Data Nets are composed of two main components:

  • A data ingestion orchestrator (like Airbyte! hi!), which is responsible for collecting data from various sources and formats.
  • A neural net, which is trained on raw data in order to learn how to generate new data that conforms to the same statistical properties as the original dataset.

The advantages of Data Nets over traditional approaches are numerous:

  • Data Nets can be used to train models on raw data, meaning that they don't require any preprocessing or feature engineering. This makes them much more efficient than traditional methods, which can often take days or even weeks to process a dataset before training can begin.
  • Furthermore, because Data Nets only need to be trained once on a dataset, they can be reused across different environments without needing to retrain every time there are changes in the underlying distribution (e.g., when new users are added). This makes them much more robust than traditional methods, which often break down when faced with such changes.
  • Data Nets are also much more scalable than traditional approaches, as they can be easily distributed across multiple machines. This makes them well suited for training on large datasets, which would otherwise be prohibitively expensive with traditional methods.

The disadvantages of Data Nets are that they are still a relatively new technology and thus have not been battle-tested in production environments. Furthermore, because they rely on Neural Nets, which are themselves a black box algorithm, it can be difficult to understand and debug issues when

Data Nets vs. Data Mesh vs. Data Contract

Data Nets are the final nail in the coffin for the modern data stack. With data ingestion orchestrator, neural networks and generative AI all working together, Data Nets provide the most complete picture of what is possible with data today.

In contrast, Data Mesh and Data Contracts are both limited in their scope. Data Mesh only addresses the issue of how data is managed within an organization, while Data Contracts focus on defining the interface between different software components. Neither of these approaches take into account the advances made in artificial intelligence or how to best utilize data for predictive purposes.

  • Automated data pipelines: Data Nets make it possible to automatically set up and manage data pipelines with very little input from data engineers. This frees up time for data engineers to focus on more important tasks.
  • Tracking observability: Data Nets provide a complete picture of what is happening with data at all times, making it easier to identify issues and fix them before they cause problems.
  • Healing from outages and schema changes: Data Nets can automatically detect and recover from outages or schema changes, minimizing the impact on business operations.
  • Automated machine learning: With the help of neural networks and generative AI, Data Nets can automatically learn from data and improve over time.

When do you need a Data Net?

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not a Data Net is right for your organization. In general, a Data Net can be beneficial if you need to:

  • Ingest data from multiple sources and formats
  • Automate the creation and management of data pipelines
  • Monitor and improve the performance of data pipelines over time
  • Detect and recover from data downtime or schema changes in real-time
  • Generate realistic data mocks for testing purposes

Data Nets are also well suited for training on large datasets, which would be prohibitively expensive with traditional methods.

Some examples of when you might need a Data Net include:

  • When you are training a model on streaming data, such as video or sensor data.
  • When you need to make predictions in real-time, such as detecting fraud or identifying potential customers.
  • When you are working with a large dataset that would be too expensive to process with traditional methods.

What does a Data Net architecture look like?

A Data Net is a distributed data processing platform that uses neural networks and generative AI to automatically cleanse, transform, and aggregate data from multiple sources. Data Nets are designed to be highly scalable and fault-tolerant, making them ideal for use in mission-critical applications.

The 5 layers of Data Net architecture are:

  1. Ingestion layer: responsible for ingesting data from multiple sources and formats.
  2. Transformation layer: responsible for cleansing, transforming and aggregating data as needed.
  3. Neural network layer: responsible for generating realistic data mocks for testing purposes.
  4. Healing layer: responsible for detecting and healing downtime and schema changes in real-time.
  5. Machine learning layer: responsible for learning from data and improving over time.

So what is the controversy about?

Data Nets have been controversial for a number of reasons. Firstly, people have been critical of the Data Net approach, arguing that it fails to take into account the need for precision and flexibility when defining business metrics. Secondly, some data engineers have argued that the Data Net approach is too reliant on artificial intelligence and neural networks, which they believe are not yet mature enough technologies to be used in production data pipelines. Finally, there is concern that the use of generative AI could lead to unpredictable results and potentially introduce bias into data products.

The controversy is really because they represent a departure from the modern data stack, which has been relied upon for many years. Data Nets are a new way of managing and processing data, made possible by the confluence of data ingestion orchestrators, neural networks and generative AI. This new stack is more flexible and scalable than the traditional stack, but it also requires a different set of skills to manage effectively. As such, there has been some pushback from those who are comfortable with the status quo.

Data Nets could be the future of data management and offers several reasons why

  • Data Nets offer better performance than traditional data stacks. They are able to process data more quickly and efficiently thanks to their use of parallel processing and distributed computing.
  • Data Nets are more scalable than traditional data stacks. They can easily ingest large amounts of data from multiple sources without requiring significant upfront investment.
  • Data Nets provide complete observability into all aspects of the data lifecycle. This makes it easier to identify issues early on and take corrective action before problems arise.
  • Data Nets can automatically detect and recover from downtime or schema changes in real time, minimizing disruptions to business operations

The new Data Net architecture is a concern because it threatens to replace the existing data stack with something that is more AI-driven and less reliant on manual intervention. This would reduce the need for data engineers, because Data Nets could also automate many of the tasks that data engineers currently perform, such as cleansing and transforming data, aggregating data, and generating realistic mocks for testing purposes.

Main technological and cloud data warehousing trends

In this section, we'll take a look at some of the main trends enabling Data Nets and the AI-first data stack.

Data virtualization and data federation

Data virtualization is a technique that allows data from multiple sources to be accessed and combined as if it were all stored in a single location. This enables data consumers to access the data they need without having to worry about where it is physically located or how it is formatted.

Data federation is a related technique that allows data from multiple sources to be combined into a single logical view. This can be done using either physical or logical techniques. Physical federation involves replicating the data into a single location, while logical federation leaves the data in its original location and uses special software to combine it into a single view.

Both of these techniques are important for enabling Data Nets, as they allow data from multiple sources to be easily accessed and combined. This makes it possible to build complex applications that use data from many different places without having to worry about where the data is coming from or how it is organized.

Data orchestration

Data orchestration is the process of managing and coordinating data pipelines. It includes tasks such as extracting data from multiple sources, transforming it into the desired format, and loading it into a data warehouse or other target system.

Data orchestration is a critical part of any data engineering solution, as it ensures that data flows smoothly through the various stages of the pipeline. It also makes it possible to easily modify or add new steps to the pipeline as needed.

There are many different tools available for performing data orchestration, including Apache Airflow, Prefect, Dagster, and AWS Step Functions. Data Nets make use of these tools to automatically set up and manage complex data pipelines with very little input from data engineers. This frees up time for them to focus on more important tasks.

Neural networks and generative AI

Neural networks are a type of artificial intelligence that is inspired by the way the brain works. They are composed of a large number of interconnected processing nodes, or neurons, that can learn to recognize patterns of input data.

Generative AI is a type of AI that is focused on generating new data rather than just recognizing patterns in existing data. It can be used for tasks such as creating realistic mockups of data for testing purposes or generating new images from scratch.

Both neural networks and generative AI are important for Data Nets, as they allow complex applications to be automatically built and maintained with very little input from humans. This frees up time for data engineers to focus on more important tasks.

Everything you just read above was written by GPT-3

Swyx here. Last I checked, I am human. In case you somehow missed our blog title, this blog post was an artistic/joke exercise responding to a real-life Twitter meme that sprang up during Coalesce 2022 (prompted, lightly edited and formatted by humans, but otherwise entirely written by AI). Any references to companies and individuals are completely made up and not intended to reflect anything remotely close to reality.

However we did attempt to indulge this meme a little as a means of exploring the nature of data discourse between data practitioners and, for want of a better word, data thought leaders:

Data lakes, data swamps, data meshes, data contracts. The more concepts we invent, the more conceptual load we heap on the industry. It is all well intentioned, but the lack of clarity on what ideas apply to whom based on a 2 word analogy starting with “data” leads to a lot of confusion, which then leads to demand for content, which then leads to popularity, which then feeds the next round of debate. 

Brandolini’s law is often described: "The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than to produce it." Data jargon is not bullshit, because it usually comes from real problems, so we need a new term. 

We propose Catanzaro’s law:  "The amount of energy needed to define, compare, contrast, implement, and get real value out of new data paradigms in context of our people, processes, tools, and platforms is an order of magnitude larger than to merely coin them."

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