A Weather Dataset - Hadoop

MapReduce is a programming model for data processing. The model is simple, yet not too simple to express useful programs in. Hadoop can run MapReduce programs written in various languages; in this chapter, we shall look at the same program expressed in Java, Ruby, Python, and C++. Most important, MapReduce programs are inherently parallel, thus putting very large-scale data analysis into the hands of anyone with enough machines at their disposal. MapReduce comes into its own for large datasets, so let’s start by looking at one.

For our example, we will write a program that mines weather data. Weather sensors collecting data every hour at many locations across the globe gather a large volume of log data, which is a good candidate for analysis with MapReduce, since it is semistructured and record-oriented.

Data Format

The data we will use is from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC, http://www .ncdc.noaa.gov/). The data is stored using a line-oriented ASCII format, in which each line is a record. The format supports a rich set of meteorological elements, many of which are optional or with variable data lengths. For simplicity, we shall focus on the basic elements, such as temperature, which are always present and are of fixed width. Example shows a sample line with some of the salient fields highlighted. The line has been split into multiple lines to show each field: in the real file, fields are packed into one line with no delimiters.
Example . Format of a National Climate Data Center record:

Data files are organized by date and weather station. There is a directory for each year from 1901 to 2001, each containing a gzipped file for each weather station with its readings for that year. For example, here are the first entries for 1990:

% ls raw/1990 | head

Since there are tens of thousands of weather stations, the whole dataset is made up of a large number of relatively small files. It’s generally easier and more efficient to process a smaller number of relatively large files, so the data was preprocessed so that each year’s readings were concatenated into a single file.

Analyzing the Data with Unix Tools

What’s the highest recorded global temperature for each year in the dataset? We will answer this first without using Hadoop, as this information will provide a performance baseline, as well as a useful means to check our results.

The classic tool for processing line-oriented data is awk. Example is a small script to calculate the maximum temperature for each year.

Example A program for finding the maximum recorded temperature by year from NCDC weather

#!/usr/bin/env bash
for year in all/*
echo -ne `basename $year .gz`"t"
gunzip -c $year |
awk '{ temp = substr($0, 88, 5) + 0;
q = substr($0, 93, 1);
if (temp !=9999 && q ~ /[01459]/ && temp > max) max = temp }
END { print max }'

The script loops through the compressed year files, first printing the year, and then processing each file using awk. The awk script extracts two fields from the data: the air temperature and the quality code. The air temperature value is turned into an integer by adding 0. Next, a test is applied to see if the temperature is valid (the value 9999 signifies a missing value in the NCDC dataset) and if the quality code indicates that the reading is not suspect or erroneous. If the reading is OK, the value is compared with the maximum value seen so far, which is updated if a new maximum is found. The END block is executed after all the lines in the file have been processed, and it prints the maximum value.

Here is the beginning of a run:

The temperature values in the source file are scaled by a factor of 10, so this works out as a maximum temperature of 31.7°C for 1901 (there were very few readings at the beginning of the century, so this is plausible). The complete run for the century took 42 minutes in one run on a single EC2 High-CPU Extra Large Instance.

To speed up the processing, we need to run parts of the program in parallel. In theory, this is straightforward: we could process different years in different processes, using all the available hardware threads on a machine. There are a few problems with this, however.

First, dividing the work into equal-size pieces isn’t always easy or obvious. In this case, the file size for different years varies widely, so some processes will finish much earlier than others. Even if they pick up further work, the whole run is dominated by the longest file. A better approach, although one that requires more work, is to split the input into fixed-size chunks and assign each chunk to a process.

Second, combining the results from independent processes may need further processing. In this case, the result for each year is independent of other years and may be combined by concatenating all the results, and sorting by year. If using the fixed-size chunk approach, the combination is more delicate. For this example, data for a particular year will typically be split into several chunks, each processed independently. We’ll end up with the maximum temperature for each chunk, so the final step is to look for the highest of these maximums, for each year.

Third, you are still limited by the processing capacity of a single machine. If the best time you can achieve is 20 minutes with the number of processors you have, then that’s it. You can’t make it go faster. Also, some datasets grow beyond the capacity of a single machine. When we start using multiple machines, a whole host of other factors come into play, mainly falling in the category of coordination and reliability. Who runs the overall job? How do we deal with failed processes?

So, though it’s feasible to parallelize the processing, in practice it’s messy. Using a framework like Hadoop to take care of these issues is a great help.

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