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Data hub vs. data lake: Deciphering the differences

Data lakes and data hubs are approaches to data management that are typically opposed. Here are the main differences between these two storage options.

Companies have realized that the more data they gather, the better they can understand their customers and users. And the way a company stores its data can allow for a more balanced and intelligent view of its operations.

Two storage options are data lakes and data hubs. A data lake stores raw data similar to a regular lake, while a data hub is composed of a core storage system at its center with data in spokes reaching out to different areas.

There has been an ongoing debate on data hub vs. data lake and which is the best way to approach data gathering and storage. Though these are both common terms, differentiating between the two can still be a challenge.

Defining a data lake

A data lake is a centralized option in which all forms of data can be stored in a variety of ways. There is no need to translate data to a singular form, as a data lake can hold a vast amount of raw data in its original format.

Data lakes were created by companies because they understood the value of their data, said Hossein Rahnama, MIT machine intelligence professor and founder and CEO of Flybits. Bringing all that data together allows companies to better predict the needs of their customers and the needs of their business.

A data lake acts as a repository for data from all different parts of an organization. This makes data storage easier than other storage solutions, but can become a problem when it comes to drawing that data back out. In order to retrieve desired data from a data lake, it must be queried, and data lake users may struggle with accessibility. Highly technical skills are often required to find relevant information and draw conclusions from that data.

"Companies who are going to be successful leveraging their data lake are the ones who are also building a creative and interactive layer on top of that data lake so non-IT experts can also leverage data assets to build new capabilities," Rahnama said.

Establishing a data hub

A data hub can be thought of as a hub-and-spoke approach to storing and managing data. Data is physically moved and re-indexed into a new system. This provides more structure to the data and permits diverse business users to access information that they need more rapidly than in a data lake.

Data hubs are usually created as a joint effort between complimentary businesses, Rahnama said. It could be between a telecom operator, a bank and a supermarket, and they will all come together to share insights and elements of data.

Each spoke of this wheel would have access to some or all of the collective data gathered, depending on what they were looking to gain from it.

"The telecom operator may have a data cloud [storing] telecom information, the financial organization may have another cloud owning transaction data and the supermarket may have another data set," Rahnama said. "Now, these organizations have two options to create a data alliance or a data hub, they may agree to host their data in a centralized repository that can be accessible by all three of them."

This brings up concerns about privacy, as information collected by a bank could find its way to a completely different company. To ease these worries, it is critical for companies using data hubs to ask for user consent to sharing their data.

Data hub vs. data lake

Creating a data hub does not mean that data lake architecture is unavailable, however.

"A data hub, at the same time, may or may not use a data lake architecture," Rahnama said. "I can use a data lake with different stakeholders to participate in. Or I can completely decentralize it and leverage something like a blockchain or edge of the cloud or other decentralized mechanism to still form the alliance but in a decentralized way."

Giving numerous businesses access to a communal data lake would, for example, combine both a data lake and a data hub in one solution. This would increase the amount of participating companies but would do nothing to mitigate the accessibility of data lakes.

The debate between data lakes vs. data hubs isn't straightforward. With both filling different needs and having a combination as a possibility, the right data management approach boils down to company needs.

Dig Deeper on Database management systems (DBMS)

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