Optimizing Data Lakes – Techniques for Real-Time Ingestion

Real-Time Data Ingestion
Data Lake Architecture
Apache Kafka
Stream Processing
Data Management Best Practices
by Pawel P
April 2, 2024
High-Speed Train
High-Speed Train

Navigating the Data Stream

Nowadays, data lakes have become the main tool for storing vast amounts of information, providing a flexible and scalable architecture that can accommodate the diverse and dynamic nature of modern datasets. As businesses become more and more data-driven, the ability to ingest data in real time into these repositories is often a necessity, especially for applications requiring immediate data analysis and action, like monitoring financial transactions for fraud detection or updating live dashboards.

However, the journey of real-time data ingestion into data lakes is full of challenges. The sheer volume, velocity, and variety of data generated by modern digital activities can overwhelm traditional data management systems. Furthermore, ensuring the integrity, reliability, and security of this data as it flows into a data lake requires sophisticated strategies and solutions.

This article deep dives into the world of real-time data ingestion, exploring the techniques and tools that make it possible to efficiently channel streaming data into data lakes. From stream processing frameworks to change data capture (CDC) mechanisms and API-driven integrations, we will touch technologies that are driving this transformation. 

It's essential to understand that mastering real-time data ingestion is not just adopting new technologies; it actually requires rethinking how we approach data architecture to unlock the full potential of real-time analytics. Real-time data ingestion is about processing data instantly as it arrives, contrasting sharply with the batch processing model, where data is collected over a period and processed in large chunks. 

What Is Real-Time Data Ingestion?

Real-time ingestion means taking data directly as it's generated and immediately making it available for processing and analysis. It's a key component for systems needing to act on current data, not data that's hours or days old. This method suits applications that rely on the freshest data to make decisions, manage operations, or provide real-time user experiences.

The Difference Between Real-Time and Batch Processing

Batch processing can be compared to doing laundry in large loads on a weekend – efficient but not immediate. Real-time processing, however, is like washing dishes as soon as you're done using them, keeping the kitchen ready for action at any moment.

For example, consider a retail website tracking user actions to provide live recommendations. With batch processing, recommendations might be based on yesterday's data. Real-time ingestion allows for suggestions based on actions taken just seconds ago.

The Importance of Real-Time Ingestion

Real-time data ingestion is critical for:

Quick Decision Making: Financial trading platforms use real-time data to execute trades at the best possible prices.

Operational Efficiency: Manufacturing sensors can detect and report issues instantly, reducing downtime.

Personalized Customer Interactions: E-commerce platforms analyze browsing behavior in real time to offer personalized deals.

Challenges of Real-Time Data Ingestion

Implementing real-time data ingestion comes with its challenges, including managing the high velocity and volume of data, ensuring data quality, and integrating real-time streams with existing systems. Effective solutions require robust infrastructure and tools designed for streaming data.

Techniques for Real-Time Data Ingestion into Data Lakes

Real-time data ingestion into data lakes involves several key techniques, each suited to different aspects of the data flow and processing requirements. These techniques ensure that data streams continuously and is efficiently stored and made queryable within data lakes.

Stream Processing

Stream processing is a fundamental technique for real-time data ingestion. It's essential for filtering, aggregating, and transforming data on-the-fly before it lands in the data lake. Technologies like Apache Kafka Streams and Apache Flink are popular for this purpose, offering high-throughput, low-latency processing capabilities.

Apache Kafka Streams is a client library for building applications and microservices that process and analyze data stored in Kafka. It enables stateful and stateless transformations on real-time data.

Apache Flink excels in complex event processing, providing capabilities for time-windowed operations and pattern detection in data streams.

Log-Based Change Data Capture (CDC)

Change Data Capture (CDC) is crucial for real-time ingestion, especially when integrating changes from databases into data lakes. CDC tools like Debezium capture row-level changes in databases in real time and publish them to a messaging system like Apache Kafka, from where they can be streamed into the data lake.

This technique is particularly useful for keeping data lakes synchronized with operational databases without impacting their performance. It enables analytics on near-real-time data, reflecting the most current state of business operations.

API-Based Ingestion

API-based ingestion is another technique for real-time data flow, especially from SaaS platforms and external services. This method involves pulling data from APIs and pushing it into the data lake in real time. It's applicable for scenarios where data sources expose RESTful APIs or webhooks for data access.

Tools like Apache NiFi can orchestrate API-based ingestion, providing a graphical interface for designing data flow pipelines. These tools also offer processors and connectors for various APIs, simplifying the integration of diverse data sources into the data lake.

Message Queueing Systems

Message queueing systems, such as RabbitMQ and Amazon SQS, enable  decoupling the production of data from its consumption. They act as an intermediary buffer, ensuring that data producers do not overwhelm the systems responsible for processing and ingesting the data into the data lake.

These systems are particularly useful in managing spikes in data volume, providing a mechanism to ensure that all data is eventually processed and ingested without loss, even during peak loads.

Examples of Tools for Real-Time Ingestion

Several tools help facilitate real-time data ingestion into data lakes. These tools streamline the process and censure data integrity, manageability, and scalability. Let’s look at some popular open source tools.

Apache Kafka

Apache Kafka is a distributed streaming platform enabling real-time data ingestion. It's designed to handle high volumes of data and allows for the publishing, subscribing, and processing of streams of records in real-time.

Setting up Kafka is relatively straightforward, however requires some experience for potential troubleshooting. Here is an example:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 bash # Step 1: Download and extract Kafka wget https://downloads.apache.org/kafka/2.8.0/kafka_2.13-2.8.0.tgz tar -xzf kafka_2.13-2.8.0.tgz cd kafka_2.13-2.8.0 # Step 2: Start the Kafka environment # Start the ZooKeeper service bin/zookeeper-server-start.sh config/zookeeper.properties # In a new terminal, start the Kafka broker service bin/kafka-server-start.sh config/server.properties

After setting up Kafka, you can create a topic and start producing and consuming messages as demonstrated in the previous Kafka example.

Apache Nifi

Apache NiFi supports powerful and scalable directed graphs of data routing, transformation, and system mediation logic. It's useful for managing data ingestion workflows, including real-time streams into data lakes. Setting up NiFi requires three steps:

  1. Download and Install Apache NiFi:

  • Go to the Apache NiFi download page and download the latest version.

  • Extract the NiFi archive and navigate to the NiFi directory.

  1. Start NiFi:

1 2 3 bash ./bin/nifi.sh start
  • Access the NiFi web interface at http://localhost:8080/nifi/

  1. Create a Data Flow:

  • Use the NiFi web UI to drag and drop processors and configure them to ingest data into your data lake.


Debezium is an open-source CDC platform that streams database changes into Kafka and other data systems in real-time, making it ideal for synchronizing databases with data lakes. Example Configuration for Debezium with MySQL requires following steps:

  1. Start ZooKeeper, Kafka, and Kafka Connect:

  • Assume ZooKeeper and Kafka are running as per the previous setup.

  • Start Kafka Connect with the Debezium connector for MySQL.

  1. Configure the Debezium Connector:

  • Create a JSON file mysql-connector.json with the configuration for monitoring a MySQL database.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 {   "name": "mysql-connector",   "config": {     "connector.class": "io.debezium.connector.mysql.MySqlConnector",     "tasks.max": "1",     "database.hostname": "localhost",     "database.port": "3306",     "database.user": "dbuser",     "database.password": "dbpassword",     "database.server.id": "184054",     "database.server.name": "dbserver1",     "database.whitelist": "mydatabase",     "database.history.kafka.bootstrap.servers": "localhost:9092",     "database.history.kafka.topic": "schema-changes.mydatabase"   } }
  • Deploy the connector by posting this configuration to Kafka Connect's REST API.

Best Practices for Real-Time Data Lake Ingestion

Implementing real-time data lake ingestion effectively requires more than just the right tools. It demands a strategic approach to data management that ensures data quality, system scalability, and operational efficiency. Below, we are presenting some best practices to consider.

Ensure Data Quality at Source

Validation: Implement real-time validation rules to catch and correct errors as data is ingested. This might include checks for data formats, ranges, or missing values.

Enrichment: Enhance data quality by enriching it with additional context or metadata as it's ingested, improving its usefulness for analytics.

Manage Schema Evolution

Data schemas can evolve over time. Use schema registry tools like Confluent Schema Registry with Kafka to manage schema versions and ensure compatibility across different parts of your system.

Plan for changes by implementing flexible data models in your data lake that can accommodate new fields or data types without breaking existing analytics applications.

Optimize for Performance and Scalability

Partitioning: Use partitioning strategies in your data lake to organize data into manageable chunks. This can significantly speed up query times and make it easier to manage data at scale.

Indexing: Implement indexing on frequently accessed data to improve the performance of read operations.

Load Balancing: Distribute the data ingestion load evenly across your infrastructure to prevent bottlenecks and ensure reliable performance.

Ensure Data Security

Encryption: Encrypt data both in transit and at rest to protect sensitive information from unauthorized access.

Access Controls: Implement fine-grained access controls to ensure that only authorized users and systems can read or modify data.

Auditing: Keep detailed logs of data access and changes to support compliance efforts and audit requirements.

Implement Monitoring and Alerting

Monitoring: Use monitoring tools to keep an eye on system health, performance metrics, and ingestion pipelines. This can help you identify and address issues before they impact data quality or availability.

Alerting: Set up alerts based on thresholds for performance metrics or error rates to quickly respond to potential problems.

Automate Data Lifecycle Management

Data Retention Policies: Define and enforce data retention policies to automatically archive or delete old data that's no longer needed, helping to manage storage costs and compliance.

Compaction: Regularly compact data in your data lake to reduce storage footprint and improve query performance.

Practical Example: Optimizing Kafka for Real-Time Ingestion

Optimizing your Kafka setup is crucial for effective real-time data ingestion. Here's an example of configuring Kafka producer settings for high throughput and low latency:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Java Properties props = new Properties(); props.put("bootstrap.servers", "localhost:9092"); props.put("acks", "all"); props.put("retries", 0); props.put("batch.size", 16384); props.put("linger.ms", 1); props.put("buffer.memory", 33554432); props.put("key.serializer", "org.apache.kafka.common.serialization.StringSerializer"); props.put("value.serializer", "org.apache.kafka.common.serialization.StringSerializer"); Producer<String, String> producer = new KafkaProducer<>(props);

acks: Setting to "all" ensures that data is written to all replicas before an acknowledgment is received, maximizing data durability.

batch.size and linger.ms: These settings allow Kafka to batch together more records for each request to improve throughput. Adjusting these can help balance between latency and throughput based on your requirements.

By adhering to these best practices and optimizing your ingestion tools, you can build a robust real-time data ingestion pipeline that supports scalable, secure, and efficient data lake operations.


Real-time data ingestion into data lakes becomes more and more important with rapid development of applications requiring real-time analytics and decision making. By carefully selecting the right approaches, tools, and adhering to best practices, companies can significantly improve how they handle and benefit from their data in real time.

The shift towards real-time data processing is more than just a technical upgrade – it's a strategic move that enhances how businesses operate, interact with customers, and stay ahead in the market. It's about making sure that the vast amounts of data generated every moment are turned into valuable insights as quickly as possible.

As technology continues to advance, especially with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning, the ability to process data in real time will become even more crucial. This capability will serve as a major competitive edge, allowing businesses to react instantly to changes, understand customer behavior better, and optimize operations on the fly.

Despite your business just starting to build its product or scaling it up, real time data ingestion requires careful architectural decisions. If your team doesn’t have capabilities on how to do it, consider partnering and taking advice from experienced experts.