What is HDFS?

HDFS is a distributed file system that handles large data sets running on commodity hardware. It is used to scale a single Apache Hadoop cluster to hundreds (and even thousands) of nodes. HDFS is one of the major components of Apache Hadoop, the others being MapReduce and YARN. HDFS should not be confused with or replaced by Apache HBase, which is a column-oriented non-relational database management system that sits on top of HDFS and can better support real-time data needs with its in-memory processing engine.

The goals of HDFS

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Fast recovery from hardware failures

Because one HDFS instance may consist of thousands of servers, failure of at least one server is inevitable. HDFS has been built to detect faults and automatically recover quickly.

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Access to streaming data

HDFS is intended more for batch processing versus interactive use, so the emphasis in the design is for high data throughput rates, which accommodate streaming access to data sets.

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Accommodation of large data sets

HDFS accommodates applications that have data sets typically gigabytes to terabytes in size. HDFS provides high aggregate data bandwidth and can scale to hundreds of nodes in a single cluster.

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To facilitate adoption, HDFS is designed to be portable across multiple hardware platforms and to be compatible with a variety of underlying operating systems.

An example of HDFS

Consider a file that includes the phone numbers for everyone in the United States; the numbers for people with a last name starting with A might be stored on server 1, B on server 2, and so on.

With Hadoop, pieces of this phonebook would be stored across the cluster, and to reconstruct the entire phonebook, your program would need the blocks from every server in the cluster.

To ensure availability if and when a server fails, HDFS replicates these smaller pieces onto two additional servers by default. (The redundancy can be increased or decreased on a per-file basis or for a whole environment; for example, a development Hadoop cluster typically doesn’t need any data redundancy.) This redundancy offers multiple benefits, the most obvious being higher availability.

The redundancy also allows the Hadoop cluster to break up work into smaller chunks and run those jobs on all the servers in the cluster for better scalability. Finally, you gain the benefit of data locality, which is critical when working with large data sets.

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