Data pipelines are a series of data processing steps that enable the flow and transformation of raw data into valuable insights for businesses. These pipelines play a crucial role in the world of data engineering, as they help organizations to collect, clean, integrate and analyze vast amounts of information from various sources. Automating the processes of data engineering can ensure dependable and effective delivery of high-quality information to support decision making.

In this article:

Main types of data pipelines

Different kinds of data pipelines exist to accommodate diverse needs and objectives. Here are a few of the main types:

Batch processing pipelines

Batch processing pipelines process large quantities of data by gathering them into batches. These pipelines usually run on a schedule or are triggered manually, making them suitable for tasks that do not require real-time analysis. Batch processing is often employed in situations where historical data must be processed periodically or when computationally expensive operations are involved.

Real-time processing pipelines

Unlike batch processing, real-time processing pipelines process incoming data immediately as it arrives. This approach enables businesses to obtain instant insights from their data sources and respond swiftly to changing conditions or emerging trends. Real-time processing is important for applications such as fraud detection, social media monitoring, and IoT analytics.

Data streaming pipelines

Data streaming pipelines, also known as event-driven architectures, continuously process events generated by various sources, such as sensors or user interactions within an application. Stream processors process and analyze these events, and then either store them in databases or send them downstream for further analysis.

Data integration pipelines

Data integration pipelines concentrate on merging data from multiple sources into a single unified view. These pipelines often involve extract, transform, and load (ETL) processes that clean, enrich, or otherwise modify raw data before storing it in a centralized repository like a data warehouse or lake. Data integration pipelines are essential for handling disparate systems that generate incompatible formats or structures.

7 use cases and examples for data pipelines

Let’s review some common scenarios where data pipelines can be applied.

1. ETL (extract, transform and load) processes

An ETL process is a type of data pipeline that extracts raw information from source systems (such as databases or APIs), transforms it according to specific requirements (for example, aggregating values or converting formats) and then loads the transformed output into another system like a warehouse or database for further analysis. ETL processes allow businesses to store their historical records in an organized manner while making them easily accessible for future insights.

2. Data warehousing and analytics

To support effective decision-making within an organization, large volumes of historical and real-time transactional information must be stored in data warehouses. These repositories serve as central hubs where analysts can quickly query vast amounts of aggregated information without impacting the performance of operational systems. Data pipelines are responsible for ingesting, cleaning and transforming data from various sources into these warehouses while maintaining the required data quality.

3. Data science and machine learning

Data scientists heavily depend on high-quality datasets to train their machine learning models. These datasets often require extensive preprocessing, including feature extraction, normalization, encoding categorical variables and other tasks. Data pipelines play a vital role in automating these tasks, allowing machine learning practitioners to focus on model development rather than processing raw information.

4. E-commerce recommendation engine

Many e-commerce companies use recommendation engines to suggest products or services that customers might find appealing based on their browsing history, purchase history, and other factors. To achieve this, they require a robust data pipeline capable of ingesting user activity logs, product catalog information, customer profiles and more. The pipeline processes this raw data and ingests it to machine learning systems, such as collaborative filtering or content-based filtering, to generate personalized recommendations for each user.

5. Social media sentiment analysis

A marketing agency might use sentiment analysis techniques on social media platforms like X or Facebook to measure public opinion regarding specific brands or products. An efficient data pipeline is required for collecting tweets or posts mentioning the target keywords (for instance, brand names), preprocessing the text (removing stop words, stemming), performing sentiment classification using natural language processing models like LSTM or BERT, and then aggregating the results into actionable insights for decision-makers.

6. Fraud detection in financial transactions

Banks and financial institutions often rely on advanced analytics systems powered by complex data pipelines to detect fraudulent activities within transactional datasets. These pipelines typically involve ingesting real-time transaction records alongside historical fraud patterns, cleansing noisy or incomplete entries, extracting relevant features such as transaction amount, location, or time, training supervised machine learning models like decision trees, support vector machines, or neural networks to identify potential frauds and triggering alerts for suspicious transactions.

7. IoT data processing

IoT devices generate vast amounts of data that must be rapidly processed. For example, a smart city project might gather data from sensors monitoring traffic patterns, air quality levels, and energy consumption rates across the city. A scalable and efficient data pipeline is essential for ingesting this high-velocity streaming data, preprocessing it by filtering out irrelevant information or aggregating sensor readings over time intervals, applying analytics algorithms such as anomaly detection or predictive modeling on the preprocessed dataset and ultimately visualizing the data to provide insights to city officials.

Related content: Read our guide to data pipeline observability

See how IBM® Databand® provides data pipeline monitoring to quickly detect data incidents like failed jobs and runs so you can handle pipeline growth. If you’re ready to take a deeper look, book a demo today.

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