Tuesday, February 7, 2023
HomeBig DataWay forward for the Metrics Layer with Drew Banin (dbt) and Nick Handel...

Way forward for the Metrics Layer with Drew Banin (dbt) and Nick Handel (Rework) – Atlan

Sizzling takes on what we get fallacious concerning the metrics layer and the place it matches within the fashionable information stack

The metrics layer has been all the fad in 2022. It’s simply forming within the information stack, however I’m so excited to see it coming alive. Just lately dbt Labs included a metrics layer into their product, and Rework open-sourced MetricFlow (their metric creation framework).

Just a few weeks in the past, I used to be fortunate sufficient to talk concerning the metrics layer with two most prolific product thinkers within the house — Drew Banin (Co-founder of dbt Labs) and Nick Handel (Co-founder of Rework).

We lined every part from the fundamentals of a metrics layer and what folks get fallacious about it to real-life use instances and its place within the fashionable information stack.

Earlier than we start… WTF truly is a metrics layer? Right now metrics are sometimes break up throughout completely different information instruments, and completely different groups or dashboards find yourself utilizing completely different definitions for a similar metric. The metrics layer goals to repair this by creating a typical set of metrics and their definitions.

Drew and Nick dove extra into this definition, so let’s leap proper into all of their insights and fiery takes. We talked for over an hour, so this can be a condensed, edited model of our dialogue. (Try the total recording right here.)

How would you clarify the metrics layer to a newbie information analyst?

Because it’s a brand new idea, there’s a number of confusion about what actually the metrics layer is. Drew and Nick lower by means of the confusion with succinct definitions about creating a typical supply of reality for metrics.

Drew Banin: “The shortest model I can consider is…”

Outline your metrics as soon as and reference them all over the place in order that in case your metrics ever change, you get up to date outcomes all over the place you take a look at information.

Nick Handel: “The way in which that I’ve defined it to household and people who find themselves completely out of the house is simply, companies have information. They use that information to measure their operations. The purpose of this software program is principally to make it very easy for the information analysts (the people who find themselves chargeable for measuring that information) to outline these metrics, and make it straightforward for the remainder of the enterprise to eat that single right approach to measure that information.”

What’s the actual downside the metrics layer is seeking to resolve?

Nick and Drew defined that the metrics layer is motivated by two key concepts: precision and belief.

Nick: “I feel we’re all fairly satisfied concerning the worth of information. We’ve got all types of various, fascinating issues that we are able to do with information, and the price of doing these issues is pretty excessive. There’s a bunch of labor to get the information into the place the place we are able to go and do something that’s actually fascinating and helpful.

“Why does this matter? It’s presupposed to make that entire means of getting the information prepared for that supply of worth a lot simpler and in addition extra reliable.”

It comes right down to these two issues: productiveness and belief. Is it straightforward to provide the metric, and is it the fitting metric? And may you set it into no matter utility you’re attempting to serve?

Drew: “That’s actually good framing. I simply look inwards at our group. The very first metric we ever created was weekly energetic tasks — what number of dbt tasks had been run within the earlier seven days? Now we’re about 250 folks and we’re measuring so many issues throughout the enterprise with numerous new folks round.”

We’re attempting to ensure that when somebody says ‘weekly energetic accounts’ or ‘MRR’ or ‘MRR break up by handle versus self-service’, all of us imply precisely the identical factor.

Drew and Nick additionally emphasised change administration as each a significant problem and use case for the metrics layer.

Drew: “I feel a lot concerning the change administration a part of it. In the event you get the fitting folks collectively, you may exactly outline a metric at that time limit. However inevitably your online business or product will evolve. How do you retain it in sync in perpetuity? That’s the exhausting half.”

Nick: “I actually agree with that. Particularly if change administration is occurring when there are only some folks within the room, and different people who find themselves relying on the identical metrics weren’t part of that dialog.”

How ought to we take into consideration the metrics layer, and the way ought to it interaction with different parts of the fashionable information stack?

Nick broke the metrics layer down into 4 key parts (semantics, efficiency, querying, and governance), whereas Drew centered on its position as a community connecting a various set of information instruments.

Nick: “The way in which that I take into consideration the metrics layer is principally 4 items. There are the semantics: How do I am going and outline this metric? This may vary from ‘Right here’s a SQL snippet’ or ‘That is the definition of the metric’ to a full semantic layer that has entities and measures and dimensions and relations.

“Then there’s efficiency. Nice, now I’ve this semantic mannequin. How do I am going and construct logic in opposition to it, executed in opposition to some compute surroundings (whether or not it’s a warehouse or only a compute engine on an information lake)?

“Then there’s, how do I question this factor? What are the interfaces that I take advantage of to tug it out of the information warehouse or information lake, resolve it into this quantitative object that I can then go and use in some evaluation. That features each broad methods of consuming information (like a Python interface or GraphQL or a SQL interface) in addition to direct integrations (a device that builds a customized wrapper round a REST or GraphQL API and builds a very firstclass expertise).

“Then the final piece is governance. There’s organizational governance and technical governance. Organizational governance that means, does the finance chief agree on the human-understandable definition of income in the identical approach that the technical one that’s defining the logic defines that code?”

Drew: “Simply to supply an alternate framing: We will consider it by way of the expertise for the one that desires to eat information to reply some query or resolve some downside, after which additionally the folks constructing the instruments the place these people are consuming the information.

“It’s just a little bit at odds with one another, as a result of the enterprise customers wish to see the very same metric in each single device they usually need all of it to replace in actual time. So you will have this large community of various instruments that conceivably want to speak to one another. That’s a tough factor to prepare and make occur in observe.

That’s why the concept that we name this the ‘metrics layer’ is sensible. It’s a single abstraction layer that every part can interface with so to get exact and constant definitions in each single device.

“To me, that’s the place metadata actually shines. Like, that is the metric, that is the way it’s outlined, that is its provenance, right here’s the place it’s used. This isn’t truly the information itself. It’s attributes of the information. That’s the knowledge that may synchronize all these completely different instruments collectively round shared information definitions.”

What metadata ought to we be monitoring about our metrics, and why?

Nick and Drew shared that metadata is essential for understanding metrics as a result of corporations lose necessary tribal data about information outages and anomalies over time as employees modifications.

Nick: “The metric is without doubt one of the most constant objects in a corporation’s life.

Merchandise change, tables change, every part modifications. Even the definitions of those metrics evolve. However most companies find yourself monitoring the identical North Star metrics from the very early days. In the event you can connect metadata to it, that’s extremely worthwhile.

“At Airbnb, we tracked nights booked. It was necessary from the very early days when BI was actually a printed-off graph that they placed on the wall, and it’s nonetheless an important metric that the corporate talks about within the public earnings calls. If we had been monitoring necessary metadata by means of time of what was occurring to that metric, there can be a wealth of information that the corporate may use.”

They defined that these modifications are why it’s essential for the metrics layer to work together with each the information layer and the enterprise layer — to seize context that impacts information evaluation and high quality.

Nick: “Airbnb had an enormous product launch, and completely different metrics spiked in all completely different instructions. Right now, I’m unsure {that a} information scientist at Airbnb may actually perceive what occurred. They’re attempting to make use of historic information to know issues, they usually simply don’t have that context. If something, they actually solely have context for the final two or three years, when there was someone who’s within the enterprise who remembers what occurred, who did the evaluation, and many others.”

Drew: “There’s a number of this that finally ends up being technical — by way of how instruments combine with one another, and the way you outline the metrics and model them. However a lot of it’s certainly the social and enterprise context.

In observe, the folks which have been round for the longest time have essentially the most context and possibly know greater than any of our precise techniques do.

“We had a interval the place we had just a little bit of information loss for some occasions we had been monitoring. It seemed like, I feel it was, Could 2021 was the worst month ever. However actually it was similar to, no, we didn’t accumulate the information.

“How would you already know that? The place does that data stay? Is it a property of the supply dataset that propagates by means of to the metrics? Who’s chargeable for encoding that?”

What are the true use instances for a metrics layer?

Drew and Nick known as out a number of potential functions for the metrics layer — e.g. enhancing BI and analytics for early-stage information groups, serving to enterprise and information folks use information fashions in the identical approach, and making worthwhile however time-consuming functions (like experimentation, forecasting, and anomaly detection) potential for all corporations.

Drew: “I feel among the use instances round BI and analytics are essentially the most clear, apparent, and current for lots of corporations.

Many corporations on the market will not be on the information science and machine studying a part of their journeys but. Issues that make enterprise intelligence and reporting higher (extra exact and extra constant) cowl 90% of the issues that they’re attempting to unravel with information.

“Casting our minds ahead, I feel that there might be a ton of advantages to leveraging metrics for information science use instances.

“Particularly, one of many issues that we’ve seen folks do with dbt that was actually formative for me — they might construct these information fashions after which use them each for BI reporting and in addition to energy information science functions and modeling. The truth that the information scientist and the BI analysts are utilizing the identical information units signifies that it’s much more seemingly that they’re consuming the identical information in the identical approach. Whenever you prolong it to metrics, there’s like a very pure approach to make that occur too.”

Nick: “I do partly agree with that. But additionally there are a number of information science and machine studying functions that require very completely different datasets than what a metric retailer produces.

“In analytics functions, you attempt to embody as a lot related data as potential. When you have an ecommerce retailer, folks can browse it logged out. So that you attempt to dedupe customers and establish as customers log into units. There’s an entire observe of attempting to determine which entities are utilizing your service. That’s actually necessary for analytics as a result of it permits us to get a a lot clearer image. However you don’t wish to do this for machine studying, as a result of that’s all data leakage and that may smash your fashions.

With machine studying, you attempt to get as near the uncooked information units as potential. With analytical functions, you attempt to course of that data into the clearest and finest image of the world.

“One of many functions that I at all times take into consideration is experimentation. The rationale we constructed a metrics repo initially was experimentation.

“There have been 15–20 folks on the information workforce on the time. We had been attempting to run extra product experiments, and we had been doing every part manually. It was actually time intensive to go and take project logs and metric definitions and be a part of them collectively.

Mainly, we would have liked some programmatic approach to go and assemble metrics. It’s a massively worthwhile utility for corporations that do it, however only a few corporations have the infrastructure or construct the tooling to do that. I feel that that’s actually unlucky. And it’s in all probability the factor that I’m most excited concerning the metrics layer.

“If you concentrate on each information utility as having some price and a few profit — the extra you may cut back the price of pursuing that utility, the extra clearly the justification turns into to pursue some new utility.

“I feel experimentation is considered one of these examples. I additionally take into consideration anomaly detection or forecasting. These are issues that I feel most corporations don’t do — not as a result of they’re not worthwhile, however simply because producing the datasets to even get began on these functions is actually exhausting.”

Let’s leap into some questions concerning the metric layer and the fashionable information stack.

First, let’s speak bundling vs unbundling. Ought to the metrics layer even be a separate layer, or ought to or not it’s a part of an current layer within the stack?

As with each debate within the information ecosystem, we ended up simply answering, it relies upon. Drew and Nick defined that how we resolve this downside is in the end extra necessary than how we outline that resolution.

Drew: “I’m not in love with the way in which that we as an ecosystem speak about new instruments as being layers, just like the lacking layer of the information stack. That’s the fallacious framing.

“Those who construct functions don’t give it some thought that approach. They’ve providers, and the providers can speak to one another. Some are inside providers and a few are SaaS providers. It turns into a community of related instruments relatively than precisely, say, 4 layers. Nobody runs an utility anymore with precisely the Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (LAMP) stack, proper? We’re previous that.

The phrase ‘layer’ is sensible solely insofar because it’s a layer of abstraction. However in any other case, I reject the terminology, though I can’t consider something too a lot better than that.

“The very last thing I’m going to say on bundling and unbundling… For this factor to work, it does must be an middleman between a really huge community of various instruments. Treating it as a boundary like that motivates which instruments can construct it and supply it. It’s not one thing you’ll see from a BI device, as a result of it’s not likely in a BI device’s curiosity to supply the layer to each different BI device — which is just like the factor that you really want from this.”

Nick: “I feel I typically agree with that.

Mainly, folks have issues, and firms construct applied sciences to unravel issues. If folks have issues and there’s a worthwhile know-how to construct, then I feel it’s price taking a shot and attempting to construct that know-how and voicing these opinions.

“Finally, I feel that there are good factors there of the connection to completely different organizational workflows. This isn’t one thing that I feel we’ve achieved job of explaining, however I feel that the metrics retailer and the metrics layer are two completely different ideas.

“The metrics retailer extends the metrics layer to incorporate this piece of organizational governance — how do you get a bunch of various enterprise customers concerned on this dialog, and really give them a task in one thing that, frankly, they’ve an enormous stake in? I feel that that’s one thing that isn’t actually caught on this dialog across the metrics layer, or headless BI, or any of those completely different phrases. But it surely’s actually, actually necessary.”

For a standard firm that already has an information warehouse and BI layer, the place does the metrics layer match into their stack?

Once more, the reply is that it relies upon — sigh. The metrics layer would stay between the information warehouse and BI device. Nonetheless, each BI device is completely different and a few are friendlier to this integration than others.

Nick: “The metrics layer sits on prime of the information warehouse and principally wraps it with semantic data. It then permits completely different endpoints to be consumed from and principally pushes metrics to these completely different locations, whether or not they’re generic or direct integrations to these instruments.”

Drew: “It finally ends up being very BI device–dependent. There are some BI instruments the place this can be a very pure sort of factor to do, and others the place it’s truly fairly unnatural.”

If an organization has already outlined a ton of metrics inside their BI device, what ought to they do?

Nick and Drew defined that sluggish and regular wins the race whenever you aren’t ranging from scratch. As a substitute of planning an enormous overhaul, begin with one workforce or device, combine a greater metrics layer, and take a look at the way it works to your group.

Nick: “I might advocate for not an enormous ‘change every part abruptly’. I might advocate for, outline some metrics, push these by means of the APIs and integrations, construct one thing new, doubtlessly substitute one thing outdated that was exhausting to handle, after which go from there when you’ve seen the way it works and imagine in that philosophy.”

Drew: “I’m with you. I feel one thing domain-driven makes a number of sense. You’ll be able to validate it after which increase. I’d in all probability begin with… it is determined by your tolerance, however the government dashboard that goes to the CEO. Is that the most effective place to kick the tires? Perhaps not. But when it really works there, it’ll work all over the place.”

Can’t a metrics layer simply be a part of a function retailer?

Since Nick has constructed a number of function shops and metrics layers, he had a powerful opinion on this subject — whereas the metrics layer and options retailer are comparable, they’re too essentially completely different to merge proper now.

Nick: “I’ve a very robust opinion about this one as a result of I’ve constructed two function shops and three metrics layers. These two issues are completely completely different.

“On the core, they’re each derived information. However there are such a lot of nuances to constructing function shops and so many nuances to constructing metric shops. I’m not saying that these two issues won’t ever merge — the thought of a derived information repository or one thing like that sounds fantastic. However I simply don’t see it occurring within the quick time period.

Everybody desires options to be particular to their mannequin. No person desires metrics to be particular to their workforce or their consumption. Folks need metrics to be constant. Folks need options to be distinctive and no matter advantages their mannequin.

“Actual-time versus batch — this can be a tremendous difficult downside within the function house. Organizational governance is approach necessary for the metrics layer. The technical definitions are sometimes completely different. The extent of granularity is completely different for options — you go approach finer with options than you do metrics.”

Do you imagine a caching layer is essential for a metrics layer?

This was a convincing YES from each Drew and Nick. Caching makes the metrics layer quick, which is essential for making certain that information practitioners truly use it. Nonetheless, it’s necessary that this caching doesn’t replicate information.

Drew: “I feel that the velocity with which you’ll ask a query and get a solution again is actually essential.

The distinction between one thing taking a minute plus to come back again and never coming again in any respect is negligible in a number of instances. So, conceptually, I’m very aligned with the thought of caching metric information and with the ability to serve it up actually rapidly.

“I’ll simply say — and I feel we’ve been open about this up to now — we in all probability gained’t do this for V1 of metrics inside dbt. However conceptually, I’m fairly aligned with that being an necessary a part of the system long-term.”

Nick: “Caching is tremendous necessary. Efficiency issues a ton, particularly to enterprise customers. Even 10 seconds is lower than an excellent expertise.

“I feel that there are two necessary nuances to caching. One is, what do I do know forward of time that I need, and the way do I pre-compute that and make that basically snappy? After which if I do compute one thing, how do I then reuse it in order that it’s quick subsequent time? I feel that’s the level of a caching layer.

“The opposite one is, I don’t assume that caching must occur outdoors of the cloud information warehouse or the information lake. I feel that you need to use these techniques. The replication of information, in my thoughts, is simply so expensive and so exhausting to handle.”

Lastly, in case you had been handed a megaphone and will blast out a message for your complete information world, what would you say?


There are a number of issues in information that you could resolve with know-how, however among the hardest and most necessary ones you need to resolve with conversations and folks and alignment and typically whiteboards. Figuring out which form of downside you’re attempting to unravel at any given time goes that can assist you decide the proper of resolution.


I feel the metrics layer is principally a semantic layer with an extra idea of a metric, which is tremendous necessary. So I might simply say, the metrics layer ought to be backed by a general-purpose semantic layer. The spec and the definition of that semantic layer and the abstractions is so unbelievably necessary.

Facet be aware: I’m personally tremendous enthusiastic about how a metrics layer can work together with an energetic metadata platform to supercharge data administration for information groups. It’s been tremendous thrilling to see the metrics layer turn into extra mainstream, which was a prediction I’d made in the beginning of this yr.

Study extra concerning the metrics layer and my six huge concepts within the information world this yr.

Report: The Way forward for the Trendy Information Stack in 2022

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