What is Databricks Unity Catalog?

Data lineage, Data governance, Personal Information & Tags, Collaboration

What is Databricks Unity Catalog?

Databricks' Unity Data Catalog has generated a considerable amount of attention in the tech sphere and for good reason. Only a few people recognize that it had its General Availability release less than a year ago, in August 2022. From that point onward, it has become a favored option for existing Databricks users due to its flawless integration with other elements within the Databricks ecosystem.

But before getting into it let's understand the maker of Unity Catalog, Databricks.

Databricks, known for its relentless innovation, understands the intricacies involved in managing extensive data sets. This understanding drives them to consistently enhance their product offerings, empowering organizations with superior data handling capabilities.

At the core of this evolution is the Unity Data Catalog. But, what led Databricks to develop this tool? We operate in a world where everything we do digitally produces some kind of data. Due to this fact, the need for a sturdy, reliable system to govern and scrutinize colossal amounts of data is critical.

Identifying this gap, Databricks harnessed its extensive know-how, leading to the creation of the Unity Data Catalog. This tool is a testament to their commitment to simplifying complex data management. This article will take you through the features, capabilities, and technical architecture of the Unity Catalog, along with a brief history of its development at Databricks. Let’s dive right in.

Why Unity Data Catalog ?

Data lake governance is complicated. Once Databricks succeeded with a data platform’s data storage and processing aspect, they started investing their time in developing components for neglected areas - metadata management, data lineage and governance.

Although all cloud storage systems (e.g. S3, ADLS and GCS) offer security controls today, these tools are file-oriented and cloud-specific, both of which cause problems as organizations scale up. We’ve often seen customers run into four problems:

  • Data Governance designed based on data constraints: Because governance controls are at the file level, data teams must carefully structure their data layout to support the desired policies. For example, a team might partition data into different directories by country and give access to each directory to different groups. But what should the team do when governance rules change? If different states inside one country adopt different data regulations, the organization may need to restructure all its data.
  • Different Cloud, different interface & APIs: Cloud governance APIs such as IAM are unfamiliar to data professionals (e.g., database administrators), and different across clouds. Today, enterprises increasingly have to store data in multiple clouds, (e.g., to satisfy privacy regulations), so they need to be able to manage data across clouds.
  • No governance for exotic data files: Data lake governance APIs work for files in the lake, but modern enterprise workflows produce a wide range of other types of data assets. For example, SQL workflows often revolve around views, data science workloads produce ML models, and many workloads connect to data sources other than the lake (e.g., databases). In the modern compliance landscape, all of these assets need to be governed the same way if they contain sensitive data. Thus, data teams have to reimplement the same security policies in many different systems.
  • Fine-grained access control & security: Cloud data lakes can generally only set permissions at the file or directory level, making it hard to share just a subset of a table with particular users. This makes it tedious to onboard enterprise users who should not have access to the whole table. Databricks Unity enables fine-grained access at the row, column and view level.
Fine-grained permission at the row, column and view level. Image from Databricks Unity announcement.

What is Databricks Unity Catalog?

If you're wondering what the Unity catalog is, you're in the right place. The Unity catalog is a comprehensive collection of assets, tools, and resources for game development using the Unity game engine. It includes everything from 3D models and animations to audio and scripts, making it a valuable resource for game developers looking to enhance their projects. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced developer, the Unity catalog has something for everyone to take their games to the next level.

Metadata Management

Properly cataloging and managing metadata is crucial in a data lake. Without it, it can become a "data swamp" where users can't find or trust the data they need. Effective governance requires robust metadata management tools and processes.

Data Lineage

Data lineage within Databricks Unity.

One such challenge is understanding data lineage – the life cycle of data, including its origins, movements, characteristics, and quality. In large organizations, data moves through various systems and transformations, and understanding its lineage is crucial for data quality, trust, and compliance. However, tracking data lineage in a big data scenario can be daunting due to the sheer scale and complexity.

This is where the Unity Catalog shines. It records and visualizes data lineage, providing a clear picture of data journeys. This not only promotes data trust but also assists in impact analysis, audit trails, and troubleshooting data-related issues.

Data Governance

Redundancy and Inconsistency

Data redundancy and inconsistency are other significant hurdles. Data redundancy means having duplicate data in the database, which leads to unnecessary storage costs and can result in inconsistencies.

The Unity Catalog addresses these challenges head-on. Its unified platform reduces redundancy by providing a single source of truth for all data assets. This not only optimizes storage use but also ensures consistency and integrity of data.

Visibility Challenges

Lastly, big data often brings about visibility challenges. With data sprawled across various systems and locations, data exploration becomes difficult. It's like finding the right data at the right time becomes akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

The Unity Catalog, with its comprehensive data discovery capabilities, tackles this problem effectively. It offers a searchable, organized catalog of all data and AI assets, thereby significantly improving data visibility and accessibility.

Features and Architecture of Databricks Unity Catalog

Unity Catalog's Features

The Unity Catalog's meta store is a blend of data catalog features, each designed to ease the journey of data management, similar to other data catalogs offering like CastorDoc or Collibra.

Databricks Data Discovery

If you have ever worked with data, you know that locating data is a challenge. Every good data governance solution must have a way to easily search your data assets to not only search for the location of your data but also understanding what your data means (metadata). This will make the work of data analysts & data scientists much easier.

An essential attribute of any data system is the ability to discover and locate data quickly. With the surge of big data, this aspect has become increasingly crucial. The Unity Catalog provides advanced search capabilities, thereby enabling users to find data rapidly and efficiently.

Databricks Data Governance

"Define once, secure everywhere"
Unity Catalog offers a single place to administer data access policies that apply across all workspaces and personas.

Effective data governance is crucial to ensure compliance and build trust in data. The Unity Catalog offers a robust unified governance solution that provides an overview of the organization's data landscape. It captures detailed metadata and lineage information, allowing for a complete understanding of data history and transformations.

Unity Catalog has built-in auditing, which automatically captures user-level audit logs that record access to our data. Moreover, it enables defining access controls at granular levels, from account level to column level. This helps ensure that data is used responsibly and in accordance with regulations.

Databricks Data Sharing

"Standards-compliant security model"
Unity Catalog’s security model is based on standard ANSI SQL and allows administrators to grant permissions in their existing data lake using familiar syntax, at the level of catalogs, databases (also called schemas), tables, and views.

The Unity Catalog also facilitates efficient data sharing. With its Delta Sharing feature, it allows for the secure sharing of big data with any downstream data and analytics platform. This helps to break down silos and promotes collaborative data analysis.

Unity Catalog's Architecture

Unity Catalog can read and write data in your cloud tenant on behalf of your users. Image from Databricks.

The Unity Catalog cloud-native architecture provides a multitude of benefits.

Databricks Scalability and Flexibility

The Unity Catalog's cloud-native architecture is built to meet your data requirements. It does so regardless of its size or complexity. It enables smooth scaling to accommodate growing data volumes. Also, it can support various data types and sources, providing the flexibility to manage diverse data landscapes.

Databricks Unified Metastore Administration

The Unity Catalog's metastore admin provides a unified view across all Databricks workspaces. This means you can have consistent access to databases, tables, and other objects across multiple workspaces. It ensures no duplicate entries, thereby maintaining the accuracy of the data.

Databricks Integrated Access Management

The Unity Catalog lets you control access at two levels - workspace and account. Workspace level control helps manage access within single workspaces. On the other hand, account level control allows for managing permissions across all workspaces within a Databricks account.

It helps in merging these powerful features with an adaptable and scalable architecture. Because of this, the Databricks Unity Catalog provides organizations with the necessary tools to efficiently leverage their data.

This unique combination of features and architecture highlights the invaluable role the Unity Catalog plays in the realm of data management.

How Unity Catalog is Transforming Organizations?

The Unity Catalog doesn't just store data; it changes the way organizations interact with it. The tool increases productivity by reducing the time spent in locating and preparing data. It emphasizes compliance with its robust access controls and access to data management capabilities.

The Unity Catalog offers account-level access to ensure security, along with column-level access for SQL warehouses. By integrating Delta sharing, it makes sharing data more efficient. It enhances Databricks account management by providing a comprehensive view of all data assets, leading to improved decision-making.

Ultimately, Databricks Unity Catalog is more than just a tool. It's a transformative solution that tackles the most significant data management challenges. As we delve deeper into the digital age, solutions like the Unity Catalog are vital in leveraging the power of data.

The Future Of Unity Data Catalog and Beyond

Databricks' Unity Data Catalog represents a major leap in data management. It has the power to make data cataloging, discovery, and governance easier.

As we move forward, we can expect the Unity Data Catalog to keep evolving, introducing even more advanced features that will further transform how businesses manage data.

The Unity Data Catalog opens an exciting window into the future of data management. Its knack for streamlining and simplifying complex data tasks distinguishes it as a tool tailored to the dynamic needs of today's data landscape.

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