Friday, December 2, 2022
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 flawed concerning the metrics layer and the place it matches within the trendy knowledge stack

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

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

We lined the whole lot from the fundamentals of a metrics layer and what individuals get flawed about it to real-life use circumstances and its place within the trendy knowledge stack.

Earlier than we start… WTF really is a metrics layer? At the moment metrics are sometimes break up throughout completely different knowledge 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 standard 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 it is a condensed, edited model of our dialogue. (Try the complete recording right here.)

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

Because it’s a brand new idea, there’s lots of confusion about what actually the metrics layer is. Drew and Nick minimize by way of the confusion with succinct definitions about creating a standard supply of reality for metrics.

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

Outline your metrics as soon as and reference them in all places in order that in case your metrics ever change, you get up to date outcomes in all places you have a look at knowledge.

Nick Handel: “The best way that I’ve defined it to household and people who find themselves completely out of the area is simply, companies have knowledge. They use that knowledge 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 answerable for measuring that knowledge) to outline these metrics, and make it simple for the remainder of the enterprise to devour that single right strategy to measure that knowledge.”

What’s the actual downside the metrics layer is trying 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 all types of various, attention-grabbing issues that we are able to do with knowledge, 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 attention-grabbing and helpful.

“Why does this matter? It’s purported to make that entire strategy 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 simple to provide the metric, and is it the best metric? And might you place 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 initiatives — what number of dbt initiatives had been run within the earlier seven days? Now we’re about 250 individuals and we’re measuring so many issues throughout the enterprise with plenty of new individuals round.”

We’re attempting to be sure 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. If you happen to get the best individuals collectively, you’ll be able to exactly outline a metric at that cut-off date. However inevitably your corporation 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 individuals 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 elements of the fashionable knowledge stack?

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

Nick: “The best way 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 will 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 setting (whether or not it’s a warehouse or only a compute engine on a knowledge 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 knowledge lake, resolve it into this quantitative object that I can then go and use in some evaluation. That features each broad methods of consuming knowledge (like a Python interface or GraphQL or a SQL interface) in addition to direct integrations (a instrument that builds a customized wrapper round a REST or GraphQL API and builds a extremely firstclass expertise).

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

Drew: “Simply to offer an alternate framing: We will consider it by way of the expertise for the one that needs to devour knowledge to reply some query or resolve some downside, after which additionally the individuals constructing the instruments the place these of us are consuming the information.

“It’s a bit of bit at odds with one another, as a result of the enterprise customers need to see the very same metric in each single instrument they usually need all of it to replace in actual time. So you have got this large community of various instruments that conceivably want to speak to one another. That’s a tough factor to arrange 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 the whole lot can interface with in an effort to get exact and constant definitions in each single instrument.

“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 really the information itself. It’s attributes of the information. That’s the data that may synchronize all these completely different instruments collectively round shared knowledge definitions.”

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

Nick and Drew shared that metadata is vital for understanding metrics as a result of corporations lose vital tribal information about knowledge outages and anomalies over time as workers modifications.

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

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

“At Airbnb, we tracked nights booked. It was vital from the very early days when BI was actually a printed-off graph that they placed on the wall, and it’s nonetheless crucial metric that the corporate talks about within the public earnings calls. If we had been monitoring vital metadata by way of time of what was occurring to that metric, there can be a wealth of data that the corporate might 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 knowledge evaluation and high quality.

Nick: “Airbnb had an enormous product launch, and completely different metrics spiked in all completely different instructions. At the moment, I’m unsure {that a} knowledge scientist at Airbnb might actually perceive what occurred. They’re attempting to make use of historic knowledge to grasp 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 so on.”

Drew: “There’s lots 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 individuals 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 a bit of 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 identical to, no, we didn’t accumulate the information.

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

What are the true use circumstances for a metrics layer?

Drew and Nick known as out lots of potential functions for the metrics layer — e.g. bettering BI and analytics for early-stage knowledge groups, serving to enterprise and knowledge individuals use knowledge fashions in the identical manner, and making worthwhile however time-consuming functions (like experimentation, forecasting, and anomaly detection) attainable for all corporations.

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

Many corporations on the market aren’t on the knowledge 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 resolve with knowledge.

“Casting our minds ahead, I feel that there could possibly be a ton of advantages to leveraging metrics for knowledge science use circumstances.

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

Nick: “I do partly agree with that. But additionally there are lots of knowledge 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 attainable. When you have an ecommerce retailer, individuals can browse it logged out. So that you attempt to dedupe customers and establish as customers log into gadgets. There’s an entire observe of attempting to determine which entities are utilizing your service. That’s actually vital for analytics as a result of it permits us to get a a lot clearer image. However you don’t need to do this for machine studying, as a result of that’s all data leakage and that can damage your fashions.

With machine studying, you attempt to get as near the uncooked knowledge units as attainable. 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 all the time take into consideration is experimentation. The rationale we constructed a metrics repo initially was experimentation.

“There have been 15–20 individuals on the information crew on the time. We had been attempting to run extra product experiments, and we had been doing the whole lot manually. It was actually time intensive to go and take task logs and metric definitions and be part of them collectively.

Principally, we wanted some programmatic strategy 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 consider each knowledge utility as having some value and a few profit — the extra you’ll be able to scale back the price of pursuing that utility, the extra clearly the justification turns into to pursue some new utility.

“I feel experimentation is one in every 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 admittedly exhausting.”

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

First, let’s discuss bundling vs unbundling. Ought to the metrics layer even be a separate layer, or ought to it’s a part of an present layer within the stack?

As with each debate within the knowledge ecosystem, we ended up simply answering, it relies upon. Drew and Nick defined that how we resolve this downside is finally extra vital than how we outline that answer.

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

“People who construct functions don’t give it some thought that manner. They’ve providers, and the providers can discuss to one another. Some are inside providers and a few are SaaS providers. It turns into a community of related instruments reasonably 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 significantly 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 massive 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’d see from a BI instrument, as a result of it’s probably not in a BI instrument’s curiosity to offer the layer to each different BI instrument — which is just like the factor that you really want from this.”

Nick: “I feel I typically agree with that.

Principally, individuals have issues, and corporations construct applied sciences to resolve issues. If individuals have issues and there’s a worthwhile expertise to construct, then I feel it’s value taking a shot and attempting to construct that expertise 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 accomplished a great 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 truly give them a job in one thing that, frankly, they’ve an enormous stake in? I feel that that’s one thing that’s not actually caught on this dialog across the metrics layer, or headless BI, or any of those completely different phrases. However it’s actually, actually vital.”

For a standard firm that already has a knowledge 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 reside between the information warehouse and BI instrument. Nonetheless, each BI instrument is completely different and a few are friendlier to this integration than others.

Nick: “The metrics layer sits on high 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 instrument–dependent. There are some BI instruments the place it is a very pure kind of factor to do, and others the place it’s really fairly unnatural.”

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

Nick and Drew defined that sluggish and regular wins the race whenever you aren’t ranging from scratch. As an alternative of planning an enormous overhaul, begin with one crew or instrument, combine a greater metrics layer, and check the way it works in your group.

Nick: “I’d advocate for not an enormous ‘change the whole lot all of sudden’. I’d advocate for, outline some metrics, push these by way of the APIs and integrations, construct one thing new, probably change one thing outdated that was exhausting to handle, after which go from there when you’ve seen the way it works and consider in that philosophy.”

Drew: “I’m with you. I feel one thing domain-driven makes lots of sense. You may validate it after which broaden. 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 in all places.”

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

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

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

“On the core, they’re each derived knowledge. However there are such a lot of nuances to constructing characteristic 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 knowledge repository or one thing like that sounds fantastic. However I simply don’t see it occurring within the brief time period.

Everybody needs options to be particular to their mannequin. No person needs metrics to be particular to their crew or their consumption. Individuals need metrics to be constant. Individuals need options to be distinctive and no matter advantages their mannequin.

“Actual-time versus batch — it is a tremendous difficult downside within the characteristic area. Organizational governance is manner vital for the metrics layer. The technical definitions are sometimes completely different. The extent of granularity is completely different for options — you go manner finer with options than you do metrics.”

Do you consider a caching layer is important for a metrics layer?

This was a powerful YES from each Drew and Nick. Caching makes the metrics layer quick, which is important for making certain that knowledge practitioners really use it. Nonetheless, it’s vital that this caching doesn’t replicate knowledge.

Drew: “I feel that the velocity with which you’ll be able to ask a query and get a solution again is admittedly important.

The distinction between one thing taking a minute plus to return again and never coming again in any respect is negligible in lots of circumstances. So, conceptually, I’m very aligned with the thought of caching metric knowledge and having the ability to serve it up actually shortly.

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

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

“I feel that there are two vital 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 actually 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 suppose that caching must occur outdoors of the cloud knowledge warehouse or the information lake. I feel that you should utilize these techniques. The replication of information, in my thoughts, is simply so pricey and so exhausting to handle.”

Lastly, should you had been handed a megaphone and will blast out a message for your entire knowledge world, what would you say?


There are lots of issues in knowledge you can resolve with expertise, however among the hardest and most vital ones you should resolve with conversations and folks and alignment and typically whiteboards. Figuring out which sort of downside you’re attempting to resolve at any given time goes that can assist you choose the correct of answer.


I feel the metrics layer is principally a semantic layer with a further idea of a metric, which is tremendous vital. So I’d 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 vital.

Facet notice: I’m personally tremendous enthusiastic about how a metrics layer can work together with an energetic metadata platform to supercharge information administration for knowledge groups. It’s been tremendous thrilling to see the metrics layer change into extra mainstream, which was a prediction I’d made firstly of this 12 months.

Be taught extra concerning the metrics layer and my six massive concepts within the knowledge world this 12 months.

Report: The Way forward for the Fashionable Knowledge Stack in 2022

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