Home / Blogs / Data Ingestion – Definition, Challenges, and Best Practices

Table of Content
The Automated, No-Code Data Stack

Learn how Astera Data Stack can simplify and streamline your enterprise’s data management.

Data Ingestion – Definition, Challenges, and Best Practices

April 2nd, 2024

Organizations today rely heavily on data for predicting trends, forecasting, planning for future requirements, understanding consumers, and making business decisions. To accomplish these tasks, it is essential to get fast access to enterprise data in one place. This is where data ingestion comes in handy. But what is it?

Data Ingestion

Data Ingestion

What is Data Ingestion?

Data ingestion is the process of obtaining and importing data from various sources and transferring it to a target database where it can be stored and analyzed. Depending on the business needs and infrastructure, this data movement can be in batches or real-time.

The destination system can be a database, data warehouse, data lake, data mart, etc. On the other hand, data sources could include spreadsheets, web data extraction or web scrapping, in-house apps, and SaaS data.

Enterprise data is usually stored in multiple sources and formats. For example, sales data might be in Salesforce, Relational DBMS store product information, etc. As this data originates from different locations, analysts need to clean and convert it to analyze it for decision-making quickly. Data ingestion tools are of significant use in such scenarios.

FAQ 1: Data Ingestion vs Data Integration: What’s the Difference?

On the surface, both of these concepts seem similar. However, data ingestion and data integration are not the same. Data ingestion is collecting and moving data to a target system for immediate use or storage. Data integration, on the other hand, involves unifying data scattered across disparate systems and applications into a central repository, creating a single, holistic view for reporting and analytics.

FAQ 2: What’s the difference between data ingestion and ETL/ELT?

Again, data ingestion involves collecting raw data and moving it into a system without transformation. It occurs at the start of the data pipeline, focusing on importing data into a staging area. In contrast, ETL and ELT use different techniques to integrate data—they include data extraction, transformation, and loading, with the sequence of the steps depending on whether the method used was ETL or ELT. Data transformation can consist of cleansing, enriching, and restructuring data to prepare it for analysis or storage.

Related: Learn how Data Ingestion differs from ETL.

Data Ingestion Types

Data ingestion can occur in different ways, such as in real-time, in batches, or a combination of both (known as lambda architecture), depending on the business requirements.

Let us look at ways to perform it in more detail.

  • Real-Time Ingestion

Real-time data ingestion, also known as streaming data, is helpful when the data collected is extremely time-sensitive. Data is ingested, processed, and stored as soon as it is generated for real-time decision-making. The goal is to keep the delay between data generation and processing at a minimum.

To ingest data in real-time, companies can utilize streaming data ingestion platforms that continuously collect and process data. For example, data acquired from a power grid has to be constantly supervised to identify issues, like overheating or equipment malfunctions, and enable preventive maintenance to ensure continuous power supply.

  • Batch Ingestion

Batch ingestion involves collecting and moving data in discrete batches. Frequently, these batches are scheduled to run automatically or triggered based on an event. Batch ingestion also includes techniques such as file-based ingestion, where data is collected from files (e.g., CSV, JSON, XML) and stored in filesystems or accessed via APIs. It is suitable for large data volumes and can be processed efficiently in scheduled intervals.

  • Lambda Architecture

Introduced by Nathan Marz in 2011, the lambda architecture balances the advantages of both batch and real-time ingestion by running the batch and real-time processing layers in parallel..

The architecture consists of three main layers:

  1. Batch Layer: This layer is responsible for processing large volumes of data in batch mode. It typically utilizes distributed processing frameworks like Apache Hadoop and MapReduce to handle massive datasets. The batch layer computes comprehensive views of the data over time, which are then stored in a batch layer serving database.
  2. Speed Layer: The speed layer handles real-time data processing. It deals with data that needs to be processed and analyzed immediately, providing low-latency results. Technologies like Apache Storm, Apache Flink, or Apache Spark Streaming are commonly used in this layer to process streaming data in real-time.
  3. Serving Layer: The serving layer serves queries and provides access to the results generated by both the batch and speed layers. It consolidates the results from both layers and provides a unified view of the data to the end-users or downstream applications.
  • Micro-batching
    Micro-batching falls between traditional batch processing and real-time streaming processing. Micro-batching data is processed in small, fixed-size batches at regular intervals, typically ranging from milliseconds to seconds.

Data Ingestion Framework

A data ingestion framework is simply a system or platform designed to facilitate collecting, importing, and processing large volumes of data from various sources into a centralized storage or processing environment.

Key components of a data ingestion framework include:

  1. Data Sources: These can be diverse and include databases, files, streams, APIs, sensors, etc.
  2. Data Connectors: These adapters or connectors enable the framework to interface with different types of data sources.
  3. Data Transport: This could involve batch processing, real-time streaming, or a combination of both.
  4. Error Handling and Monitoring: The framework should provide mechanisms to handle errors during the ingestion process and ensure data integrity.
  5. Scalability and Performance: A good data ingestion framework should be able to handle large volumes of data and scale horizontally.
  6. Security: The framework should include features for authentication, authorization, encryption, and compliance with data protection regulations.

Data Ingestion Benefits

Data ingestion offers numerous benefits to organizations. For example, at a high level, it enables a business to make better decisions that optimize marketing campaigns, develop superior products, and improve customer service. Here are the key benefits of data ingestion:

  1. Efficient Data Collection: Data ingestion enables the efficient collection of raw data from diverse sources.
  2. Data Centralization: It facilitates data centralization into a single repository or system, making it easier to manage and consume.
  3. Real-time Insights: Real-time ingestion facilitates timely insights and makes data-driven decisions faster.
  4. Integration with Analytics Tools: Ingested data can be seamlessly integrated with various analytics and visualization tools for advanced analytics, reporting, and business intelligence.
  5. Operational Efficiency: Automating data ingestion processes reduces manual effort and improves operational efficiency, freeing up resources for more strategic tasks.
Data Ingestion Challenges

Data Ingestion Challenges

Challenges Associated with Data Ingestion

The following are the key challenges that can impact data ingestion pipeline performance:

  • Manual Processes

Data has grown in volume and become highly diversified. The old procedures of ingesting data are no longer fast enough to persevere with the volume and range of varying data sources. And writing codes to ingest data and manually create mappings for extractingcleaning, and loading it in the age of automation is a step in the wrong direction.

Therefore, there is a need for data ingestion automation to speed up the process— using an advanced data ingestion tool is one way to do it.

  • The Cost Factor

Data ingestion can become expensive because of several factors. For example, the infrastructure you need to support the additional data sources and patented tools can be very costly to maintain in the long run.

Similarly, retaining a team of data scientists and other specialists to support the data ingestion pipeline is also expensive.

  • The Risk to Data Security

Data security is one of the most significant challenges when ingesting and moving data. This significance is because data is often staged in numerous phases throughout the ingestion process, making it challenging to meet compliance requirements.

  • Unreliability of bad data

Ensuring clean and accurate data throughout the ingestion process is a significant challenge, especially for organizations with hundreds of data sources. Incorrectly ingesting data can result in unreliable analysis and misleading conclusions.

Data Ingestion Best Practices

data ingestion meaning

Ingesting data comes with its own set of challenges. However, incorporating the best practices into the overall process helps deal with them. Here are some data ingestion best practices to consider:

Anticipate Difficulties and Plan Accordingly

The first step of a data ingestion strategy would be to outline the challenges associated with your specific use case difficulties and plan for them accordingly. For instance, identify the source systems at your disposal and ensure you know how to extract data from these sources. Alternatively, you can acquire external expertise or use a no-code data ingestion tool to help with the process.

Automate the Process

As the data grows in volume and complexity, you can no longer rely on manual techniques to curate such a massive amount of unstructured data. Therefore, consider automating the entire process to save time, increase productivity, and reduce manual efforts.

For instance, you want to ingest data from a delimited file stored in a folder, cleanse it, and transfer it into the SQL Server. This process has to be repeated every time a new file is dropped in the folder. Using a data ingestion tool that can automate the process using event-based triggers can optimize the entire ingestion cycle.

Furthermore, automation offers the additional benefits of architectural consistency, consolidated management, safety, and error management. All this eventually helps in decreasing the data processing time.

Data Validation and Quality Assurance

Prioritize data validation and quality assurance measures to ensure that ingested data is accurate, complete, and consistent. Implement validation checks and data profiling techniques to identify anomalies, errors, or inconsistencies in the incoming data. By validating data at the point of ingestion, organizations can prevent the propagation of errors throughout the data pipeline and maintain the integrity of their data assets.

Data Ingestion Tools

Data ingestion tools are instrumental in automating and accelerating the collection, processing, and storing of large volumes of data from diverse sources. These tools streamline the ingestion workflow by providing connectors or adapters for various data sources, eliminating the need for custom integration code. They facilitate efficient data movement through batch processing, real-time streaming, or both, leveraging parallel processing and distributed computing techniques to optimize transfer speeds and minimize latency.

Additionally, these tools offer scalability and performance by scaling horizontally to handle increasing data loads, maintaining consistent performance and reliability even under high-demand scenarios.

Monitoring and management capabilities are also integral to data ingestion tools, providing visibility into the ingestion pipeline and allowing organizations to track job status, monitor system health, and troubleshoot issues in real-time.

Moreover, data ingestion tools prioritize security and compliance, offering features such as encryption, access controls, and compliance with data protection regulations to ensure data remains secure throughout the ingestion process. Popular data ingestion tools include Astera, Apache Kafka, Apache NiFi, Amazon Kinesis, Google Cloud Dataflow, Apache Flume, and StreamSets.

Wrap Up

Now you understand what data ingestion means and how data ingestion tools help streamline data management. These tools can help with business decision-making and improving business intelligence. They reduce the complexity of bringing data from multiple sources together and allow you to work with various data types and schema.

For enterprises seeking a comprehensive data ingestion solution, Astera is a leading choice. Astera offers a powerful and no-code platform with advanced features for connectivity, data movement, and pre-built data transformations. With Astera, organizations also get award-winning customer support and extensive training and documentation.

Ready to experience the benefits of seamless data ingestion firsthand? Sign up for a free 14-day trial today!

What is Data Observability? A Complete Guide
Exploring Data Provenance: Ensuring Data Integrity and Authenticity
What Is Metadata and Why Is It Important?
Considering Astera For Your Data Management Needs?

Establish code-free connectivity with your enterprise applications, databases, and cloud applications to integrate all your data.

Let’s Connect Now!