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Data Mesh Challenges and Opportunities

Data mesh is an innovative architecture that promotes a network-like structure for data transmission. What do we stand to gain by embracing it? What are the risks of pushing for it without precautions?

Lisandro Pavetti

By Lisandro Pavetti

As BairesDev's VP of Innovation and Chief Architect, Lisandro Pavetti helps scale products and tech by leading teams of engineers and creatives.

10 min read

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A data mesh is a decentralized data infrastructure that enables data sharing and collaboration across multiple teams and data silos. It is composed of a set of distributed data stores that are interconnected and can be used to exchange data between different applications and services. 

As a data architecture, a data mesh uses a distributed messaging system to provide a unified data layer for an application or service. Data meshes typically use a publish/subscribe messaging system to distribute data across a network of nodes. 

Some common data management approaches that could be considered the opposite of a data mesh include data lakes, data warehouses, and centralized data management systems. 

For example, a data lake is a system or repository of data stored in its natural/raw format, usually object blobs or files. The term “lake” is used because data is typically accumulated over time and therefore can be thought of as a body of water. In contrast, a data mesh is like a spiderweb of instances in constant communication.

Data mesh is a relatively new concept, but a few companies have already adopted it. Some of these companies include Google, Netflix, Airbnb, and Uber. It’s both a novel and enticing solution that is bound to change the way we perceive data architectures shortly. 

Data, both historical and recent, is a source of information that helps us understand the world and make decisions. It can be used to track trends, assess risk, and make predictions. Past data can also be used to improve efficiency and effectiveness. 

In short, we need data to make informed decisions. Therefore, you need a data management solution that aligns with your company’s needs and scale. 

Why is data mesh such a popular concept in data management? How can we make the best use of this technology? And perhaps more importantly, should we?

A Brief History of Data Mesh

Data mesh is a new approach to data management that was popularized by Ali Ghodsi, Matei Zaharia, and their colleagues at Databricks in 2016. It is based on the idea of data as a “first-class citizen” and seeks to address the challenges of managing data in a distributed system. 

The concept of data mesh was originally proposed by Zhamak Dehghani  in her paper “How to Move Beyond a Monolithic Data Lake to a Distributed Data Mesh. ” In this paper, the authors argue that current approaches to data management are insufficient for dealing with the scale and complexity of modern data systems. 

They propose a new approach, which they call “data mesh,” that focuses on making data accessible and easy to use while still providing strong guarantees about its consistency and correctness. Ghodsi’s proposal was further refined by Ghodsi and collaborators in their paper “Lakehouse: A New Generation of Open Platforms That Unify Data Warehousing and Advanced Analytics.” In this paper, the authors describe how the Databricks’ platform can be used to implement a data mesh architecture. 

Some examples of applications that stand to gain from a data mesh architecture include:

  • A social media network that allows users to share and connect 
  • A customer relationship management (CRM) system that helps businesses track and manage customer interactions 
  • An e-commerce platform that enables merchants to sell online 
  • A logistics management system that tracks shipments and deliveries
  • A project management system that helps businesses track and manage their projects

What Is Data Governance?

Data mesh and data governance are two concepts that go hand in hand; the former directly facilitates the latter, so before we talk about data mesh per se, let’s first define governance and why it’s such an important concept for organizations.

Data governance is the process of managing data throughout its life cycle from its creation to its eventual deletion. It includes ensuring that data is accurate, consistent, and accessible to those who need it. It is a critical component of any organization that relies on data to make decisions.

Without data governance, an organization is at risk of making decisions based on inaccurate or incomplete data. This can lead to suboptimal decision-making, which can in turn lead to financial losses, legal liabilities, and reputational damage. Data governance is therefore essential to ensure that an organization can make the best possible decisions.

Data governance is an important part of any organization that relies on data. It is essential for the aforementioned accuracy, consistency and accessibility. Data governance is a team effort, and everyone in the organization must be committed for it to be successful.

In the modern age it’s hard to find an organization that doesn’t rely on data on one level or another, so governance is something that everyone should be aware of and should have the tools to manage.

As a data architecture, data mesh promotes data governance by compartmentalizing the data and assigning the responsibility over it to whomever it matters most to. In other words, data management is a democratic effort.

What Are the Data Mesh Principles?

Data mesh is a principles-based approach to data management that enables organizations to govern their data as a product. The core principles of data mesh are:

  1. Data as a Product: Data should be treated as a product, with its own roadmap, product backlog, and delivery process. 
  2. Decentralized Data Governance: Data governance should be decentralized and embedded into the organization’s product development process. 
  3. Data as a Service: Data should be made available as a service to the organization so that it can be consumed and used to power applications and business processes. 
  4. Continuous Delivery of Data: Data should be delivered continuously, in small increments, so that it is always fresh and up to date.
  5. Unified Data Model: There should be a single, unified data model that is shared across the organization.
  6. Flexible Data Access: Data should be accessible through flexible, standards-based APIs.
  7. Security and Privacy by Design: Security and privacy should be designed into the data mesh from the start.

Data mesh architectures are becoming increasingly popular as a way to manage data at scale in a distributed environment because they allow for more efficient data processing and storage. But why is it so efficient?

Because mesh architecture is a type of computer architecture that uses a mesh topology for interconnecting components. In a mesh topology, each component is connected to every other component in the system. This allows for data to be transferred more quickly and efficiently because there is no need to route data through a central point.

Mesh architectures are at their best when they serve large-scale systems where bandwidth might be concerned. Think of supercomputers and high-performance computing systems with constant data transmission. It’s like a highway of information: if you have a single street, then given enough cars, the whole system will collapse. Instead, interconnected cities are designed in such a way that we have different pathways to avoid congestion.

When Should I Migrate to a Data Mesh Architecture?

The decision of when to migrate to a data mesh architecture will depend on the specific needs and goals of your organization. However, some general guidelines for when you may decide whether or not a data mesh architecture is right for your company include: 

  • When you have outgrown your current data architecture and need a more scalable solution 
  • When you want to improve data governance and control within your organization 
  • When you need to improve data accessibility and usability across your organization
  • When you want to reduce the costs associated with traditional data management solutions

Think in terms of data complexity. The more complex your data and the more interactions between agents in your system, the more likely that you stand to gain from migrating to a data mesh.

At its core, a data mesh is about bringing order to complex data architectures. It does this by creating a standardized way to access and use data that is distributed across multiple data sources. This makes it easier to work with complex data sets and helps to ensure that data is used consistently across different parts of the organization. A data mesh can also help to reduce the need for manual intervention in the management of data (giving a much-deserved rest to our backend developers), which can save time and resources.

So, does this mean that if you are content with your current architecture there is no need to migrate? Well, not quite. Sometimes we have to fix what isn’t broken because it will break sooner or later down the line. Always keep an eye out for your mid-term and long-term goals as well as your growth. 

If your product is growing at a rapid pace, you might find yourself missing the inflection point and end up collapsing your architecture before you can design and implement a migration process. On the other hand, if you don’t see yourself scaling in the mid to long term, while data mesh can still be beneficial, it doesn’t need to be a top priority. 

What Do I Need to Migrate to a Data Mesh Architecture?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the approach that is taken will depend on the specific needs and requirements of the organization. However, some tips on how to migrate from a centralized data system to a data mesh include:

  1. Define your goals and objectives for the migration. What do you hope to achieve by moving to a data mesh? This will help you determine the best approach to take.
  2. Evaluate your current data setup. What are its strengths and weaknesses? How well does it meet your needs? This information will help you determine what changes, if any, need to be made to your system to accommodate a data mesh.
  3. Assess your data architecture and infrastructure. Is it able to support a data mesh? If not, what changes need to be made? This step is critical in ensuring a successful migration.
  4. Plan for change management. Migration from a centralized architecture to a data mesh can be disruptive, so it’s important to have a plan in place for managing any changes that occur during the process.

The best way to prepare your team for a data mesh migration will vary depending on the specific needs and goals of your organization. However, some tips that may be helpful include: 

Educate your team on what a data mesh is and how it can benefit your organization. Build a common language and clear definitions that help with communication and aim to build a business culture that embraces the flexibility and scalability of a data mesh.  

Be assertive, define clear objectives for migrating to a data mesh, and ensure that everyone on the team understands these objectives. Set clear deadlines for your team to follow, and educate the users about the incoming changes to the system so they can prepare in advance.

Create a plan for migrating to a data mesh, including who will be responsible for each task and when each task should be completed. As usual, you should have a project manager with previous experience on the matter. You could also bring into the equation a consultant or advisor to help with both the planning and the execution.

It should go without saying, but test out the data mesh implementation in a development or staging environment before deploying it in production. 

How Can a Data Mesh Help My Organization?

A data mesh can help an organization in many ways. It can provide a way to connect disparate data sources and make them accessible to users. It can also provide a way to govern and manage data. 

Additionally, a data mesh can help an organization create a single view of its data, which can be used to make better decisions. Real-time data analysis can provide better insights into organizational performance and help identify areas for improvement.

A data mesh can also help an organization reduce its reliance on a central data repository, which can make the organization more resilient to outages and disruptions. Additionally, a data mesh can help an organization save money by reducing the need for costly data integration projects.

Finally, flexibility and scalability are increased by allowing organizations to easily add or remove without impacting other parts of the system due to the decoupled nature of services within the data mesh. 

Data Mesh Challenges

There are a few potential disadvantages of data mesh, including: 

  1. It can be difficult to set up and manage, especially if your team doesn’t have previous experience with the architecture.
  2. There is no one-size-fits-all solution – each data mesh needs to be customized to the specific organization and use case. This can be avoided with forethought and planning. 
  3. Data meshes can require significant investment in terms of time, resources, and expertise.
  4. They can be complex to operate and maintain, especially at scale. It’s a trade-off between modularity and simplicity. 
  5. Data meshes can be difficult to change or adapt once they are in place. It’s really important to get it right the first time around; once again, planning is pivotal. 
  6. They can also fragment data and make it more difficult to share or exchange information between different parts of the organization, especially as people grow used to the system — although this can be avoided with a bit of preparation.
  7. Finally, data meshes can create silos of information that are difficult to break down and may lead to duplication of effort. 

Data Mesh in 2023 and Beyond

The future of data mesh is shrouded in potential but fraught with uncertainty. The data mesh concept is still in its early stages of development, and there is no clear consensus on what it is or how it should be implemented. However, there is broad agreement that data mesh has the potential to revolutionize the way organizations manage and use data. 

The data mesh model proposes a new way of thinking about data management that is based on the principles of data decentralization, data autonomy, and data sovereignty. These principles are designed to address the challenges of data silos, data fragmentation, and data governance. 

The data mesh model has the potential to provide organizations with a more flexible and scalable way to manage data. However, the data mesh concept is still in its infancy, and there are many unanswered questions about how it will work in practice. There is no clear roadmap for how data mesh will be implemented or how it will evolve. 

The success of data mesh will depend on the ability of organizations to experiment with the concept and to learn from their experiences. Having said that, some companies have already found success implementing data mesh, so as time goes on we’ll start to see best practices, manuals, and software surface and provide guidance.

I think new technology is amazing. It allows us to do things that we never thought possible. But it can be a bit overwhelming, and it can be hard to keep up with the latest trends. Will data mesh change the landscape? Will it become a new standard? It’s hard to tell, but whatever may be the case, we have to be prepared.

Lisandro Pavetti

By Lisandro Pavetti

VP of Innovation and Chief Architect Lisandro Pavetti helps scale BairesDev's products and technologies by leading an expert team of engineers and creatives. His technical architecture and team-building skills help strengthen BairesDev's continual scalability strategy.

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