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Data fabric vs data mesh: Choosing the best data architecture for your organization

Whether your data is housed in a monolithic data architecture or across multiple, disparate sources such as databases, cloud platforms, and business applications, accessing the specific information you need when you need it probably presents a huge challenge. The length of time it takes to find data may have you or your analytics teams constantly relying on outdated information to run reports, develop strategies, and make decisions for your organization.  

If you’re exploring data solutions that will improve time-to-market while simplifying governance and increasing security, you’ve probably come across the terms “data fabric” and “data mesh,” but you may not know how to apply them to your business. To help you better understand these emerging trends in data architecture, we’re digging into what a data fabric and data mesh are and the specific benefits they bring to large and enterprise-level organizations. This will give you the foundational knowledge to determine how to choose data fabric vs data mesh or how both may be able to serve your organization.    

What is data fabric? 

When you think of every bit of data in your organization as an individual thread, it makes sense that it takes so long to access specific information. If thousands of individual threads are stored together in a bin, like in a monolithic architecture, or separated across hundreds of individual boxes with little to no organizational method, like in a distributed architecture, how long would it take to find the single thread you’re looking for and get it untangled so you can use it?   

A logical data fabric solves this problem by weaving all the threads of data together into an integrated, holistic layer that sits above the disparate sources in an end-to-end solution. Within the layer are multiple technologies working together to catalog and organize the data while machine learning and artificial intelligence are implemented to improve how new and existing data are integrated into the fabric as well as how data consumers access it.  

Are data virtualization and data fabric the same? 

A common misconception is that data virtualization and data fabric are the same. On the surface, they both support data management through the creation of a single, integrated layer of processed data atop distributed or unstructured data. Data virtualization is an integrated abstraction layer that speeds up access to data and provides real-time data returns, and this technology is a key component within the data fabric. However, data virtualization is still only one of the multiple technologies comprising the entity, which is a more comprehensive data management architecture.   

Benefits of data fabric  

Now that you have a better understanding of what data fabric is, let’s consider the problems it solves and why it may be right for your organization.  

Access your data faster 

When your data is in multiple formats and housed in a variety of locations, gaining access to the specific details you need can take hours, days, or even weeks, depending on your architecture. A logical data fabric leverages metadata, semantics, and machine learning to quickly return the needed data from across multiple sources, whether it’s a large amount of historic information or highly specific data used to drill down into a report.  

Democratize your data 

Data fabric uses advanced semantics, so the data is accessible in the language of business users, such as BI and analytics teams. Data consumers within the organization can access what they need without having to go through data engineers or the IT department, eliminating bottlenecks and sharing ownership of data.    

Improve governance 

Because of the automation capabilities of data fabric, you can implement a governance layer within the fabric. This applies global policies and regulations to data while allowing local metadata management to reduce risk and ensure compliance.     

What is data mesh? 

Monolithic data architecture keeps data in one centralized location. On paper, this seems like a more cost-effective, efficient option compared to a distributed architecture, but it still brings several challenges. Consider that in many large organizations relying on a monolithic architecture, massive volumes of unstructured data are stored in a data lake. For information to get into the hands of data consumers or before productization can occur, the data must be accessed and processed through the IT department, creating significant bottlenecks and bringing time to market to a crawl.    

A data mesh can solve this challenge. This is a new type of data architecture, only proposed in 2019 by Zhamak Dehghani of Thoughtworks, in which a framework shifts data from a monolithic architecture to a decentralized architecture. More specifically, the data is distributed across autonomous business domains where the data consumers own, manage, and share their own data where they see fit. While the domains are given a separate virtual schema and server so they can have full ownership over data productization, governance, security, and compliance are still unified within the monolith.  

Benefits of data mesh  

The challenges of centralized data ownership include latency, added costs of storage, software, replication, and lack of practical access for consumers, but implementing a data mesh can solve these.  

Eliminate IT bottlenecks 

When all data is forced to go through the IT department before being distributed to the individuals or teams requesting it, bottlenecks occur and slow down the flow of data. A data mesh allows data to bypass the IT department, allowing data to flow freely to the needed source.  

Improve flexibility and agility 

Finding specific information within the massive volume of unstructured, undefined data stored in a data lake requires increasingly complicated queries to get the needed information. However, a data mesh gives ownership of datasets to individual teams or business owners, simplifying access and offering real-time results through scalable, automated analytics.   

Increase connection to data 

By transferring data ownership to the data consumers, those who use it directly have a greater connection to it. The data is available in the language of business, and it can be shared across teams with greater ease and transparency.  

Choosing data fabric vs data mesh 

Data fabric and data mesh both support data democratization, improve access, eliminate bottlenecks, and simplify governance. While data fabric is built on a technology-agnostic framework to connect data across multiple sources, data mesh is an API-driven, organizational framework that puts data ownership back in the hands of specific domains. So, which is better in the debate between data fabric vs data mesh?  

The simple answer is neither one is better than the other, and the right option is determined by the use case. If the goal of your organization is to streamline data and metadata to improve connection and get real-time results across multiple teams, a data fabric built on a data virtualization platform can help you meet your goals. On the other hand, if you need to improve the process of data productization and decentralizing your data, a data mesh may be the best option. 

But the real answer is that contrary to popular belief, the two are not mutually exclusive and most businesses succeed by implementing both options. Data fabric and data mesh are complementary solutions that can work together to solve the challenges of your existing architecture.  

Learn more about data fabric and data mesh 

Want to gain further insight into choosing data fabric or data mesh? We partnered with data management leader Denodo Technologies for a recorded webinar. In Logical Data Fabric vs Data Mesh: Does It Matter? we provide an in-depth look at monolithic and distributed data architecture, the challenges they bring, and how both data fabric and data mesh can improve agility, reduce costs, and elevate the quality of your data.  

To ask additional questions or learn how Fusion Alliance can help you create and implement a successful data strategy to meet your unique challenges and goals, connect with our team today.

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New Era Technology

New Era Technology creates powerful digital, data, and technology solutions that keep companies moving forward in a rapidly changing world. Our 500+ consultants use data insights, experience design, and tech innovation to help you reimagine your business for whatever comes next.

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