Data Science For Startups: Data Pipelines - Part II

Ben Weber
Apr 14, 2020

A Scalable Pipeline

We’ll build a data pipeline that receives events using Google’s PuSub as an endpoint, and save the events to a data lake and database. The approach presented here will save the events as raw data, but I’ll also discuss ways of transforming the events into processed data.

The data pipeline that performs all of this functionality is relatively simple. The pipeline reads messages from PubSub and then transforms the events for persistence: the BigQuery portion of the pipeline converts messages to TableRow objects and streams directly to BigQuery, while the AVRO portion of the pipeline batches events into discrete windows and then saves the events to Google Storage. The graph of operations is shown in the figure below.

The streaming pipeline deployed to Google Cloud

Setting up the Environment
The first step in building a data pipeline is setting up the dependencies necessary to compile and deploy the project. I used the following maven dependencies to set up environments for the tracking API that sends events to the pipeline, and the data pipeline that processes events.

<!-- Dependencies for the Tracking API ->
<!-- Dependencies for the data pipeline ->

I used Eclipse to author and compile the code for this tutorial, since it is open source. However, other IDEs such as IntelliJ provide additional features for deploying and monitoring DataFlow tasks. Before you can deploy jobs to Google Cloud, you’ll need to set up a service account for both PubSub and DataFlow. Setting up these credentials is outside the scope of this post, and more details are available in the Google documentation.

An additional prerequisite for running this data pipeline is setting up a PubSub topic on GCP. I defined a raw-events topic that is used for publishing and consuming messages for the data pipeline. Additional details on creating a PubSub topic are available here.

To deploy this data pipeline, you’ll need to set up a java environment with the maven dependencies listed above, set up a Google Cloud project and enable billing, enable billing on the storage and BigQuery services, and create a PubSub topic for sending and receiving messages. All of these managed services do cost money, but there is a free tier that can be used for prototyping a data pipeline.

Sending events from a server to a PubSub topic

Publishing Events
In order to build a usable data pipeline, it’s useful to build APIs that encapsulate the details of sending event data. The Tracking API class provides this functionality, and can be used to send generated event data to the data pipeline. The code below shows the method signature for sending events, and shows how to generate sample data.

/** Event Signature for the Tracking API 
public void sendEvent(String eventType, String eventVersion, HashMap<String, String> attributes);
// send a batch of events    
for (int i=0; i<10000; i++) {
// generate event names      
  String eventType = Math.random() < 0.5 ? 
      "Session" : (Math.random() < 0.5 ? "Login" : "MatchStart");
// create attributes to send      
  HashMap<String, String> attributes = new HashMap<String,String>();
  attributes.put("userID", "" + (int)(Math.random()*10000));
  attributes.put("deviceType", Math.random() < 0.5 ? 
      "Android" : (Math.random() < 0.5 ? "iOS" : "Web"));
// send the event      
  tracking.sendEvent(eventType, "V1", attributes);      

The tracking API establishes a connection to a PubSub topic, passes events as a JSON format, and implements a callback for notification of delivery failures. The code used to send events is provided below, and is based on Google’s PubSub example provided here.

// Setup a PubSub connection 
TopicName topicName = TopicName.of(projectID, topicID);
Publisher publisher = Publisher.newBuilder(topicName).build();
// Specify an event to send
String event = {\"eventType\":\"session\",\"eventVersion\":\"1\"}";
// Convert the event to bytes    
ByteString data = ByteString.copyFromUtf8(event.toString());
//schedule a message to be published    
PubsubMessage pubsubMessage = 
// publish the message, and add this class as a callback listener
ApiFuture<String> future = publisher.publish(pubsubMessage);    ApiFutures.addCallback(future, this);

The code above enables apps to send events to a PubSub topic. The next step is to process this events in a fully-managed environment that can scale as necessary to meet demand.

Storing Events
One of the key functions of a data pipeline is to make instrumented events available to data science and analytics teams for analysis. The data sources used as endpoints should have low latency and be able to scale up to a massive volume of events. The data pipeline defined in this tutorial shows how to output events to both BigQuery and a data lake that can be used to support a large number of analytics business users.

Streaming event data from PubSub to DataFlow

The first step in this data pipeline is reading events from a PubSub topic and passing ingested messages to the DataFlow process. DataFlow provides a PubSub connector that enables streaming of PubSub messages to other DataFlow components. The code below shows how to instantiate the data pipeline, specify streaming mode, and to consume messages from a specific PubSub topic. The output of this process is a collection of PubSub messages that can be stored for later analysis.

// set up pipeline options    
Options options = PipelineOptionsFactory.fromArgs(args)
Pipeline pipeline = Pipeline.create(options);
// read game events from PubSub    
PCollection<PubsubMessage> events = pipeline

The first way we want to store events is in a columnar format that can be used to build a data lake. While this post doesn’t show how to utilize these files in downstream ETLs, having a data lake is a great way to maintain a copy of your data set in case you need to make changes to your database. The data lake provides a way to backload your data if necessary due to changes in schemas or data ingestion issues. The portion of the data pipeline allocated to this process is shown below.

Batching events to AVRO format and saving to Google Storage

For AVRO, we can’t use a direct streaming approach. We need to group events into batches before we can save to flat files. The way this can be accomplished in DataFlow is by applying a windowing function that groups events into fixed batches. The code below applies transformations that convert the PubSub messages into String objects, group the messages into 5 minute intervals, and output the resulting batches to AVRO files on Google Storage.

// AVRO output portion of the pipeline    
.apply("To String", ParDo.of(new DoFn<PubsubMessage, String>() {
  public void processElement(ProcessContext c) throws Exception {
    String message = new String(c.element().getPayload());
// Batch events into 5 minute windows      
.apply("Batch Events", Window.<String>into(    
// Save the events in ARVO format      
.apply("To AVRO", AvroIO.write(String.class)

To summarize, the above code batches events into 5 minute windows and then exports the events to AVRO files on Google Storage.

The result of this portion of the data pipeline is a collection of AVRO files on google storage that can be used to build a data lake. A new AVRO output is generated every 5 minutes, and downstream ETLs can parse the raw events into processed event-specific table schemas. The image below shows a sample output of AVRO files.

AVRO files saved to Google Storage

In addition to creating a data lake, we want the events to be immediately accessible in a query environment. DataFlow provides a BigQuery connector which serves this functionality, and data streamed to this endpoint is available for analysis after a short duration. This portion of the data pipeline is shown in the figure below.

Streaming events from DataFlow to BigQuery

The data pipeline converts the PubSub messages into TableRow objects, which can be directly inserted into BigQuery. The code below consists of two apply methods: a data transformation and a IO writer. The transform step reads the message payloads from PubSub, parses the message as a JSON object, extracts the eventType and eventVersion attributes, and creates a TableRow object with these attributes in addition to a timestamp and the message payload. The second apply method tells the pipeline to write the records to BigQuery and to append the events to an existing table.

// parse the PubSub events and create rows to insert into BigQuery    events.apply("To Table Rows", new 
  PTransform<PCollection<PubsubMessage>, PCollection<TableRow>>() { 
    public PCollection<TableRow> expand(
        PCollection<PubsubMessage> input) {       
      return input.apply("To Predictions", ParDo.of(new  
          DoFn<PubsubMessage, TableRow>() {    
    public void processElement(ProcessContext c) throws Exception {
      String message = new String(c.element().getPayload()); 
      // parse the json message for attributes
      JsonObject jsonObject = 
          new JsonParser().parse(message).getAsJsonObject();
      String eventType = jsonObject.get("eventType").getAsString();
      String eventVersion = jsonObject.
      String serverTime = dateFormat.format(new Date()); 
     // create and output the table row            
     TableRow record = new TableRow();            
     record.set("eventType", eventType);               
     record.set("eventVersion", eventVersion);          
     record.set("serverTime", serverTime);
     record.set("message", message);            
//stream the events to Big Query    
.apply("To BigQuery",BigQueryIO.writeTableRows()   

To summarize the above code, each message that is consumed from PubSub is converted into a TableRow object with a timestamp and then streamed to BigQuery for storage.

The result of this portion of the data pipeline is that events will be streamed to BigQuery and will be available for analysis in the output table specified by the DataFlow task. In order to effectively use these events for queries, you’ll need to build additional ETLs for creating processed event tables with schematized records, but you now have a data collection mechanism in place for storing tracking events.

Game event records queried from the raw-events table in BigQuery

Deploying and Auto Scaling
With DataFlow you can test the data pipeline locally or deploy to the cloud. If you run the code samples without specifying additional attributes, then the data pipeline will execute on your local machine. In order to deploy to the cloud and take advantage of the auto scaling capabilities of this data pipeline, you need to specify a new runner class as part of your runtime arguments. In order to run the data pipeline, I used the following runtime arguments:


Once the job is deployed, you should see a message that the job has been submitted. You can then click on the DataFlow console to see the task:

The steaming data pipeline running on Google Cloud

The runtime configuration specified above will not default to an auto scaling configuration. In order to deploy a job that scales up based on demand, you’ll need to specify additional attributes, such as:


Additional details on setting up a DataFlow task to scale to heavy workload conditions are available in this Google article and this post from Spotify. The image below shows how DataFlow can scale up to meet demand as necessary.

An example of Dataflow auto scaling. The pipeline will scale up and down as necessary to match demand.

Raw to Processed Events
The pipeline presented so far saves tracking events as raw data. To translate these events to processed data, we’ll need to apply event specific schemas. There’s a few different approaches we can take with this pipeline:
  1. Apply the schemas in the current DataFlow pipeline and save to BigQuery
  2. Apply the schemas in the current pipeline and send to a new PubSub
  3. Apply additional attributes to the raw events and send to a new PubSub
  4. Use downstream ETLs to apply schemas

The first approach is the simplest, but it doesn’t provide a good solution for updating the event definitions if needed. This approach can be implemented as shown in the code below, which shows how to filter and parse MatchStart events for entry into BigQuery.

events.apply("To MatchStart Events", ParDo.of(
    new DoFn<PubsubMessage, TableRow>() {
public void processElement(ProcessContext c) throws Exception {
  String message = new String(c.element().getPayload());
JsonObject jsonObject = new 
  String eventType = jsonObject.get("eventType").getAsString();
  String version = jsonObject.get("eventVersion").getAsString();
  String serverTime = dateFormat.format(new Date());

  // Filter for MatchStart events
  if (eventType.equals("MatchStart")) {

    TableRow record = new TableRow();
    record.set("eventType", eventType);
    record.set("eventVersion", version);
    record.set("server_time", serverTime);

    // event specifc attributes
    record.set("userID", jsonObject.get("userID").getAsString());
    record.set("type", jsonObject.get("deviceType").getAsString());
.apply("To BigQuery",BigQueryIO.writeTableRows()

In order to implement this approach, you’d need to create a new DoFnimplementation for each type of event. The second approach is similar to the first, but instead of passing the parsed events to BigQuery, they are passed to a new PubSub topic. It’s possible to send multiple types of events to a single topic or create a topic per event. The drawback of using the first two approaches is that the message parsing logic is part of the raw event pipeline. This means that changing event definitions involves restarting the pipeline.

The streaming pipeline with an additional output:

A third approach that can be used is sending raw events with additional attributes to another PubSub topic. A second DataFlow job can then be set up to parse events as needed. The code below shows how to parse raw events, add additional attributes to the PubSub message for filtering, and publish the events to a second topic. This approach enables event definitions to be changed without restarting the raw event pipeline.

# topic for raw events with additional attributes 
private static String processed = 
events.apply("PubSub Processed", 
  ParDo.of(new DoFn<PubsubMessage, PubsubMessage>() {             
  public void processElement(ProcessContext c) throws Exception { 
    String message = new String(c.element().getPayload());   
    // parse the JSON message for attributes 
    JsonObject jsonObject = new 
    String eventType = jsonObject.get("eventType").getAsString(); 
    // Add additional attributes for filtering 
    HashMap<String, String> atts = new HashMap();               
    atts.put("EventType", eventType);               
    PubsubMessage out = new PubsubMessage(message.getBytes(), atts);

A fourth approach that can be used is having downstream ETLs processes apply schemas to the raw events and break apart the raw events table into event specific tables. We’ll cover this approach in the next post.


This post has provided an introduction to building a data pipeline for a startup. We covered the types of data in a pipeline, desired properties of a high functioning data pipeline, the evolution of data pipelines, and a sample pipeline built on GCP.

There is now a variety of tools available that make it possible to set up an analytics pipeline for an application with minimal effort. Using managed resources enables small teams to take advantage of serverless and autoscaling infrastructure to scale up to massive event volumes with minimal infrastructure management. Rather than using a data vendor’s off-the-shelf solution for collecting data, you can record all relevant data for your app. While the approach presented here isn’t directly portable to other clouds, the Apache Beam library used to implement the core functionality of this data pipeline is portable and similar tools can be leveraged to build scalable data pipelines on other cloud providers.

The full source code for this sample pipeline is available on Github:

“Data Science For Startups: Data Pipelines - Part II”
– Ben Weber twitter social icon Tweet

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