Announcing Snowplow OS Distribution 21.08 North Cascades

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In this post we are pleased to be announcing the latest features of the Snowplow Open Source Projects as part of the Snowplow OS Distribution 21.08 North Cascades. This announcement is the second distribution in our new format, building on the updates we discussed in the 21.04 Pennine Alps annoucement. As before, we clarify our recommended component versions and discuss the latest Snowplow features.

As a brief reminder, in April 2020 we made our last umbrella release, R119 Tycho Magnetic Anomaly Two. Following this release, we moved the Snowplow components into separate repositories and we announced why we’re changing the way we’re releasing in a blog post. We then started making periodic OS Distributions, starting with 21.04 Pennine Alps.

Snowplow 21.08 North Cascades

So what’s new in 21.08 North Cascades? Over the past few months, we have focused on:  

Improved mobile analytics options

There have been three significant releases to the Snowplow mobile app trackers and a brand new mobile data model for sql runner.

Native Mobile Trackers

First up, we have the two native mobile trackers for iOS and Android. With version 2 of these trackers, both now have feature parity and a consistent API across the two platforms. We’ve also made considerable improvements to the API to make the trackers easier to configure and understand. On the topic of easier to configure, you can also now remotely configure the trackers, as the trackers can read a remote configuration file and send events using the configuration options specified there.

React Native Trackers

There is also a significantly updated version of the React Native Tracker. Version 1.0.0 of the React Native tracker is built on the foundations of the native mobile trackers v2 so includes the same features as well as various developer experience improvements such as type definitions for those using the tracker with TypeScript

Mobile Data Model

Following the release of our new and updated Web Data Model, we have built a new Mobile Data Model specifically for the types of events which are emitted in typical use cases from our Mobile trackers.

This new, incremental, model is designed to work with the Snowplow mobile trackers with screen view events and the mobile session context enabled. It runs on Redshift, BigQuery and Snowflake using sql runner.

Support for dbt

To ensure that we continue offering the best options when it comes to modelling your Snowplow data, we have now released the first official Snowplow dbt package. This initial release is for the web data model and currently supports Redshift and BigQuery. You can expect Snowflake support shortly.

You can find the Snowplow packages in the dbt hub, as snowplow-web and snowplow-utils. If you’re using dbt, give the new package a try by simply adding it to your packages.yml and running dbt deps:

packages:
  - package: snowplow/snowplow_web
    version: 0.2.0

Optimizing the core pipeline applications

Re-architected RDB Loader

We have significantly improved the Snowplow RDB loader to make it observable, more performant and cheaper to run. It has been re-written as a light-weight standalone application, and re-architected to remove EmrEtlRunner and reduce the number of steps required to load the enriched data to Redshift.  This forms part of our overarching strategy to move the Snowplow pipeline applications away from big data frameworks.

The latency of the data landing in Redshift and a count of good events are now emitted by the loader.  In addition, a new manifest table has been made available within Redshift itself, which protects against double loading, but also gives you granular and exhaustive information about each batch that has been processed. 

New Enrich PubSub

The new enrich-pubsub asset has also been built as a standalone application, replacing Apache Beam and no longer running as a Dataflow job, with the benefit of delivering cost reductions. Our benchmarking results against Beam Enrich have shown up to a 50% cost saving for a similar throughput (note that this will vary depending on your event volumes). 

In addition, we have added observability to this version of Enrich, and as such you can now monitor the latency of your data from the point of hitting the collector to the point that it gets written to the enriched stream on Pubsub. 

The new metrics use StatsD and as such require a StatsD installation. You can find the Installation and Configuration guide in the StatsD documentation.

We have also added the fields event_name and app_id as attributes to the messages that are written to Pubsub, making it easier for downstream subscribers of the enriched stream to filter or selectively subscribe to specific events

You can find more information about the release on Discourse, and details on how to run this version on the docs site. Note, the Kinesis version for AWS (Enrich Kinesis) is coming soon! 

Open Source quick start for AWS

We’re very excited to release a new way of getting started with Snowplow with a new quick start guide for AWS, coupled with a collection of Terraform modules that can be used to set up and configure your Snowplow pipeline. GCP support will also be rolling out soon (Sneak peak: some of the Terraform modules are already available!).

With the release of 21.08 North Cascades, the Terraform Modules have also been updated to use the recommended component versions, which we detail at the end of this post.

This new guide leverages Terraform to automate the deployment of your first Snowplow pipeline, giving you a load balancer, Snowplow collector, event validation & enrichment, Kinesis streams, S3 Loading and Postgres Loading. Even if this isn’t your first time setting up Snowplow, using the new Terraform modules is a great way to manage your Snowplow infrastructure.

You can find more information in the Introducing Snowplow’s Quick Start edition for Open Source blog post and the quick start documentation.

Surge Protection for AWS

We have continued to improve surge protection feature on AWS which we discussed in the 21.04 release notes. The sqs2kinesis application which is responsible for reading the messages from SQS and writing to Kinesis is now at v1.0.0. The sqs2kinesis application is now easier to configure, more reliable and battle tested so it’s ready for you to use in your production environments.

Check out the announcement blog post and the docs for Open Source users to set this up. This was rolled out automatically to Snowplow Insights customers.

Snowplow Micro experience improvements

Snowplow Micro is a great way to write integration tests for your Snowplow tracking. A Docker container which contains the fundamental parts of a Snowplow pipeline and RESTful endpoints which let you check all your events have been validated (or not) as expected.

We’ve made some developer experience improvements that are now available as part of Version 1.2 and are described in detail in the Snowplow Micro v1.2 release blog post.

You can now embed your Iglu Schemas folder directly into Snowplow Micro, without the need for a separate Iglu server. This makes it easier than ever to test that your application updates work with your new and existing schemas as part of your CI or CD processes. Not only this, you can now query Snowplow Micro’s new /iglu endpoint to retrieve your schemas directly. 

On top of this, all the Snowplow Micro endpoints now support CORS headers, meaning you can send requests to Micro from a website and Snowplow Micro now supports ARM64 Docker images, so you can run it using Docker on new Apple Silicon Macbooks or even a Raspberry Pi.

Recommended Component Versions

This section links to the recommended components in 21.08 North Cascades. We’ve listed the major features above but many components have also seen smaller but significant updates. With 21.08 North Cascades, we’ve also introduced recommended Iglu component versions. Running the recommended 21.08 North Cascades components ensures you will be able to use all the features listed above and have the confidence they are battle tested and ready for production. 

Recommended Component Versions are detailed on the 21.08 North Cascades Version Compatibility Matrix. Components which have been updated since the last release are highlighted. 

Latest releases and the public roadmap

If you’re eager to play with the very latest Snowplow technology, you can find individual component releases listed in the snowplow/snowplow repository, on Discourse in the New Releases section or you can check the releases and product features sections of the Snowplow Analytics blog. 

You can also head over to the Snowplow Public Roadmap which highlights the latest updates we’ve released and what will be coming soon. We’d also love to hear from you, so please add an emoji or a comment to the features you’re excited about or that you’d like to know more about. If you’d like to know more, you can read all about it in our Public Roadmap blog post.

Snowplow Insights

For Snowplow Insights customers reading this, the majority of pipelines are already running 21.08 North Cascades components so you should be good to go ahead and explore the features above. If you’d like to find out exactly which versions you are running currently, please contact Snowplow Support.

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