Case Study

“It’s an Astonishing Difference”: What Data Operation Execs say About Google Cloud’s Data Warehouse

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When Blue Apron had issues running its data warehouse on another cloud provider, it built an analytics platform using Looker and Google BigQuery to enable faster business decisions about food inventory.

The popularity of meal kit delivery services has surged in recent years as consumer attitudes toward home cooking and grocery shopping have shifted. As a pioneer in the category, Blue Apron helps its customers create incredible home cooking experiences by sending culinary-driven recipes with high-quality ingredients and step-by-step instructions straight to customers’ doors. Blue Apron also offers a monthly wine subscription service and a la carte culinary tools and products through its marketplace.

If that sounds simple, it isn’t.

Ingredients for the meal kits must be sourced at the right time, quality, and price. Orders must be packed efficiently and in exactly the right proportions. Most importantly, meal kits must be delivered to the customer fresh and on time.

To meet these criteria and make data meaningful and intuitive to its managers, one of the tools Blue Apron relies on is Looker, an analytics platform that lets business users explore data and ask sophisticated questions using familiar terms. Looker integrates its solution with Google Cloud Platform to help customers modernize their analytics.

“The combination of Looker and Google BigQuery is powerful, allowing us to get data-hungry analysts essential information much faster. Because we choose to pay by the query, it’s also flexible and cost effective—plus storage is cheap, so we can just put data in and query what we need.”

Sam Chase, Tech Lead, Data Operations, Blue Apron

Blue Apron previously used Looker with a single database instance hosted on another cloud provider. As data volumes grew and queries became more complex, it became difficult to scale. Blue Apron’s only options were choosing ever-larger server classes and increasing storage throughput by purchasing a higher number of provisioned IOPS. To improve speed, scalability, and cost efficiency, Blue Apron moved its data warehouse to Google BigQuery.

“The combination of Looker and Google BigQuery is powerful, allowing us to get data-hungry analysts essential information much faster,” says Sam Chase, Tech Lead, Data Operations at Blue Apron. “Because we choose to pay by the query, it’s also flexible and cost effective—plus storage is cheap, so we can just put data in and query what we need.”

“After we moved to Google BigQuery, query time was reduced exponentially. It’s an astonishing difference, allowing us to run 300 queries per day.”

Sam Chase, Tech Lead, Data Operations, Blue Apron

The analytics platform of the future

When you’re making business decisions about a customer’s dinner, speed matters. Looker takes full advantage of the power of Google BigQuery, making it easy to build a data exploration platform.

Blue Apron’s applications publish event data to Kafka—approximately 140 million events per day—and data is then streamed into Google BigQuery, which performs lightning-fast queries on both streamed and static data. Now, business users and analytics teams can make decisions based on near real-time information in Looker, instead of waiting until the next business day for results.

“After we moved to Google BigQuery, query time was reduced exponentially. It’s an astonishing difference, allowing us to run 300 queries per day,” says Sam.

Previously, Blue Apron spent up to a week out of every month optimizing its data warehouse to attempt to improve query performance. With Google BigQuery, all maintenance is handled by Google, reclaiming 25% of up to two engineers’ time. Even when multiple people are using Looker concurrently, query performance never degrades and storage never runs out.

“Because Google BigQuery is architected as a giant, shared cluster, growth is smooth,” says Lloyd Tabb, Founder and CTO of Looker. “Like a race car going from 0 to 120 mph, there are no shift points, just smooth acceleration. To us, it looks like the future.”

An empowering, integrated toolset

Looker takes advantage of aggressive caching and support for date-based table partitioning in Google BigQuery to increase performance, simplify the load process, and improve data manageability. By partitioning data by time, Blue Apron can also take advantage of better long-term storage pricing without sacrificing query performance. When using Google BigQuery with Looker, analysts can easily see how much data is going to be scanned before each query is run.

Blue Apron is also using Looker for Google BigQuery Data Transfer Service to provide actionable analytics for all of the company’s Google marketing data from Google AdWords and DoubleClick by Google in one place to understand campaign performance across channels, saving its data operations team months of work. Using Looker Blocks, marketers can quickly make sense of the data with reports and dashboards, and set alerts when campaign performance hits certain thresholds.

“Everyone at Blue Apron is excited about using Google BigQuery with Looker. Business users and marketers are more empowered to look for answers, instead of waiting for analytics teams. Because users know they can get results rapidly, our business processes are evolving and improving.”

Sam Chase, Tech Lead, Data Operations, Blue Apron

Looker Blocks for Google AdWords and DoubleClick by Google provide all the analysis you’d get straight from the Google console, plus additional value-add analysis that’s impossible to replicate without SQL. Complex metrics such as ROI on ad spend, flexible multi-touch attribution, and predictive lifetime value empower marketers with a better understanding of their customers and where to spend their next dollar.

In addition to these turnkey dashboards and pieces of analysis, marketers can customize views to meet their unique needs and workflows. These capabilities help the Blue Apron marketing team make decisions regarding the allocation of spend to maximize customer acquisition and retention.

“Everyone at Blue Apron is excited about using Google BigQuery with Looker,” says Sam. “Business users and marketers are more empowered to look for answers, instead of waiting for analytics teams. Because users know they can get results rapidly, our business processes are evolving and improving.”

For data cleansing and transformation, Blue Apron uses Google Cloud Dataproc to run fully managed Apache Spark clusters on Google Cloud Platform. It’s also leveraging Google BigQuery integration with G Suite to bring data into Google Sheets for further distribution and analysis.

“Transferring data between Google tools is fast because it all happens on the Google network,” says Sam. “We can pull data from Google BigQuery, run transformations with Spark, and then write it back to Google BigQuery. That’s very helpful in providing our business users and data analysts with the richest, most current data.”

A perfect match for better insights

As Blue Apron seeks to expand its reach and deepen its engagement with customers, it is making Google BigQuery and Looker available to more users, providing a high-quality interactive analytics experience. “Our ability to pull a lot of data in and compute fast results affects everyone in our company,” says Sam. “Using Google BigQuery and Looker to iterate quickly and build new models to make our operations more efficient will directly impact our customers.”

For Looker, Google BigQuery represents the next step in data warehouse evolution. “Google BigQuery is a perfect match for Looker, combining easy setup with near infinite scale-out and elasticity,” says Lloyd. “People can make smarter decisions faster that directly benefit their business and customers.”

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