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Review of "Scaling Apache Solr" Book

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Review of "Scaling Apache Solr" Book

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We live in a world flooded by data and information and all realize that if we can’t find what we’re looking for (e.g. a specific document), there’s no benefit from all these data stores. When your data sets become enormous or your systems need to process thousands of messages a second, you need to an environment that is efficient, tunable and ready for scaling. We all need well-designed search technology.

A few days ago, a book called "Scaling Apache Solr"  landed on my desk. The author, Hrishikesh Vijay Karambelkar, has written an extremely useful guide to one of the most popular open-source search platforms, Apache Solr. Solr is a full-text, standalone, Java search engine based on Lucene, another successful Apache project. For people working with Solr, like myself, this book should be on their Christmas shopping list! It’s one of the best on this subject.

Karambelkar is an enterprise architect with a long history in both commercial products and open source technology. As he says, he currently spends most of his time solving problems for the software industry and developing the next generation of products.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. Basically, the first three are an introduction to Apache Solr and cover its architecture, features, configuration and setting up. Chapter One contains many practical cases of Apache Solr, to help beginners understand the topic.

Chapter Four is very interesting and describes a common pattern for enterprise search solutions. These patterns focus on data processing/integration and how to meet the requirements of users (interface, relevancy, general experience).

The rest of the book mainly refers to the central topic, that is distributing search queries and how to scale/optimize a system. The book discusses all Apache Solr concepts like replication, fault tolerance, sharding and illustrates them with helpful examples. The book precisely explains SolrCloud - a bundle of built-in distributed capabilities available from version 4.0.

Chapter 8, dedicated to optimization, drew my attention. It is full of useful tips concerning JVM parameters and manipulating data structures or caching layers as well.

"Scaling Apache Solr"  covers both basic and advanced subjects. The information is well organised, clear and concise. Lots of examples and cases in this book can be absorbed by beginners. I was nicely surprised by the chapter describing integration possibilities. There’s some great information about using Solr with Cassandra, MapReduce paradigm or R (programming language for computational statistics) although I would have preferred this subject to be covered in more detail. The book has two more advantages: first, it discusses designing an enterprise search system in general terms and second, it can be treated as an introduction to large volume data processing.

I believe I need to emphasize that many sections related to defining a schema, importing data, running SolrCloud or searching in near real time (NRT) are not just a raw documentation, they also have the author's well-judged advice and comments.

Unfortunately, I felt some of the more advanced topics were not described in enough detail. For example, index merging, documents relevance or using dynamic fields in data structure. Moreover, reading the book, I had a feeling that some parts do not fit the title, such as the section about clustering with Carrot2 or integration with PHP web portal.

In summary, I can say that I have read this book with pleasure and satisfaction, which in fact is rare regarding technology publications! For me, as a person who has been working with Solr since version 1.3, it was a great way to review and sort out some of its aspects. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure, that people starting their experience with Apache Solr will take a lot from this book. Although, it is mainly focused on advanced problems, it starts with the basics.

Despite some little imperfections I can truly recommend this book, especially because it describes the concrete technology in an easy-to-read way and also refers to some general architectural patterns.

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