What is Apache Spark in Azure Synapse Analytics?

Posted by

Describing Apache Spark in Simple words

Imagine a team of super-efficient chefs working together in a huge kitchen to prepare a feast for thousands of guests. That’s Apache Spark in Azure Synapse Analytics!

Here’s how it works:

1. Divide and Conquer:

  • Spark breaks down big data tasks into smaller pieces, like each chef handling a specific dish.
  • This makes it much faster than cooking everything in one pot.

2. Teamwork:

  • It spreads these tasks across multiple “cooks” (computers or servers) to work simultaneously.
  • This means more hands in the kitchen, getting the job done quicker.

3. Memory Mastery:

  • Spark keeps frequently used ingredients (data) in its memory, like a chef’s prep station.
  • This makes accessing and processing data much faster than going back to the pantry every time.

4. Recipe Book:

  • Spark offers a wide range of recipes (functions) for different cooking tasks (data operations).
  • This includes sorting, filtering, joining, cleaning, and even creating fancy new dishes (machine learning models).

5. Flexible Kitchen:

  • Spark can work with various ingredients (data formats) like CSV, JSON, Parquet, and more.
  • This means it can handle whatever you throw at it!


  • Analyzing millions of customer transactions to uncover buying patterns and trends.
  • Processing billions of sensor readings from machines to predict maintenance needs.
  • Training machine learning models to recommend products or detect fraud.
  • Joining massive datasets from different sources to create a comprehensive view of your business.
  • Apache Spark is a parallel processing framework that supports in-memory processing to boost the performance of big data analytic applications
  • Apache Spark in Azure Synapse Analytics is one of Microsoft’s implementations of Apache Spark in the cloud. 
  •  Azure Synapse makes it easy to create and configure a serverless Apache Spark pool in Azure.
  • Spark pools in Azure Synapse are compatible with Azure Storage and Azure Data Lake Generation 2 Storage. 
  • Spark pools to process your data stored in Azure.

What is Apache Spark?

  • Apache Spark provides primitives for in-memory cluster computing.
  • A Spark job can load and cache data into memory and query it repeatedly.
  •  In-memory computing is much faster than disk-based applications. 
  •  Spark also integrates with multiple programming languages to let you manipulate distributed data sets like local collections. 

The benefits of creating a Spark pool in Azure Synapse Analytics are listed here.

Spark pools in Azure Synapse include the following components that are available on the pools by default:

  • Spark Core. Includes Spark Core, Spark SQL, GraphX, and MLlib.
  • Anaconda
  • Apache Livy
  • nteract notebook

Spark pool architecture

1. Spark Application Submission:

  • You submit a Spark application (written in Scala, Python, or Java) to the Azure Synapse workspace.
  • This application contains the code that defines the data processing tasks you want to perform.

2. Driver Node Creation:

  • Azure Synapse creates a driver node, the control center of the Spark application.
  • It’s responsible for:
    • Parsing and analyzing the code.
    • Distributing tasks to worker nodes.
    • Coordinating communication and data exchange.
    • Collecting and presenting results.

3. Worker Node Allocation:

  • Azure Synapse provisions a set of worker nodes (compute instances) according to your specified configuration.
  • These nodes execute the tasks assigned by the driver node in parallel.

4. Data Loading:

  • The Spark application loads data from various sources:
    • Azure Data Lake Storage.
    • Azure Blob Storage.
    • Other supported data sources.
  • Data is distributed across worker nodes for parallel processing.

5. Data Processing:

  • Spark’s distributed processing engine kicks in:
    • Tasks are executed concurrently on worker nodes.
    • Data is transformed, aggregated, filtered, joined, or processed based on the application’s logic.
    • Spark’s in-memory processing and optimizations accelerate operations.

6. Intermediate Results:

  • Partial results are stored in memory or disk for efficient retrieval and further processing.
  • Spark’s caching mechanisms minimize redundant data reads.

7. Final Results:

  • Once all tasks are completed, the driver node collects and aggregates the final results.
  • Results can be:
    • Stored back to Azure storage services.
    • Displayed in the notebook environment.
    • Used for further analysis or visualization.

8. Resource Release:

  • After the Spark application finishes, worker nodes are released to optimize resource utilization.
  • You can configure automatic termination or manual management of the Spark pool.

Key Components:

  • Driver Node: The brain of the Spark application, responsible for coordination and control.
  • Worker Nodes: The workhorses that execute tasks in parallel.
  • Cluster Manager: Manages resource allocation and coordination among nodes (typically YARN or K8s).
  • Spark API: Provides a rich set of functions and libraries for data processing and analysis.
  • Distributed Storage: Stores data and intermediate results (e.g., Azure Data Lake Storage).
  • Memory Caching: Improves performance by caching data in memory for faster access.

Additional Considerations:

  • Scalability: Spark pools can scale up or down by adding or removing worker nodes to handle varying workloads.
  • Resilience: Spark can recover from node failures to ensure job completion.
  • Integration: Spark pools in Azure Synapse connect seamlessly with other services like SQL pools and Data Explorer for comprehensive analytics.

Explained in simple words and using a cooking analogy:

1. The Master Chef (Driver):

  • Manages the entire kitchen (cluster), like the head chef overseeing all operations.
  • Takes orders (code), plans the cooking process, and coordinates the other chefs.
  • Works with the recipe book (Spark API) to create the perfect meal (data processing).

2. The Brigade of Chefs (Worker Nodes):

  • Individual chefs (computers or servers) responsible for specific cooking tasks.
  • Each chef gets assigned a portion of the recipe (data) to prepare.
  • They work independently but communicate with the head chef for guidance.

3. The Pantry (Distributed Storage):

  • Stores all the ingredients (data) needed for the feast.
  • Chefs can access ingredients from the pantry or their personal prep stations (memory).
  • Azure Data Lake Storage or other storage services often act as the pantry.

4. The Prep Stations (Memory):

  • Chefs keep frequently used ingredients (data) close at hand for quick access.
  • This makes cooking faster and more efficient.
  • Spark leverages memory caching to speed up processing.

5. The Recipe Book (Spark API):

  • Contains a collection of recipes (functions) for various cooking techniques (data operations).
  • Chefs can use these recipes to prepare different dishes (data transformations).
  • Examples include chopping (filtering), mixing (joining), baking (aggregating), and creating new dishes (machine learning models).

6. The Serving Line (Output):

  • Once dishes are ready, they’re arranged on the serving line for guests (users) to enjoy.
  • Spark can serve results in various formats (CSV, JSON, Parquet, etc.) for different needs.

Apache Spark in Azure Synapse Analytics use cases

Spark pools in Azure Synapse Analytics enable the following key scenarios:

Data Engineering/Data Preparation

Apache Spark includes many language features to support preparation and processing of large volumes of data so that it can be made more valuable and then consumed by other services within Azure Synapse Analytics. This is enabled through multiple languages (C#, Scala, PySpark, Spark SQL) and supplied libraries for processing and connectivity.

Machine Learning

When combined with built-in support for notebooks, you have an environment for creating machine learning applications.

Streaming Data

Synapse Spark supports Spark structured streaming as long as you are running supported version of Azure Synapse Spark runtime release. 

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x