Welcome to Alation! Alation is a platform for data intelligence, a system designed to help analysts and other data users find the data that they need and provide information to help evaluate the fitness of that data for intended purposes. Using a combination of machine learning and collaborative human curation, Alation helps you make sense of all the data available in your organization. The principal components of the Alation platform are as follows:
A data catalog, a repository of metadata about information sources across your organization, from relational database management systems and business intelligence dashboards to file systems and NoSQL databases, together with knowledge assets such as glossaries, conversations, and other documentation created by your own data owners and producers.
Tools for data governance that empower your organization to manage access to data sources, manage workflows for data curation, and allow for bulk edits to data objects.
Tools for data analysis, including a full-featured SQL query editor, a database that tracks your organization’s use of Alation itself, and graphical views of data lineage that show how data sources together with queries propagate through your information sources.
The Data Catalog¶
A data catalog is a comprehensive inventory of all your enterprise data from multiple data storage sources, including databases, file systems, business intelligence or data visualization tools, and others, together with curated content generated by machine learning in the data catalog and manually by your data stewards.
The Alation data catalog is populated and maintained using an iterative five-step cycle, as follows:
Build the foundation using metadata extraction (MDE). This process uses the data’s own metadata to build the basic structure of the catalog. For example, for a database source, MDE would extract schema names, table and column names, and column data types.
Obtain automated insight with query log ingestion (QLI). This process goes through past activity to identify usage information, popularity, and the initial set of queries, joins, and filters.
Human-guided machine learning refines the catalog further. For example, Alation’s Lexicon suggests business-friendly titles for technical metadata and terms for the glossary. Human curators can confirm the suggestions and quickly improve the quality of the data catalog.
Data stewards provide depth and richness to the catalog by adding documentation including descriptions, articles and glossary terms reflecting domain knowledge and business context for the data assets.
Users complete the cycle, as the key to an effective data culture is for users to be able to make data driven decisions using trusted data. As data objects are discovered, used, and more thoroughly curated, the catalog becomes a richer experience—the better it gets, the more it is used, and the more it is used, the better it gets.
Each data object in the data catalog has its own catalog page. Catalog pages help you understand the data by providing descriptions and information on the popularity, health, and overall trustworthiness of the data. Your users can contribute to the curation effort by asking questions of your data experts through Conversations.
Once your data is visible in the data catalog, users across your enterprise can more easily find appropriate data and use it to improve your business decision-making. Alation’s powerful search capabilities combine with the curated knowledge to guide users to the most commonly used and most trusted data. This improves worker productivity and speeds user onboarding. Alation empowers analysts to find, understand, and share data for faster, more accurate insights.
Data Governance, Curation, and Stewardship¶
Data governance is a broad term describing how an organization manages its data assets, ensuring that those assets are of the highest possible quality, available as needed for the lifecycle of the assets, and controlled according to established processes that ensure support of the organization’s objectives.
The Alation Data Governance application provides tools that support your enterprise goal of fully compliant data. This includes protecting against unintended exposure of personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), or personal credit information (PCI). The app includes the ability to create and manage workflows, and tools for bulk data curation that allows related changes to be propagated to all relevant data objects.
Alation Analytics provides data analysts and data stewards with usage information that describes how users are interacting with the data catalog. It reveals information on usage intensity and usage patterns, which can help inform prioritization of curation and stewardship activities.
Alation provides a number of tools to help analysts work with catalog sources, including:
Compose—a full-featured SQL editor.
Lineage—graphs and views that visualize how target data objects are created from source data objects.
Trust check flags—display warnings about data issues visible to the analyst at the moment the data is being used.
SmartSuggest—recommendations that speed query writing by anticipating analysts requirements.
Alation’s Compose application provides a powerful query tool to most relational database management systems supported by Alation, including Snowflake, Oracle, PostgreSQL, and more. As you build your queries, Alation provides suggestions to help guide you toward the most trusted data sources and away from deprecated data sources. Compose also includes the ability to reuse code snippets, create query forms, schedule queries, collaborate with other users to develop queries, and view and use the query history.
Lineage data answers the questions “Where does this data come?” and “Can I trust it?” It is compiled from data source metadata, query logs, Compose queries, and data posted over Alation’s public APIs. Lineage can also be created manually. This data is then visually represented as a diagram on the Lineage tab of a data source’s catalog page.
Why Is the Alation Data Platform Unique?¶
The Alation data platform is unique in that it was designed with these central properties in mind:
Intelligence informs every aspect of the Alation platform, from the combination of machine learning and human brilliance that drives Alation’s data catalog to the SmartSuggestions generated by the Compose app while you construct a data query.
Collaboration is enabled and encouraged at every stage of catalog construction, curation and stewardship, and query creation and publication.
Guided navigation uses a combination of machine learning and human curation to provide clear guidance as to the most appropriate and trusted information in the data catalog, including data assets, reusable queries, glossary terms, and more. This includes the ability to surface compliance policies at the point of use, empowering people to analyze and use data appropriately.
Active governance ensures that data is used consistently and in compliance with all required policies.
Broad, deep connectivity provides the tools to manage a wide variety of data sources from familiar relational database management systems, to business intelligence servers, file systems, and more.
Alation’s integration initiatives help bring the power of the data catalog to your existing tool set. The initial offerings in Alation Anywhere integrate the Alation data catalog into Tableau and Slack, while Alation Connected Sheets brings the catalog to spreadsheets created with Google Sheets.
Alation provides a set of robust REST APIs which allow the flexible integration of bi-directional data and metadata between the catalog and data and information sources in your enterprise.
Alation Open Initiatives¶
Helping to expand Alation’s broad, deep connectivity are Alation’s Open initiatives, which provide tools to help both Alation and third parties develop new connection capabilities. The Open Connector Framework includes a Software Development Kit (SDK) to enable the rapid development of new connectors to new data sources, BI providers, and more. The Open Data Quality Initiative offers connectivity to third-party data observability tools such as Soda and Bigeye.
Where Should I Start?¶
To learn more about how Alation can best serve you and your data pursuits, follow the descriptions and links below:
If you are new to Alation, a good place to start is Catalog Basics.
To view a 30 minute video overview of the data catalog and its capabilities, watch the Get to Know Alation course in Alation University. Contact your Alation representative or email@example.com to open an account.
To get started understanding Alation and its various sources, see Catalog Sources.
If you are interested in data governance, curation, and stewardship, start with the Data Steward documentation.
If you are interested in data analytics, start with the Data Analyst documentation.
If you have administrator privilege, use the Administrators documentation to learn how to manage, modify, and troubleshoot Alation.
For programmatic access to Alation, see the rich set of public APIs on the Alation Developer Portal.