Real-Time Digital Twins: A New Approach to Streaming Analytics


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Real-time digital twins offer a compelling new software model for tracking and analyzing telemetry from large numbers of data sources. Consider the typical, conventional streaming analytics pipeline available on popular cloud platforms:

A conventional pipeline combines telemetry from all data sources into a single stream which is queried by the user’s streaming analytics application. This code often takes the form of a set of SQL queries (extended with time-windowing semantics) running continuously to select interesting events from the stream. These query results are then forwarded to a data lake for offline analytics using tools such as Spark and for data visualization. Query results also might be forwarded to cloud-based serverless functions to trigger alerts or other actions in conjunction with access to a database or blob store.

These techniques are highly effective for analyzing telemetry in aggregate to identify unusual situations which might require action. For example, if the telemetry is tracking a fleet of rental cars, a query could report all cars by make and model that have reported a mechanical problem more than once over the last 24 hours so that follow-up inquiries can be made. In another application, if the telemetry stream contains key-clicks from an e-commerce clothing site, a query might count how many times a garment of a given type or brand was viewed in the last hour so that a flash sale can be started.

A key limitation of this approach is that it is difficult to separately track and analyze the behavior of each individual data source, especially when they number in the thousands or more. It’s simply not practical to create a unique query tailored for each data source. Fine-grained analysis by data source must be relegated to offline processing in the data lake, making it impossible to craft individualized, real-time responses to the data sources.

For example, a rental car company might want to alert a driver if she/he strays from an allowed region or appears to be lost or repeatedly speeding. An e-commerce company might want to offer a shopper a specific product based on analyzing the click-stream in real time with knowledge of the shopper’s brand preferences and demographics. These individualized actions are impractical using the conventional tools of real-time streaming analytics.

However, real-time digital twins easily bring these capabilities within reach. Take a look at how the streaming pipeline differs when using real-time digital twins:

The first important difference to note is that the execution platform automatically correlates telemetry events by data source. This avoids the need for the application to select events by data source using queries (which is impractical in any case when using a conventional pipeline with many data sources). The second difference is that real-time digital twins maintain immediately accessible (in-memory) state information for each data source which is used by message-processing code to analyze incoming events from that data source. This enables straightforward application code to immediately react to telemetry information in the context of knowledge about the history and state of each data source.

For example, the rental car application can keep each driver’s contract, location history, and the car’s known mechanical issues and service history within the corresponding digital twin for immediate reference to help detect whether an alert is needed. Likewise, the e-commerce application can keep each shopper’s recent product searches along with brand preferences and demographics in her/his digital twin, enabling timely suggestions targeted to each shopper.

The power of real-time digital twins lies in their ability to make fine-grained analysis and responses possible in real time for thousands of data sources. They are made possible by scalable, in-memory computing technology hosted on clusters of cloud-based servers. This provides the fast response times and scalable throughput needed to support many thousands of data sources.

Lastly, real-time digital twins open the door to real-time aggregate analytics that analyze state data across all instances to spot emerging patterns and trends. Instead of waiting for the data lake to provide insights, aggregate analytics on real-time digital twins can immediately surface patterns of interest, maximizing situational awareness and assisting in the creation of response strategies.

With aggregate analytics, the rental car company can identify regions with unusual delays due to weather or highway blockages and then alert the appropriate drivers to suggest alternative routes. The e-commerce company can spot hot-selling products perhaps due to social media events and respond to ensure that inventory is made available.

Real-time digital twins create exciting new capabilities that were not previously possible with conventional techniques. You can find detailed information about ScaleOut Software’s cloud service for real-time digital twins here.

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