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Decoding the battle: Massively parallel processing vs big data

Amid the debate on which approach is better suited to meet the evolving demands of the data-driven landscape, there may be no clear winner.
Chris Pallikarides
By Chris Pallikarides, General manager, ITBusiness, a company in the KID Group.
Johannesburg, 14 Dec 2023
Chris Pallikarides, MD of ITBusiness.
Chris Pallikarides, MD of ITBusiness.

In the ever-expanding realm of data processing and analytics, two heavyweight contenders − massively parallel processing (MPP) and big data − have been vying for dominance.

Each brings its own set of strengths and weaknesses to the arena, sparking debate on which approach is better suited to meet the evolving demands of the data-driven landscape. In the MPP versus big data showdown, there may be no clear winner.

Understanding the basics

To get to grips with the strengths of each, it’s important to have a knowledge of the basics:

MPP architecture revolves around the parallel processing of data across multiple nodes. The fundamental principle involves breaking down complex tasks into smaller sub-tasks and executing them simultaneously, leveraging the computing power of a distributed network of nodes.

This approach excels in scalability and performance, making it a popular choice for organisations dealing with large datasets and analytical workloads.

As technology continues to advance, the lines between MPP and big data are becoming increasingly blurred.

Big data, on the other hand, is a broader concept encompassing the handling and analysis of massive volumes of data, typically characterised by the three Vs: volume, velocity and variety. Big data solutions often involve distributed storage and processing frameworks.

The focus is on managing diverse data types, including structured and unstructured data, and extracting valuable insights from the sheer volume and variety of information.

The clash of features

Next, let’s compare the outstanding features of each:


MPP architecture is synonymous with scalability. As data volumes grow, organisations can seamlessly scale their computing power horizontally by adding more nodes. This makes it an ideal choice for scenarios where scalability is a critical requirement.

Big data frameworks are designed to handle massive volumes of data, making them inherently scalable. The distributed nature of storage and processing in big data solutions allows for horizontal scalability, ensuring the system can grow to accommodate increasing data loads.


The parallel processing nature of MPP architecture significantly enhances performance. Complex queries and analytical tasks can be executed more quickly as they are distributed and processed simultaneously across multiple nodes.

Big data frameworks prioritise performance by leveraging parallel processing as well. Apache Spark, a popular big data framework, uses in-memory processing to boost the speed of data processing, making it suitable for real-time analytics.

Data variety:

While MPP architecture excels in processing structured data efficiently, it may face challenges when dealing with diverse data types, such as unstructured or semi-structured data.

Big data solutions are designed to handle a wide variety of data types, including structured, semi-structured and unstructured data. This versatility makes them well-suited for scenarios where data comes in different formats.


MPP architecture is often tailored for specific types of workloads, such as analytics. It may excel in scenarios where structured data processing is the primary focus.

Big data solutions offer more flexibility, catering to a broader range of use cases. They can handle diverse data processing requirements, making them adaptable to different analytical and processing needs.

Battle on common ground

Data processing paradigms:

MPP architecture, with its focus on parallel processing, is particularly adept at handling complex analytical queries. It excels in scenarios where organisations need to derive insights from large datasets through sophisticated analytics.

Big data solutions are not limited to analytics but also encompass data processing paradigms like batch processing, real-time processing and iterative processing. This versatility allows them to address a wide array of data processing needs.

Use cases:

MPP architecture finds its sweet spot in scenarios where structured data analytics is the primary requirement. It is well-suited for organisations with a clear focus on extracting insights from large datasets efficiently.

Big data solutions shine in use cases where the data is diverse, voluminous and requires processing in various ways. From processing log files in real-time to analysing social media data, big data frameworks offer a more comprehensive approach.

Co-existence and integration

The debate between MPP and big data is not necessarily a binary choice. In fact, many organisations find value in integrating both approaches to create a holistic and optimised data processing environment.

Hybrid solutions:

Organisations may choose to leverage MPP architecture for specific analytical workloads where structured data is predominant. This allows for optimised performance in scenarios tailored to the strengths of MPP.

Big data solutions can be employed to handle the diverse and voluminous aspects of data. They can complement MPP architecture by providing the flexibility needed to process various data types and support different processing paradigms.

Ecosystem integration:

MPP architecture can seamlessly integrate with existing data warehouse solutions and analytics tools. This integration ensures a smooth transition for organisations looking to enhance their analytical capabilities.

Big data frameworks often have a rich ecosystem of tools and libraries that can be integrated into existing workflows. This allows organisations to tap into the versatility of big data solutions without disrupting their current infrastructure.

The future landscape

As technology continues to advance, the lines between MPP and big data are becoming increasingly blurred. Emerging solutions are integrating the best of both worlds, offering parallel processing capabilities within the broader framework of big data analytics.

Convergence of technologies:

Solutions that combine the scalability and performance of MPP architecture with the versatility and data handling capabilities of big data frameworks are gaining traction. This convergence aims to provide organisations with a unified platform that caters to diverse data processing needs.

Advanced analytics:

The future landscape may witness a shift towards more advanced analytics solutions that seamlessly integrate MPP and big data capabilities. This could lead to the development of platforms that offer real-time analytics on large and diverse datasets.

In the MPP versus big data showdown, there is no clear winner. The choice between the two depends on the specific needs, use cases and priorities of an organisation. While MPP architecture excels in structured data analytics and scalability, big data solutions offer versatility in handling diverse data types and processing paradigms.

The evolving data landscape suggests the future lies in a harmonious integration of both approaches. Organisations that can leverage the strengths of MPP for structured analytics and big data for diverse data processing will likely emerge as frontrunners in the data-driven race.

As technology continues to evolve, the debate may shift from an either/or scenario to a collaborative effort, where MPP and big data co-exist and complement each other in the pursuit of unlocking the full potential of data.