This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Big data applications: Real-world strategies for managing big data

Hadoop is a free, Java-based programming framework that supports the processing of large data sets in a distributed computing environment. It is part of the Apache project sponsored by the Apache Software Foundation.

Hadoop makes it possible to run applications on systems with thousands of nodes involving thousands of terabytes. Its distributed file system facilitates rapid data transfer rates among nodes and allows the system to continue operating uninterrupted in case of a node failure. This approach lowers the risk of catastrophic system failure, even if a significant number of nodes become inoperative.

Hadoop was inspired by Google's MapReduce, a software framework in which an application is broken down into numerous small parts. Any of these parts (also called fragments or blocks) can be run on any node in the cluster. Doug Cutting, Hadoop's creator, named the framework after his child's stuffed toy elephant. The current Apache Hadoop ecosystem consists of the Hadoop kernel, MapReduce, the Hadoop distributed file system (HDFS) and a number of related projects such as Apache Hive, HBase and Zookeeper.

The Hadoop framework is used by major players including Google, Yahoo and IBM, largely for applications involving search engines and advertising. The preferred operating systems are Windows and Linux but Hadoop can also work with BSD and OS X.

This was last updated in August 2010

Next Steps

Learn how a low-cost, high-performance computing framework like Hadoop can help an organization's employees improve the way they manage massive amounts of data.

To address specific use cases, Hadoop vendors bundle Hadoop distributions with different levels of support.

To help you decide which vendor distribution subscription best fits your needs, take a look at our in-depth product descriptions of the six leading subscriptions: Amazon Web Services Elastic MapReduce, Cloudera CDH, Hortonworks HDP, IBM BigInsights, Microsoft Azure HDInsight and MapR.  

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