What is Data Streaming? The Complete Guide

Luke Smith
Enterprise Solutions Architect
July 27, 2023
Matt Tanner
Developer Relations Lead
July 27, 2023
Luke Smith
July 27, 2023
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In the era of instantaneous updates, where information travels almost faster than light, our hunger for real-time knowledge is becoming insatiable. Whether knowing the latest trends, predicting market behavior, or keeping up with social media posts, today's digital world thrives on real-time data. This is where data streaming, a term steadily making its way into the core of modern technology discussions, has begun to see massive traction. 

Far beyond just being something that end users want, real time data streaming represents a significant shift in the way businesses and organizations handle and process data. Imagine a continuous flow of information where data can be queried, analyzed, and acted upon in real time. This is the exact picture many businesses that want to implement real-time data streaming technologies envision. The implications of this technology are vast, impacting sectors from finance to healthcare, from social media to the Internet of Things (IoT). Data streaming is a core piece of modern technology.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve deep into data streaming. We'll start by understanding streaming data and how it works and then explore some real-world examples. We'll discuss how it differs from 'normal' data and highlight the contrasting features of traditional batch processing and real-time streams. We'll also look at the numerous benefits and some of the challenges that come with data streaming. Lastly, we'll introduce you to some practical ways Arcion enables businesses to effectively harness the power of streaming data. 

With the agenda set, let’s dive into the realm of data streaming and explore a technology that's not just shaping the present but also paving the way for the future. Whether you're a seasoned data engineer or just curious about the buzzword, let’s dig in.

Table of Contents

What is Streaming Data?

Data streaming, a crucial aspect of data science and analytics, refers to the constant flow of data generated from various sources at high speeds and large volumes. Unlike traditional data stored first and then processed in batches, streaming data evolves continuously, reflecting its dynamic nature. Consider comparing a still photo and a live video feed—the former captures a single moment. At the same time, the latter offers a continuous view of unfolding events.

Sources of streaming data are diverse, spanning from social media platforms and websites to IoT devices and business applications. Each tweet, website click, smartwatch-recorded heartbeat, and temperature reading from a smart thermostat represents streaming data.

Streaming data processing occurs incrementally and in real-time, setting it apart from regular data. As new data emerges, it's instantly processed, often without first being stored. This enables immediate insights and actions, which is crucial for time-sensitive scenarios like fraud detection, real-time analytics, and live monitoring.

How Streaming Data Works?

Data streaming requires a multitude of various technologies and steps to enable it. Understanding how streaming data works requires focusing on two primary stages: Data Collection and Data Processing. Both these stages involve unique challenges and employ specific technologies to ensure the seamless flow and utilization of data. Let's explore these stages in more detail to better understand what goes into each process.

Data Collection 

The initial stage in working with streaming data involves gathering it from multiple sources. These sources could range from IoT devices, websites, web applications, industrial sensors, servers, and other data-producing entities. This process is referred to as Data Collection.

There are a few challenges that tend to appear at this stage. One common challenge in this stage is the sheer velocity and volume of data that can be produced by the various sources from which data is being collected. Depending on the scale of the streaming data, this challenge can become more pronounced. To manage this challenge, specific technologies facilitate efficient data capture and transport at scale. Let’s look at a few common platforms that can help with data collection.

Apache Kafka: This highly popular open-source streaming platform is a real-time, fault-tolerant, and highly reliable messaging system. It's designed to handle data streams from multiple sources and deliver them to multiple consumers, effectively acting as the "pipeline" for streaming data.

Amazon Kinesis: A cloud-based service available via Amazon Web Services (AWS), making it easy to collect, process, and analyze real-time streaming data. By using Amazon Kinesis, organizations can stream data to get timely insights and react quickly to new information, especially using other platforms within the AWS ecosystem.

Google Cloud Pub/Sub: This messaging and ingestion service is available on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) for event-driven systems and streaming analytics. Like Amazon Kinesis, Google Cloud Pub/Sub offers low-latency messaging to move data between different services within GCP and beyond.

Data Processing

Once the data is collected, the next major step is to process the data. The Data Processing stage is where the real-time aspect of streaming data truly shines. Instead of waiting for the data to be stored, as seen in more traditional architectures, streaming data is immediately processed as it arrives in the system that will process it. The output of data processing could be in the form of analytics, transformation, or aggregation.

Regarding processing data being streamed, various technologies and platforms can be leveraged to perform these real-time processing tasks. Let’s look at a few platforms that can help with data processing.

Apache Storm: This open-source distributed real-time computation system makes it easy to process unbounded streams of data reliably. The platform was acquired and open-sourced by Twitter.

Apache Flink: Flink is another open-source stream processing framework for high-performance, reliable, and real-time applications. It has robust fault tolerance, high throughput, and low latency capabilities.

Spark Streaming: An extension of the core Apache Spark API, Spark Streaming is used to process real-time data streams. It's designed to provide scalable, high-throughput, fault-tolerant stream processing.

Amazon Kinesis Data Analytics: Part of the AWS Kinesis suite, it allows you to process and analyze streaming data with standard SQL or build custom analyses with Java, Python, or Scala.

Each stage is crucial to building and utilizing a streaming data pipeline. Of course, each stage has challenges that require appropriate tools and strategies to ensure success. Understanding what each stage does provides a better grasp of how streaming data works, how it can be managed effectively, and what use cases it can be applied to within your organization. 

Now that we know how streaming data works, our next step is to dig even further into the specifics of stream data processing.

Understanding Stream Data Processing

Stream data processing is all about analyzing and acting on real-time data as it comes in, without waiting for it to be stored and processed later. It's key to transforming raw data into insights that inform decision-making. Let's simplify some essential concepts and components related to stream data processing.

Continuous Queries

In contrast to traditional one-off queries, continuous queries keep running and continuously update the results in real time. The query is re-evaluated as new data flows in, ensuring the data is always up-to-date.

Time Window Operations

Given the constant influx of streaming data, it's necessary to operate on data subsets defined by specific time windows, like calculating sensor averages every minute or counting website clicks hourly. Time windows can be "tumbling" (non-overlapping), "sliding" (overlapping), or "session" (dynamically based on data flow).

State Management

Stream-processing applications often require effective state management. For instance, maintaining a state for each user session would be essential if you're monitoring user activity on a website. Given the high volume and speed of streaming data, this state information must be managed efficiently.

Fault Tolerance

Stream processing systems should be fault-tolerant as streaming data is critical to operations. This implies the system should recover from faults and failures without losing data or producing incorrect results. High availability architecture, replication, checkpointing, and replaying from a log can enhance fault tolerance.


Due to streaming data's high volume and speed, stream processing systems must be scalable to handle large data amounts. This often requires distributed processing across multiple nodes and scaling in response to fluctuating data rates. Using cloud-based platforms can facilitate scalability.


Stream processing requires interaction with various systems, from data sources and storage systems to applications utilizing the processed data. Thus, a stream processing system must robustly integrate with other systems for efficient data processing and broader data architecture collaboration.

Successful stream data processing can empower businesses with real-time decision-making capabilities, increasing agility and fostering new services and applications, such as live dashboards, real-time recommendations, and dynamic pricing models. In the next section, we'll delve into real-world examples to further demonstrate the applicability of streaming data.

Examples of Streaming Data

Streaming data profoundly influences our daily lives, from social media updates and IoT sensor readings to financial data. Below, we'll explore some key areas where streaming data significantly impacts various sectors.

Social Media

Streaming data is prominently found in social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, where continuous user interactions offer real-time insights into trends, sentiments, and behaviors. Companies leverage this data to identify trending content, monitor brand reputation, and predict future trends.

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT devices are substantial streaming data contributors. Devices like smart thermostats, security systems, and smart appliances continuously stream data that allows real-time control, monitoring, and even predictive maintenance.

Financial Services

In finance, real-time data from stock exchanges inform automated, high-frequency trading decisions based on market trends. Banks and credit card companies employ streaming data for real-time transaction monitoring and fraud detection.


Telecom companies handle vast streaming data from call records, network performance indicators, and user activities. Real-time data processing enables network performance monitoring, issue detection, and personalized customer recommendations.


Streaming data in healthcare comes from wearable devices that monitor user health indicators. Real-time data processing allows health status monitoring, personalized feedback, and emergency alerts. In hospitals, patient monitoring systems use real-time data for constant patient surveillance.

Transportation and Logistics 

Transportation and logistics companies employ streaming data for real-time asset tracking, route optimization, and vehicle predictive maintenance. Real-time tracking improves route efficiency, ensures timely delivery, and enhances operational efficiency.

The examples above underline streaming data's extensive reach and potential across various industries. By harnessing the power of streaming data, businesses in these sectors are enhancing their operations and customer experiences. With streaming data, organizations are creating new opportunities for innovation and growth that are impossible with normal, batch-processed data. In the next sections, we'll explore how streaming data compares with normal data and the specific benefits that streaming data brings.

Difference Between Streaming Data and Normal Data

Streaming and normal/traditional data offer distinct possibilities due to their unique collection, processing, and utilization characteristics. Let's briefly highlight these differences.

Data Collection and Ingestion

Traditional data from static sources, like databases or Excel files, is manually ingested in batches. Conversely, streaming data is continuously generated and automatically ingested into a processing system in real-time or near-real-time.

Data Processing 

While traditional data utilizes a batch processing model, collecting data over specific intervals before processing, streaming data uses real-time processing, offering immediate insights and decision-making capabilities.

Data Storage

For traditional data, storage precedes processing, while storage isn't always necessary with streaming data. Even though it can be analyzed as it streams, streaming data is often stored for future analysis.

Insight Delivery 

Insights from traditional data are delivered after processing the entire data batch, which could lead to delays. Streaming data, however, allows nearly instantaneous insight delivery, which is essential for time-sensitive applications.

Data Volume and Velocity 

Traditional data typically has lower volume and velocity, whereas streaming data is high in both respects. Handling high-velocity and volume data requires robust systems but offers the potential for real-time insights.

The key differences between streaming and normal/traditional data revolve around their generation, processing, storage, and the speed at which they deliver insights. Understanding these differences is crucial when designing and implementing data management and analytical strategies since each type requires a specific architecture. One particular area of difference that should be focused on is data processing. Next, we will examine different processing models, particularly batch processing vs. real-time streams, and discuss their relative use cases, benefits, and trade-offs.

Batch Processing vs Real-Time Streams

In the days of legacy systems, batch processing was typically the only available data processing strategy. With the advent of real-time streams, there is much more to consider regarding data architecture and management strategies. To truly grasp the similarities and differences between batch processing and real-time streams, it's vital to dig into how each method functions, its advantages, and its limitations. Let’s start by looking at the oldest of the two methods: batch processing.

Batch Processing

Batch processing is a traditional method where data is collected over a certain period and processed simultaneously. For example, data may be collected over the day. Then, at a cutoff time, the day’s data would be extracted, sent to a destination system, processed, and made available for reporting the following morning. This model works well when:

  • Data consistency and integrity are paramount: In scenarios like financial reporting, where you must ensure that all transactions are accounted for and the data is consistent, batch processing is preferred.
  • Data volumes are large, and processing can be scheduled during off-peak times. In these cases, batch processing can use system resources more efficiently.
  • The delay in obtaining insights is acceptable: For tasks like daily sales reporting or generating a weekly customer behavior report, it's acceptable to have a delay between data collection and insight generation.

However, batch processing is less suitable when time-sensitive insights are needed. It inherently introduces latency since data is not made available to downstream systems as soon as it is generated. Whether it's a big or small delay, there is a lag from when the data is generated to insight generation. This generally makes batch processing unsuitable for real-time decision-making.

Real-Time Streams

In contrast, real-time stream processing is the method of continuously processing data as it arrives as soon as it is generated. There is no significant delay between when the data is created and when insights can be garnered from it. This model is preferred when:

  • Rapid insights are required: In use cases such as fraud detection, emergency alerts, or real time analytics, insights must be generated immediately from the incoming data stream.
  • The system needs to respond to events as they occur: Systems like real-time monitoring tools, live dashboards, and real-time recommendation engines must process and react to data as soon as it arrives.
  • Data volume and velocity are high: Data is generated continuously and quickly with streaming data. Real-time processing can handle such data effectively.

While real-time stream processing provides the advantage of immediate insights, the infrastructure to handle it is significantly more complex than batch processing. It requires a robust infrastructure that can handle high data velocity and volume and scale as data volumes do. Also, ensuring data consistency and integrity when dealing with real-time data streams can be challenging since speed is the priority over accuracy. That said, most streaming technologies have great tools for ensuring consistency and accuracy.

Data Streaming Benefits & Use Cases

Data streaming brings many benefits in a world where immediate insights are needed and expected. Where decisions must be made promptly, and systems must react in real-time, data streaming is the only way to facilitate this. Let’s look at some significant advantages and use cases for data streaming.

Benefits of Data Streaming 

Real-time Decision Making 

Data streaming facilitates immediate decision-making, providing a competitive edge in scenarios where timing is critical. Businesses can react to changes, opportunities, or threats as they happen. This helps businesses to react quickly, ensuring that the insights from the data are making an impact when it is most crucial.

Anomaly Detection 

Real-time data streaming enables immediate detection of outliers or anomalies that could indicate issues such as fraud or system failure. This instant detection allows for prompt action to mitigate potential damage.

Enhanced Customer Experience

Real-time insights can help create personalized user experiences. For example, recommendation systems can use real-time data to provide personalized suggestions based on user activity. Personalized experience tends to do better when it comes to converting customers.

Operational Efficiency

Organizations can streamline their operations by analyzing real-time data, optimizing resource allocation, and improving efficiency. Operations can be optimized through automation, and streaming data can forecast future events, enabling proactive decision-making. This can be particularly beneficial in inventory management or demand forecasting areas.

Use Cases of Data Streaming

Now that we have looked at some of the benefits let's look at how they can be applied across various industries. Although not an exhaustive list, many of these use cases are something you likely benefit from daily.

Predictive Maintenance in Manufacturing

Industrial machines equipped with sensors continuously stream data to report their current running conditions. This data can be analyzed in real-time to predict potential faults and issues before they occur. Doing this helps to reduce downtime and can help to reduce the burden of repair costs. 

Fraud Detection in Financial Services

Banks and financial institutions use real-time data streaming to analyze each transaction as it happens. Suspicious activity can be flagged immediately, preventing potential fraud. This helps to save customers and the institutions money by limiting losses.

Real-Time Recommendations in E-commerce

E-commerce platforms use data streaming to track user's activity on their websites. This real-time data provides personalized recommendations, improving customer experience and boosting sales. As mentioned, customizing this experience helps increase conversions and drive revenue.

Healthcare Monitoring

In healthcare, patient monitoring devices can stream data continuously, enabling real-time monitoring of patients' health. This can immediately alert healthcare professionals to potential health risks, allowing for prompt intervention. Overall, this type of monitoring helps to improve patient outcomes.

Traffic Management in Smart Cities

In smart city initiatives, sensors and cameras around the city stream data in real-time. This data can be used to manage traffic flow efficiently, detect accidents immediately, and provide real-time updates to commuters.

In summary, data streaming can deliver tangible benefits in many applications, making it an essential tool in many industries. Although implementing real-time data streaming capabilities can be a heavy lift, the benefits are too far-reaching not to consider. As seen above, many industries heavily rely on it to drive critical functionalities within their systems.

Challenges for Streaming Data

Streaming data, while beneficial, also presents challenges. These include managing its high speed and volume, which demand significant infrastructure and efficient strategies. However, distributed processing frameworks, like Apache Kafka or Apache Flink, can help tackle this.

Data security is another challenge, necessitating encryption, secure transmission, and robust access control measures. Compliance with data privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA is also crucial. Tools are available to implement and test security measures within real-time streaming pipelines.

Handling data quality and out-of-order data due to network latencies and system delays is also problematic, but this can be addressed with stream processing frameworks offering event-time processing and watermarks. Moreover, streaming data processing can impact system performance, necessitating efficient resource management, scalable architecture, and load balancing.

Extracting meaningful insights from streaming data often requires advanced analytics, including complex event processing, machine learning models, and real-time business intelligence tools. Lastly, the high volume of streaming data calls for effective data lifecycle management strategies and suitable storage solutions.

In these challenges, choosing the right tools, platforms, and strategies tailored to your needs and constraints is essential. Speaking of tools, next, we'll discuss how Arcion, a real-time Change Data Capture solution, can assist in navigating some of these challenges effectively.

How Arcion Helps to Stream Data

Change Data Capture (CDC) is pivotal for implementing real-time streaming data capabilities. Arcion, a CDC platform, provides an efficient way to construct data pipelines for real-time data streaming. Here are some benefits of using Arcion’s CDC for real-time streaming:

Sub-Second Latency

Many CDC solutions struggle with high-volume, high-velocity data, leading to sluggish pipelines. In contrast, Arcion is a unique multi-threaded CDC solution that auto-scales vertically and horizontally, using parallelization to maximize throughput. It enables ultra-low latency replication and streaming to keep pace with increasing data volumes.

100% Agentless CDC

Arcion is the only CDC provider that offers entirely agentless CDC across all its supported connectors. It reads from the database transaction log, avoiding performance issues and security concerns associated with running agent-based software in production environments. Hence, it guarantees real-time, scalable data replication with secure delivery.

Data Consistency

Arcion ensures transactional integrity and data consistency through its CDC technology. Additionally, it features built-in data validation support that works automatically to uphold data integrity. It provides scalable data migration and replication with zero data loss assurance.

Automatic Schema Conversion & Evolution Support

Arcion automates schema change handling, requiring no user involvement. It mitigates data loss and downtime caused by schema changes by intercepting alterations in the source database and propagating them to match the target's schema evolution. Unlike other solutions that reload data upon schema changes, causing pipeline downtime and resource-intensive operations, Arcion manages these changes more efficiently.


In the ever-evolving digital landscape, data streaming is no longer a luxury but a necessity for businesses aiming to stay ahead. By providing the ability to handle and process data in real time, streaming data opens up opportunities for more informed decision-making and offers timely, actionable insights. This powerful technology has proved to be a game-changer across various industries, from manufacturing and finance to healthcare and smart city initiatives.

By embracing real-time streaming data and leveraging platforms like Arcion, organizations can seize new opportunities, optimize operations, and gain a competitive advantage in today's fast-paced and data-driven world. To get started with Arcion, the real-time, in-memory Change Data Capture (CDC) solution, connect with our team today!

Matt is a developer at heart with a passion for data, software architecture, and writing technical content. In the past, Matt worked at some of the largest finance and insurance companies in Canada before pivoting to working for fast-growing startups.
Matt is a developer at heart with a passion for data, software architecture, and writing technical content. In the past, Matt worked at some of the largest finance and insurance companies in Canada before pivoting to working for fast-growing startups.
Luke has two decades of experience working with database technologies and has worked for companies like Oracle, AWS, and MariaDB. He is experienced in C++, Python, and JavaScript. He now works at Arcion as an Enterprise Solutions Architect to help companies simplify their data replication process.
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