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Originally developed as an internal Facebook project, Cassandra has become the standard distributed database since it was released as an open sourced application. Cassandra offers a lot of power and flexibility with the right amount of time and effort invested to master this complex system. However, as the project matures, it's become much easier to set up a working cluster. Cassandra is a distributed key/value system, with highly structured values that are held in a hierarchy similar to the classic database/table levels, with the equivalents being keyspaces and column families. It's very close to the data model used by Google's BigTable. By default, the data is sharded and balanced automatically using consistent hashing on key ranges, though other schemes can be configured. The data structures are optimized for consistent write performance, at the cost of occasionally slow read operations. One very useful feature is the ability to specify how many nodes must agree before a read or write operation completes.

The lowest-level interface to Cassandra is through Thrift, but there are friendlier clients available for most major languages. The recommended option for running queries is through Hadoop which can be installed directly on the same cluster to ensure locality of access, and there's also a distribution of Hadoop integrated with Cassandra available from DataStax. There is a bare-bone command-line interface that allowes basic administration tasks.

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