Amazon Redshift: 3 Comprehensive Aspects

on Engineering, Amazon Redshift, AWS, Data Warehouse, Database • September 28th, 2018 • Write for Hevo

As your application gains traction, the size of data that you have to analyze increases exponentially. After a certain point, your queries start taking a lot of time, size of data becomes unmanageable on conventional databases. Consequently, you start looking for a warehousing solution for data storage that can keep your data organized and can make it easily accessible for reporting and analytics. In this blog, we will discuss one of the most talked-about Data Warehouses – Amazon Redshift and its pros and cons. 

Table of Contents

Introduction to Amazon Redshift

Amazon Redshift is a fully managed, cloud-based, petabyte-scale data warehouse service by Amazon Web Services (AWS). It is an efficient solution to collect and store all your data and enables you to analyze it using various business intelligence tools to acquire new insights for your business and customers.

Amazon Redshift offers a Postgres-based query layer that can provide very fast results even when the query spans millions of rows. From an architectural point of view, Amazon Redshift is based on a cluster of nodes, one of which acts as a leader node and the others as compute nodes. The leader node manages communication with clients, creates execution plans for queries, and assigns tasks to compute nodes. Moreover, Amazon ​Redshift can be scaled by adding more nodes, updating existing nodes, or both. Next-gen node-based Redshift clusters with elastic scaling can scale in minutes with very short downtime.

Key Features of Amazon Redshift

Amazon Redshift is popular in the market due to the following features:

1. Performance

With Amazon Redshift, when it comes to queries that are executed frequently, the subsequent queries are usually executed faster. This is because Redshift spends a good portion of the execution plan optimizing the query.

Amazon Redshift has an architecture that allows massively parallel processing using multiple nodes, reducing the load times.

2. Scaling

Amazon Redshift has the ability to scale quickly, letting customers adjust the extent depending on their peak workload times. Redshift supports restoring data from a snapshot and spinning up a cluster.

3. Pricing

Amazon Redshift prices are calculated based on hours of usage. So you can control your expenses by spinning up clusters only when required. You can start at $0.25 per hour and scale up to your needs. A more detailed look into pricing can be found here.

4. ETL

Redshift has a COPY command which is used to load data. But for this, the data needs to be EC2. In case this data is already in Redshift, the COPY command creates duplicate rows. To overcome the complexity that results from these problems, you can use Hevo, which ensures unique records.

Amazon provides AWS Glue and AWS Data Pipeline which make it easier to perform ETL. These work well for AWS services but are not so great when it comes to non-AWS services. In that case, you should certainly checkout Hevo as it has integrations with many databases and cloud applications.

You can read more about Amazon Redshift here.

Hevo, A Hassle-free Approach to Move your Data to Redshift

Hevo Data, a No-code Data Pipeline, automates the entire process of ingesting data from various sources to Redshift in real-time. Hevo is also an official AWS Technology Partner. Hevo is currently able to integrate with hundreds of data sources ranging from SQL, NoSQL, SaaS products, etc. with the click of a button.

Its completely automated pipeline offers data to be delivered in real-time without any loss from source to destination. Its fault-tolerant and scalable architecture ensure that the data is handled in a secure, consistent manner with zero data loss and supports different forms of data. The solutions provided are consistent and work with different Business Intelligence (BI) tools as well.

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Benefits of Using Amazon Redshift

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Amazon Redshift offers the following advantages to its users:

1) Exceptionally fast

Redshift is very fast when it comes to loading data and querying it for analytical and reporting purposes. Redshift has a Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) Architecture that allows you to load data at a blazing fast speed. In addition, using this architecture, Redshift distributes and parallelizes your queries across multiple nodes.
Redshift gives you an option to use Dense Compute nodes which are SSD-based data warehouses. Using this you can run the most complex queries in very little time.

2) High Performance

As discussed in the previous point, Redshift gains high performance using massive parallelism, efficient data compression, query optimization, and distribution.
MPP enables Redshift to parallelize data loading, backup, and restore operation. Furthermore, queries that you execute get distributed across multiple nodes. Redshift is a columnar storage database, which is optimized for the huge and repetitive type of data.

Using columnar storage, reduces the I/O operations on disk drastically, improving performance as a result. Redshift gives you an option to define column-based encoding for data compression. If not specified by the user, Redshift automatically assigns compression encoding. Data compression helps in reducing memory footprint and significantly improves the I/O speed. To read more about it, check out our blog Understanding Amazon Redshift Architecture, here.

3) Horizontally Scalable

Scalability is a very crucial point for any Data warehousing solution and Redshift does a pretty well job in that. Redshift is horizontally scalable. Whenever you need to increase the storage or need it to run faster, just add more nodes using AWS console or Cluster API and it will upscale immediately. During this process, your existing cluster will remain available for reading operations so your application stays uninterrupted.
During the scaling operation, Redshift moves data parallelly between compute nodes of old and new clusters. Therefore enabling the transition to complete smoothly and as quickly as possible.

4) Massive Storage Capacity

As expected from a Data warehousing solution, Redshift provides massive storage capacity. A basic setup can give you a petabyte range of data storage. In addition, Redshift gives you an option to choose Dense Storage types of compute nodes that can provide large storage space using Hard Disk Drives for a very low price. You can further increase the storage by adding more nodes to your cluster and it can go well beyond a petabyte data range.

5) Attractive and Transparent Pricing

Pricing is a very strong point in favor of Redshift, it is considerably cheaper than alternatives or an on-premise solution. Redshift has 2 pricing models, pay as you go and reserved instance. Hence this gives you the flexibility to categorize this expense as an operational expense or capital expense.
If your use case requires more data storage, then with 3 years reserved instance Dense Storage plan, the effective price per terabyte per year can be as low as $935. Comparing this to traditional on-premise storage, which roughly costs around $19k-$25k per terabyte, Redshift is significantly cheaper. You can read more on Redshift pricing here

6) SQL Interface

Redshift Query Engine is based on ParAccel which has the same interface as PostgreSQL If you are already familiar with SQL, you don’t need to learn a lot of new techs to start using the query module of Redshift. Since Redshift uses SQL, it works with existing Postgres JDBC/ODBC drivers, readily connecting to most of the Business Intelligence tools.

7) AWS Ecosystem

Many businesses are running their infrastructure on AWS already, EC2 for servers, S3 for long-term storage, RDS for database, and this number is constantly increasing. Redshift works very well if the rest of your infra is already on AWS and you get the benefit of data locality and the cost of data transport is comparatively low. For a lot of businesses, S3 has become the de-facto destination for cloud storage.

Since Redshift is virtually co-located with S3 and it can access formatted data on S3 with single COPY command. When loading or dumping data on S3, Redshift uses Massive Parallel Processing which can move data at a very fast speed.

8) Security

Amazon Redshift comes packed with various security features. There are options like VPC for network isolation, various ways to handle access control, data encryption, etc. The data encryption option is available at multiple places in Redshift. To encrypt data stored in your cluster you can enable cluster encryption at the time of launching the cluster. Also, to encrypt data in transit, you can enable SSL encryption. When loading data from S3, Redshift allows you to use either server-side encryption or client-side encryption. Finally, at the time of loading data, the S3 or Redshift copy command handles the decryption respectively.


Amazon Redshift clusters can be launched inside your infrastructure Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). Hence you can define VPC security groups to restrict inbound or outbound access to your Redshift clusters.
Using the robust Access Control system of AWS, you can grant privilege to specific users or maintain access on a specific database level. Additionally, you can even define users and groups to have access to specific data in tables.

Limitations of Using Amazon Redshift

This section details some of the Amazon Redshift limitations and disadvantages.

  • Doesn’t enforce uniqueness
    There is no way in Redshift to enforce uniqueness on inserted data. Hence, if you have a distributed system and it writes data on Redshift, you will have to handle the uniqueness yourself either on the application layer or by using some method of data de-duplication.
  • Only S3, DynamoDB, and Amazon EMR support for parallel upload
    If your data is in Amazon S3 or relational DynamoDB or on Amazon EMR, Redshift can load it using Massively Parallel Processing which is very fast. But for all other sources, parallel loading is not supported. You will either have to use JDBC inserts or some scripts to load data into Redshift. Alternatively, you can use an ETL solution like Hevo which can load your data into Redshift parallelly from 100s of sources. 
  • Requires a good understanding of Sort and Dist keys
    Sort keys and Distribution keys decide how data is stored and indexed across all Redshift nodes. Therefore, you need to have a solid understanding of these concepts and you need to properly set them on your tables for optimal performance. There can be only one distribution key for a table and that can not be changed later on, which means you have to think carefully and anticipate future workloads before deciding on Dist key. You can read our blog discussing Amazon Redshift Distribution Keys and Amazon Redshift Sort Keys in detail. 
  • Can’t be used as a live app database
    While Redshift is very fast when running queries on a huge amount of data or running reporting and analytics, but it is not fast enough for live web apps. So you will have to pull data into a caching layer or a vanilla Postgres instance to serve Redshift data to web apps. 
  • Data on Cloud
    Though it is a good thing for most people, in some use cases it could be a point of concern. So if you are concerned with the privacy of data or your data has extremely sensitive content, you may not be comfortable putting it on the cloud.

Conclusion

Amazon Redshift is an amazing solution for Data Warehousing. We have given a brief overview of Amazon Redshift – pros and cons. It has some limitations but it is way ahead of the alternatives like Redshift vs Bigquery and Snowflake vs Redshift. You may need to learn a few things to use it wisely, but once you get the hang of it, it works without a hassle.

In case you choose to set up an Amazon Redshift data warehouse, one of the biggest hurdles you might have to cross is to seamlessly bring data from your existing data sources into Redshift. The challenge levels up if you will need this data in real-time. Writing custom scripts to achieve this can be tricky, causing a compromise in data accuracy and consistency.

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