Simplify Data Transformation with Azure Data Factory ETL 101

• March 15th, 2023

Azure Data Factory ETL FI

In recent years, the cloud has emerged as a powerful tool for storing and processing data. Many organizations consider migrating their data to the cloud because of the benefits. They have the ability to scale resources up or down as needed and the convenience of accessing data from anywhere with an internet connection. 

However, migrating data to the cloud can be a complex and challenging process, and it’s important to approach it with careful planning and execution to ensure a successful outcome. In this article, we will learn about Azure Data Factory ETL, how it works, and look at some use cases too.

What is Azure Data Factory?

Azure Data Factory is a cloud-based data integration service provided by Microsoft Azure. It enables the creation, management, and orchestration of data pipelines. Data pipelines move and transform data from various sources to various destinations. Azure Data Factory supports a wide range of data integration scenarios, including batch, real-time, and hybrid data movement.

With Azure Data Factory, users can easily create and manage data pipelines using a visual interface or code-based approach. It also provides built-in connectors and transformations for many popular data sources and destinations, including Azure Blob Storage, Azure Data Lake Storage, Azure SQL Database, and more. Additionally, Azure Data Factory supports integration with other Azure services, such as Azure Databricks, Azure HDInsight, and Azure Synapse Analytics, enabling users to build end-to-end data integration and analytics solutions.

Azure Data Factory provides robust security and monitoring capabilities, including integration with Azure Monitor and Azure Security Center, to ensure that data is moved securely and compliance requirements are met. It also offers flexible pricing options, including pay-as-you-go and reserved capacity, to fit various data integration needs and budgets.

How does Azure Data Factory work?

Here’s a brief overview of how Azure Data Factory ETL works:

  • Connect to Data Sources: You can connect to a wide range of data sources, including SQL Server, Azure Blob Storage, Azure Data Lake Storage, Oracle, MySQL, and more.
  • Define Data Pipelines: You can define a data pipeline that describes how data will be extracted from the sources, transformed, and loaded into destinations. The pipeline is defined using JSON files and includes information about the data sources, data transformations, and destinations.
  • Create Data Transformations: Azure Data Factory provides a set of built-in data transformations, such as data filtering, sorting, aggregating, and joining. Additionally, users can use Azure Databricks, HDInsight, or custom code to perform more advanced data transformations.
  • Schedule and Orchestrate Data Workflows: Once the pipeline is defined, users can schedule the pipeline to run automatically on a regular basis, such as daily or weekly. Azure Data Factory also provides a way to monitor and manage the pipeline’s execution and to alert users if there are any errors or issues.
  • Monitor and Manage Data Pipelines: Azure Data Factory provides a way to monitor the health of the data pipeline, including monitoring data volumes, data processing speed, and data quality. Users can also manage the pipeline, including pausing, resuming, and canceling the pipeline.

Understanding Azure Data Factory ETL

Data migration can be done using Microsoft Azure Data Factory, which allows for the transfer of data between cloud data stores and between on-premise and cloud data stores. Copy Activity is a feature of Azure Data Factory that can be used to copy data from a source data store to a sink data store. Azure Data Factory offers a range of data stores, including Azure Blob storage, Azure Cosmos DB (DocumentDB API), Azure Data Lake Store, Oracle, and Cassandra, among others. 

Transformation activities such as Hive, MapReduce, Spark, etc., are also supported by Azure Data Factory. These transformation activities can be added to pipelines individually or with other activities. If you need to transfer data to/from a data store not supported by Copy Activity, you can use a .NET custom activity in Azure Data Factory. This requires creating your own logic for copying/moving data. 

Key Components of Azure Data Factory ETL

Azure Data Factory has four key components:

  • Activities: Activities are the individual tasks within a pipeline that perform a specific action. Several types of activities are available in Azure Data Factory, such as data movement, data transformation, control flow, and custom activities. Activities can be combined to form a pipeline.
  • Datasets: Data Sets define the data structures that are used as inputs or outputs for activities in a pipeline. It specifies the location of the data, the format of the data, and the schema of the data.
  • Pipeline: A pipeline is a logical grouping of activities that define a data integration workflow. A pipeline can be used to ingest data from various sources, transform it as required, and then write it to a target data store.
  • Linked Service: Linked Services define the connection information to the data stores that are used as input or output to activities in a pipeline. A linked service specifies the connection string, authentication details, and other properties required to connect to the data store.

The following diagram depicts how these four components work together:

Azure Data Factory ETL: How it works?
Azure Data Factory Key Components

Azure Data Factory Use Cases

Use Case

Scenario: Online retailers use personalized product recommendations to attract customers and increase sales. This involves customizing the user’s online experience by presenting them with products they are likely interested in based on their current and past shopping behavior, product information, and customer segmentation data. 

Problems: Online retailers encounter numerous obstacles while attempting to implement this kind of use case. Let’s look at a few. First, users must collect data of varying sizes and structures from multiple data sources, both in the cloud and on-premises. This data encompasses product information, previous customer behavior, and user data as the user interacts with the online retail platform. Next, it is essential to predict and calculate personalized product recommendations accurately. This requires consideration of factors such as product and brand preferences, customer browsing behavior, and feedback on previous purchases to determine the best product recommendations for the user.

Solution: The online retailer uses various data storage options, including an Azure Blob store, an on-premises SQL Server, Azure SQL Database, and a relational data mart. These are used to store customer information, customer behavior data, and product information data. The product information data, including brand information and a product catalog, is stored on-premises in Azure Synapse Analytics. All of the collected data is then consolidated and input into a product recommendation system. This system generates personalized recommendations based on customer interests and actions as the user peruses the product catalog on the website.

You can read the detailed case study on how Azure Data Factory ETL will help in such a scenario here.

Here are some other use cases of Azure Data Factory:

  • Azure Data Factory can ingest data from various sources, such as on-premises databases, cloud storage services, and SaaS applications, and transform that data for analytics, reporting, or other purposes.
  • Azure Data Factory supports near real-time data processing using Azure Stream Analytics, Event Hubs, and other real-time data sources.
  • Azure Data Factory can help automate the backup and restore process for databases and applications, making it easier to recover from data loss or disasters.
  • Azure Data Factory can collect and process data from IoT devices using Azure IoT Hub and other IoT services.
  • Azure Data Factory can prepare data for machine learning and create data pipelines that support machine learning workflows.

Drawbacks of Azure Data Factory ETL

  • While Azure Data Factory provides a range of built-in connectors and activities to integrate data from various sources, it may not accommodate more complex data integration scenarios. This may require additional customization using third-party tools or programming languages.
  • It has limited data transformation capabilities compared to other tools in the market. It may require additional tools or services to perform complex data transformations.
  • While it offers a range of pricing options, the cost can quickly escalate when dealing with large amounts of data or complex integration scenarios. This can make it less cost-effective than other data integration tools like Hevo in the market.
  • Monitoring and debugging data pipelines can be challenging, particularly when errors occur. It can be difficult to pinpoint the root cause of an issue, leading to delays in troubleshooting and resolution.


Azure Data Factory is a strong and well-established tool for merging data from diverse sources. It also works seamlessly with Microsoft’s analytics and business intelligence solutions like Power BI and Azure HDInsight.

However, if you require an on-premises and cloud data integration solution, consider trying Hevo Data. If data replication must occur every few hours, you will have to switch to a custom data pipeline. Instead of spending months developing and maintaining such data integrations, you can enjoy a smooth ride with Hevo’s 150+ plug-and-play integrations (including 40+ free sources).

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Saving countless hours of manual data cleaning & standardizing, Hevo’s pre-load data transformations get it done in minutes via a simple drag and drop interface or your custom python scripts. No need to go to your data warehouse for post-load transformations. You can run complex SQL transformations from the comfort of Hevo’s interface and get your data in the final analysis-ready form. 

Want to take Hevo for a ride? Sign Up for a 14-day free trial and simplify your data replication process. Check out the pricing details to understand which plan fulfills all your business needs.


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