Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB: 6 Key Differences


Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB FI

Are you struggling to manage and analyze your data effectively? This is where cloud-based data storage solutions like Azure Synapse Analytics and Azure SQL Database come into play. These platforms offer a centralized repository for businesses to store, process, and analyze their data, allowing them to make informed decisions based on real-time insights.

Both platforms offer similar features, such as parallel processing and distributed data analysis across multiple nodes in the cloud. However, they also have some key differences, and understanding these differences can help you select the right solution for your data warehousing needs, analysis, and reporting. So, before we get into their differences, let’s understand what each of them means.

Azure SQL DB Overview

Azure SQL Database is a cloud-based, fully managed platform as a service (PaaS) database engine. It provides users with various database management functions such as backups, upgrading, and monitoring automatically without user intervention. This PaaS technology enables you to focus on the domain-specific database administration and optimization activities critical to your data.

Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB : Azure SQL Db Overview
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Azure SQL Database provides various options to store and monitor the data, such as:

  • Azure Storage: It’s cost-effective and ideal for archiving large amounts of telemetry data—real time data collected from remote sources.
  • Azure Event Hubs: With Azure Event Hubs, you can connect SQL Database with custom data pipelines or monitoring tools. 
  • Azure Monitor logs: It provides a built-in monitoring solution with advanced reporting, alerting, and mitigating capabilities.

Here are the key features of Azure SQL DB:

  • Simplifies database management tasks with a fully managed SQL database.
  • Supports multiple languages and development services.
  • Processes data in various formats, including graph, JSON, and spatial.
  • Scales storage up to 100 TB with Azure SQL Database Hyperscale.
  • Offers serverless options for intermittent and unpredictable usage scenarios.
  • Provides near-instantaneous backup and restore capabilities.
  • Provides Elastic pools for managing multi-tenant application complexity and optimizing price performance.

Azure Synapse Analytics Overview

Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB : Azure Synapse Analytics Overview
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Azure Synapse Analytics is a cloud-based analytics service that provides a unified experience for data warehousing, big data processing, and machine learning. It combines enterprise data warehousing with big data analytics capabilities.

Azure Synapse Analytics also integrates with other Azure services like Power BI, CosmosDB, and AzureML, allowing users to extend their analytics capabilities even further. With its ability to handle large-scale data analytics, Azure Synapse is a popular choice among enterprise-level analytics professionals.

Here are the key features of Azure Synapse Analytics:

  • Built-in data integration with 95+ pre-build connectors.
  • Provides code-free ETL/ELT pipelines.
  • Enterprise-grade security features to protect data.
  • Scalability for all big data workloads.
  • Seamless integration with other Azure services.
  • Generate powerful insights using advanced machine learning capabilities.
  • Provides unified experience for end-to-end analytics solutions.

Comparison Factors – Azure Synapse Analytics vs Azure SQL Database

While selecting a cloud-based data warehouse solution for your business, it’s important to evaluate different options. Comparing key differentiating factors can help you make an informed decision. 

Let’s delve into a comparison of Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL Database.

Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB: Workload

Azure Synapse Analytics and Azure SQL Database are powerful cloud-based database solutions optimized for different types of workloads.

Azure Synapse Analytics can handle complex analytical workloads like OLAP (Online Analytical Processing). In other words, it’s great for handling complex and ad-hoc analysis of data in real time. 

Synapse breaks down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks using a decoupling and parallelizing approach. By processing these tasks simultaneously, it becomes easier to analyze large datasets. 

OLAP workloads often store data in a denormalized form using a schema, and Azure Synapse Analytics is designed to handle these types of datasets. Synapse provides a highly scalable and flexible platform for storing and processing large volumes of data.

On the other hand, Azure SQL Database is a fully managed relational database service that is designed to handle transactional workloads. Which typically involves smaller data sets with a higher frequency of short and simple read/write operations. 

In these scenarios, data is usually stored in a normalized form, meaning it is structured into multiple tables with relationships between them. It is an ideal solution for transactional workloads such as online transaction processing (OLTP) and line-of-business (LOB) applications. 

SQL Database is a good fit for organizations that require high transactional throughput, low latency, and high availability. 

And Azure Synapse Analytics is optimized for complex querying and analysis.

Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB: Polybase 

Azure Synapse Analytics offers a powerful feature called PolyBase. It allows users to query and access data from external sources like Azure Blob Storage, Hadoop, or other data sources using T-SQL

As a result, PolyBase makes it easy to connect to different data sources without moving or copying the data. This enables users to integrate and analyze diverse datasets efficiently.

Azure SQL database doesn’t support PolyBase. However, it does provide similar functionality through its External Tables feature, which allows users to query data stored in external data sources using T-SQL statements. 

But, the External Tables feature does not offer the same level of integration and functionality as PolyBase in Azure Synapse Analytics.

Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB: Data Security

Azure Synapse Analytics provides more extensive security features than Azure SQL DB. 

Firstly, Azure Synapse Analytics includes a dedicated Security Center that offers a centralized view of security policies, recommendations, and alerts for Synapse workspaces. This enables you to easily identify potential security threats and take action to mitigate them. 

Azure SQL Database, on the other hand, does not have a dedicated Security Center.

Secondly, Azure Synapse Analytics includes advanced threat detection capabilities, which can automatically detect and respond to potential security threats. 

Again, this is not available in Azure SQL Database, where users would need to manually monitor their databases for potential security threats.

Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB: Scalability

Azure Synapse Analytics is a cloud-based analytics service specifically designed to process large amounts of data.  It’s specifically optimized for data workloads of 1+ TB. You can also store up to 240 TB for rows and unlimited storage for column store tables.

Azure Synapse Analytics is a better choice for managing and analyzing large-scale data workloads. Additionally, it provides an all-in-one solution for storing, integrating, and analyzing massive data sets.

On the other hand, Azure SQL Database is a better choice for smaller database sizes, as it can efficiently scale up or down based on workload demands. It offers different pricing tiers to cater to different workloads and can quickly adapt to handle varying workloads. 

Therefore, choosing the appropriate service depends on the size and complexity of the data workload. Users should choose the most suitable option based on their specific needs.

Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB: Data Backup and Replication 

Both Azure Synapse Analytics and Azure SQL Database offer automatic backups, but there is a difference in the backup retention periods they provide. Azure SQL Database provides automatic backups that are stored for up to 35 days. This means users don’t need to manage backups manually and can restore data from any point in the past 35 days. 

On the other hand, Azure Synapse Analytics provides backup retention periods ranging from 7 to 35 days

This gives users the flexibility to choose the retention period that best fits their needs. However, this also means that users need to manage their backups proactively and may have a more limited range of restore points to choose from.

Azure Synapse Analytics offers a broader range of replication options than Azure SQL Database. Synapse includes both asynchronous and synchronous replication. It provides advanced tools for monitoring and managing replication status, such as the ability to monitor replication health and set up alerts.

Whereas Azure SQL Database offers basic data replication options such as read replicas, automatic failover, and point-in-time restore to help ensure data availability and recovery. 

While both services provide data replication features, Azure Synapse Analytics provides more extensive options for data replication. Therefore Synapse is a better choice for organizations that require more complex replication scenarios.

Azure Synapse vs Azure SQL DB: Data Analytical Capabilities

Azure Synapse Analytics is specifically designed to handle large-scale analytical workloads, while Azure SQL Database is better suited for smaller analytical workloads. 

Azure Synapse Analytics provides built-in support for advanced analytics tools like Apache Spark and machine learning services. This makes it easier for users to perform complex analytical tasks like predictive modeling and data mining. In contrast, Azure SQL Database has limited support for advanced analytics tools.

Azure Synapse Analytics also offers real-time analytics capabilities through its integration with Azure Stream Analytics, allowing users to analyze streaming data in real time. 

Although Azure SQL Database can handle real-time analytics, it isn’t an ideal choice because it primarily focuses on transaction processing rather than analytical workloads. 

Therefore, Azure Synapse Analytics is a better fit for large-scale and complex analytical workloads. And Azure SQL Database is better suited for simpler analytical tasks and transaction processing.

Comparison FactorsAzure Synapse AnalyticsAzure SQL Database
WorkloadSupports OLAP and complex analytical workloads.Supports transactional workloads.
PolyBase CapabilityHas built-in PolyBase capability.No built-in PolyBase capability.
Data SecurityOffers more extensive security features such as network isolation, a dedicated Security Center, and advanced threat detection capabilities.Simple security features and no dedicated Security Center.
ScalabilityOptimized for data workloads of 1 TB and above and can store and process up to 240 TB of data for the row store and unlimited storage for column store tables.A better choice for smaller database sizes, as it can efficiently scale up or down based on workload demands.
Data Backup and ReplicationBackup retention periods range from 7 to 35 days and offer asynchronous and synchronous replication and active geo-replication.Backup retention periods of up to 35 days, and offers read-scale-out and failover groups for replication.
Data Analytical CapabilitiesHas built-in support for advanced analytics tools like Apache Spark and machine learning and handles large-scale analytical workloads.Has built-in support for basic analytics tools and is better suited for smaller analytical workloads.

Azure SQL DB vs Synapse Analytics: Which is Better?

SQL databases are ideal for transactional use cases that require consistent, reliable data storage and retrieval, such as OLTP and LOB applications. They are highly scalable and can handle large volumes of data with ease. However, it may not be the best option for complex analytics and reporting tasks. But Azure SQL DB is best suited if you want to quickly build and deploy applications with ease.

On the other hand, Azure Synapse Analytics is an integrated analytics solution that is ideal for advanced analytical workloads, such as OLAP. It offers real-time insights, can handle complex data structures, and seamlessly integrates with other Azure services to provide a unified data management and analytics solution.

Synapse Analytics user-friendly interface includes a drag-and-drop feature that allows even non-technical users to visually build and design data flows, making data preparation and analysis more accessible. 


Azure Synapse and Azure SQL Database are both powerful tools offered by Microsoft Azure to help businesses manage and process their data. While both of these tools share some similarities, they also have distinct differences in terms of workload, PolyBase, data security, scalability, data backup and replication, and data analytical capabilities. Ultimately, the choice between Azure Synapse and Azure SQL Database will depend on the specific needs and goals of your business.

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Amulya Reddy
Technical Content Writer, Hevo Data

Amulya combines her passion for data science with her interest in writing on various topics related to data, software architecture, and integration. She excels in leveraging advanced data analytics, ETL processes, and machine learning algorithms to provide insightful and comprehensive content. Amulya’s unique ability to transform complex data into actionable insights sets her apart, driving innovation and understanding in the tech community.

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