Amazon Redshift Developer: 8 Important Responsibilities

on Amazon Redshift, Data Warehouses • March 10th, 2022 • Write for Hevo

Redshift Developer: Featured Image

A Redshift developer is basically a data engineer with specialized knowledge of Redshift. In that sense, such a person is expected to have a good grasp of data engineering concepts as well as the pros and cons of Redshift. Strong knowledge of Redshift architecture and how to decide sort and distribution style can give you a good headstart to one’s journey as a Redshift developer.

Redshift is a completely managed data warehouse from Amazon. It’s offered based on a subscription model. Redshift is known for its comprehensive querying layer modeled based on PostgreSQL and its ability to support up to 2 PB of data. It offers fast querying capabilities through its massively parallel architecture. Redshift is widely used as a foundation component in high-performance ETL and ELT pipelines. This post is about the role played by a Redshift developer in a data engineering team and the responsibilities handled by that engineer. Read along to learn in-depth about the responsibilities of a Redshift Developer!

Table of Contents

What is Redshift?

Redshift Developer: Amazon Redshift Logo
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Redshift’s foundation is a massively parallel processing architecture that is built using a number of compute and storage instances. While initiating a Redshift Cluster, customers are allowed to choose between two kinds of instances. The Dense compute instances are designed for workloads that require high computing power and comparatively fewer storage needs. The Dense storage instances provide cheap storage but with the caveat of lower processing power. Dense storage instances are made of HDDs while Dense compute instances use SSDs, resulting in this difference. Having the ability to choose instances designed for different workloads helps the customers in optimizing the cost. A detailed article on Redshift pricing can be found here.

A Redshift cluster is a collection of two kinds of nodes – Leader nodes and Secondary nodes. Leader nodes act as task managers and handle activities like client communication, execution plan design, task allocation, etc. You can find more details about Redshift architecture here.

Redshift can scale horizontally or vertically in a short time. Horizontal scaling, as the name suggests, is accomplished by adding more nodes. Vertical scaling involves upgrading the existing nodes with better hardware specifications. Redshift’s concurrency scaling features deserves a mention here. Concurrency scaling allows the cluster to scale automatically depending upon the workloads. This is separately charged, but some concurrency scaling ability is offered complimentary for every 24 hours that the cluster stay operational. 

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Responsibilities of an Amazon Redshift Developer

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A Redshift developer is essentially a data engineer with specialized knowledge on Redshift. Redshift is based on a massively parallel architecture that comes with its own set of complexities in data definition and processing. A Redshift developer role is expected to maintain a data pipeline architecture by ingesting data from various sources to Redshift, processing them, and serving the aggregate data to downstream components.

Since that definition is too vague, let us try to break down this role into key responsibilities which are as follows:

Redshift Developer Responsibilities: Ingesting Data to Redshift

Ingesting data from various sources to Redshift is one of the primary roles of a Redshift developer. This requires him to have good knowledge of ecosystem components that specifically deal with data ingestion. AWS Data Pipeline is one such service. That said, there are many cases where the ingestion has to be done from sources outside AWS that are not supported by Data Pipeline. You will have to use the COPY method programmatically to complete such tasks. Redshift also has a bulk insert method in case you want to insert data from another Redshift table. To know more about loading data to Redshift, follow the blog here

Redshift Developer Responsibilities: Designing Table Models to Represent Information

Redshift is modeled based on the PostgreSQL standard and can hence deal with any of the schema representations like star or snowflake schema. Deciding what schema to use depends a lot on your query workloads and the access patterns. This is where a skilled Redshift developer can make a difference. This is not an easy job to do and is the eventual table design is often subjective. As a thumb rule, it is often advised to not go for very wide tables since it can have an effect on query performance.

Redshift Developer Responsibilities: Designing Sort and Distribution Keys

Redshift query performance is often dependent on how well the sort and distribution keys are defined. Redshift uses sort keys to decide how the rows are sorted in its storage. Deciding a sort considering your access pattern will help Redshift is skipping or filter unwanted rows while querying without much processing overhead. Sort keys often affect join performance in a significant way

Redshift tables can be distributed in multiple ways. The naive approach is to use AUTO where Redshift can decide what strategy to use. Other supported ones are EVEN, ALL, KEY distribution, etc. Distribution styles decide how your rows are distributed across multiple nodes. Similar to sort keys, distribution keys also play a critical role in query performance. 

Redshift Developer Responsibilities: Processing Data Using Redshift

A big factor behind using Redshift as the data warehouse is its comprehensive querying layer. A Redshift developer is expected to design optimal queries to aggregate data and build reports or data feeds for downstream sources. The effort spent in designing sort and distribution keys will directly affect the extent of effort in designing the queries. 

In some cases, you may end up with requirements that can not be accomplished using queries. In those cases, a Redshift developer may have to depend on spark jobs using a Redshift connector. While this can always be argued as ‘not my job’, having this ability will greatly elevate the status of a Redshift developer.

Redshift Developer Responsibilities: Debugging Queries

Redshift queries often do not give expected performance because of the complexity of the architecture and reliance on sort and distribution keys. Debugging queries is one of the core responsibilities of a Redshift developer. This may often require him to make changes to table structure and rebuild the tables. 

Redshift Developer Responsibilities: Exporting Data from Redshift

Exporting data from Redshift is often needed when aggregate tables created by Redshift queries need to be served to other downstream systems. Redshift provides an UNLOAD command to accomplish this. The command supports popular formats like Parquet, GZIP, custom delimited, etc. 

Redshift Developer Responsibilities: Serving Redshift Data to Other Sources

Redshift is often used as a source for reporting dashboards because of its strong SQL layer. A key responsibility of Redshift developers is to facilitate these connections and ensure that the reporting workloads are optimized. This may often require him to design intermediary tables and play around with the key structure. 

Redshift Developer Responsibilities: Serving Redshift Data to Other Sources

A Redshift developer is expected to evangelize Redshift in the organization. This means he will have to convince others how Redshift is a good choice compared to other options. The developer should also quickly shoot down any requirement where Redshift is not a good fit. Being an advocate for Redshift and preventing its overuse is a key responsibility of all Redshift developers. 

Skills Required for a Redshift Developer

Redshift Developer: Skills
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Now that we understand the responsibilities handled by the Redshift developer role, let us focus on the key skills and knowledge areas required for a Redshift developer. 

A good understanding of the Redshift architecture helps Redshift developers to properly design sort keys, design distribution styles, and data models. Apart from this, as a Redshift Developer, you need the following crucial skills:

1) Strong SQL Skills

A Redshift developer is expected to mold data into different forms required by downstream systems or reporting frameworks. Strong SQL skills with an awareness of all the aggregation functions supported by Redshift are a must to have an easy day at work if you are a Redshift developer.

2) Knowledge of Data Types and Automatic Casting

Redshift supports a large number of data types and often implicitly converts data types according to the table definition. This results in data corruption and often sleepless nights trying to debug where the problem is. Awareness of all data types supported by redshift is a key knowledge area that can not be overlooked. 

3) Awareness of AWS ecosystem components

Good exposure to AWS ecosystem components to the level of understanding ‘when to use what is a nice to have knowledge when you work with Redshift. 

Conclusion

This article introduced you to Redshift and elaborated on the major responsibilities that a Redshift Developer must carry out. The above discussed 8 tasks are crucial for a successful career as an Amazon Redshift Developer. The article also listed the skills that you must have to excel in this role. Being a Redshift developer does not mean it has to be used in all cases where an analytical engine is required. Knowing exactly where Redshift is a bad fit is important to success as a Redshift developer. 

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