Amazon Redshift provides you with a robust cloud data warehouse that powers business intelligence with the latest data metrics. This platform offers insights into almost every aspect of your organization — sales, marketing, logistics, customer service, website performance, you name it. 

Amazon claims it is the world's fastest cloud data warehouse — 2 times faster than the most popular alternative, in fact. But is this true? And is Redshift worth the hype? Here's a comprehensive guide to Amazon Redshift, answering the questions below:

What is Amazon Redshift?

How Does It Work?

Who Uses RedShift?

What are the Pros of Using Redshift?

What are the Cons of Using Redshift?

Are There Alternatives?

Should You Choose Redshift?

What is Amazon Redshift?

Amazon Redshift is a managed, petabyte-scale cloud data warehouse service that makes up part of the larger cloud platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS). In simple terms, it's a platform that lets you store and analyze all of your data in the cloud for deeper business insights. 

Long gone are the days when businesses had to make manual sales forecasts and other predictions. A data warehouse service like Redshift does all the hard work for you, so you can concentrate on other aspects of your organization. With Redshift, you can analyze data with the latest predictive analytics, so you can make smarter decisions that drive business growth. You can customize analytics tools based on the needs of your business and generate deep insights about sales, customer service, operations, and other important tasks. You can also use Redshift for large-scale data migrations. 

How Does It Work?

Redshift connects to SQL-based clients and business intelligence tools via a column-orientated database. Utilizing PostgreSQL 8, the database provides users with real-time data insights for decision-making and predictive analysis. Redshift automates many of the processes associated with business intelligence and generates reports with deep data insights. You can use these reports to solve the following problems in your organization:

  • Reduce bottlenecks in your production processes.
  • Improve customer service.
  • Track worker performance.
  • Enhance productivity.
  • Save time and money. 

Redshift data warehouses contain nodes in a cluster, and each cluster runs its own Redshift engine with at least one database. This makes it easy to scale the technology to suit your business needs.

Who Uses RedShift?

According to Amazon, they have more than 15,000 users. Some of the world's biggest brands use Redshift to power data insights, including McDonald'sPhilips, and Pfizer. "Because of the performance and scale Redshift provides, we have increased our manufacturing efficiency and reduced the time needed to gather and prepare data for regulatory submissions by a factor of five," says Jim Silva, Director and business partner at Pfizer.

What are the Pros of Using Redshift?

Security

We're really impressed with Redshift's security credentials. It seems that we hear more horror stories about data being stolen from the cloud, but Amazon has a whole suite of security features that provide you with peace of mind. These include:

  • Sign-in credentials — Control who accesses your AWS account privileges. 
  • Access management — Create AWS Identity and Access Management accounts to prevent unauthorized persons from accessing cloud data. 
  • VPC — Protect access to clusters with Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) technology. 
  • Cluster security groups — Define cluster security groups for even more security.  
  • Encryption — Encrypt your most important data so hackers can't read it. 

Other security features include SSL connections and data in transit. Why is all of this so important? The average cost for a data breach is $3.92 million — around 12 percent higher than five years ago. If hackers access cloud data, you could lose the trust of your customers and jeopardize your reputation. Redshift makes sure your worries regarding security, are minimal. 

Speed

Redshift's biggest selling point is its speed. As mentioned before, Amazon claims that Redshift is the fastest cloud data warehouse in the world, with data sizes up to a petabyte (and more). Amazon achieves these speeds by using columnar data storage and massively parallel processing design, or MPP. Basically, it means you can access cloud data really quickly. 

The industry generally considers that Redshift is, currently, the world's fastest data warehouse. Research shows that it's twice as fast as BigQuery. Moreover, it's 48 times faster than Redshift a couple of years ago. Yes, it's getting faster. But, when it comes to data, speed isn't everything. 

Many businesses probably won't benefit from the super-fast speeds that Redshift provides. In fact, many other platforms provide sufficient enough speeds for data analytics. Take cloud-based ETL tools, for example. These solutions take data from all the customer tools in your tech stack and push them into a data warehouse for analysis.

Plus, the research about Redshift's speeds doesn't take into account data processing based on a dollar-per-throughput basis. Other platforms might take a few seconds more to process data than Redshift, but if they cost considerably less, they could provide users with more value. 

"It’s all good and well if we can get blazing performance on Redshift for $28 big ones per month, while BigQuery takes a few seconds more and costs (for example) a mere $0.27," says industry website Dzone.com.

What are the Cons of Using Redshift?

Costs

As you can now tell, Redshift's speeds come at a premium. There are no recurrent hardware costs because everything is in the cloud, but this is the same with most other cloud data warehouses. But it's all the other costs that will soon add up. However, Amazon claims that "Redshift costs less to operate than any other cloud data warehouse." If you can understand these costs, that is. Redshift's pricing page talks about the following:

  • Concurrency scaling pricing.
  • Spectrum pricing.
  • Reserved instance pricing.

It's all a bit confusing. This is what we know for sure: RedShift operates an on-demand pricing structure, so you pay for the amount of data you need. Clusters cost from $0.25 per hour (around $180 per month), which contains one dc2.large node. Data storage costs start from $0.425 per TB per hour for HDD storage or $1.5625 per TB per hour for SSD storage.

Are There Alternatives?

BigQuery

BigQuery is, perhaps, Redshift's biggest competitor and getting bigger with its recent acquisition of Alooma. BigQuery is a data warehouse that works in conjunction with Google Storage. You can manage data for real-time data analysis using SQL-like queries, which allows you to save time and money in the future.

In February of 2019, Google acquired Alooma, an ETL (extract, transform, and load) solution. This means that past Alooma customers have to either transition to using BigQuery or leave Alooma. This deal forces, in a way, more customers to Google BigQuery. But where does this leave Alooma's current customers who use Amazon Redshift?

Like Redshift, users might find BigQuery pricing complicated. Data warehouse ingestion is free, but you need to pay for data streaming. Data storage starts from $20 per TB per month (or $5 for every TB processed in a query). To compare and contrast the two, read our Redshift vs BigQuery: comprehensive guide.

Should You Choose Redshift?

On the popular review website G2, Redshift currently holds a rating of 4.2/5 stars. Users commend the platform's speeds and scalability, but one person says it can be easy to make mistakes during the implementation phase: "Once you hit a certain scale, mistakes you make in the initial design of your tables will become a problem. Since there aren't indexes or anything like that, it might be time-consuming to fix mistakes depending on what changes need to be made."

Redshift is the fastest cloud data warehouse in the world, making it a great choice for speedy data insights that power your business. This platform uses the latest technology that makes it easier to generate reports and data about everything from sales to logistics. 

Xplenty: The ETL Solution for Redshift Users

Cloud-based ETL (extract, transform, load) solutions like Xplenty, can make a data warehouse like Redshift (and BigQuery) even more useful. Xplenty, transfers and transforms data between data warehouses and databases and generates simple, visual data pipelines that automate workflows. You can scale to the needs of your business and generate deeper insights and optimize your resources. 

Want to bring all of your data together in one simple platform? Check out our Redshift Integration here. But, if you happen to be a Redshift user who's currently using Alooma as your ETL solution, learn how we can make your transition easier and receive a special offer due to your unique situation, here.