Amazon Redshift Review

It's based on PostgreSQL, is a managed solution, and has low price per terabyte per year.

What is most valuable?

  • It is based on PostgreSQL.
  • It’s managed. Meaning, AWS takes care of handling infrastructure, deployments, encryption, and uptime for you.
  • It’s cheap when you consider the price per terrabyte per year.
  • It’s integrated into the AWS stack.

How has it helped my organization?

At my previous company that does mobile analytics as its core product, we moved all the analytics backend from MongoDB to Redshift. Where I currently work, we use it as our main data lake/data warehouse.

What needs improvement?

While It's probably the best product of its category (managed SQL-based data warehouse at scale), it has a few shortcomings, although very few.

The main issue people complain about, and I agree with the claim, is that it's hard to load your data into it. You need to first export your data on S3 as CSV, JSON or AVRO. Then you can load it into Redshift. And even then, you have to make sure your data is properly formatted. (you can use the copy options: TRUNCATECOLUMNS to load fields that are too big, and MAXERROR to allow for a given number of errors while loading). In general, ETL and data cleaning is a hurdle in data engineering, and Redshift suffers from it.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have used Redshift for three years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

I once had an issue because my data contained a Unicode NULL character in a VARCHAR field ("\u0000"). The AWS support has been very quick and helpful to respond. Other than that, I have had no issues whatsoever.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

No scalability issues whatsoever.

How are customer service and technical support?

Technical support is very good.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

At my previous company, we switched from MongoDB to Redshift. The main reason was price and performance. At my current company, we started a data warehouse (greenfield project). The choice was between Google BigQuery and AWS Redshift. The main criteria was that Redshift was PostgreSQL-based and supports CTE and Window functions (PostgreSQL features).

How was the initial setup?

The big part when using Redshift is setting up the ETLs and doing the data cleaning. It was very hard when moving from MongoDB, because I had to re-discover our data schema (that had no spec). With that said, in both cases (moving from MongoDB and starting from scratch), I had a prototype up in about a day. By that I mean that I had the most important parts of my data loaded into Redshift and I could query it.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

The pricing page is explicit. Choose what suits your needs in terms of storage and performance.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

For setting up a data warehouse, BigQuery was a serious contender. BigQuery is simpler to setup and scale. It's also more of a black box: you worry less what's inside and how it scales and you get charged for what you consume (which is both a pro and a con). With Redshift, you choose in advance the type of machine you want, like EC2 (resizing your cluster is easy).

What other advice do I have?

If you evaluate Redshift, chances are that you should evaluate BigQuery too. So take the time to weigh the pro and cons of each (plenty has been written online about that).

Take a look at the reserved instances pricing. It is very advantageous if you know you will stick with Redshift for some time.

Take the time to learn PostgreSQL (eg: Redshift, while based on PostgreSQL 8.0, supports a good number of advanced Postgres features.

Do not be afraid of joins. PostgreSQL is performs very well in this regard.
If you need performance, have a look at the suggested optimizations in the official documentation (such as setting up the correct distkeys, sortkeys and compression schemes).

Understand that Redshift has no indexes.

Understand that Redshift is an analytical database with columnar storage, and that it does not enforce constraints.

Redshift plays very well with a PostgreSQL instance in RDS linked to it via DBLINK (see this guide: I've used this in production at my current company, and this is tremendously useful. You can have your raw data in Redshift and aggregate it directly into RDS. To do this, insert into RDS what you select from Redshift through the dblink.

**Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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