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Snowflake has been making headlines lately, with its September 2020 IPO becoming the largest IPO for a software company in history. But while it might be a good investment for traders, that doesn’t answer the simple question: “What is Snowflake, exactly?”

If you’ve ever wondered what Snowflake is or how it works, this article is for you. Below, we’ll go over everything you need to know, including features, pros and cons, and what real users have to say in reviews.

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What is Snowflake?

Founded in 2012 and based in San Mateo, California, Snowflake is a technology company offering a cloud-based data warehouse for data storage and analytics. A data warehouse is a centralized data repository that acts as the endpoint for the ETL process, where information can be easily accessed and mined for insights.

Snowflake is compatible with the three largest public cloud providers: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure. According to an estimate by Datanyze, Snowflake currently occupies 11 percent of the data warehousing market, second only behind SAP Business Warehouse.

Features

Perhaps the most prominent feature is how the platform decouples its compute and storage capabilities, unlike many other data warehouses in the public cloud. This means that companies using a lot of storage but little CPU, or vice versa, can save a good deal of money using Snowflake.

Another highly valuable feature is the ability to share data externally with vendors, partners, and customers—even if these third parties aren’t Snowflake users themselves. For example, healthcare providers can use Snowflake’s data sharing feature to easily create a pointer to a patient database, rather than risk violating HIPAA through awkward, cumbersome manual processes.

Pros and Cons

The pros of using Snowflake include:

  • Extreme scalability: users can create a practically unlimited number of virtual warehouses, each one running its own workload against the data in its database. What’s more, users can quickly and easily resize the number of nodes in each cluster for optimal performance.
  • Automatic performance tuning: Snowflake includes built-in automatic query performance optimization via a query optimization engine, without the need for users to manually tweak the settings.
  • Strong data security: Snowflake comes with a wide variety of industry-leading data security features, including IP allow and block lists, multi-factor authentication, and automatic 256-bit AES encryption. Snowflake is compliant with data security standards such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, and SOC 1 and SOC 2.

The cons of using Snowflake include:

  • Lack of synergy: While Snowflake can run in the Amazon, Google, and Microsoft public clouds, it isn’t a native offering. Each of these public clouds offers their own cloud data warehouse solution: Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, and Microsoft Azure SQL Data Warehouse, respectively. This means that users can miss out on the benefits of a more tightly integrated cloud ecosystem.
  • Higher cost: Depending on the use case, Snowflake can be more expensive than competitors such as Amazon Redshift. According to one Redshift comparison, Redshift is 1.3 times cheaper for on-demand pricing, and even cheaper when purchasing a reserved instance in advance.

Snowflake Reviews

We’ve gone over the pros and cons, but is it the right choice for you? Looking at user reviews can help you make the final decision. On the software review website TrustRadius, Snowflake has an average rating of 9.1 out of 10 stars, based on 78 ratings. Senior data engineer Torrey Vegter calls Snowflake an “amazing cloud-based database” and gives it a score of 10/10, writing:

“We use Snowflake on our data engineering team to house our data warehouse and offload a substantial amount of our ETL processes to Snowflake. Snowflake enables us to offer ultra-fast querying to the business to quickly gain insights into our current data set… it works extremely well for storing a data warehouse, as the querying is optimized for larger tables that are filled in batches. It also works extremely well with unstructured data, and has basically replaced any need we previously had for NoSQL databases.”

Meanwhile, data engineer Andrew Goss gives Snowflake a score of 9/10, writing:

“While Snowflake doesn’t have all the performance optimization bells and whistles of other cloud data warehouse platforms, this is actually a good thing… most people don’t really need all of them or miss them. Using Snowflake on the whole means less knob-turning and futzing with setup/tweaking.”

However, he also notes a few criticisms in his review, including technical support issues and the lack of support for certain table expressions.

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API in minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14 day hosted trial to learn how! Our guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example MySQL database provided to you as part of the trial!

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Conclusion

The future of Snowflake looks bright, going from unknown newcomer to massive tech success story in just 8 years—which is why DreamFactory has decided to commence development of a Snowflake connector as part of it’s integration suite. DreamFactory makes it easy to automatically generate and manage APIs without writing a single line of code, making you more productive and profitable.

Want to learn how DreamFactory can digitally transform your business? Get in touch with our team today for a chat about your business needs and objectives, or to start your free trial of the DreamFactory platform