Terence Bennett - February 6, 2024
Picture showing man on computer wondering "What is Snowflake?"

Snowflake is a technology company offering a cloud-based data warehouse for data storage and analytics. Snowflake has been making headlines lately, having reported $1.1 billion in revenue for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2022—that’s 106% growth year-on-year. But while this data warehousing solution might be a good investment for traders, that doesn’t answer the simple question: “What is Snowflake?”

Here’s the 5 things you need to know about Snowflake:

  • Snowflake, founded in 2012 in San Mateo, California, offers a cloud-based data warehouse solution for data storage and analytics, utilizing a centralized repository for data insights.
  • The platform supports the ETL process—extracting data from various sources, transforming it for analytics, and loading it into the data warehouse, with tools like DreamFactory simplifying integration through REST API creation.
  • It operates on a hybrid architecture combining shared-disk and shared-nothing database models, utilizing MPP (massively parallel processing) for efficient data query processing.
  • Snowflake’s key features include scalability, improved collaboration through data sharing, quick data cloning, and easy integration with various BI, ETL, and data visualization tools, supporting major cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.
  • Despite its advantages, such as extreme scalability, automatic performance tuning, and strong data security, Snowflake faces challenges like higher costs compared to competitors, lack of native cloud integration, and limited support for unstructured data.

Table of Contents:

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 Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) process, where you can easily access and mine data for insights.

ETL works like this:

  1. ETL extracts data from multiple disparate sources such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, transactional databases, relational databases, SaaS tools, and social media platforms. 
  2. Then ETL transforms that data into the correct format for analytics. That transformation process might include cleansing the data and ensuring it complies with data governance principles like GDPR, HIPAA, and CCPA. 
  3. Finally, ETL loads the transformed data into the Snowflake data warehouse, where you can run it through business intelligence (BI) platforms and generate insights for problem-solving and decision-making.

This might sound like an easy process, but it’s not. You need to build complex data pipelines for extracting data, transforming that data, and loading it to Snowflake. If you don’t have data engineering skills, ETL can be a challenge. That’s why many companies use ETL tools that complete the process for them.

There’s another way to connect data from disparate sources into Snowflake. DreamFactory lets you build a REST API for Snowflake integration in less than five minutes. All you need is your Snowflake credentials, and the open-source platform does all the hard work for you. That means you don’t need to build an API from scratch or worry about complicated code, schemas, data silos, query processing, metadata, or other manual tasks associated with data integration and data processing. Learn more

It is compatible with the three largest public cloud providers: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.

Snowflake Architecture

Snowflake can deliver results so quickly because it’s a hybrid of traditional shared-disk database and shared-nothing database architectures. Just like the shared-disk database, it uses a central repository accessible from all compute nodes for persisted data. On the other hand, similar to shared-nothing architectures, Snowflake processes queries using MPP (massively parallel processing) compute clusters where each node stores a portion of the entire data set locally. 

This approach combines the simplicity of a shared-disk architecture, with the performance and scale-out benefits of a shared-nothing architecture.

Why Should You Move Data to Snowflake?

Migrating data to Snowflake can benefit your business. That’s because it secures and encrypts all the data you need for big data analytics. (Snowflake has data warehousing certifications such as PCI DSS). 

The warehouse also makes it easier to generate business intelligence. Companies like yours typically store data in several ‘siloed’ systems that don’t connect with each other, making analytics a challenge. By moving data to the Snowflake architecture via ETL or a REST API with DreamFactory, you can move all your information to a centralized location and run data through real-time BI tools. Then you can use those data insights to grow your business.

Snowflake Features

Snowflake has emerged as a game-changing solution for organizations seeking a cloud-based data warehouse that effortlessly combines scalability, flexibility, and ease of use. But what sets Snowflake apart from the competition? Let’s dive into some of its standout features and explore how they can transform your data management experience.

Scalable

Imagine a data warehouse that expands and contracts to accommodate your evolving data needs with unparalleled agility. Snowflake’s groundbreaking elasticity feature ensures that your resources are always perfectly aligned with your requirements. Whether you’re dealing with sudden spikes in demand or long-term growth, Snowflake’s elastic scaling has you covered, delivering top-notch performance without breaking the bank.

Improved Collaboration

Gone are the days of wrestling with complex ETL processes or struggling to keep up with rapidly changing data. Snowflake’s innovative data sharing capabilities empower you to share live, up-to-date data with internal teams or external partners in a secure and efficient manner. By breaking down data silos, Snowflake fosters a truly collaborative environment, driving better insights and informed decision-making across the board.

Speed

Why waste time and storage on creating multiple data copies when you can have instant, identical clones at your fingertips? Snowflake’s zero-copy cloning feature makes it a breeze to create, test, and deploy data environments without impacting your storage or performance. Whether you need to run experiments, develop new features, or troubleshoot issues, Snowflake’s zero-copy cloning is your secret weapon for maximum efficiency and agility.

Unlocking Data

Unlock the full potential of your data stack with Snowflake’s exceptional compatibility and integration capabilities. Seamlessly connect with a wide array of popular BI, ETL, and data visualization tools, and watch as Snowflake becomes the beating heart of your data ecosystem. With its cloud-agnostic architecture, Snowflake empowers you to leverage your preferred cloud provider, be it AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud, and integrate it effortlessly into your existing infrastructure.

Embrace the future of data warehousing and harness the full power of Snowflake’s cutting-edge features. Transform your data management experience and elevate your organization to new heights with this revolutionary platform.

Pros and Cons of Snowflake

When answering the question “What is Snowflake?” you should weigh up the pros and cons of this data warehouse.

The pros of using Snowflake:

  • 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. Snowflake can also improve connectivity and optimize database storage.
  • Cloud-based: Snowflake is a cloud data warehouse, meaning you don’t need to invest in expensive hardware to store and analyze data. 
  • 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 GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and SOC 1 and SOC 2.
  • User access controls: Now you can control who accesses your sensitive data and prevent insiders from viewing confidential information.

The cons of using Snowflake include:

  • Lack of synergy: While it can run in the Amazon, Google, and Microsoft public clouds, it isn’t a native offering. Each of these public clouds offers its 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.
  • Lack of support for unstructured data: Snowflake only supports structured and semi-structured data.
  • 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.
  • No data constraints: No data limits for computing and storage might sound like an incredible thing. However, Snowflake has a pay-as-you-go model, and users might incur expensive bills if they use too much data! 

Snowflake Reviews

Looking at user reviews can help you make the final decision. On the software review website G2.com, Snowflake has an average user rating of 4.5/5 stars based on nearly 350 reviews. The data warehouse’s highest-rated features include scalability and user access controls.  

Here is a selection of some user reviews:

  • “Everything about it is amazing. It is super fast and computes queries so fast. It can get you more than 6 million rows in less than 5 seconds. Snowflake has the feature of time traveling, which lets you go back to a previous stage of your data, and it is very helpful. Since it has the storage and computing separated, it lets you query in a very fast way and maintains different warehouses.” (Muskan C.)
  • “Snowflake access is an easy process overall. The objects/tables creation DDL is much similar to a SQL server/MySQL syntax. Any number of tables with any number of elements could be created in your snowflake workspace. The analytical queries could be executed on top of Snowflake in a very efficient and smooth fashion with tremendous performance throughput.” (Giridhar P.)
  • “Snowflake is the best data warehousing tool in the market. It gets all the features as one connects to any cloud environment like AWS, Azure, or GCP to store its data plus the virtual warehouse is pretty fast. Its internal micro partitioning feature is also pretty handy.” (Rahul B.) 

Did you know you can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure REST API for Snowflake in less than five minutes using DreamFactory? Sign up for our free 14-day hosted trial to learn how! DreamFactory’s guided tour will show you how to create an API using an example MySQL database.

Getting Started with Snowflake and DreamFactory

You can generate a full-featured, documented, and secure Snowflake REST API in minutes using DreamFactory. Once you have DreamFactory up and running you will be in the Admin panel. From there you will navigate to the Services tab to connect your database to your API. We have a quick tutorial on how to setup that up here

Want to learn more about how DreamFactory can help you integrate data with Snowflake? Get in touch with the team today for a chat about your Snowflake needs and objectives or to start your free trial of the DreamFactory platform.

Frequently Asked Questions about Snowflake

1. What is Snowflake?

Snowflake is a cloud-based data warehousing solution designed to provide seamless data storage, integration, and analytics. It enables organizations to efficiently manage and analyze large volumes of structured and semi-structured data through a scalable and fully managed platform.

2. How does Snowflake differ from traditional data warehouses?

Unlike traditional data warehouses, Snowflake operates on a cloud-based architecture, which allows for faster data processing, scalability, and flexibility. It separates storage and compute resources, ensuring that you only pay for what you use and can scale your resources up or down according to your needs.

3. What are the key features of Snowflake?

Some of Snowflake’s most notable features include:

  • Cloud-native architecture: Built for cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.
  • Elasticity: Automatically scales up or down based on workload, optimizing resource usage.
  • Multi-cluster shared data architecture: Allows concurrent access to data without impacting performance.
  • Data sharing: Securely share live data across your organization or with external partners.
  • Zero-copy cloning: Create instant copies of your data without duplicating storage.

4. What are the pros of using Snowflake?

Some advantages of using Snowflake are:

  • Scalability: Easily scale resources to match your data needs without affecting performance.
  • Cost-efficiency: Pay only for the storage and computing resources you actually use.
  • Flexibility: Compatible with a wide range of data formats and integrates with popular tools.
  • Security: Provides enterprise-level security features, including encryption and data access controls.
  • Ease of use: User-friendly interface and minimal maintenance requirements.

5. What are the cons of using Snowflake?

Some potential drawbacks of using Snowflake include:

  • Limited support for unstructured data: Designed primarily for structured and semi-structured data.
  • Dependency on cloud providers: Reliant on underlying cloud platforms for infrastructure and availability.
  • Learning curve: Some users may require time to adapt to Snowflake’s unique architecture and features.

6. What do users say about Snowflake in reviews?

Snowflake has generally received positive reviews from users, who often praise its scalability, flexibility, and ease of use. However, some users have mentioned the learning curve associated with Snowflake’s unique architecture and the occasional challenges in handling unstructured data.

7. Is Snowflake suitable for my organization?

Snowflake is suitable for organizations of all sizes, from startups to enterprises, that require a scalable and flexible data warehousing solution. To determine if Snowflake is the right fit for your organization, consider factors such as your data storage and processing needs, budget, and integration requirements with your existing tools and platforms.

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