What’s the purpose of clustering keys in Snowflake tables? How do they impact performance?


What's the purpose of clustering keys in Snowflake tables. How do they impact performance?

Daniel Steinhold Changed status to publish August 6, 2023

In Snowflake, clustering keys are a feature designed to improve query performance by physically organizing data within a table based on the values of one or more columns. Clustering keys determine the order in which data is stored on disk, which can significantly enhance query performance, especially for large datasets. The purpose of clustering keys is to reduce the need for extensive data shuffling during query processing, leading to faster and more efficient query execution.

Key points about clustering keys and their impact on performance:

1. **Data Organization:** When a table is defined with clustering keys, Snowflake organizes the data in the table's underlying storage by sorting and storing rows based on the specified clustering key columns. This organization creates data "micro-partitions" that contain related rows together on disk.
2. **Minimized Data Movement:** Clustering keys can minimize the need for data movement during query processing because related data is co-located within the same micro-partitions. This reduces the amount of I/O required to read and process the data.
3. **Better Compression:** Data with similar values in clustering key columns is more likely to have similar values in other columns. This similarity improves compression ratios, reducing storage requirements and potentially improving query performance.
4. **Predicate Pushdown:** Clustering keys can improve predicate pushdown optimization. When querying on clustering key columns, Snowflake can skip reading entire micro-partitions that don't satisfy the query conditions, further improving query efficiency.
5. **Performance Gains:** Queries that leverage clustering keys for filtering and joining can experience significant performance gains, as the data needed for processing is more localized and requires fewer disk reads.
6. **Usage Considerations:** Clustering keys are particularly beneficial for large tables frequently queried based on certain columns. They might be less advantageous for smaller tables or tables with irregular access patterns.

Example of creating a table with clustering keys:

sqlCopy code
SaleDate DATE,
ProductID INT,
Quantity INT,
Price DECIMAL(10, 2),
CLUSTER BY (SaleDate, ProductID);


In this example, the **`Sales`** table is defined with a clustering key **`(SaleDate, ProductID)`**. The data will be stored on disk in the order specified by these columns.

It's important to note that while clustering keys can greatly enhance performance, they require careful consideration during table design and are not suitable for every use case. The choice of which columns to use as clustering keys should be based on your data access patterns and query requirements. Regular monitoring and maintenance of clustering keys might also be necessary to ensure continued optimal performance as data evolves over time.

Daniel Steinhold Answered question August 6, 2023

Maximize Your Data Potential With ITS

Feedback on Q&A