Snowflake’s Differentiating Features

What are the features of Snowflake that differentiate it from all its competitors?  I started this list in 2018 and it continues to evolve.  Sure, I am a Snowflake Data Superhero and longtime Snowflake Advocate.  I actually do try to be objective though.  Also, I have had a long long career of partnering with new technologies during my 19 years of running a successful consulting firm.  I have to state that most vendors and technologies do NOT impress me at all.  While I partnered with Microsoft (we were a gold partner for many years) and many others, the reality is that most of their technology was not a game-changer like the internet or Netscape (the first browser).  They typically were solid technology solutions that helped our clients.  When I discovered Snowflake at the beginning of 2018 when looking to build a custom CDP for a Fortune 50 company I realized this technology and this architecture was going to be a game changer for the data processing industry especially within BIG DATA and ANALYTICS.  

Snowflake’s Differentiating Features (2018 or before)

  1. Concurrency and Workload Separation [enabled by the Separation of Compute from Storage.]  [huge!  for the first time you could completely separate workloads and not have the traditional concurrency challenges of table locking or ETL jobs COMPETING with Reporting or Data Science jobs.]
  2. Pay as you go pricing (also, named Consumption based pricing) – This enabled for the very first time that startups and medium-size business could actually get true cloud BIG DATA scale at an amazingly affordable price.  This never happened before this.
  3. Time-Travel.  (Based on write ahead Micro-partitions.)
  4. Zero-Copy Cloning.
  5. True Cloud Scale.  DYNAMIC (the way it should be!) In and Out Scaling with Clusters.
  6. True Cloud Scale.  Up and Down.  [code or manual still at this point.  Switching between XS to 4XL warehouse t-shirt sizes]
  7. Data Sharing (this maybe my favorite feature.  Data Sharing is transforming industries)
  8. Snowpipe.  The ability to handle ingestion of streaming data in near real time.
  9. Data Security.  Encrypted Data from end-to-end.  While some other vendors had some of this Snowflake made security first in the cloud.
  10. Semi-Structured Data ease of use.  Snowflake has been the easiest way we have been able to have JSON and other
  11. Lower Database Administration.   It is amazing no database vendor didn’t automate the collection of database/query statistics and automated indexing/pruning before.  Huge STEP forward.   [I DO NOT agree with Near-Zero Administration – this is not really true especially as Snowflake transformed to a data cloud and added on tons and tons of additional features which have some additional administration requirements]

Snowflake’s Differentiating Features (2019-2021)

  1. Data Exchange and then Data Marketplace.
  2. Cloud Provider Agnostic.  Move to support Azure as well as GCP in addition to AWS.
  3. Data Clean Room V1.  Capability to use Secure User Defined Functions within Data Shares.
  4. Data Governance Capabilities.
  5. Integrated Data Science with Snowpark.  [still needs work!]
  6. Unstructured data.  Amazingly now

Snowflake’s Differentiating Features (2022)

*I’m going to wait until December 2022 to finalize this list.  There was some amazing announcements.

One item though that I”m finding awesome is:  Access to the SNOWFLAKE.ORGANIZATION_USAGE Schema (I think its still in preview but this makes Organizational reporting so much easier.  Previously we build tools that would log into each account and go to the SNOWFLAKE.ACCOUNT_USAGE schema views within each count and pull it back to a centralized location.  Sure it worked but it was a pain.

To be fair and not a complete Snowflake Advocate, Snowflake needs a reality check right now.  Snowflake Summit 2022 was an amazing amount of announcements.  (Even though a focused business person could argue .. what is Snowflake now?  A Data Cloud?  A data application development environment?  A Data Science and ML tool?  My heart goes out to the Account Executives.  They have to focus first when they do capacity deals on true value of what Snowflake provides today!)   Also, the true reality is many of the significant announcements remind me of my Microsoft Gold Partner days…. lots of Coming Soon…. but not really that soon.  Many of these feature announcements will not be truly available until 2023.

Snowflake’s Differentiating Features (2023)

Coming next year :). you just have to wait!

Summary

Since 2018, I was getting questions from so many colleagues and customers around why is Snowflake better than on-prem databases they were using?  Or I was getting tons of questions around why Snowflake is different than Redshift or Big Query or Synapse.  

So this article is my attempt to explain to both business users of data and data professionals (from architects to analysts) why Snowflake is actually different from any other technology.

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