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Athena vs Firebolt

A detailed comparison

Compare Athena vs Firebolt by the following set of categories:


Athena
is serverless and built on a decoupled storage and compute architecture that queries data directly in S3, without the need to ingest/copy the data. It runs in multi-tenancy with shared resources. Users do not have control over the compute resources Athena chooses to allocate per query from the shared resource pool. 

Firebolt is built on a natively decoupled storage & compute architecture, on AWS only. Data has to be copied outside of your VPC into the Firebolt, where both your compute and data run in a dedicated and isolated tenant. A “Firebolt Engine” can be granularly configured across # of nodes and different CPU/RAM/SSD combinations.

Athena vs Firebolt - Architecture

The biggest difference among cloud data warehouses are whether they separate storage and compute, how much they isolate data and compute, and what clouds they can run on.

Athena is a shared multi-tenant resource, with no guarantees on the amount or availability of the resources allocated for your queries. From a data volume perspective, it can scale to large volumes, but large data volumes can suffer from very long run times and frequent time outs. Query concurrency is maxed at 20. If scalability is a top priority, Athena is probably not the best choice. 

Firebolt can handle the largest data volumes and concurrency on a single comparable cluster size, thanks to its superior hardware efficiency. Thanks to its decoupled storage & compute architecture it scales very well to large data volumes. However, resizing an engine size isn’t instant and requires orchestration if avoiding downtime is necessary. A single Firebolt engine can support hundreds of concurrent queries, avoiding the need to scale out for most use cases. Scaling horizontally for even higher concurrency is manual.

Athena vs Firebolt - Scalability

There are three big differences among data warehouses and query engines that limit scalability: decoupled storage and compute, dedicated resources, and continuous ingestion.


Athena
(and Presto) are designed to query data where it is, sacrificing storage-compute optimizations. This makes it very convenient for easy and immediate querying but at the expense of performance. This typically puts Athena behind cloud data warehouses in terms of performance. But Athena still does relatively well in performance benchmarks, especially when external storage is managed by experts. While it supports partitions, there is no support for indexing, and together with the fact that resources are pooled from a shared multi-tenant service, low-latency and consistent performance are not Athena’s sweet spot. A cloud data warehouse be more performant better than Athena in most cases.

Firebolt is the fastest when it comes to query performance when compared to cloud data warehouses and services like Athena. Its unique approach to storage and indexing results in highly aggressive data pruning that scans dramatically less data compared to other technologies. While other technologies scan partitions or micro-partitions, Firebolt works with indexed data ranges, that are significantly smaller. In addition, Firebolt lets user accelerate queries further with multiple index types (Aggregating index, Join index), and using its decoupled storage & compute architecture workloads can be easily isolated to guarantee consistent performance.

Athena vs Firebolt - Performance

Performance is the biggest challenge with most data warehouses today.
While decoupled storage and compute architectures improved scalability and simplified administration, for most data warehouses it introduced two bottlenecks; storage, and compute. Most modern cloud data warehouses fetch entire partitions over the network instead of just fetching the specific data needed for each query. While many invest in caching, most do not invest heavily in query optimization. Most vendors also have not improved continuous ingestion or semi-structured data analytics performance, both of which are needed for operational and customer-facing use cases.


Athena
is a great choice for Ad-Hoc analytics. You can keep the data where it is, and start querying without worrying about hardware or pretty much anything else, given that Athena is serverless and takes care of everything behind the scenes. However, it is not a great fit when you need consistent and fast query performance, and/or high concurrency. This is why it is typically not the best choice for operational and customer-facing applications. It can be also easily and flexibly used for batch processing, which is often leveraged for ML use cases. 

Firebolt stands out by being the fastest cloud data warehouse when compared to Snowflake, Redshift, BigQuery and Athena. It’s great for delivering sub-second analytics at scale, while remaining hardware efficient and high concurrency friendly. This makes it a great choice for operational use cases and customer-facing data apps. Given that it is not as feature-rich and integration rich as the more mature data warehouses makes it a lesser fit for a general-purpose Enterprise data warehouse. It is also not the best fit for ad-hoc use cases, because of the need to predefine indexing at the table level.

Athena vs Firebolt - Use cases

There are a host of different analytics use cases that can be supported by a data warehouse. Look at your legacy technologies and their workloads, as well as the new possible use cases, and figure out which ones you will need to support in the next few years.

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