Databricks vs Snowflake: Comparing 7 Critical Capabilities

By Carter Sheppard / Consultant

November 29, 2023

Blog

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A discussion on Databricks vs Snowflake highlights two of the leading vendors in this rapidly evolving cloud data platform landscape. This article aims to provide an in-depth comparison of Databricks and Snowflake by comparing their origins and capabilities.

Whether you’re a data engineer, business analyst, data scientist, or technology decision-maker – understanding the nuances between the two platforms is crucial in order to maximize the potential of your business’s data strategy.

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Understanding Databricks and Snowflake

To get started, let’s address the most basic questions “What is Databricks?” and “What is Snowflake?

Databricks offers advanced data engineering and data science workflows while also being the industry leading data lakehouse. It can process data up to 12X faster than competitors, handle advanced machine learning and generative AI models, and combines the data warehouse / data lake, data pipelines, data catalogs all into a single platform while continuing to enable advanced governance capabilities.

Databricks and Snowflake logos together

Snowflake is a cloud-based data warehousing platform that enables the storage, processing, and exploration of data. Snowflake is a data warehouse that is primarily focused on business intelligence, primarily offering the capability of store and query data at scale, though more recently they have begun to offer data science on the cloud, by far the more difficult market to break into.

What is the difference between Snowflake and Databricks?

While Snowflake and Databricks have a lot of overlap when it comes to storing and querying data at scale, there are some critical differences that are worth understanding.

Unlike competitors, the Databricks architecture started with data engineering and data science at the core – incorporating industry leading capabilities such as the Apache Spark framework for big data workloads, MLflow for end-to-end machine learning lifecycles, and Time Travel for model reproducibility. With these capabilities already established, Databricks expanded to offer its Delta Lake – an optimized and diverse storage layer.

Snowflake’s founders, on the other hand, aimed to harness the power of the cloud to create a centralized data warehouse storage solution for businesses. Their goal was to enable storing and accessing data at scale in a cloud-native environment. They have since expanded their offerings to incorporate tooling for data engineering and data science, largely through third party integrations.

Databricks vs Snowflake: Capabilities Comparison

Consider the below chart when trying to better understand the capabilities of Databricks vs. Snowflake:

Databricks vs Snowflake
Databricks vs Snowflake: Are they Competitors?

When discussing modern data platforms, Databricks vs Snowflake often comes up in conversation. Though they appear similar due to the ability to store and access data, understanding whether they are direct competitors requires delving into their core functionalities and target use cases.

Databricks – The Unified Analytics Platform

Databricks positions itself as a unified data and analytics platform, built on top of Apache Spark. It’s designed for massive-scale data engineering and collaborative data science in the cloud data lake. Databricks excels in machine learning workflows and real-time analytics thanks to its ability to handle streaming data efficiently. It provides a collaborative environment for data scientists, engineers, and business analysts to work together on complex data tasks.

Snowflake – The Cloud Data warehouse

On the other hand, Snowflake is a cloud-based data warehousing solution, with additional capabilities being added. Its strengths lie in its ability to store and retrieve vast amounts of data quickly and efficiently, making it ideal for business intelligence and reporting. Snowflake stands out for its ease of use when compared to Databricks, at the expense of technical depth.

Overlap & Distinction

While there is some overlap in capabilities, particularly in the area of big data processing and storage, the two platforms serve distinct purposes. Databricks is more focused on advanced analytics and handling complex data processing tasks, often involving data science or machine learning. Databricks is pursuing the standard cloud data warehouse agenda with customers more and more, but they come from the data science engineering heritage. Snowflake, conversely, is optimized for storing and analyzing structured data, with a strong focus on ease of use and scalability in data warehousing.

How can you choose between Snowflake and Databricks?

Choosing between Databricks and Snowflake requires a deep understanding of both the current and future needs of the business. In some scenarios, Databricks’ wider range of capabilities gives them the upper hand. In other scenarios, Snowflake’s ease of use can be a deciding factor.

In some organizations, it may even make sense to use both in complementary roles – with data science and data engineering teams leveraging Databricks alongside analytics and business intelligence teams working in Snowflake to democratize data across the business.

Conclusion

In conclusion, both Databricks and Snowflake are powerful platforms within many companies’ data stacks. Choosing between the two, or even commingling each system’s strengths, can be a daunting task.

If you’re looking for support in making a decision related to these tools or need help implementing or optimizing them within your organization, contact us at Graphable. With our deep expertise across applications, data analytics consulting, data engineering, and artificial intelligence – we’re happy to help your team along their data strategy journey.

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