December 16, 2022 By Matthew Rathbone *

Amazon Athena and Amazon Redshift are both cloud-based data storage and analysis services offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). While they share some similarities, they are designed for different use cases and have a number of key differences.

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One of the main differences between the two is the type of data they are designed to handle. Athena is a querying service designed to handle structured and unstructured data stored in Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3), while Redshift is a data warehousing service designed to handle large volumes of structured data.

This means that Athena is well-suited for ad-hoc querying of existing data, while Redshift is better for more complex, in-depth analysis for data that has already been pre-processed.

Athena vs Redshift Data Storage

A key difference is the way the two services store and process data.

Athena uses a SQL-like query language and can query data stored in a variety of formats on S3, including CSV, JSON, and Parquet. It does not require you to define your schema up-front.

Redshift, on the other hand, uses a managed columnar data storage format and a more powerful query engine, which allows it to handle larger volumes of data and perform more complex queries, but it requires you to define your schemas up-front.

Athena vs Redshift Performance

In terms of per-query performance, Redshift generally offers faster query speeds than Athena, thanks to its more powerful query engine and managed columnar data storage format.

However, Athena is generally more cost-effective for infrequent use, since it only charges for the amount of data scanned per query, rather than the amount of data stored.

Additionally, while Athena is generally slower than Redshift, it is capable of higher throughput, as query execution resources can be automatically scaled up to handle more query workloads.

Upfront Set Up Costs

One potential downside of Redshift is that it requires more upfront setup and configuration than Athena. This includes setting up and configuring cluster nodes, which can be a time-consuming and complex process. In contrast, Athena is a fully managed service that can be set up and queried with minimal effort on existing data with little up-front work.

Athena vs Redshift Summary

Overall, the choice between Athena and Redshift will depend on the specific needs of your organization. If you need a quick and easy way to query existing structured and unstructured data stored in S3, Athena may be the better choice, especially if you will use it infrequently. If you have large volumes of structured data and need the ability to perform more complex analysis on a regular basis, Redshift may be a better fit.