Snowflake was founded in 2012 by two former Oracle employees with the goal of offering a pure cloud data warehouse. The Cloud Data Warehousing product, the predecessor of today’s Cloud Data Platform, was developed from scratch and released in 2014. Snowflake’s IPO in October 2020 was a big success. The company operates worldwide and has approximately 3,100 active customers of various sizes and industry sectors. It also maintains a strong and growing partner ecosystem.
The Cloud Data Platform offers simplicity and flexibility in data delivery for different workloads. An important part of this is the encapsulation of administrative database activities (“Near-Zero Management”) to simplify operations. On the other hand, the utilization of the cloud infrastructure and a special architectural approach offers performance and scalability, and creates the basis for efficient data management for six different workloads. In addition to classic data warehousing, the Cloud Data Platform supports data engineering (building SQL-based data pipelines), data lakes, data science, data application design and data exchange.
The platform can be obtained in the Amazon, Google and Microsoft cloud environments and is cloud-agnostic. Most customers use the Amazon cloud. Technically, the platform uses the cloud provider’s object store as central, fail-safe data storage for all kinds of data types and, based on this, offers cloud services and independent processing nodes for the workloads. The processing nodes can be activated as needed and offer dedicated views of the data. They are equipped with computing power depending on the application. The cloud services provide functions for management and interaction with the processing nodes, such as security, metadata and the interface for data access. Services, processing nodes and data storage can scale completely independently. In this way, individual workloads, for example, do not affect the performance of other workloads. They run in a separate ‘processing space’ but are based on the same data. Data queries are performed via SQL interfaces so the platform supports most analytical and BI tools. Data transformations can also be implemented using SQL. Partners are available to support with more complex data loading/transformation tasks or analysis and data science requirements.
The Data Exchange – which can support collaboration between departments by sharing data – is an interesting workload. Snowflake enables users to easily make their data available and share it within the company or with external partners using special authorization profiles. These are ultimately views of the central data. A copy of the data is not necessary. The platform takes care of data management and security. The Data Cloud, a more global version of Data Exchange, is a new offering that enables data consumers to connect their own data and partner data with third-party data in a huge network based on a common data layer. Concepts are in place to support access, governance and action.
User & Use Cases
Of Snowflake’s six workloads, all respondents to this survey use the Cloud Data Platform for data warehousing and a large proportion use it for data lake management or as data storage. Considering Snowflake’s history, this is hardly surprising. It is interesting to note that 69 percent recognize Snowflake as an integration tool for business users and 65 percent use it for self-service analytics. The fact that applications for data manipulation and analysis can tightly be integrated in Snowflake’s workflows and user interfaces (e.g., to perform advanced SQL with ‘dbt’) seems to be popular. Moreover, Snowflake makes it easy for users to create new instances (sandboxes) in a self-service manner based on cloned data or by loading new data. 54 percent use Snowflake’s capabilities to do data integration. Users can take advantage of tools such as Snowplow, tools from the Snowflake partner ecosystem or refer to the concept of shared data enabled by the Data Exchange.
Snowflake mainly targets mid-sized companies across all industries. 69 percent of our sample of Snowflake customers come from mid-sized companies. The mean of 14 users per company suggests that Snowflake is mainly used in small scenarios. However, we have seen much larger installations in the course of our consulting work. The mean of 6 administrators per installation is very high when considered as a percentage of the average number of users as a whole. The need for so many people to run and maintain a fully managed, near-zero management cloud database suggests that there is potential for customers to learn how to leverage Snowflake more efficiently.
Total number of users per company
Total number of administrators per company
Company size (number of employees)
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