Data Mart vs Data Warehouse: Unraveling Key Differences

Aditi Prakash
May 31, 2023
14 min read
Data storage solutions play a crucial role in every modern data analytics stack. Centralized, efficient storage ensures that data is readily available to authorized users when needed.

Organizations can use a data warehouse, a group of data marts, or combine both storage systems in varying degrees to optimize their data management and analytics infrastructure.

Data warehouses and marts improve data accessibility, facilitate analysis, and support informed decision-making. However, each solution has distinct characteristics and features useful in specific scenarios.

In this article, we will delve into the main features to solve the dilemma of Data Mart vs Data Warehouse. We will also explore the differences between the two systems and provide real-life examples of their use cases.

What is a Data Warehouse?

A data warehouse is a centralized repository of integrated and structured data from various sources within an organization. It provides a consolidated view of data for analysis and decision-making.

Data warehouses store data using integration processes like ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) or ELT to extract data from many sources and transform it into a standardized format. This process involves cleaning, filtering, and restructuring the data to ensure its quality and compatibility.

Modern data teams have moved away from traditional on-premise warehouses to managed cloud data warehouses like Amazon Redshift, Snowflake, and Google BigQuery. Data warehouse tools are the superheroes of the business world. With these tools, businesses can integrate data from various systems, transform it into a consistent format, and load it into a central data warehouse.

A data warehouse’s primary purpose is to enable efficient analytics and reporting on large datasets. It supports business intelligence (BI) and reporting activities with powerful aggregation and complex querying capabilities.

It also provides a controlled environment for:

  • Managing access controls
  • Defining user roles and permissions
  • Enforcing privacy and security policies

Key features

A data warehouse has three key features:

1. Centralized storage

A data warehouse is a centralized data repository for structured data from different sources, like transactional databases, spreadsheets, and external systems. This consolidation enables better data analytics.

2. Integration from multiple sources

Warehouses perform integration and transformation processes to ensure consistency and quality. They merge data from different formats, structures, and sources, resolving discrepancies and standardizing them.

They also help maintain consistency by providing a single source of truth, eliminating data silos, and ensuring that all data managers can access consistent and reliable data for analysis.

3. Support for large-scale data storage & complex queries

An enterprise data warehouse can store massive amounts of data, including current and historical data. This enables data scientists to analyze trends, track performance over time, and form conclusions. This historical perspective is crucial for long-term planning and strategic decisions.

The most popular cloud data warehouses are specifically designed for complex analytical queries and reporting on petabyte-scale workloads. They employ optimization techniques such as indexing, partitioning, and materialized views to enhance query performance and enable efficient data retrieval.

Data Warehouse: Use Cases

Warehouses are versatile tools that find applications across various industries. Standard use cases include: 

  • Business intelligence and analytics: A warehouse stores unified data and enables analysts to perform in-depth analytics, generate insights, and support effective business decisions. 
  • Sales and marketing analysis: A centralized data warehouse can consolidate customer records, sales transactions, marketing campaign statistics, and other relevant information for data analytics.
  • Financial analysis and reporting: A data warehouse can collect financial information from various data sources, including transactional systems and external applications, allowing companies to perform financial analysis, track key metrics, and generate reports.
  • Reporting and dashboards: They serve as a foundation for reporting and dashboarding. Analysts can create interactive dashboards, generate standardized reports, and distribute key performance indicators (KPIs) to stakeholders.

Warehouses have a range of other use cases, including supply chain and inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM), operational efficiency and process improvement, risk management, compliance, and more.

What is a Data Mart?

A data mart is a subset of a data warehouse designed to serve the specific needs of a particular department or user group within an organization. It provides targeted, specialized data for analytics and reporting, catering to precise requirements and use cases.

They store data that typically focuses on a fixed subject area or business function, such as sales, customer, or product information. This data is pre-selected and pre-aggregated to align with the requirements of the targeted user group.

A mart leverages the underlying infrastructure and integration capabilities of the main data warehouse but offers focused, specialized data views that drive departmental decision-making.

Data marts can provide varying levels of granularity. They may contain aggregated or summarized data for high-level analysis and more detailed, transaction-level information for in-depth exploration.

Data scientists can access data within marts through user-friendly interfaces like reporting tools or visualization software. These interfaces provide an intuitive and tailored user experience to query, analyze, and visualize the data relevant to their department or role.

Key features

1. Focused data storage for specific business units

They provide a dedicated and tailored data view to a particular business unit or group of users. They support an individual department’s analytical and reporting needs.

Marts offer a decentralized approach to data warehousing, enabling companies to customize data provisioning and analytics to match the needs of varying user groups. 

2. Faster data retrieval due to smaller, more focused datasets

Each data mart caters to the unique needs of a particular business unit. For example, a sales department can use a data mart to store customer records, transactions, and performance metrics tailored to the sales team’s analysis and reporting requirements.

This enables faster retrieval since analysts don’t have to query the entire data warehouse to get relevant data.

3. Easy to deploy & maintain due to smaller scale

They can be deployed relatively quickly compared to building a comprehensive enterprise data warehouse.

Marts are also easier to manage since they allow for an iterative approach to development. Engineers can add more marts or expand existing ones as the organization’s requirements evolve.

Data Mart: Use Cases

Businesses implement separate data marts to serve multiple business units or user groups. Here are some standard applications:

  • Human resources: A data mart can provide HR teams with relevant information, such as employee demographics, and performance ratings, training records. This helps with workforce planning, talent management, and employee engagement.
  • Supply chain management: A supply chain data mart can focus on inventory levels, supplier performance, order fulfillment, and logistics information. It helps teams analyze demand patterns, optimize inventory levels, track supplier performance, and streamline logistics operations.
  • Healthcare: In the healthcare industry, separate data marts can be created for use cases such as patient management, clinical outcomes, medical research, or healthcare operations.
  • Retail: In the retail sector, data marts can focus on sales information, inventory management, customer behavior, and merchandising. They facilitate retail data analytics, demand forecasting, assortment planning, pricing optimization, and customer segmentation.

These are just a few of the many use cases for data marts. The use cases will vary depending on the industry, functional areas, and unique requirements.

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Key Differences: Data Mart vs Data Warehouse

Here’s a table highlighting the key differences of Data Mart vs Data Warehouse show down:

data warehouse vs data mart

Scope and Scale

  • Data warehouse- A data warehouse encompasses the entire organization and integrates data from multiple disparate sources across departments and external data sources. As a result, they provide a unified view of data spanning various subject areas.
    They can store and process terabytes or even petabytes of detailed data. A warehouse is built for scalability to accommodate increasing data volumes over time.
  • Data mart- Data marts have a narrower scope. They are focused on a specific department or user group. So, the scale of a data mart depends on the data volumes of the targeted department.
    They contain a subset of data relevant to that department’s needs rather than the comprehensive data stored in the data warehouse. 

Complexity and Implementation

  • Data warehouse- Warehouses are more complex to design and implement compared to a data mart. They require careful planning and design since they integrate data with potentially different structures, formats, and data quality levels. 
    Engineers must use a comprehensive approach to ensure data consistency, accuracy, and performance across various data sources and analytical needs.
  • Data mart- A data mart is relatively easier to implement since it focuses on data sets required for a specific subject area or department. This simplifies the integration and transformation process.
    Implementing a data mart is quicker since it can be built iteratively, starting with the immediate needs of a department and expanding over time. It can also leverage the infrastructure of the underlying data warehouse for easier integration.

Performance and Query Speed

  • Data warehouse- Warehouses are optimized for high-performance data analytics and reporting. They can handle massive data sets and support complex analytical queries that involve aggregations, joins, and calculations.
    While individual queries may take longer to execute due to the size and complexity of the data, warehouses provide efficient query performance across a wide range of analytical use cases. They employ indexing, partitioning, parallel processing, and materialized views to optimize query performance. 
  • Data mart- Marts provide a more targeted and streamlined data environment, resulting in faster query execution for department-specific analytics.
    Since they contain a subset of data tailored to the needs of a particular department, they can optimize the model, indexes, and aggregations to boost query response times. 

Maintenance and Governance

  • Data warehouse- Warehouses require extensive resources to support ongoing maintenance needs due to their complex nature and continuous data flow. Maintenance tasks include:
    Monitoring and optimizing data loads.
    Ensuring data quality
    Managing metadata
    Performing backups and disaster recovery
    Maintaining database performance
    Since they have a centralized governance structure, organizations must establish data governance policies, access controls, and stewardship processes to ensure data integrity and consistency.
  • Data mart- Marts are built on a departmental level and require maintenance but at a smaller scale. This requires fewer resources. However, they need cohesive monitoring and governance infrastructures that align with the overall governance framework and cater to specific departmental requirements. This is key to ensuring consistency and might need additional resources and planning.

Choosing the Right Solution: Data Warehouse, Data Mart, or Both?

Several factors should be considered when choosing from Data Mart vs Data Warehouse. These include:

1. Scale & scope of requirements

Determine the scope and purpose of the solution. A data warehouse is more suitable if you need a comprehensive, organization-wide view of integrated data from various sources.

A mart might be a better choice if you have specific departmental or user group needs for focused analytics and reporting.

Also, consider the data volume and complexity. A data warehouse can provide the necessary scalability and performance if you have massive data sets or complex analytics requirements. It can support data mining, machine learning, and other business applications.

Data marts are suitable for business users dealing with smaller data sets and simple analytical needs.

2. Resources available for implementation & maintenance

Evaluate the budget and available resources. For example, warehouses generally require a larger investment in infrastructure, software, and expertise. However, open-source tools like Airbyte could offset some of these expenses.

They have longer implementation timelines because of the complex integration, modeling, and transformation processes, requiring coordination across multiple departments. Warehouses also require more resources for ongoing maintenance.

Marts can be implemented more quickly using existing data warehouse infrastructure. They can also be maintained using existing IT staff. Thus, organizations can save money by choosing a data mart over a data warehouse.

3. Speed & performance needs

Consider the analytical and performance requirements. A data warehouse can handle large-scale data processing, complex analytical queries, and concurrent user access. If you anticipate significant growth in data volumes or need to support many users, a data warehouse is more suitable.

Data marts provide tailored analytics optimized for specific subject areas or business functions. They can be scaled per departmental needs but might have limitations compared to warehouses.

Benefits of Data warehouse and Data Mart

Many modern stacks combine warehouses and marts to create a robust and flexible management and analytics ecosystem. This offers several important benefits: 

  • Data integration and consistency: Using both solutions together enables consistent and reliable integration across the company while also catering to department-specific requirements.
  • Scalability and performance: Warehouses can handle large volumes of data and complex queries, while marts provide optimized performance within their respective domains. Combining the two allows for enterprise-level scalability while delivering targeted performance for departmental analytics.
  • Flexibility and agility: Warehouses can be easily updated to accommodate changing business requirements. Data marts provide agility by quickly adapting to specific business unit needs. Together, they provide a balance between centralized control and departmental autonomy.
  • Data governance and security: Warehouses enable centralized data governance. Data marts allow department-specific governance and access control, tailoring the level of control for users. This combination ensures robust governance while maintaining flexibility and granularity.
  • Cost efficiency: Data warehouses require significant investments in infrastructure, implementation, and ongoing maintenance. By using data marts, organizations can distribute the costs and efforts of data management and analytics, focusing resources on specific team needs.
  • Enhanced decision-making: The combination of a data warehouse and data marts provides a comprehensive and tailored data environment that supports informed decision-making across the organization.

Real-life Examples and Use Cases

To better understand how data warehouses and data marts can help businesses, here are examples of real-life use cases for both solutions: 

Data warehouses

  • A retail company can use a centralized data warehouse to consolidate information from point-of-sale systems, online transactions, inventory systems, customer loyalty programs, and other data sources. Analyzing this unified data gives them insights into customer behavior, inventory management, sales trends, and marketing effectiveness.
  • A healthcare organization uses a data warehouse to combine information from electronic health records, patient demographics, medical devices, and billing systems. This enables them to analyze and identify patterns and trends for improving patient care, reducing costs, and enhancing operational efficiency.
  • A manufacturing company integrates source data from production systems, supply chain management, quality control, and sales in a data warehouse. Analyzing this data helps them optimize production planning, identify bottlenecks, improve quality control processes, and quickly meet changing market demands.

Data marts

  • A company uses a sales and marketing data mart to gain timely insights into customer preferences, campaign performance, sales trends, and customer segmentation. This helps optimize marketing strategies, personalize customer experiences, and improve sales effectiveness.
  • A finance data mart can consolidate financial records such as income statements, balance sheets, cash flows, and budget information. It enhances financial planning, forecasting accuracy, profitability analysis, and compliance reporting.

Combining Data Warehouse and Data Marts

Successful modern enterprises combine both data warehouses and data marts effectively. Some examples include: 

  • Streaming services: A streaming media provider, like Netflix, can store and analyze user-related information in a data warehouse and use data marts to focus on different aspects of their business, like content licensing and customer churn. 

Leveraging both solutions gives them a holistic view of their business operations and user behavior, enabling effective decisions across departments.

  • E-commerce: Global e-commerce providers, like Amazon, can use a data warehouse as a centralized platform for enterprise-wide integration and cross-functional analytics. At the same time, they can use marts for team-specific data access and processing.
  • Multinational retail corporations (MNCs): A MNC, like Walmart, can employ a data warehouse to consolidate sales transactions, inventory management, and customer interactions. They also utilize data marts to cater to different departments. 

By combining the strengths of both data warehousing and data marts, these organizations achieve centralized data management, consistency, and departmental autonomy. 

Conclusion

A data warehouse stores data collected and formatted via data integration. They provide a comprehensive and consistent view of large data sets, supporting enterprise-wide analytics and strategic decision-making.

Data marts offer a department-focused and optimized approach for specific analytical needs.They provide faster query performance and departmental autonomy for operational analysis.

Business analysts and data scientists can combine both solutions to create a holistic data management solution, meeting the diverse needs of the organization while empowering individual teams with tailored insights and self-service analytics.

Ultimately, the choice of data storage solution depends on an organization’s specific needs.

You can read our blog to better understand data management tools and methodologies.

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