PostgreSQL vs Redshift: A Comparison for Data Engineers

Aditi Prakash
May 18, 2023
15 min read
TL;DR

Amazon Redshift is among the most popular cloud data warehouses, while PostgreSQL is a leading database management system (DBMS).

Both solutions are used to store, manage, and process large-scale datasets, but they support different features, data types, and use cases. 

Redshift is used for advanced data analysis, whereas Postgres is best for simple transaction processing.

In this article, we will explain the key differences between Redshift vs Postgres and illustrate the best uses for both tools.

What Is PostgreSQL?

PostgreSQL, or Postgres, is a powerful open-source relational database management system (RDBMS) for storing structured data. It is among the most popular RDBMS used today.

Modern data teams use PostgreSQL for processing transactional data and exploratory data analysis. The platform is known for its extensibility and strong support for SQL (Structured Query Language) standards, including ACID transactions. 

Postgres differs from traditional relational databases because it is an object-oriented database. It supports NoSQL and advanced data formats, like arrays, geometric, and network addresses.

Data engineers can use multiple programming languages for database operations.

Postgres is ideal for large-scale online transaction processing (OLTP) workloads but can also be configured for OLAP (online analytical processing) use cases.

Key features and strengths

1. Extensibility: Developers can define custom data formats, operators, functions, and aggregates, allowing for tailored solutions and specialized applications. This extensibility enhances PostgreSQL’s flexibility and adaptability.

2. Conformance to SQL standards: The PostgreSQL project has always emphasized adherence to SQL standards. It adheres to ACID transaction properties and supports SQL syntax and functions.

3. Advanced data types: Postgres enables data teams to store and manipulate advanced data formats, like XML, JSONB, arrays, range, UUID (Universally Unique Identifier), and other composite types.

4. Robust indexing: The RDBMS offers multiple indexing options to improve query performance. These include hash, b-tree, Generalized Search Tree (GiST), and spatial indexes. It also enables table partitioning for faster data retrieval.

What Is Amazon Redshift?

Redshift was the first cloud data warehouse solution. It was launched by Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2012 and is still among the top data warehouse applications today.

Redshift is a column-oriented database that can store exabytes of data and deliver optimum query performance.

It can handle large-scale data analytics workloads. Data analysts can use SQL commands to analyze and query vast amounts of structured and semi-structured data.

Redshift is used as the destination for ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) data integration pipelines that extract data from multiple sources, including databases like Postgres and other applications, transform it, and load it into storage.

The data warehouse uses a distributed architecture to boost query performance and improve scalability. It consists of a collection of nodes and a leader node. The leader node delegates tasks to the member nodes, who store data and execute queries.

Redshift has built-in data analysis functions. It supports complex queries and advanced analytical operations. It also automatically replicates data for high availability and durability.

The platform also uses a pay-as-you-go pricing model, making it an affordable option for organizations of all sizes.

Key features and strengths

1. Massively parallel processing (MPP) architecture: The distributed architecture of Redshift enables MPP. This allows a large number of queries to be run simultaneously.

2. Columnar storage: The data warehouse’s columnar storage format can improve query performance by reducing I/O operations and optimizing data compression. It enables faster data retrieval and minimizes storage costs.

3. Integration with AWS ecosystem: Redshift seamlessly integrates with other AWS services, like AWS Glue, Amazon S3, and Amazon DynamoDB tables, enabling data scientists to create a cohesive ecosystem.

4. Scalability: The data warehouse can scale from gigabytes to petabytes or more. Data engineers can add or remove compute nodes to adjust the processing power and storage capacity according to the workload.

5. Performance:  Redshift automatically applies query optimization techniques such as predicate pushdown, automatic compression, query rewriting, and zone maps to improve query execution and accelerate performance. 

Postgres vs Redshift: A Detailed Comparison

Here’s a quick table highlighting the main differences between PostgreSQL and Redshift: 

Postgres vs Redshift comparison overview

Data Storage and Organization

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL stores data in tables using a row-oriented storage model. Each row represents a record, and columns store the values for specific attributes. This is similar to a traditional relational database and is suitable for OLTP workloads where individual record access is frequent.

Amazon Redshift

Redshift uses a columnar storage model where data is stored column-wise rather than row-wise. This enables Redshift to retrieve data faster since it can directly navigate to the relevant rows within a column. The rows within a Redshift table are also distributed across multiple nodes using distribution styles, like key distribution.

This approach minimizes I/O and enhances data compression, improving query performance for OLAP workloads.

Performance and Scalability

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is optimized for handling transactional operations. Its query optimization, table partitioning, concurrency control mechanisms, and indexing capabilities can improve query response times and enable real-time data processing.

The database system can be scaled vertically. When organizations exceed existing storage limitations, they must purchase additional resources to accommodate more data.

Amazon Redshift

Redshift leverages MPP to distribute and parallelize query execution. It also has a sophisticated query optimizer for rapid data processing and analysis. 

For example, the CREATE TABLE function allows users to define the sort and distribution algorithms for tables to optimize parallel processing.

The data warehouse is highly scalable. A data analytics team can easily manage node configuration to scale horizontally without impacting data availability. The platform also offers automatic scaling based on workload demands using features like concurrency scaling.

Use Cases and Applications

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is well-suited for transactional workloads that involve frequent read and write operations, such as e-commerce applications and content management systems.

It is a general-purpose single-node database widely used in web applications,  data integration, and customized development.

Amazon Redshift

Redshift is built explicitly for data warehousing and OLAP workloads on massive datasets. It is used for big data analytics, data exploration, data stream processing, and ad-hoc queries.

SMALLINT, INTEGER, BIGINT, DECIMAL, and REAL are some of the data types Redshift supports. But, it does not support many Postgres data formats, including arrays BIT, composite types, date/time types, and more.

Redshift can also be integrated with analytics and business intelligence tools for easier data visualization and reporting.

Query Language and Compatibility

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL adheres closely to SQL standards. The RDBMS enables users to query and modify data using a long list of SQL commands

For example, the VACUUM operation in PostgreSQL reclaims disk space so that more data can be added. 

It supports most ANSI SQL standards and provides additional extensions, like procedural languages (e.g., PL/pgSQL, PL/Python, PL/Java), advanced data formats, common table expressions (CTEs),  and window functions.

Amazon Redshift

Redshift is a Postgres-based data warehouse. It is built on a modified version of PostgreSQL but has its own dialect of SQL. As a result, each platform uses SQL commands differently. 

For example, in Postgres, the ALTER TABLE changes multiple elements within a table, including columns. But, Redshift does not support ALTER COLUMN actions, and ADD COLUMN supports adding only one column in each ALTER TABLE statement.

COPY, VACUUM, CREATE TABLE, INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE are other SQL commands where Redshift and PostgreSQL differ in functions and execution.

Redshift’s SQL dialect is optimized for analytical workloads, including specific extensions and functions for columnar storage and parallel processing.

The data warehouse also lacks support for several PostgreSQL features like constraints, indexes, stored procedures, triggers, and value expressions. 

Ecosystem and Integrations

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL has a rich ecosystem of extensions and add-ons that enhance its functionality and integration capabilities. 

It also supports multiple programming languages and standard APIs like JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) and ODBC (Open Database Connectivity), enabling seamless integration with applications and frameworks.

Postgres also integrates with popular web frameworks, ORMs (Object-Relational Mapping),  ETL processes, and data integration workflows.

Amazon Redshift

Redshift data warehouse effortlessly integrates with other services in the AWS ecosystem. This includes: 

  • Amazon S3, Amazon DynamoDB, and more for storage
  • AWS Data Pipeline, AWS Glue, and AWS Lambda for data pipeline and ETL workflows
  • Amazon SageMaker for machine learning solutions
  • Tableau, Power BI, Looker, and QuickSight for BI and analytics

Redshift’s seamless integration with other AWS applications is vital for building a dynamic and cohesive solution for data integration and analytics use cases.  The cloud data warehouse can also work with many other third-party tools for BI and analytics.

Cost and Pricing

PostgreSQL

PostgreSQL is an open-source database. Organizations can download, install, and use Postgres for free. 

However, organizations using Postgres can incur additional expenses related to infrastructure installation and maintenance, server costs, operational administration, and optional commercial support.

Postgres pricing may also vary based on the hosting option selected. Self-managed hosting is free to install, but other options, like Database as a Service (DBaaS), cloud, and specialized managed PostgreSQL hosting providers, require investment.

Redshift

Redshift uses a pay-as-you-go pricing model, primarily based on the size of the cluster (compute and storage) and the duration of usage.

Pricing includes charges for compute nodes (hourly rate based on the node type and number of nodes) and storage (charged per gigabyte per month). The prices for dense compute nodes (best for data sizes under 500 GB) are cheaper than dense storage nodes (optimal choice for data sizes larger than 500GB). 

Additional factors like region, data transfer, integrations with other services, and reserved instances can impact pricing.

Use Cases and Examples

When to choose PostgreSQL

1. General-purpose applications with OLTP workloads

PostgreSQL is a general purpose used as the backend database for web applications, Content Management Systems (CMS), Geographical Information Systems (GIS), and more.

2. Projects requiring strict adherence to SQL standards

PostgreSQL’s robust support for SQL standards and ACID transactions makes it a good choice for applications prioritizing data integrity. 

This includes systems in government, financial, and healthcare institutions.

3. Applications that benefit from advanced data types and extensibility

Postgres is ideal for handling a wide range of data formats, including arrays, geographic, store, JSON, network address types, and more.

Its support for user-defined types, functions, and extensions, enables data engineers to customize and adapt the database to match application requirements.

When to choose Amazon Redshift

1. Large-scale data warehouse

If you want to perform complex analytical queries on massive amounts of data, Redshift is a suitable choice. It is optimized for handling huge datasets and executing queries with a large scan range.

The columnar database is specifically designed for data warehousing and OLAP workloads. It drives data analytics that helps businesses gain valuable insights and achieve goals.

2. Projects requiring high performance parallel processing of analytical queries

Redshift is ideal for workloads that involve analytical queries, aggregations and joins across large datasets. Its column processing, MPP, and query optimization capabilities enable high-performance analysis.

While Redshift does not use foreign keys or unique key constraints, its cluster-based data structure is built for rapid data analysis. 

It can scale horizontally to handle increased workloads and data volumes. It automatically distributes data in a Redshift table across nodes, ensuring high scalability as your data grows.

3. Applications that benefit from integration with the AWS ecosystem

Redshift is an excellent option if you already use other AWS ecosystem services. 

It can quickly ingest data from various sources, enabling you to build end-to-end data pipelines and leverage other AWS services for data processing and analytics.

For example, the Redshift COPY command is specialized for loading from Amazon S3 buckets and Amazon DynamoDB tables. It is also used to facilitate automatic compression. 

Migration Considerations

Migrating from PostgreSQL to Amazon Redshift

Data teams may want to migrate from Postgres to Redshift for a variety of reasons, including: 

  • Improved scalability
  • High-performance data analysis
  • Cost-effective data warehouse applications
  • Integration with the AWS ecosystem
  • Advanced analytics capabilities
  • Need a fully-managed solution

Challenges and common issues

Migrating from PostgreSQL to Redshift may involve the following challenges and common issues:

  • During the migration, data transformation may be required to map PostgreSQL-specific data types, functions, and queries to their Redshift equivalents.
  • Redshift’s query performance optimization techniques differ from PostgreSQL, and adjustments may be necessary.
  • Queries, indexes, schema definitions, and stored procedures written for PostgreSQL must be modified to be compatible with Redshift. 
  • Migrating often requires a cut-over period, during which there might be downtime or limited access to the database.
  • Applications may require code modifications to work with Redshift.
  • Challenges related to data transfer and synchronization of large-scale data sets, including ensuring unique key constraints in Redshift.

Tools and strategies for migration

Some tools and strategies that can be used during the migration process include:

  • Database migration tools: Several database migration tools, including Airbyte and AWS Database Migration Service (DMS), automate enterprise-level migrations to Redshift.
  • AWS Glue: AWS Glue is an ETL service that can extract data from PostgreSQL, transform it into a format compatible with Redshift, and load it into the target Redshift cluster.
  • Manual Export and Import: Users can manually export data from PostgreSQL and import the data into Redshift. This method is time-consuming and requires careful attention to data transformations, file formats, and data integrity.
  • Data Validation: It is crucial to validate and test the migrated data to ensure its integrity and accuracy. 
  • Incremental Data Loading: If your PostgreSQL database is actively updated, engineers can implement incremental data loading strategies to synchronize changes between the source database and the target Redshift cluster. 
  • Data Pipeline and Orchestration: AWS provides services like AWS Data Pipeline or AWS Glue DataBrew that can help orchestrate and automate the data migration process. 

Migrating from Redshift to PostgreSQL

Organizations may migrate from Redshift to PostgreSQL for various reasons, including:

  • Focused on heavy transactional workloads or real-time data processing
  • Advanced customization and flexibility in schema design are needed
  • The ability to use specific PostgreSQL features or extensions
  • The scale and performance capabilities of Redshift are no longer needed
  • Existing applications or tools that are tightly integrated with PostgreSQL and rely on PostgreSQL-specific features
  • Compliance or security requirements

Challenges and common issues

Migrating from Redshift to Postgres may involve the following challenges and common issues:

  • Handling large data volumes and maintaining the query performance of a cloud data warehouse using PostgreSQL can be challenging.
  •  During the migration, the Redshift-specific schema elements and data types must be converted to their PostgreSQL equivalents.
  • SQL queries and stored procedures written for Redshift must be modified to work correctly in PostgreSQL.
  • Data loading and ETL tools are needed to bulk load data to Postgres.
  • Some features and solutions must be re-implemented or replaced to provide similar functionality in PostgreSQL.

Tools and strategies for migration

Some tools and strategies that can be used during the migration process include:

  • AWS DMS: AWS DMS supports heterogeneous database migrations, including migrating data from Redshift to PostgreSQL. It can handle both one-time migrations and continuous replication to keep the target PostgreSQL database in sync with the source Redshift database.
  • SQL Dump and Restore: PostgreSQL provides tools like pg_dump and pg_restore that allow you to create a SQL dump file from the Redshift database and restore it into Postgres. 
  • Data Replication Tools: If you need ongoing data replication and want to minimize downtime during the migration, you can use database replication software.
  • Custom ETL Scripts: Since Redshift and PostgreSQL have different schema, data structures, and features, custom ETL scripts can be developed to migrate the data.
  • Performance Tuning: After migration, analyze query performance, identify bottlenecks, and optimize PostgreSQL’s configuration parameters to achieve optimal performance.

Conclusion

 PostgreSQL and Redshift are robust data management solutions, but their focus and features differ.

Postgres is a general-purpose database with flexibility and strong indexing capabilities. Redshift is a managed data warehousing solution that supports large-scale data analytics and reporting.

When choosing a solution, it’s important to evaluate factors such as data volume, performance requirements, scalability, and cost considerations. 

Additionally, consider the ecosystem, integrations, and support for the tools and technologies critical to your data engineering workflows.

You can learn more about the top data management platforms on our content hub.

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