Snowflake vs. BigQuery: Navigating the Data Warehouse Landscape

Thalia Barrera
May 10, 2023
15 min read

In the era of data-driven decision-making, selecting the right cloud data warehouse is crucial for businesses that aim to harness the power of their data effectively.

With the rapid growth of cloud-based data storage and processing technologies, data engineers and architects are often faced with the challenge of choosing the best fit for their organization's unique needs. Two of the leading cloud data warehouses, Snowflake and Google BigQuery, have emerged as popular choices in the industry.

This blog post provides a comprehensive comparison between Snowflake and BigQuery to help you make an informed decision. We will dive into various aspects, such as architecture, scalability, performance, security, integrations, and pricing. 

By the end of this post, you will have a clearer understanding of the similarities and key differences between Snowflake and BigQuery, along with the essential factors to consider when choosing the right data warehouse solution for your organization.

In a rush? Don't worry. Here’s a concise summary of the key aspects to consider:

Snowflake vs BigQuery high level comparison

Setting up the Context

Before delving into a detailed comparison of Snowflake and BigQuery, it's crucial to consider the following questions:

1. What problems are you looking to solve?

2. What type of business do you have?

3. What technology and infrastructure are you currently using?

4. Is your operation at a scale where this choice is significant?

Once you have a clear understanding of these aspects, it's essential to look at the unique tech context of Snowflake and BigQuery. In short, three main factors set these two cloud data warehouses' apart: cloud environment, ease of use, and scalability. Let's break these aspects down.

Snowflake is a multi-cloud data warehouse solution that runs on top of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure. This flexibility allows organizations to choose the cloud provider that best fits their needs or even operate across multiple cloud environments.

BigQuery, on the other hand, is a fully managed, serverless data warehouse developed by Google. It is an integral part of the GCP and leverages Google's Dremel technology to enable fast and scalable analytics.

The distinction between these data warehouses becomes more evident when considering their respective target markets and ease of use. Snowflake is designed to cater to organizations of all sizes, offering flexibility and control over resource allocation with its separation of storage and compute resources. This independence allows for fine-grained management of costs and for performance tuning.

BigQuery, in contrast, targets businesses that prefer a hands-off approach to resource management. Its serverless architecture abstracts away the underlying infrastructure, allowing users to focus on their data and analytics without worrying about provisioning or scaling resources.

Another point to ponder is whether your current infrastructure relies heavily on GCP or other cloud providers. BigQuery might have the upper hand if your organization is deeply invested in the GCP ecosystem due to its seamless integration with other Google Cloud services. However, if your organization uses a diverse set of cloud services or is not tied to a specific cloud provider, Snowflake's multi-cloud support and flexibility might be more suitable.

Eager to explore further and uncover the nuances? Let's dive into each aspect in more detail.

Snowflake Overview

Snowflake was founded in 2012 by Benoit Dageville, Thierry Cruanes, and Marcin Zukowski. Their goal was to create a modern, fully managed, and cloud-native data warehouse solution that would enable organizations to leverage their data efficiently without worrying about the complexities of infrastructure management. 

Since its inception, Snowflake has gained significant traction among businesses of all sizes, thanks to its innovative design, scalability, and ease of use.

If you’d like to know more about Snowflake, I wrote a comprehensive guide. Otherwise, here are the most important aspects to consider:


Snowflake's architecture consists of three main layers: storage, compute, and cloud services. The multi-cluster shared data architecture allows for the separation of storage and compute resources, enabling users to scale each component independently based on their needs. This separation improves query performance, concurrency, and cost management.


Snowflake offers virtually unlimited scalability due to its cloud-native design. Users can easily scale storage and compute resources up or down as required, with minimal impact on query performance. This flexibility allows organizations to optimize costs and efficiently handle varying workloads.


Snowflake's architecture enables it to deliver high-performance query execution, even as data volumes and concurrent users increase. The platform also supports automatic query optimization and materialized views to further enhance query performance.


Security is a top priority for Snowflake, which employs a multi-layered approach to protect data at rest and in transit. Features include end-to-end encryption, role-based access control, single sign-on (SSO), and integration with third-party security tools, ensuring that your data remains secure and compliant with industry standards.

Integrations and Ecosystem

Snowflake boasts an extensive ecosystem of data connectors, data transfer services, and third-party tool integrations. This rich ecosystem simplifies data ingestion, transformation, visualization and data science tasks, allowing users to build comprehensive data solutions with ease.

Pricing Model

Snowflake employs a pay-as-you-go pricing model, with costs based on the storage and compute resources used. Storage is billed separately from compute, allowing organizations to optimize costs based on their specific needs. Additionally, Snowflake offers various pricing plans tailored to different types of workloads and requirements.

BigQuery Overview

BigQuery, developed by Google, was launched in 2010 as a fully managed, serverless cloud data warehouse designed to support large-scale data analytics. As a part of the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), BigQuery leverages Google's robust infrastructure and decades of experience in handling massive amounts of data, making it a popular choice among organizations seeking a scalable, powerful and modern cloud data warehouse.

If you’d like to know more about BigQuery, I wrote a comprehensive beginner’s guide. Otherwise, here are the most important aspects to consider:


BigQuery's architecture is built on Google's Dremel technology, which allows it to perform interactive analysis of massive datasets. The serverless design abstracts away the underlying infrastructure, enabling users to focus on analyzing data without worrying about resource provisioning or management.


BigQuery offers seamless scalability, capable of handling petabytes of data and thousands of concurrent users. The serverless model allows it to automatically allocate resources based on query requirements, ensuring optimal performance without any manual intervention.


BigQuery is known for its fast query performance, even when dealing with large datasets. The platform utilizes columnar storage and a combination of in-memory and on-disk caching to optimize query execution. Additionally, BigQuery supports materialized views and automatic query optimization, further enhancing performance.


BigQuery prioritizes security and offers a range of features to protect data at rest and in transit. These include encryption by default, identity and access management (IAM), data loss prevention (DLP) integration, and support for customer-managed encryption keys (CMEK). BigQuery also adheres to stringent industry standards and compliance certifications.

Integrations and Ecosystem

BigQuery integrates seamlessly with other GCP services and offers a broad ecosystem of data connectors and third-party tool integrations. This simplifies data ingestion, transformation, and visualization, making it easier for users to build end-to-end data analytics and data science worflows.

Pricing Model 

BigQuery uses a pay-as-you-go pricing model, with costs determined by the amount of data stored, the volume of data processed by queries, and streaming inserts. BigQuery offers both on-demand pricing, where users are billed per query, and flat-rate pricing for organizations that require predictable costs. Additionally, BigQuery provides cost controls and optimizations, such as partitioning, clustering, and caching, to help users manage expenses.

Comparing Snowflake and BigQuery


Storage and Compute Separation

Both Snowflake and BigQuery offer scalable solutions, but their approaches differ. Snowflake's multi-cluster shared data architecture explicitly separates storage and compute resources, allowing users to scale each independently. This separation ensures that compute resources are not tied to storage capacity, providing flexibility in managing costs and performance.

BigQuery's serverless architecture automatically allocates compute and storage resources based on query requirements. While this approach simplifies resource management, it doesn't provide the same level of granularity in scaling storage and compute resources separately.

Concurrency and Workload Management

Snowflake and BigQuery both handle concurrency effectively. Snowflake's architecture allows for multi-cluster compute resources that can be automatically scaled to accommodate concurrent users and queries. BigQuery, on the other hand, uses its serverless design to allocate resources automatically, ensuring optimal performance even with high concurrency.


Query Execution

Both data warehouses deliver fast query performance, especially when dealing with large datasets. Snowflake's architecture and automatic query optimization contribute to its high-performance capabilities. Similarly, BigQuery's columnar storage, caching mechanisms, and Dremel technology enable it to execute queries quickly.

Caching and Materialized Views

Snowflake and BigQuery both support materialized views to improve query performance. These views store precomputed results of complex queries, reducing the time required for subsequent executions. Additionally, BigQuery leverages a combination of in-memory and on-disk caching to further optimize query performance.


Data Encryption

Snowflake and BigQuery prioritize data security and provide end-to-end encryption for data at rest and in transit. Both platforms support customer-managed encryption keys (CMEK) for increased control over data encryption.

Access Control and User Management

Both data warehouses offer robust access control and user management features. Snowflake provides role-based access control, while BigQuery uses GCP's identity and access management (IAM) system. Both platforms support single sign-on (SSO) and integration with third-party security tools to ensure data protection and compliance.

Integrations and Ecosystem

Data Connectors and Data Transfer Services

Snowflake and BigQuery have extensive ecosystems of data connectors and data transfer services, simplifying data ingestion and integration with various data sources. While Snowflake offers native data connectors and third-party integrations, BigQuery benefits from seamless integration with other GCP services.

Compatibility with Third-Party Tools

Both data warehouses are compatible with a wide range of third-party tools for data transformation, visualization, and analysis, allowing users to ingest data and build comprehensive data replication with ease.


Cost Structure Comparison

Snowflake uses a separate storage and compute pricing model. This means you pay for the storage you use and the compute resources you consume. Snowflake's compute resources, called "virtual warehouses", are clusters of compute resources that can be scaled up or down depending on the workload, and you only pay for what you use.

BigQuery, on the other hand, primarily charges for data storage and for querying data. However, it has a unique pricing model that's quite different from traditional cloud pricing models. Its serverless approach means you don't pay for compute resources in the same way as you do with Snowflake; instead, you're charged for the amount of data processed by your queries.

Real-World Cost Scenarios

The relative cost of these services can vary significantly depending on the specific use case, data volume, query complexity, and configuration of each platform.

For the most accurate and up-to-date information, you might consider running your own benchmarks using a representative subset of your data and queries. This will give you the most relevant comparison for your specific data engineering use case.

Alternatively, you could look for more recent benchmarks published by reputable third-party organizations or consulting firms. Be aware, however, that these benchmarks may not perfectly align with your use case, and they may not take into account all the latest features and improvements of each platform.

Key Considerations for Choosing Between Snowflake and BigQuery

Company Size and Data Requirements

When deciding between data warehouse solutions, it's essential to consider your organization's size and data requirements. Both platforms are suitable for businesses of all sizes, but their distinct features and capabilities may cater to specific needs.

For example, Snowflake's storage and compute separation might be more appealing to organizations that require fine-grained control over resource allocation, while BigQuery's serverless architecture might be ideal for businesses that prefer a hands-off approach to resource management.

Budget Constraints

Budget constraints are another essential factor to consider when choosing a data warehouse solution. While both Snowflake and BigQuery follow pay-as-you-go pricing models, their cost structures differ. Snowflake charges based on storage and compute usage, whereas BigQuery's query based pricing model depends on storage, query data processed, and streaming inserts.

To make an informed decision, carefully analyze and compare the costs of each platform based on your organization's specific needs, usage patterns, and budget limitations.

Technical Expertise and Team Composition

Your team's technical expertise and composition also play a role in selecting the right data warehouse. If your team is already familiar with GCP services, BigQuery may be a more natural choice due to its seamless integration with other GCP offerings. On the other hand, if your team has experience with a wide range of third-party data tools, Snowflake's extensive ecosystem of integrations may be more appealing.

Existing Infrastructure and Technology Stack

Finally, consider your organization's existing infrastructure and technology stack when selecting a data warehouse solution. If your organization is already invested in the Google Cloud Platform, BigQuery might be a more logical choice due to its tight integration with other GCP services. Conversely, if your organization uses a diverse set of cloud services or is not tied to a specific cloud provider, Snowflake's multi-cloud support and flexibility might be a better fit.

By evaluating these key considerations, you can make a well-informed decision and choose the most suitable cloud data warehouse for your organization's unique needs and requirements.

Snowflake vs Bigquery company considerations

Wrapping up

Both Snowflake and BigQuery are powerful, scalable, and secure data warehouse solutions, each with its unique strengths and capabilities. Snowflake's multi-cluster shared data architecture offers flexibility and control over resource allocation, making it an excellent choice for organizations that require granular scaling of storage and compute resources. 

On the other hand, BigQuery's serverless architecture and seamless integration with other GCP services make it an attractive option for businesses that prefer a hands-off approach to resource management.

When choosing between Snowflake and BigQuery, it's essential to consider factors such as company size, data requirements, budget constraints, technical expertise, and existing infrastructure. By carefully evaluating these key considerations and comparing the features and capabilities of each platform, you can make a well-informed decision and select the most suitable cloud data warehouse for your organization's unique needs and requirements.

Ultimately, the choice between Snowflake and BigQuery will depend on your specific use case and preferences. Regardless of the platform you choose, both data warehouses offer robust data management and analytics capabilities that can help your organization unlock valuable insights and drive data-driven decision-making.

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