ETL Pros and Cons

ETL stands for extract, transform, load. ETL tools, in one form or another, have been around for over 20 years, making them the most mature out of all of the data integration technologies. Their history dates back to mainframe data migration, when people would move data from one application to another.

Advantages of ETL include:

  • good for bulk data movements with complex rules and transformations
  • make maintenance and traceability much easier than hand-coding
  • good for data warehouse environment
  • Disadvantages of ETL include:

  • you must be a data oriented developer or database analyst to use
  • not ideal for near real-time or on-demand data access, where fast response is required
  • takes months to put into place
  • difficult to keep up with changing requirements
  • #1 Ranking: Read how InetSoft was rated #1 for user adoption in G2's user survey-based index Read More

    What Makes ETL Processes Brittle?

    ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) processes can become brittle due to various factors, leading to potential failures, errors, or inefficiencies in data integration workflows. Several key factors contribute to the brittleness of ETL processes:

    1. Data Source Changes: ETL processes are often designed to extract data from multiple source systems, such as databases, files, APIs, or streaming platforms. When the structure, format, or schema of these source systems change, it can disrupt the ETL process, leading to errors or data inconsistencies. For example, changes in column names, data types, or data formats can cause ETL jobs to fail or produce incorrect results if not properly handled.

    2. Schema Evolution: Over time, the schema or structure of the target data warehouse or data lake may evolve to accommodate new data requirements, business rules, or analytical needs. Changes in the target schema, such as adding new columns, modifying existing tables, or altering data types, can impact the ETL process and require corresponding adjustments to data mappings, transformations, and loading logic.

    3. Data Quality Issues: ETL processes rely on the assumption of data quality and integrity in the source data. However, data quality issues such as missing values, duplicates, outliers, or inconsistencies can introduce errors or anomalies into the ETL pipeline. Poor data quality can lead to data transformation errors, inaccurate results, or unexpected behavior in downstream applications or reports.

    4. Dependency on External Systems: ETL processes often depend on external systems, services, or APIs for data extraction, transformation, or loading tasks. Any disruptions or outages in these external dependencies, such as network issues, service downtime, or API changes, can impact the reliability and performance of the ETL process. Lack of robust error handling and retry mechanisms can make ETL processes more susceptible to failures in such scenarios.

    5. Lack of Monitoring and Alerting: Inadequate monitoring and alerting mechanisms can make it challenging to detect and respond to issues or failures in ETL processes in a timely manner. Without proper monitoring tools and alerts, organizations may experience delays in identifying problems, diagnosing root causes, and resolving issues, leading to potential data inconsistencies or downtime in data pipelines.

    6. Manual Processes and Dependencies: ETL processes that rely heavily on manual interventions, human dependencies, or ad-hoc scripts are more prone to errors and inconsistencies. Manual interventions introduce the risk of human error, inconsistency in execution, and lack of repeatability, making the ETL process less robust and scalable.

    7. Lack of Documentation and Governance: Inadequate documentation, metadata management, and governance practices can make ETL processes less transparent, maintainable, and auditable. Without proper documentation of data lineage, transformation rules, and dependencies, it can be challenging to understand and troubleshoot ETL issues effectively, leading to increased brittleness in data integration workflows.

    What Is the Ideal Situation for Using an ETL Process?

    The ideal situation for using an ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) process is when an organization needs to integrate and consolidate data from multiple disparate sources into a centralized data repository for analysis, reporting, and decision-making purposes. ETL processes are particularly well-suited for scenarios where:

    1. Data Integration from Multiple Sources: Organizations need to extract data from various source systems, including databases, files, APIs, cloud applications, and streaming platforms. ETL processes facilitate the extraction of data from diverse sources and consolidate it into a unified format for analysis and reporting.

    2. Data Transformation and Cleansing: The source data requires transformation, cleansing, or enrichment to prepare it for analysis and reporting. ETL processes enable organizations to apply business rules, data quality checks, data standardization, and enrichment logic to ensure that the data is accurate, consistent, and usable for analytical purposes.

    3. Complex Data Aggregation and Calculation: Organizations need to perform complex data aggregations, calculations, or derivations to derive meaningful insights from the source data. ETL processes allow organizations to aggregate, summarize, and calculate key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics, and analytical measures to support decision-making and business intelligence initiatives.

    4. Data Warehousing or Data Lake Implementation: Organizations are implementing data warehousing or data lake solutions to establish a centralized repository for storing and managing structured and unstructured data. ETL processes play a critical role in populating and maintaining data warehouses and data lakes by extracting data from source systems, transforming it into a suitable format, and loading it into the target repository.

    5. Regular Batch Processing: The data integration and consolidation process needs to be performed regularly on a scheduled basis, such as daily, weekly, or monthly. ETL processes support batch processing workflows, allowing organizations to automate data extraction, transformation, and loading tasks on a recurring schedule to ensure that the data is up-to-date and available for analysis when needed.

    6. Compliance and Regulatory Requirements: Organizations need to comply with regulatory requirements or industry standards related to data integration, data quality, and data governance. ETL processes provide capabilities for auditing, lineage tracking, and metadata management, enabling organizations to demonstrate compliance with regulatory mandates and ensure data integrity and security.

    7. Scalability and Performance: The volume, variety, and velocity of data are significant, requiring scalable and high-performance data integration solutions. ETL processes offer scalability and parallel processing capabilities to handle large volumes of data and support concurrent data integration tasks efficiently.

    More Articles About ETL

    Rule Definition vs Coding - The tool itself is used to specify data sources and the rules for extracting and processing that data, and then, it executes the process for you. So it's not really the same thing as programming in a traditional programming sense, where you write procedures and code. Instead, the environment works with a graphical interface where you are specifying rules and possibly using a drag-and-drop interface to show the flows of data in a process...

    Successful Data Integration - When it comes to successful data integration, it is not about the tools or a specific method as much as the process. Let's talk about how companies should approach data integration projects...

    Three Major Categories of ETL Monitoring - We've grouped those into three major categories, whether that will affect the accuracy of the data, the conformity of that data, whether it conforms to our business rules or the integrity of that data. Now if I want to then drill down and understand how that trend is going over time, I can click on more when it loads. On the dashboard here, I can see that I have all my different custom rules on the right hand side...

    Why an ETL Process Can Become Very Slow - There are several things you can often point to which are the originators of the problems. One of them, and I will just lay it straight out there, is poorly written software. The process runs slowly, and they just assume because it runs slowly it must be the hardware that's the problem, and so they go out and write bigger checks for bigger hardware and hope to get around the problem that way...