Snowflake vs. Azure Synapse: Security, Governance, and TCO

Azure Synapse vs Snowflake: Security, Governance, and TCO
  • April 8, 2024

This in-depth blog post aims to focus on the intricacies of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for two leading platforms, Azure Synapse and Snowflake, offering a detailed comparison that goes beyond initial price tags. We have analyzed and compared their pricing structures, focusing on essential components like storage and computing capabilities. We will also share our insights on each platform's features, such as data integration and data governance functionalities.

Our analysis is enhanced with strategic insights on cost optimization, providing valuable guidance on managing and reducing expenses effectively. Practical tips are also included to help users avoid unexpected bills when using Snowflake and Azure Synapse.

This post is a valuable resource for those seeking to make an informed decision between these platforms, ensuring a well-rounded evaluation of:

  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): Understanding pricing models and strategies for cost optimization in each platform.
  • Security: Comparing the security features and encryption methods offered by both platforms.
  • Governance: Built-in governance functionalities and partner ecosystem integrations.

Snowflake vs. Azure: TCO & Spend Prediction 

Snowflake and Azure Synapse present contrasting pricing structures for compute resources. When it comes to storage, both platforms charge a comparable rate of approximately $23 per terabyte of compressed data per month, with potential discounts for pre-purchases. Snowflake incorporates a nominal fee for its cloud services layer.

In Snowflake, warehouse compute costs are calculated per second, with a minimum billing duration of one minute. Prices vary based on the Snowflake version being used, starting at $2 per credit per hour for Standard, $3 per credit per hour for Enterprise, and $4 per credit for Business Critical. Users can negotiate annual contracts with Snowflake, with credits rolling over upon contract renewal. Additionally, there are supplementary fees for serverless features such as data replication, Snowpipe, and automatic clustering.

On the other hand, Synapse's Dedicated Pools (DWUs) are billed per hour, rounded up to the nearest hour, while the Serverless Pools incur a flat fee of $5 per terabyte of data processed during query runtime. Furthermore, distinct charges apply for data integration services.

Both pricing models cater to a spectrum of workload scenarios, ranging from predictable to ad-hoc requirements. Snowflake's auto-start/stop feature enables real-time query handling, whereas Synapse's Dedicated Pools prioritize near-constant uptime akin to traditional databases. Strategies for optimizing warehouse/pool utilization should be devised to meet diverse use cases, service level agreements (SLAs), and budgetary considerations. Snowflake allows for the creation of warehouses with varying sizes, scalability options, and start/stop configurations to accommodate different user groups, tools, or workloads. Conversely, Synapse's flexibility is limited as Dedicated Pools necessitate downtime for resizing or adjustments in response to heightened query demands.

While Synapse's Dedicated Pools, discussed in further detail here, offer straightforward spend predictions due to their consistent uptime, forecasting costs for Snowflake warehouses and Synapse Serverless Pools can be more challenging as queries on an ad-hoc basis trigger them. As such, implementing governance measures is crucial to ensure optimal warehouse sizes and query structures, minimize query times for Snowflake, and reduce scanned query sizes for Synapse Serverless. Organizations should conduct thorough forecasting exercises to estimate monthly expenditures, utilizing vendor-provided tools for cost tracking and implementing alerts to align spending with expectations and avoid unexpected billing spikes.

Snowflake's pricing varies depending on the version: Standard, Enterprise, or Business Critical, with costs of $2, $3, and $4 per credit per hour, respectively. In contrast, Synapse's pricing structure is shown for both Dedicated and Serverless Pools. It's important to note that Dedicated Pools in Synapse are assumed to have an average hourly cost for illustration purposes, as specific pricing was not provided. The Serverless Pools incur a flat fee of $5 per terabyte of data processed, which is depicted separately due to its distinct pricing model.

Key Takeaway: Snowflake typically emerges as the more cost-effective and flexible choice, offering rapid scalability and customization options. In contrast, Synapse's Serverless Pool lacks the ability to enhance performance and may not be ideal for ETL workloads. Modifying Synapse's Dedicated Pools can be cumbersome, requiring downtime and longer start/stop times compared to Snowflake's seamless warehouse management. Additionally, Synapse's billing by the hour, as opposed to Snowflake's per-second pricing, may lead to higher cost predictions, despite its predictability. The lack of horizontal scaling automation in Synapse could pose challenges during sudden workload spikes, emphasizing the importance of choosing the right platform for your specific needs.

The SME Team frequently provides assistance with FinOps exercises for forecasting and predicting spend. Additionally, we can offer expertise in building customized strategies and implementing guardrails to prevent budget overages. By leveraging our specialized knowledge in financial operations, we can help organizations optimize their cloud spending, align it with strategic goals, and ensure cost-efficiency in their data warehouse management. 


Snowflake vs. Azure Security 

Snowflake and Synapse both prioritize security with a range of features including network policies, RBAC, and robust data encryption. While Synapse's RBAC (role-based access control) system includes an additional layer tailored for the Azure Portal and associated objects within the ecosystem, Snowflake stands out with its dedicated security editions like the Virtual Private Snowflake (VPS) for heightened data protection.

Synapse's approach with Dedicated Pools mirrors the security measures of virtual machines, residing within the customer's Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). This level of security granularity offers enhanced protection but necessitates thorough administrative setup, ongoing maintenance, and meticulous auditing, potentially leading to complexities in managing minimum-level access permissions. On the other hand, Snowflake's security models, especially with the VPS edition, cater to scenarios involving highly sensitive data such as PHI data subject to stringent regulations like HIPAA and HITRUST CSF. The VPS edition isolates the environment from other Snowflake accounts, ensuring the highest level of data security. However, these advanced security features come at a premium price compared to the Standard and Enterprise editions.

In essence, Snowflake's security model aligns with industry standards for Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, offering private options at a premium for organizations prioritizing data security. Conversely, Synapse's security framework revolves around its cloud hypervisor, requiring a more experienced administrator to navigate the complexities and ensure robust security measures. The simplicity of Snowflake's cloud services layer makes it more straightforward to manage, whereas securing Synapse may entail a more intricate process, potentially involving an Azure security administrator distinct from the database administrator roles within Synapse.

Snowflake offers both a Business Critical edition and a VPS edition for higher data protection and security levels. This is for use cases around extremely sensitive data, like PHI data, that have to comply with HIPAA and HITRUST CSF regulations. The VPS is the highest level of security by isolating the environment from all other Snowflake accounts. Because of this, these editions have higher credit prices than Standard and Enterprise editions. 

The table below encapsulates the comparison between Snowflake and Synapse in terms of their security offerings and models, detailing their approaches to network policies, RBAC, data encryption, and the handling of sensitive data. It also highlights the complexity involved in managing these security features and the availability of premium security options for heightened data protection.

Feature Snowflake Synapse
Network Policies & RBAC Comprehensive network policies and RBAC Includes an additional layer for Azure Portal and ecosystem objects
Data Encryption Robust data encryption Robust data encryption
Dedicated Security Editions Virtual Private Snowflake (VPS) for heightened data protection Dedicated Pools with VM-like security measures within customer's VPC
Security for Sensitive Data VPS caters to highly sensitive data (e.g., PHI) subject to regulations like HIPAA Dedicated Pools offer enhanced protection but require complex setup and maintenance
Security Model Complexity Aligned with SaaS standards; simpler to manage due to cloud services layer Involves intricate processes; may require Azure security administrator
Premium Security Offerings Business Critical and VPS editions for higher security at a premium cost Enhanced security in Dedicated Pools potentially leads to administrative complexity

Key Takeaway: Snowflake's security model aligns with industry standards for SaaS applications, offering exclusive options at a premium price, while Synapse's security framework centers around its cloud hypervisor. In my experience, managing Snowflake is notably more straightforward due to its uncomplicated cloud services layer, requiring less administrative expertise. On the contrary, securing Synapse demands a higher level of administrator experience, often falling under the responsibility of an Azure security administrator who may or may not overlap with the roles of a Synapse database administrator.


Snowflake vs. Azure Synapse: Governance 

Snowflake and Synapse stand out for their exceptional capabilities in providing a robust suite of features dedicated to data governance, emphasizing the safeguarding and preservation of critical information. These encompass a wide array of stringent security measures, including but not limited to column and row-level security protocols, object tagging functionalities, comprehensive masking policies, intricate data classification mechanisms, meticulous access history tracking, and proficient management of object dependencies.

In a significant stride towards innovation, Snowflake recently unveiled Snowflake Horizon, a cutting-edge integrated governance solution that seamlessly encapsulates compliance, security, privacy, interoperability, and access capabilities within its framework. The most remarkable aspect of Snowflake Horizon is its inclusion at no additional cost, presenting users with a holistic, cost-effective governance solution that exceeds industry standards. Moreover, Snowflake further enhances its governance prowess through strategic partnerships with diverse data cataloging and data quality providers, enriching the platform with supplementary functionalities and seamless integrations.

Conversely, Microsoft Purview emerges as Azure's all-encompassing unified data governance solution meticulously tailored for Synapse and other Azure resources. This potent tool empowers users with a consolidated data map spanning their entire data landscape, an intricate data glossary for detailed insights, invaluable analytics, and streamlined data-sharing functionalities. While Purview operates as a distinct product with a unique pricing structure, it offers unparalleled governance features that elevate the data management capabilities within the Azure ecosystem. Synapse leverages its extensive network of partner integrations specialized in data cataloging, enhancing data quality, and augmenting other governance-related functionalities, solidifying its reputation as a dependable and efficient data governance solution.

Key Takeaway: Both platforms offer out-of-the-box solutions for data governance, with the option to enhance them through additional vendor or partner offerings. While Azure Purview has been critiqued for its focus solely on Azure resources, Snowflake Horizon's novelty leaves room for future assessments. Snowflake's strategic focus on partnering with data catalog and governance providers sets it apart in the industry, giving it a competitive edge that enhances its overall offering. This collaborative approach results in expedited updates and enhancements, ensuring that Snowflake remains at the forefront of innovation and meets the ever-changing needs of its users. Additionally, the seamless integration with various data cataloging and governance tools further solidifies Snowflake's reputation as a comprehensive and versatile solution for organizations seeking top-tier data management capabilities.

Related: Learn More About Snowflake Consulting

Snowflake vs. Azure Conclusion

Ultimately, both Snowflake and Synapse offer advanced security features with distinct cloud security approaches. But when it comes to governance, they are not so evenly matched. Snowflake shines in this area, boasting an integrated solution and a vast network of partners. With its adaptable pricing and efficient auto-scaling capabilities, Snowflake typically results in a more cost-effective total cost of ownership for various scenarios.

The choice between the two platforms, Synapse vs Snowflake, hinges on your specific requirements, financial constraints, and preferences within your cloud environment. Our expertise lies not only in guiding you towards the optimal platform but also in fine-tuning your current solutions for maximum efficiency.



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