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Data Warehousing vs. Data Lakes: A Comparison of Key Features and Functionality

March 21, 2023 No Comments

by Jeff Broth

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No matter which industry you’re in, it’s highly likely that data has become a key asset for competitive success. However, given the sheer volume of information we generate and collect today, effectively storing, managing, and analyzing large data sets is proving to be quite the challenge – especially if you do not have the requisite data infrastructure in place.

This is where the concept of data warehousing and data lakes come into play. But what is the difference between these two popular data services? Let’s explore.

Definition of Data Warehousing

Data warehousing is a type of database that includes large amounts of consolidated data from multiple sources, organized for quick and easy access by end users for reporting and analysis. It typically involves extracting data from source systems, transforming it into a structured format, loading it in the warehouse, and providing access to the data through business intelligence tools or applications. This lends itself to a traditional, structured data environment.

Definition of Data Lakes

A data lake is a large repository of stored raw data in its native format that is not prepared for direct queries or analysis. It can include structured as well as unstructured data collected from multiple sources – such as enterprise applications, sensors, social media sites, and log files – that are stored in their original form with no pre-defined schema applied to it.

Key Features and Functionality Comparison

Both data warehousing and data lakes can facilitate the storage, management, and analysis of large datasets. Comparing these two solutions is essential to make sure they can meet the needs of your organization. To help you decide which one suits you better, let’s assess what each has to offer:


Data warehouses are designed to support the structured and organized storage of data. They follow a schema-on-write approach, which means that data is pre-structured and defined before it is loaded into the warehouse. This allows for efficient querying and analysis of data that is already known and well-organized.

On the other hand, data lakes follow a schema-on-read approach, which allows for more flexibility in the types and formats of data that can be stored. Data lakes can hold both structured and unstructured data and do not require a pre-defined schema. This makes them more versatile in handling data that may not be fully understood or structured beforehand.


Data warehouses are designed to serve business analysts and other users who need to run ad hoc queries on well-organized and structured data. They provide a controlled and secure environment for accessing data, making them suitable for organizations with strict data governance policies.

In contrast, data lakes are intended for data scientists, developers and researchers who require access to extensive quantities of unstructured raw data. With more flexibility with the types and formats of data that can be stored or accessed within a data lake, exploration and experimentation with different kinds of analysis are possible.


Data warehouses are typically designed to handle a specific amount of data and are less flexible when it comes to scaling up or down. This makes them less suitable for organizations with rapidly growing or fluctuating data volumes. Data lakes, however, are designed to be highly scalable and can handle large volumes of data with ease. They can easily accommodate changes in data volume and velocity, making them ideal for organizations that need to manage large and growing data sets.

With that said, when compared to traditional data warehousing solutions, newer technologies such as Druid, ClickHouse or Pinot are more scalable and can handle rapidly growing or fluctuating data volumes with ease. As such, they are becoming increasingly popular for organizations that need to handle large datasets.

Cost Efficiency

Data warehouses require a significant upfront investment in hardware, software, and licensing fees. They also require ongoing maintenance and support costs. This can make them more expensive than data lakes, particularly for smaller organizations with limited budgets. However, there are cloud solutions available that negate this issue.

The same can be said for data lakes, however, these tools are more frequently built using open-source tools and cloud-based services, which can significantly reduce upfront costs. Additionally, because data lakes can handle both structured and unstructured data, organizations may be able to avoid costly data transformation processes.


Data warehouses are designed to support specific business processes and use cases, which can limit their flexibility. They are typically built with a specific set of business requirements in mind and may not be easily adaptable to new use cases.

Data lakes, however, are highly flexible and can support a wide range of use cases. With the capacity to store both structured and unstructured data, these systems are suitable for a combination of conventional business analytics as well as creative applications like machine learning and AI.

Security and Compliance

Data warehouses are highly secure and comply with strict data governance policies. They provide a controlled environment for data access, making them ideal for organizations with strict compliance and regulatory requirements.

Data lakes, however, can present more security and compliance challenges. Given their adaptability and flexibility in terms of which data can be stored, as well as who has access to it, a greater emphasis must be placed on governance protocols and security strategies.

The Takeaway

With the rising need to manage large and growing datasets, organizations are increasingly turning to powerful data management solutions such as data lakes and data warehouses. While both of these systems are adept at taking on the majority of data processing tasks, there are key differences that must be taken into consideration if you want to ensure you choose the best system for your needs.

About the Author

Jeff Broth is a business writer and advisor. Consulted for SMB owners and entrepreneurs for 9 years now. Mainly covering Data, human resources, and emerging fintech trends.

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