Real-time analytics

7 reasons why a user would need to query Amazon S3 directly

Part 1 of "Querying Amazon S3" series

Sep 4, 2023

Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) is a highly scalable and durable object storage service provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS). It is commonly used to store and retrieve large amounts of data, such as images, videos, log files, backups, and other unstructured or semi-structured data. While S3 is primarily designed for object storage, there are situations where it makes sense to directly query data stored in S3:

  1. Data lakes and analytics: Many organisations use Amazon S3 as a central data lake to store raw or processed data from various sources. Data analysts and data scientists often need to query this data directly to perform exploratory data analysis, generate reports, or run complex analytics. Direct querying from S3 can save time and resources as it eliminates the need to copy data to a separate analytics database.

  2. Retrieve a subset of data from a large S3 object: Amazon S3 Select allows you to retrieve a subset of data from an S3 object by using a SQL query. This can be useful if you only need a small amount of data from a large object, or if you want to filter the data before you retrieve it. It can also boost performance, as it reduces the amount of data that needs to be transferred over the network. In scenarios where you don't require the full processing power of a database, querying data directly from S3 will also be more economical.

  3. Scenarios needing faster or real-time performance: In some cases, real-time data is ingested into S3, and it's beneficial to query that data directly to gain immediate insights. Amazon S3 Select can return data very quickly, because it does not require you to load the data into a database. For example, log data might be streaming directly to S3, and querying it can help monitor system performance or detect anomalies in real-time.

  4. Decoupling storage and processing: One of the key principles of modern data engineering is decoupling storage from processing. Storing data in S3 and querying it using separate compute resources, such as Amazon Athena or AWS Glue, allows for a more flexible and scalable architecture. It enables you to scale processing independently of storage and adopt a serverless approach.

  5. Need for a familiar SQL interface: Querying S3 directly can be done using an SQL interface, and this is useful for data engineers and analysts who are already familiar with SQL.

  6. Data sharing and collaboration: Storing data in S3 makes it easy to share and collaborate with others, including external partners or teams. Granting appropriate access permissions allows authorised users to query the shared data directly. For example, you could use S3 Select to retrieve a subset of data from an S3 object and then load that data into a relational database for further analysis.

  7. Querying archived data: S3 is often used for long-term data archiving and backup. Querying archived data directly from S3 allows organisations to retrieve historical information without the need to restore the data to a separate system.

When directly querying data in Amazon S3, there are different ways to achieve this, depending on the specific use case. Amazon Athena is a serverless query service that allows you to run standard SQL queries directly on data stored in S3. AWS Glue is an ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) service that can create and manage data catalogs to make querying S3 data more convenient. Additionally, custom applications or data processing frameworks can be built to access S3 data using the appropriate SDKs or APIs provided by AWS.

Amazon S3
data lake
query engine
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