Big Query vs Athena: A Detailed Comparison of Two Major Data Warehouses

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In cloud-based data analytics, Google BigQuery and Amazon Athena stand out as formidable tools, each offering powerful capabilities for querying and analyzing large datasets. This article delves into a comprehensive comparison of BigQuery vs. and Athena, exploring their features, performance, pricing, and use cases.

Introduction to BigQuery and Athena

Google BigQuery:
Google BigQuery, part of Google Cloud's suite of services, is a fully managed, serverless data warehouse that enables scalable analysis over petabytes of data. It provides a familiar SQL interface for querying structured and semi-structured data.

Amazon Athena:
Amazon Athena, on the other hand, is an interactive query service that makes it easy to analyze data directly in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) using standard SQL. It's a serverless offering, which means there's no infrastructure to manage the query data.

Data Storage and Formats

Both platforms support querying data stored in cloud storage. BigQuery operates with Google Cloud Storage, whereas Athena works seamlessly with Amazon S3. Data in BigQuery can be stored in native tables or external tables referencing data in Cloud Storage. BigQuery supports various data formats for loading, including CSV, JSON, AVRO, and cloud datastore backups. Athena queries directly from data stored in S3.

Query Capabilities

SQL Queries

BigQuery and Athena support standard SQL queries, enabling users to perform complex analytical tasks, including aggregations, joins, and subqueries. Both platforms allow users to run 'SQL-like queries' on massive datasets, with BigQuery facilitating querying on petabyte-scale data and Athena optimizing for quick, aggregated queries directly from Amazon S3.

Ad Hoc Queries

Both platforms excel in handling ad hoc queries on large datasets. They are optimized for interactive querying without requiring pre-defined indexes or data preparation. Specifically, they are particularly well-suited for 'simple and aggregated queries', emphasizing their efficiency in ad hoc analysis scenarios, allowing for practical and cost-effective querying at scale.

Data Formats and Compression

BigQuery supports various data formats like CSV, JSON, Avro, and Parquet. Data can be stored in uncompressed or compressed formats fixed data format like GZIP, with the use of compressed CSV files in GZIP format being particularly beneficial for reducing query costs and improving performance, especially when querying large datasets stored in Amazon S3 using SQL. Athena also supports common formats like CSV, JSON, ORC, and Parquet, including compressed files for efficient storage, where leveraging compressed CSV files can similarly reduce query costs and enhance performance.

Performance and Scaling

Query Execution

BigQuery leverages Google's powerful infrastructure to execute queries rapidly, particularly on massive datasets spanning petabytes. Athena similarly benefits from AWS's processing power, scaling to accommodate large workloads efficiently.

Processing Power

BigQuery's parallel processing and distributed architecture provide substantial processing power, optimizing query performance even on extensive datasets. Athena's own query execution engine scales automatically, handling varying workloads effectively.

Cost and Pricing Structure

Query Costs

Both platforms charge based on the amount of data scanned during queries. BigQuery pricing is based on the amount of data processed per query and the storage used, while Athena charges per TB of data scanned.

Pricing Comparison

BigQuery and Athena offer transparent pricing structures. BigQuery's pricing model can be more predictable for users with fluctuating workloads, while Athena's pay-per-query model can be more cost and performance-effective for occasional or lighter usage.

Use Cases and Real-World Performance

Analyzing Large Datasets

For processing multiple terabytes or even multiple petabytes of data, both BigQuery and Athena are well-suited. They are commonly used for analyzing vast datasets such as New York taxi trip records or web logs.

Ad Hoc Analysis

Both platforms excel in running ad hoc queries, providing businesses with the flexibility to derive insights quickly without extensive data preparation.

Access Management and Security

BigQuery and Athena integrate with their respective cloud platforms' access management process data and systems, allowing granular control over data access and permissions.

Key Differences and Competitive Advantages

Google's Infrastructure vs AWS Services

BigQuery leverages Google's infrastructure, known for its speed and scalability, while Athena benefits from AWS's suite of services and deep integration with the broader AWS ecosystem.

Serverless Data Warehousing

Both platforms are serverless, eliminating the need for infrastructure management. This feature simplifies deployment and allows users to focus solely on data analysis.

Native vs External Tables

BigQuery supports native tables fetch data within its environment and external tables referencing data in Cloud Storage. Athena primarily operates on external tables pointing to S3 data.

User Interface and Integration

BigQuery offers a user-friendly web UI and integrates seamlessly with other Google Cloud services. Athena is tightly integrated with AWS services, making it a preferred choice within the AWS ecosystem customer data side.

Benchmarking and Performance Evaluation

Real-World Performance Metrics

Benchmarking studies often demonstrate BigQuery's efficiency in handling complex queries and massive datasets. However, Athena's performance can also be highly competitive, particularly for organizations invested in AWS services.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the key differences between BigQuery and Athena?
    • BigQuery is part of Google Cloud and excels in handling massive datasets with its parallel processing. Athena, an AWS service, is integrated with Amazon S3 and offers competitive pricing based on query execution.
  2. How does pricing differ between BigQuery and Athena?
    • BigQuery charges for data processed and storage used, while Athena charges per TB of data scanned.
  3. Can I run ad hoc queries on both platforms?
    • Yes, both BigQuery and Athena are optimized for running ad hoc queries without requiring pre-defined indexes.
  4. Which formats of data can I query with BigQuery and Athena?
    • Both platforms support common data formats like CSV, JSON, and Parquet, along with compressed variants for efficient storage.
  5. What is the typical use case for BigQuery and Athena?
    • BigQuery is often used for complex analytics and processing large datasets, while Athena is suitable for occasional querying and ad hoc analysis.
  6. Do BigQuery and Athena integrate with other cloud services?
    • Yes, both platforms integrate tightly with their respective cloud providers' ecosystems, allowing seamless data access and management.
  7. Can I manage access and permissions on datasets?
    • Yes, both BigQuery and Athena provide robust access management features to control data access at various levels.
  8. Which platform is more cost-effective for small workloads?
    • Athena's pay-per-query model can be more cost-effective for sporadic or lighter workloads, whereas BigQuery may offer better predictability for steady usage.
  9. How does BigQuery handle compressed data?
    • BigQuery supports querying both uncompressed and compressed data, including formats like GZIP.
  10. Is there a limit to the dataset size I can query with BigQuery or Athena?
    • Both platforms are designed to handle massive datasets spanning terabytes or even petabytes, scaling automatically to accommodate varying workloads.

      Can I load data into BigQuery or Athena from external sources?
      • Yes, both platforms support loading data from external sources such as Google Cloud Storage for BigQuery and Amazon S3 for Athena. This allows for seamless data ingestion into their respective environments.
    • How does query performance compare between BigQuery and Athena?
      • BigQuery often showcases superior performance, especially for complex queries and large datasets, due to its underlying infrastructure and parallel processing capabilities. However, Athena can also provide robust performance for many analytical use cases.
    • What types of analytics functions are supported by BigQuery and Athena?
      • Both platforms support various analytical functions, including aggregations, window functions, and statistical operations, enabling comprehensive data analysis within a SQL-based environment.
    • Can I schedule and automate queries on BigQuery and Athena?
      • Yes, both platforms offer scheduling and automation capabilities through their respective APIs and integrations with workflow orchestration tools like Google Cloud Composer for BigQuery and AWS Step Functions for Athena.
    • How does data security and compliance work on BigQuery and Athena?
      • Both platforms adhere to strict data security and compliance standards, allowing users to implement encryption, access controls, and auditing features to protect sensitive data and meet regulatory requirements.
    • Do BigQuery and Athena provide support for semi-structured or nested data?
      • Yes, both platforms offer native support for querying semi-structured data formats like JSON and nested data structures, allowing for flexible data modelling and analysis.


In summary, Google BigQuery and Amazon Athena are powerful cloud-based data query engines, each offering distinct advantages and use cases. Whether you're analyzing massive datasets or running ad hoc queries, understanding the features, performance metrics, and pricing structures of BigQuery and Athena is essential for maximizing analytical efficiency in the cloud. Ultimately, the choice between these platforms depends on factors such as workload characteristics calculated data size, integration requirements, and familiarity with the respective cloud ecosystems.

Written by
Soham Dutta


Big Query vs Athena: A Detailed Comparison of Two Major Data Warehouses