Azure Data Factory vs SSIS: Which is a Better ETL Tool?


July 20, 2023

As the processes of data integration and data migration take place, selecting the apt ETL (Extract-Transform-Load) tool is a vital element. Involved professionals look for the tool that offers them optimal results. Two big names in the world of ETL are Azure Data Factory (ADF) and SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS).

Both these tools are created for reading from disparate data sources and then writing and transforming data. Hence, both point towards a similar objective but have their own specialties.

The below comparison between Azure Data Factory vs SSIS is especially for those having a tough time deciding on the ETL tool. The evaluation based on different parameters, their advantages, and limitations throws light on the characteristics of each and situations in which they are better performers.

Firstly, let us go through each one of them individually with their pros and cons.

What is Azure Data Factory?

Azure Data Factory is a popular data orchestration tool and ETL tool that plays a vital role in Microsoft Azure development. It assists organizations in designing on-premises or cloud-driven solutions.

As a serverless technology, it empowers users to undergo enterprise-level data movements and transformations by transferring data through different layers. It assists in the creation and scheduling of pipelines that can collect data from disparate sources and then perform data transformation on big data.

Azure Data Factory has four main components:

Pipeline for the jobs that are to be executed.

Activity for all independent steps in a pipeline.

Datasets representing databases/files/folders as input to the ETL process

Linked Services as a connection string connecting data sources and services with authentication.

As a managed cloud-driven data integration service, it builds on the Reliable Services framework that is woven into the Microsoft Azure platform.

What is SSIS?

SSIS stands for SQL Server Integration Services, a popular platform for performing enterprise-level data transformation and integration jobs. It can be hosted on-premises in a virtual machine that is self-managed or deployed as a part of ADF in a virtual machine that Microsoft manages. It is a tool that offers joins, aggregation, splits, etc.

As a flexible and fast data warehousing tool that is leveraged for ETL, it undergoes data migration activities that can quickly transfer and transform data from one source to another. The data sources it supports are Oracle, SQL, Excel files, DB2 databases, etc. Developers can build innovative solutions without creating a single line of code.

SSIS possesses four significant components:

Control Flow that assists in arranging the order of components.

Data Flow performs the ETL process to load onto another destination.

Packages collect the control and data flow activities

Parameters that simplify the task of passing runtime values to SSIS packages.

SSIS vs ADF: Pros and Cons

Pros of SSIS:
  • Standardized ETL solutions for daily tasks
  • Capability to manage and connect data from disparate sources
  • User-friendly, easy to use and learn for novices
  • Good debugging facilities
  • Simple Active Directory integration for SQL Server connect
  • Create outbound data files and recording them to FTP
  • Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment
  • Easy to take data from servers other than MS SQL Server or Oracle
  • Offers self-service BI facilities
  • Lookup and transformation functionalities
Cons of SSIS:
  • Parallel execution of multiple packages
  • Limited flat file or Excel connection
  • Difficult to map destination with OLE DB command

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Pros of ADF:
  • Offers good support for exhaustive queries
  • Serverless solution lessening meticulous tasks and maintenance
  • Seamless integration with third-party connectors
  • Easy to create pipelines schedules and execute SSIS/SSMS packages
  • Copies data from sources like JSON, Azure database, API, Azure Synapse, etc.
  • Usage of linked service in many pipelines
  • Fast, convenient with multiple connectors
  • Easy setup of security protocols for IP addresses
  • Effective monitoring with fine-tuning, automation, and flexibility
  • Access to multiple users from remote locations
Cons of ADF:
  • Less flexible as compared to other ETL tools
  • No debugging tools
  • Limited source connectors

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Organizations Using Them

Companies Using ADF:

KPMG, EY, GEICO, Ryder System, Lenovo Group Ltd., Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and many more

Companies Using SSIS:

Humana, Wells Fargo, KPMG, CVS Health, Uline, Guidehouse, NetSuite Inc., Red Hat Inc and many more


Azure Data Factory vs SSIS: The Differences

As you compare SSIS vs Azure Data Factory, we observe that both are leading, scalable, accessible, secure, and robust data integration tools that are heavily influenced by graphical user interfaces.

Both are leveraged for ETL activities that consist of disparate sources and sinks. But there are certain characteristic differences that set them apart and ease out the task of choosing the right one, Here are they:

Parameters Azure Data Factory (ADF) SSIS
Overview Azure’s cloud ETL service for scale-out serverless data integration and data transformation An on-premises tool for creating enterprise-level data integration and data transformation solutions
Azure Data Factory Vs SSIS Performance Very fast in performance, since works with the cloud-based architecture Very fast in performance, data transformation is done in memory buffers
Variety of Data Structured and unstructured data Structured data
Programming Languages ADF does not have a programming SDK – Uses PowerShell, Python, and .NET SSIS has a programming SDK that uses automation through C#, BIML, VB
Development Tools Web browser SQL Server development tools
Costing Structure Abides by the ‘pay as you go’ model Has free and paid licensed versions
Utilization ETL, ELT, data movement, orchestration, Reverse ETL, streaming ETL, ELT, data integration, data transformation, Reverse ETL
Database Replication Full and incremental load Full and incremental load
Addition of New Data Sources Offers SDK for creating custom connectors By coding custom data source elements
Data Connectors Over 90+ inbuilt data connectors for data integration Various data connectors compatible with .NET, ADO, ODBC, OLEDB, etc.
Developer Tools Azure Portal, CLI, PowerShell, Visual Studio Visual Studio, SQL Server Management Studio
Purchase Details Self-service purchase via Azure portal or Microsoft sales team Bundled along with Microsoft SQL Server
Version Control Can be integrated into Azure DevOps git or GitHub, and supports branching, merging, etc. Can be integrated with TFS and Git, supports team-based development with merging and branching
Velocity of Data Streaming, real-time and batch Batch
Data Flows Makes use of Apache Spark with optimization features hence suited for bigger data sets Best suited for small to medium data sets because the startup time is more than the runtime
Learning Curve It is still evolving hence needs time to master Since it has been around for a while, it is easy to learn
Support for Triggers ADF supports scheduled batch, event-based and tumbling window triggers SSIS supports batch triggers only but can help in developing custom triggers for data streams
Data Integration Integrates with a variety of cloud-based tools and other data sources like Azure Data Lake Store etc. Integrates with a range of connectors, though they may not be cloud-based
User Interface An effective graphical user interface for designing workflows executable in the cloud or on-premises Graphical interface with drag-and-drop components for the creation of pipelines
Architecture Hosted entirely in the cloud, networks are stateless On-premises tool that executes in the data center
On a Concluding Note

As we go through the detailed comparison of Azure Data Factory vs SSIS, we feel that both are competent enterprise ETL tools and can be implemented as needed by organizations. There are certain helping tips that can aid in decision-making:

You can choose SSIS when

  • The work area is on-premises
  • Users already possess SQL Server 2016 or later
  • ETL processes are to be executed on a continual basis
  • You have Visual Studio and Windows development machines

You can choose ADF when

  • You want to choose ‘pay as you use’ model
  • Most of your activities are in the cloud
  • Activities are spread in different time zones
  • You use an operating system like iOS, other than Windows

There are certain parameters that can help in deciding which one to select from when you assess SSIS vs ADF. They could be the presence of cloud infrastructure, size of data, budget estimates, project deadlines, availability of skilled resources, and infrastructure.

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