Migrate a petabyte-scale data warehouse from Actian Vectorwise to Amazon Redshift

Amazon Redshift is a fast, scalable, and fully managed cloud data warehouse that allows you to process and run your complex SQL analytics workloads on structured and semi-structured data. It also helps you securely access your data in operational databases, data lakes, or third-party datasets with minimal movement or copying of data. Tens of thousands of customers use Amazon Redshift to process large amounts of data, modernize their data analytics workloads, and provide insights for their business users.

In this post, we discuss how a financial services industry customer achieved scalability, resiliency, and availability by migrating from an on-premises Actian Vectorwise data warehouse to Amazon Redshift.


The customer’s use case required a high-performing, highly available, and scalable data warehouse to process queries against large datasets in a low-latency environment. Their Actian Vectorwise system was designed to replace Excel plugins and stock screeners but eventually evolved into a much larger and ambitious portfolio analysis solution running multiple API clusters on premises, serving some of the largest financial services firms worldwide. The customer saw growing demand that needed high performance and scalability due to 30% year-over-year increase in usage from the success of their products. The customer needed to keep up with increased volume of read requests, but they couldn’t do this without deploying additional hardware in the data center. There was also a customer mandate that business-critical products must have their hardware updated to cloud-based solutions or be deemed on the path to obsolescence. In addition, the business started moving customers onto a new commercial model, and therefore new projects would need to provision a new cluster, which meant that they needed improved performance, scalability, and availability.

They faced the following challenges:

  • Scalability – The customer understood that infrastructure maintenance was a growing issue and, although operations were a consideration, the existing implementation didn’t have a scalable and efficient solution to meet the advanced sharding requirements needed for query, reporting, and analysis. Over-provisioning of data warehouse capacity to meet unpredictable workloads resulted in underutilized capacity during normal operations by 30%.
  • Availability and resiliency – Because the customer was running business-critical analytical workloads, it required the highest levels of availability and resiliency, which was a concern with the on-premises data warehouse solution.
  • Performance – Some of their queries needed to be processed in priority, and users were starting to experience performance degradation with longer-running query times as their solution started getting used more and more. The need for a scalable and efficient solution to manage customer demand, address infrastructure maintenance concerns, replace legacy tooling, and tackle availability led to them choosing Amazon Redshift as the future state solution. If these concerns were not addressed, the customer would be prevented from growing their user base.

Legacy architecture

The customer’s platform was the main source for one-time, batch, and content processing. It served many enterprise use cases across API feeds, content mastering, and analytics interfaces. It was also the single strategic platform within the company for entity screening, on-the-fly aggregation, and other one-time, complex request workflows.

The following diagram illustrates the legacy architecture.

The architecture consists of many layers:

  • Rules engine – The rules engine was responsible for intercepting every incoming request. Based on the nature of the request, it routed the request to the API cluster that could optimally process that specific request based on the response time requirement.
  • API – Scalability was one of the primary challenges with the existing on-premises system. It wasn’t possible to quickly scale up and down API service capacity to meet growing business demand. Both the API and data store had to support a highly volatile workload pattern. This included simple data retrieval requests that had to be processed within a few milliseconds vs. power user-style batch requests with complex analytics-based workloads that could take several seconds and significant compute resources to process. To separate these different workload patterns, the API and data store infrastructure was split into multiple isolated physical clusters. This made sure each workload group was provisioned with sufficient reserved capacity to meet the respective response time expectations. However, this model of reserving capacity for each workload type resulted in suboptimal usage of compute resources because each cluster would only process a specific workload type.
  • Data store – The data store used a custom data model that had been highly optimized to meet low-latency query response requirements. The current on-premises data store wasn’t horizontally scalable, and there was no built-in replication or data sharding capability. Due to this limitation, multiple database instances were created to meet concurrent scalability and availability requirements because the schema wasn’t generic per dataset. This model caused operational maintenance overhead and wasn’t easily expandable.
  • Data ingestion – Pentaho was used to ingest data sourced from multiple data publishers into the data store. The ingestion framework itself didn’t have any major challenges. However, the primary bottleneck was due to scalability issues associated with the data store. Because the data store didn’t support sharding or replication, data ingestion had to explicitly ingest the same data concurrently across multiple database nodes within a single transaction to provide data consistency. This significantly impacted overall ingestion speed.

Overall, the current architecture didn’t support workload prioritization, therefore a physical model of resources was reserved for this reason. The downside here is over-provisioning. The system had an integration with legacy backend services that were all hosted on premises.

Solution overview

Amazon Redshift is an industry-leading cloud data warehouse. Amazon Redshift uses SQL to analyze structured and semi-structured data across data warehouses, operational databases, and data lakes using AWS-designed hardware and machine learning (ML) to deliver the best price-performance at any scale.

Amazon Redshift is designed for high-performance data warehousing, which provides fast query processing and scalable storage to handle large volumes of data efficiently. Its columnar storage format minimizes I/O and improves query performance by reading only the relevant data needed for each query, resulting in faster data retrieval. Lastly, you can integrate Amazon Redshift with data lakes like Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), combining structured and semi-structured data for comprehensive analytics.

The following diagram illustrates the architecture of the new solution.

In the following sections, we discuss the features of this solution and how it addresses the challenges of the legacy architecture.

Rules engine and API

Amazon API Gateway is a fully managed service that help developers deliver secure, robust, API-driven application backends at any scale. To address scalability and availability requirements of the rules and routing layer, we introduced API Gateway to do the routing of the client requests to different integration paths using routes and parameter mappings. Having API Gateway as the entry point allowed the customer to move away from the design, testing, and maintenance of their rules engine development workload. In their legacy environment, handling fluctuating amounts of traffic posed a significant challenge. However, API Gateway seamlessly addressed this issue by acting as a proxy and automatically scaling to accommodate varying traffic demands, providing optimal performance and reliability.

Data storage and processing

Amazon Redshift allowed the customer to meet their scalability and performance requirements. Amazon Redshift features such as workload management (WLM), massively parallel processing (MPP) architecture, concurrency scaling, and parameter groups helped address the requirements:

  • WLM provided the ability for query prioritization and managing resources effectively
  • The MPP architecture model provided horizontal scalability
  • Concurrency scaling added additional cluster capacity to handle unpredictable and spiky workloads
  • Parameter groups defined configuration parameters that control database behavior

Together, these capabilities allowed them to meet their scalability and performance requirements in a managed fashion.

Data distribution

The legacy data center architecture was unable to partition the data without deploying additional hardware in the data center, and it couldn’t handle read workloads efficiently.

The MPP architecture of Amazon Redshift offers efficient data distribution across all the compute nodes, which helped run heavy workloads in parallel and subsequently lowered response times. With the data distributed across all the compute nodes, it allows data to be processed in parallel. Its MPP engine and architecture separates compute and storage for efficient scaling and performance.

Operational efficiency and hygiene

Infrastructure maintenance and operational efficiency was a concern for the customer in their current state architecture. Amazon Redshift is a fully managed service that takes care of data warehouse management tasks such as hardware provisioning, software patching, setup, configuration, and monitoring nodes and drives to recover from failures or backups. Amazon Redshift periodically performs maintenance to apply fixes, enhancements, and new features to your Redshift data warehouse. As a result, the customer’s operational costs reduced by 500%, and they are now able to spend more time innovating and building mission-critical applications.

Workload management

Amazon Redshift WLM was able to resolve issues with the legacy architecture where longer-running queries were consuming all the resources, causing other queries to run slower, impacting performance SLAs. With automatic WLM, the customer was able to create separate WLM queues with different priorities, which allowed them to manage the priorities for the critical SLA-bound workloads and other non-critical workloads. With short query acceleration (SQA) enabled, it prioritized selected short-running queries ahead of longer-running queries. Furthermore, the customer benefited by using query monitoring rules in WLM to apply performance boundaries to control poorly designed queries and take action when a query goes beyond those boundaries. To learn more about WLM, refer to Implementing workload management.

Workload isolation

In the legacy architecture, all the workloads—extract, transform, and load (ETL); business intelligence (BI); and one-time workloads—were running on the same on-premises data warehouse, leading to the noisy neighbor problem and performance issues with the increase in users and workloads.

With the new solution architecture, this issue is remediated using data sharing in Amazon Redshift. With data sharing, the customer is able to share live data with security and ease across Redshift clusters, AWS accounts, or AWS Regions for read purposes, without the need to copy any data.

Data sharing improved the agility of the customer’s organization. It does this by giving them instant, granular, and high-performance access to data across Redshift clusters without the need to copy or move it manually. With data sharing, customers have live access to data, so their users can see the most up-to-date and consistent information as it’s updated in Redshift clusters. Data sharing provides workload isolation by running ETL workloads in its own Redshift cluster and sharing data with other BI and analytical workloads in their respective Redshift clusters.


With the legacy architecture, the customer was facing scalability challenges during large events to handle unpredictable spiky workloads and over-provisioning of the database capacity. Using concurrency scaling and elastic resize allowed the customer to meet their scalability requirements and handle unpredictable and spiky workloads.

Data migration to Amazon Redshift

The customer used a home-grown process to extract the data from Actian Vectorwise and store it in Amazon S3 and CSV files. The data from Amazon S3 was then ingested into Amazon Redshift.

The loading process used a COPY command and ingested the data from Amazon S3 in a fast and efficient way. A best practice for loading data into Amazon Redshift is to use the COPY command. The COPY command is the most efficient way to load a table because it uses the Amazon Redshift MPP architecture to read and load data in parallel from a file or multiple files in an S3 bucket.

To learn about the best practices for source data files to load using the COPY command, see Loading data files.

After the data is ingested into Redshift staging tables from Amazon S3, transformation jobs are run from Pentaho to apply the incremental changes to the final reporting tables.

The following diagram illustrates this workflow.

Key considerations for the migration

There are three ways of migrating an on-premises data warehouse to Amazon Redshift: one-step, two-step, and wave-based migration. To minimize the risk of migrating over 20 databases that vary in complexity, we decided on the wave-based approach. The fundamental concept behind wave-based migration involves dividing the migration program into projects based on factors such as complexity and business outcomes. The implementation then migrates each project individually or by combining certain projects into a wave. Subsequent waves follow, which may or may not be dependent on the results of the preceding wave.

This strategy requires both the legacy data warehouse and Amazon Redshift to operate concurrently until the migration and validation of all workloads are successfully complete. This provides a smooth transition while making sure the on-premises infrastructure can be retired only after thorough migration and validation have taken place.

In addition, within each wave, we followed a set of phases to make sure that each wave was successful:

  • Assess and plan
  • Design the Amazon Redshift environment
  • Migrate the data
  • Test and validate
  • Perform cutover and optimizations

In the process, we didn’t want to rewrite the legacy code for each migration. With minimal code changes, we migrated the data to Amazon Redshift because SQL compatibility was very important in the process due to existing knowledge within the organization and downstream application consumption. After the data was ingested into the Redshift cluster, we adjusted the tables for best performance.

One of the main benefits we realized as part of the migration was the option to integrate data in Amazon Redshift with other business groups in the future that use AWS Data Exchange, without significant effort.

We performed blue/green deployments to make sure that the end-users didn’t encounter any latency degradation while retrieving the data. We migrated the end-users in a phased manner to measure the impact and adjust the cluster configuration as needed.


The customer’s decision to use Amazon Redshift for their solution was further reinforced by the platform’s ability to handle both structured and semi-structured data seamlessly. Amazon Redshift allows the customer to efficiently analyze and derive valuable insights from their diverse range of datasets, including equities and institutional data, all while using standard SQL commands that teams are already comfortable with.

Through rigorous testing, Amazon Redshift consistently demonstrated remarkable performance, meeting the customer’s stringent SLAs and delivering exceptional subsecond query response times with an impressive latency. With the AWS migration, the customer achieved a 5% improvement in query performance. Scalability of the clusters was done in minutes compared to 6 months in the data center. Operational cost reduced by 500% due to the simplicity of the Redshift cluster operations in AWS. Stability of the clusters improved by 100%. Upgrades and patching cycle time improved by 200%. Overall, improvement in operational posture and total savings for the footprint has resulted in significant savings for the team and platform in general. In addition, the ability to scale the overall architecture based on market data trends in a resilient and highly available way not only met the customer demand in terms of time to market, but also significantly reduced the operational costs and total cost of ownership.


In this post, we covered how a large financial services customer improved performance and scalability, and reduced their operational costs by migrating to Amazon Redshift. This enabled the customer to grow and onboard new workloads into Amazon Redshift for their business-critical applications.

To learn about other migration use cases, refer to the following:

About the Authors

Krishna Gogineni is a Principal Solutions Architect at AWS helping financial services customers. Krishna is Cloud-Native Architecture evangelist helping customers transform the way they build software. Krishna works with customers to learn their unique business goals, and then super-charge their ability to meet these goals through software delivery that leverages industry best practices/tools such as DevOps, Data Lakes, Data Analytics, Microservices, Containers, and Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery.

Dayananda Shenoy is a Senior Solution Architect with over 20 years of experience designing and architecting backend services for financial services products. Currently, he leads the design and architecture of distributed, high-performance, low latency analytics services for a data provider. He is passionate about solving scalability and performance challenges in distributed systems leveraging emerging technology which improve existing tech stacks and add value to the business to enhance customer experience.

Vishal Balani is a Sr. Customer Solutions Manager based out of New York. He works closely with Financial Services customers to help them leverage cloud for businesses agility, innovation and resiliency. He has extensive experience leading large-scale cloud migration programs. Outside of work he enjoys spending time with family, tinkering with a new project or riding his bike.

Ranjan Burman is a Sr. PostgreSQL Database Specialist SA. He specializes in RDS & Aurora PostgreSQL. He has more than 18 years of experience in different database and data warehousing technologies. He is passionate about automating and solving customer problems with the use of cloud solutions.

Muthuvelan Swaminathan is an Enterprise Solutions Architect based out of New York. He works with enterprise customers providing architectural guidance in building resilient, cost-effective and innovative solutions that address business needs.

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