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Amazon Redshift Optimization: 12 Tuning Techniques To Boost Performance

Originally Published January, 2024

Redshift optimization isn’t just about keeping your data warehouse running smoothly; it’s about transforming it into a high-efficiency powerhouse. 

Boosting your Redshift performance doesn’t have to be difficult. Whether you’re managing massive datasets or complex queries, you can leverage actionable techniques to maximize performance and minimize costs. 

From fine-tuning your query design to leveraging the right AWS tools for cloud cost management, here are 12 practical tips that make a real difference. 

1. Choose the right distribution key

When configuring Amazon Redshift, selecting the appropriate distribution key is crucial for balancing the data distribution across clusters. An optimal distribution key ensures that data warehousing is evenly spread, reducing bottlenecks and accelerating query times. 

Here are some things to consider when selecting your distribution key:

  • Data distribution: Choose a column with high cardinality as your distribution key to prevent data skewness.
  • Table statistics: Monitor your table statistics regularly to verify uniform data distribution.
  • Co-located joins: Match the distribution key with the join columns in other tables to ensure co-located joins, minimizing data movement.
  • Predicate filters: Distribution keys aligned with commonly used predicates enhance filtering efficiency.

Thoughtfully selecting your distribution key allows Redshift to organize your data effectively for faster retrievals and more efficient joins.

2. Select the appropriate node type

Choosing the right node type for your Amazon Redshift cluster is critical for balancing performance and cost. There are two primary node types:

  1. Compute nodes:
    • Handle the execution of queries.
    • Store intermediate results in node’s local storage.
  2. RA3 nodes:
    • Designed for workloads needing high compute and storage scalability.
    • Use Amazon S3 for storage, separating compute and storage scaling.

In Amazon Redshift’s Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) environment, node type selection directly impacts how data is processed and stored. More memory and faster CPUs lead to better performance optimization but at a higher cost.


  • Workload type: Analyze the nature and demands of your workload.
  • Memory needs: More complex queries require more memory.
  • Storage requirements: Gauge the data volume to store internally vs. externally on S3.

Tip: Evaluate whether the benefits of RA3 nodes‘ scalability justify the additional expense for your specific use case.

3. Implement sort keys strategically

When setting up large tables in Amazon Redshift, choosing an optimal sort key is crucial for enhancing query performance. 

Aligning sort keys with your common query patterns allows the database engine to quickly find the necessary rows, reducing the amount of data scanned.

  • Define sort keys: Use a timestamp column as the leading column if your queries frequently access the most recent data. This ensures efficient handling of time-bound queries.
  • Consider table statistics: Regularly updated table statistics help Redshift make informed decisions about optimizing query execution paths.
  • Use ‘AUTO’ judiciously: In some cases, letting Redshift choose the appropriate sort order by specifying AUTO can be beneficial, especially when workload patterns are unclear.

By strategically implementing sort keys based on your access patterns, you minimize the I/O required, leading to faster and more cost-effective operations.

4. Create custom workload manager (WLM) queues

In managing your Amazon Redshift environment, it’s important to tailor query processing to your specific workloads. Creating custom WLM queues allows you to allocate resources efficiently, ensuring you can prioritize differing jobs effectively—which can improve query performance.

  • Define concurrency: Set the maximum number of queries that can run simultaneously in each queue, affecting how you manage concurrency within your clusters.
  • Prioritize queries: Assign high-priority workloads to dedicated queues to prevent them from competing with other queries, thereby reducing wait times.
  • Isolate workloads: Separate ETL, reporting, or ad-hoc analysis tasks into different queues to prevent them from impacting each other.

5. Embrace columnar storage

In Amazon Redshift, leveraging columnar storage translates to marked gains in performance. This approach differs significantly from traditional row-oriented databases. 

Redshift’s columnar format efficiently stores and retrieves data types, catering to analytic workloads with ease.

Here’s why columnar storage benefits you:

  • Reduced disk I/O: Data retrieval becomes more efficient, requiring fewer input/output operations.
  • Column encoding: It compresses data, which means less space use and faster reads.
  • Optimized for analytics: Queries often need specific columns, making this storage ideal.

By adopting a columnar storage strategy, you position yourself to take full advantage of the performance enhancements of data processing tools on the cloud.

6. Regular VACUUM and ANALYZE operations

In Amazon Redshift, maintaining query performance is crucial, and that’s where regular VACUUM and ANALYZE operations come in. 

When you VACUUM your Redshift database, you do housekeeping to reclaim space from deleted rows and re-sort rows to optimize query performance. This is especially critical if your operations involve significant row modifications.

VACUUMReclaims space and re-sorts rows
ANALYZEUpdates Redshift table statistics for queries

Post-modification, you should immediately follow up with an ANALYZE command. This updates the table statistics the query planner uses, leading to more accurate and efficient execution plans. Neglecting these operations can result in suboptimal query performance and unnecessarily scanned data blocks.

Remember that maintaining the sort key order maximizes query performance and workflows by minimizing the number of scanned rows. 

7. Avoid excessive use of wildcards in queries

A key technique is to avoid excessive use of wildcards in queries. Wildcards, like the % symbol in SQL, are used for pattern matching and can be immensely powerful for filtering data. 

However, they come with a performance cost—especially when overused.

Queries with multiple wildcards, particularly at the beginning of a string, force Redshift to perform exhaustive searches through large datasets. This full-table scan approach is computationally expensive and time-consuming. Instead of using broad patterns, it’s more efficient to narrow down the data scope using specific criteria.

This targeted approach helps in using Redshift’s columnar storage and MPP capabilities more effectively. 

8. Use Amazon Redshift Advisor

To enhance your Amazon Redshift cluster’s efficiency, Amazon Redshift Advisor analyzes your cluster’s metrics. Then, it offers performance-tuning recommendations that not only aim to boost your system but also work towards reducing unnecessary expenditures.

  • Analyzes your usage: Monitors your cluster’s performance data.
  • Custom recommendations: Provides suggestions suited to your cluster’s behavior.
  • Cost optimizations: Identifies opportunities to cut down on operating costs.

By relying on Redshift Advisor and monitoring your costs and usage reports, you can make informed decisions about adjustments that could lead to significant performance gains. 

Its role in maintaining lean operations is undeniable—helping you keep costs at bay while ensuring your Amazon Redshift stays at the peak of its capabilities.

9. Implement concurrency scaling

When your Amazon Redshift data warehouse experiences unpredictable workloads, concurrency scaling helps maintain query performance. With concurrency scaling, you can handle sudden query volume increases without a performance drop.

  • Adaptiveness: Your system automatically scales out by building more clusters to manage the load. This happens in real time, ensuring your queries execute without delay, even during peak times.
  • Cost-efficiency: Amazon Redshift grants each cluster up to one hour of free concurrency scaling credits daily, which covers the needs of most users with minimal cost impact.
  • Memory and resource allocation: Concurrency scaling ensures your critical workloads have the necessary memory resources by intelligently allocating them across clusters.

Remember, concurrency scaling allows you to deliver consistent service levels even when workloads surpass expected concurrency levels.

10. Use short query acceleration (SQA)

When enabled on Amazon Redshift, short query acceleration (SQA) intelligently prioritizes and executes shorter, less resource-intensive queries ahead of longer ones. This ensures your simple, time-sensitive requests don’t get stuck in a queue behind more complex jobs.

How it benefits you:

  • Faster results for quick, ad-hoc queries
  • Reduced queueing delays for your workload

What you should do:

  • Enable SQA in your workload management (WLM) settings.

Using SQA, time-critical queries often created during interactive analysis or while loading data can be resolved quickly, enhancing the overall efficiency of your big data operations.

Remember to monitor the performance after implementing SQA to ensure it’s effectively optimizing your workload.

11. Use change data capture (CDC)

Change data capture (CDC) effectively tracks and applies changes from your data source to your data warehouse. By using CDC, you enhance your query performance by only processing data that has changed, rather than managing full loads. 

To implement CDC, consider tools like AWS Glue or third-party software that can capture changes from various sources.

Here’s how you can start benefiting from CDC:

  • Identify changes: Pinpoint new, updated, or deleted rows in your data source.
  • Capture changes: Use a CDC mechanism to log these changes efficiently.
  • Apply changes: Sync these incremental updates to your Redshift cluster.

By integrating CDC, you’ll ensure that your data warehouse remains up-to-date without the overhead of processing entire datasets. In turn, you’ll streamline your data management process.

12. Take advantage of the power of a cost optimization tool

Incorporating a specialized cost optimization tool like ProsperOps’ Automated Discount Management for Redshift can reduce costs while maintaining or enhancing your data warehouse’s performance.

ProsperOps automates the management of Redshift Reserved Nodes. By building a Reserved Instance (RI) ladder over time, you can achieve a delicate balance between maximizing savings and minimizing commitment risk. 

So you never overpay for your Redshift workloads.

ProsperOps also specializes in rate optimization. This is particularly beneficial for organizations juggling centralized and decentralized ownership models. The solutions automation capabilities align purchases with usage patterns, efficiently batching commitments to cater to variable demands.

Finally, ProsperOps provides valuable insights through its console, offering detailed information on customers’ Effective Savings Rate (ESR). This allows for smarter, data-driven decisions, making Redshift operations more cost-efficient.

Enhance your AWS cost efficiency with ProsperOps

Managing AWS costs can be a complex process, especially when dealing with scalable services like Amazon Redshift. However, leveraging ProsperOps for cost efficiency can be a game-changer for your cloud budget management.

With cost-saving strategies such as on-demand pricing, intelligent right-sizing, and Reserved Instance management, ProsperOps can help you pinpoint areas to reduce spending on AWS. PropserOps’ algorithms are designed to analyze your usage patterns and suggest adjustments that can lead to significant cost reductions.

To learn more about these benefits and understand how ProsperOps can transform your cloud cost management, book a demo today.



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