With a lot of hype and fanfare, last week Microsoft announced its latest data and AI platform solution, called Microsoft Fabric. If you still haven’t heard about Fabric, you probably didn’t go to the Internet in the last few days:)

I’ve already introduced Microsoft Fabric in the previous article, so if you’re still not sure what is it all about and why you can think of Fabric as your “data football team”, I strongly encourage you to check that article. Additionally, there are many great articles and videos, both from Microsoft and the community, where you can find out more about Fabric and its various scenarios and components.

In the above-mentioned article, I scratched the surface of the inevitable topic that now comes into focus: “What now for Azure Synapse Analytics?” Since I’ve been asked this exact question multiple times in the previous days, I’ve decided to put down my thoughts and share them in this article.

Disclaimer 1

Everything you read in this article is based solely on my, and only my personal opinion and it doesn’t have any relation to anything or anyone from Microsoft

Disclaimer 2

This article assumes that you are familiar with the basics of Azure Synapse Analytics. So, more often than not, I’ll refer to certain concepts/features assuming that you are already familiar with them.

If you want to learn more about Azure Synapse Analytics, I suggest you start by reading one of the following articles:

Power BI & Synapse – The art of (im)possible

What Synapse brings to Power BI table

Dedicated vs Serverless SQL pool – which should I use?

Synapse Serverless SQL pool and file types – the ultimate guide!

Synapse Dedicated SQL pool – everything you need to know!

Or you may want to check my course for DP-500 exam, which covers Synapse Analytics in detail

So, the key question we’ll try to answer in this article is:

Will Microsoft slowly shut down Synapse, by “drowning” it into the new “data ocean” called Microsoft Fabric?

Of course, Microsoft will tell you that it’s not going to happen and that Fabric is just an “evolution of Synapse Analytics”, which might be true, but then a fair question would be: what happens with companies that heavily invested in Synapse in recent times, being convinced by Microsoft that they are investing in “latest and greatest” stack? Are they already lagging “behind”?

The next fair assumption is: ok, if we already invested in Synapse Analytics, we can easily switch to the “new kid on the block”, right? RIGHT?! Well, it depends:)

As of today, looks like Dedicated SQL and Serverless SQL pools from Synapse are somehow integrated into one solution in Fabric (Warehouse). We have traditional structures from the Dedicated SQL pool, such as columnstore indexes, data cache, etc. At the same time, Warehouse relies on the Polaris engine, which currently powers the Serverless SQL pool. This is an MPP (massively parallel processing) engine, which scales AUTOMATICALLY to support various data workloads. In other words, no more DWUs, whereas scaling out is now done by the engine, not by someone from your data team.

It’s maybe too harsh to say, but I think the Dedicated SQL pool is a “dead man walking” nowadays…

There is still no result-set cache, but I’ve been told that it’s coming soon.

But, first things first. Let’s first see the evolution of Synapse Analytics into Fabric:

Azure Synapse Analytics high-level overview

As a reminder, Azure Synapse Analytics was not so long branded by Microsoft as a “one-stop shop for all your analytic workloads and a unified platform for building your end-to-end analytic solutions”. We hear the same message now for Fabric…

Truth to be said, most of the Synapse features are directly available in Fabric as well, as you may conclude by looking at the Fabric architecture:

Microsoft Fabric high-level overview

Instead of separating between different layers in the data workflow, Fabric distinguishes between various scenario-based options.

Before we continue, let’s first set the expectations for the remaining part of the article:

For organizations that still didn’t implement Synapse Analytics (or are at the very early stage): I really don’t see any reason for new customers to choose Azure Synapse Analytics over Microsoft Fabric, except maybe costs, because, in some scenarios, it may happen that prudent usage of DWUs in a Dedicated SQL pool, in combination with a pay-per-query model of the Serverless SQL pool will cost you less than Microsoft Fabric.

Additionally, there are many benefits of choosing the “Fabric path” – Spark engine spins up much faster in Fabric compared to Synapse, whereas Power BI integration looks way more natural and intuitive in Fabric (let alone the fact that the default Power BI dataset now represents not only the input for the Power BI report, but also an individual “data product” which can be used as any other data product within the Fabric ecosystem).

For existing Azure Synapse Analytics users, there are two key questions that require proper answers: migration overhead and/or costs…

Migration of existing Synapse Analytics workloads to Fabric

At the very beginning, let me be honest with you: there is no “lift-and-shift” option for migration! Meaning, you click “Next->Next->Next” and everything works as it used to work in Synapse. This is not going to happen for multiple reasons, so let’s examine a few of the most common ones:

  • Mapping Data Flows don’t exist in Fabric – this means, if you used MDF to ingest and transform data in Synapse…Sorry, this artifact doesn’t exist in Fabric. Instead, you might want to use Dataflows Gen2 (more on them in one of the next articles, they are amazing!)
  • OPENROWSET() isn’t supported in Fabric – huh, this is a huge deal-breaker for many Serverless SQL users, where you query the data from ADLS Gen2 by leveraging OPENROWSET() function:
SELECT 
     *
FROM
    OPENROWSET(
        BULK'https://<Your ADLS>/<Your file system>/Data/yellow_tripdata_2019-01.csv',
        FORMAT='CSV',
        PARSER_VERSION='2.0',
        HEADER_ROW = TRUE
    )
    as baseQuery

You can still query the data from the lake(house) in Fabric using T-SQL, but you would need to adjust all your queries that contain OPENROWSET syntax.

  • No Synapse Link (yet) – Synapse Link is a very cool feature, especially for workloads when querying the data from Cosmos DB and/or Microsoft Dataverse. At this moment, this feature doesn’t exist in Fabric, so if you’re relying on Synapse Link, be aware that it’s still not available in Fabric.
  • Bye-bye Synapse Studio – Synapse Studio is a web-based user interface for managing and developing all your Synapse stuff. Fabric relies on an entirely different concept, the concept of workspaces. If you had some exposure to Power BI, then you’ll find yourself in a familiar environment. But, if not, then be ready to adapt:)

To wrap up the migration part – there is a very handy feature in OneLake (remember, OneLake is the centralized storage repository for all Fabric artifacts), called Shortcut, which enables you to create a virtualized copy of your data lake that is stored “somewhere else” (i.e. ADLS, Amazon, Google). Shortcut, the same as in Windows, simply points to other (internal or external) storage locations.

Using a Shortcut, you can easily virtualize your ADLS Gen2 in Fabric, BUT your existing T-SQL queries must be adjusted (no OPENROWSET support). Generally speaking, migrating Spark workloads from Synapse to Fabric should be way more straightforward than SQL-related workloads.

Costs of Fabric vs Synapse Analytics

This one is still under the clouds. The reason is very simple – we still don’t have the official pricing list for Fabric. However, from what we know so far, it seems that Fabric will be charged on a capacity base. This means, a company pays a certain amount of $$$ for a dedicated set of resources.

While that could absolutely make sense for the majority of large organizations, that need consistent performance for large numbers of users, there are also many small-medium size companies that embraced the pay-per-query model of the Serverless SQL pool, where they pay only for the amount of data processed! I’ve witnessed first-handed that monthly costs at the company leveraging Synapse Analytics were between 150$ and 200$! Although the entry point into the Fabric world should be around 300$/month (this still has to be confirmed), and it might look like a super cheap option, this will enforce many companies to pay a fixed amount per month (nevertheless if they used the full capacity or not).

I’m not telling you that it’s not worth switching to Fabric, on the contrary, but you should do a detailed cost analysis and identify which option makes more sense for you. In the end, it’s not ONLY about Synapse vs Fabric, but also PaaS (Synapse) vs SaaS (Fabric)…

Conclusion

I’ll repeat it: if you’re just considering starting using a “unified analytics platform”, Microsoft Fabric should be your preferred choice in most cases.

However (and I’ll repeat that as well), it’s not only about Synapse vs Fabric: it’s also PaaS (you have more control, but also more responsibilities) vs SaaS (less control, but “everything just works”).

For organizations that already invested in Synapse Analytics implementation: sorry, but I don’t have a straightforward answer for you:)… Although Fabric provides almost all of the Synapse functionalities, there are certain features that are not supported (most noticeable, Mapping Dataflows and OPENROWSET() syntax in SQL queries over files in a data lake).

Costs are another important thing to consider. Since we still don’t have 100% clear pricing information for Fabric, I would keep my final judgment until it’s possible to perform a proper comparison,

And, finally, keep in mind that Microsoft Fabric is at this moment still in public preview, which means that many features will be added/adjusted/improved in the next months. So, I ASSUME that Fabric will get better and better in the coming months/years, which can make your decision about which platform to use more obvious and clear.

Thanks for reading!

Last Updated on May 26, 2023 by Nikola

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