Microsoft Fabric vs. Azure Synapse Analytics

Fabric differs significantly from more traditional data platforms like Synapse Analytics and Databricks. It gives it ease of use, but it also takes away some features away. In this article, we’ll be talking about those differences, and when to use Fabric, when to avoid it.
Microsoft Fabric vs. Azure Synapse Analytics
Microsoft Fabric vs. Synapse Analytics

Since Microsoft released the public preview of Fabric, the online content around it boomed. Microsoft’s Learn website is full of descriptions around how to use Fabric and OneLake, and there’s an apparent push towards it, even though it’s still in preview. However, Fabric differs significantly from more traditional data platforms like Synapse Analytics and Databricks. It gives it ease of use, but it also takes away some features away. In this article, we’ll be talking about those differences, and when to use Fabric, when to avoid it.

Fabric: Go Fast; Synapse: Go Far

Consider Fabric as a sports car: It goes fast, it’s sleek and good-looking. It’s exhilarating. If you’re using it for fun or transport, or even commute, it gets the job done. It’s a very consumer-grade tool; it does what it’s supposed to, which is load and transform the data, fast. Produce analytics and business reports, fast. Do heavy data integration, analytics, and warehousing? Not so much.

A car like this can get you where you need, fast. But can it carry your luggage?

On the other hand, there’s Synapse Analytics. You can think of it like a van. It’s not fancy and it’s heavy. But it’s reliable and durable. It can transport goods, it can take a beating, it can be driven on less than optimal roads and conditions. It’s customisable, you can add a refrigerator and carry cold goods with it. It’s consumer-grade. Synapse can connect to a lot of data sources, supports more authentication and authorisation methods, it has Spark AND Power Query capabilities, as well as Serverless SQL. It supports better release and deployment flows.

True, Synapse doesn’t have Purview’s capabilities or Power Platform’s innate M365 integration. But Fabric isn’t customisable. It brings together all the technologies together into a product, but it compromises on flexibility (e.g. OneLake supports ADLS Gen2 endpoints, but it doesn’t support editing/updating files via those).

Fabric: Less Investment, Quick Value; Synapse: More Investment, Gradual Value

Fabric is a turnkey solution, which means you don’t have to employ 10 people to just build and make it operational for you. It’s a SaaS product that’s maintained by Microsoft, so you don’t have to worry about the infrastructure. You can divert your money to get more data into it, and to produce more value. Think of Fabric like a luxury high-rise flat with amenities.

Synapse is like building a house. You get it designed, then either build it yourself if you know what you’re doing, or hire a team that knows how to do it. It requires investment, but it’s more tailored. Once you get the house built, you can do anything you want with it. You can build an extension at the back of the house, or build a pool. You have to maintain the house, but it’s better for the kids.

It's not fun to build the house, unless you're really into it.

If you need a managed & hosted solution, Fabric makes more sense. If you require a more flexible environment and a more heavy-lifting platform, Synapse is better.

Fabric: BI Teams And Power Users; Synapse: Data Engineering and IT Teams

Power Platform has always been closer to the business teams and the BI teams. Their requirements mainly rotate around daily data operations or reporting capabilities. They touch the operational data more, rather than analytical data. Fabric expands that universe for them and allows them to get behind the curtain. The same teams now have the capability to process the data and prepare it for more use cases, not just Business Intelligence. They can now integrate with third party datasources or raw company data, and model a data product, not just reports.

Synapse is an IT tool, requires Data Engineers to load and transform the data. Their requirements are mainly to refine the data and prepare it for business use cases. It’s effected more by system-level requirements than Fabric. As a result, its main audience is IT teams, not Power Users.

giant dump truck in the mine
Photo by omid roshan / Unsplash

Side-by-Side Comparison

Fabric Synapse Analytics
Consumer grade Commercial grade
More like a sports car: Fast, fancy,
gets the job done, best used on
good roads, can be driven by anyone
More like a van: Heavy, reliable,
can be used in any condition,
but requires a special driver’s
licence
Use it to go fast Use it to go far
Easy integration and data
transformation
Strong integration and data
transformation
Fast value gain Gradual value gain
Minimal upfront investment needed Big upfront investment needed
No infrastructure maintenance needed Infrastructure needs maintenance
Primary audience is Power Users
and BI Teams
Primary audience is Data Engineering
and IT Teams
Less control over deployments Full control over deployments
Less control over permissions Full control over permissions

Conclusion

Although this article focused on the differences of the platforms, one thing needs to be said: They can be used together. There’s nothing preventing a Delta Lake to being created by Data Engineering teams using Synapse, and then utilise the same lake on Fabric to further process the data and curate it. Even though they have similar capabilities, their strengths lie in different areas. They can complement each other.

Fabric would add tremendous value to a company who already has a Data Lake. The Engineering teams can still make the data available there, using their established pathways. But now the business-oriented, curated, gold-layer data can be produced more easily in Fabric. Power Platform evolves into a stronger form with Fabric: It elevates the data onto a business level, not just the prepared reports based on it.

Harun Legoz

Harun Legoz

I’m a cloud solutions architect with a coffee obsession. Have been building apps and data platforms for over 18 years, I also blog on Azure & Microsoft Fabric. Feel free to say hi on Twitter/X!

That Blue Cloud

Design awesome data platforms using Azure & Microsoft Fabric

That Blue Cloud

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to That Blue Cloud.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.