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When to use T-SQL or SSIS for ETL

| Tuesday, August 30, 2011
When doing ETL, you have the choice of using T-SQL or SSIS.  What things should you consider when deciding which one to use?  Here are some of the major design considerations to think about:

    Performance - With T-SQL, everything is processed within the SQL engine.  With SSIS, you are bringing all the data over to the SSIS memory space and doing the manipulation there.  So if speed is an issue, usually T-SQL is the way to go, especially when dealing with a lot of records.  Something like a JOIN statement in T-SQL will go much faster than using lookup tasks in SSIS.  Another example is a MERGE statement in T-SQL has much better performance than a SCD task in SSIS for large tasks
    Features/capabilities – Some features can only be done in either T-SQL or SSIS.  You can shred text in SSIS, but can’t in T-SQL.  For example, text files with an inconsistent number of fields per row can only be done in SSIS.  So certain tasks may force you into using one or the other
    Current skill set – Are the people in your IT department more familiar with SSIS or T-SQL?
    Ease of development/maintenance – Of course, whatever one you are most familiar with will be the easiest, but if your skills at both are fairly even, then SSIS is usually easier to use because it is graphical, but sometimes you can develop quicker in T-SQL.  For example, having to join a bunch of tables will require a bunch of tasks in SSIS, where in T-SQL it is one statement.  So it might be easier to create the tasks to join the tables in SSIS, but it will take longer to build then writing a T-SQL statement
    Complexity – SSIS can be more complex because you might need to create many tasks to accomplish your objective, where in T-SQL it might just be one statement, like in the example above for joining tables
    Extensibility – SSIS has better extensibility because you can create a script task that uses C# that can do just about anything, especially for non-database related tasks.  T-SQL is limited because it is only for database tasks.  SSIS also has logging, which T-SQL does not
    Likelihood of depracation/breaking changes – Minor issue, but T-SQL is always removing features in each release that will have to be rewritten
    Types/architecture of sources and destinations – SSIS is better if you have multiple types of sources.  For example, it works really well with Oracle, XML, flat-files, etc.  SSIS was designed from the beginning to work well with other sources, where T-SQL is designed for SQL Server and it requires more steps to access other sources, and there are additional limitations when doing so
    Local regulations – Are there some company standards you have to adhere to that would limit which tool you can use?

If you decide T-SQL is the way to go and you just want to execute a bunch of T-SQL statements, it’s still a good idea to wrap them in SSIS Execute SQL Tasks because you can use logging, auditing and error handling that SSIS provides that T-SQL does not.

Read more: James Serra's Blog
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