What is ETL and What can it do?

The abbreviation “ETL” stands for Extract-Transform-Load. It’s an essential data integration process to gather, process, and deliver data from diverse sources to a target system. Many integration platforms rely on ETL because it is so dynamic—It can support both structured and unstructured data in real time, whether it’s on-premises or in the cloud.

However, while ETL specifically focuses on the extraction, transformation, and loading of data, today’s integration tools often include a more diverse set of features.

For instance, StarfishETL is an Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) that offers a comprehensive suite of integration capabilities. These capabilities include ETL functionalities, but they also extend to support real-time integration, Application Programming Interface (API) management, and event-driven workflows.

Understanding ETL: A Breakdown

What exactly is meant by “Extract, Transform, Load”? How do each of these stages contribute to a seamless integration project? Here’s a quick breakdown.

Extract: Harvesting Data Gold

At the core of ETL lies the extraction phase, where data is sourced from disparate origin systems. ETL tools excel in this domain, effortlessly retrieving data from sources online, on-premises, in legacy environments, and other locations. Once the ETL tool has extracted the information, the data is loaded into a staging area for transformation.

Transform: Shaping Raw Data into Insights

In the transformation stage of ETL, the extracted data is processed. These tasks include cleansing, enriching, and formatting the data into a structure that makes sense for the target database, data store, data warehouse, or data lake.

Depending on the use cases for the integration, data transformation may also include data quality and compliance audits, converting currencies or other units of measurement, editing text strings, or encrypting data governed by an industry or governmental regulators.    

Load: Seamlessly Integrating Data

Once the data is clean and correctly formatted to the destination system, it’s time to load it into its destination. Integration is continuous, so after the initial load of all the data, automated processes continue to load data in increments over time. These subsequent data loads are scheduled at specific times or based on specific triggers. For example, if a CRM and marketing automation system are integrated, and a new lead is added to the CRM, that may trigger the integration workflow to push that lead into the marketing automation.

Oftentimes, businesses schedule these data updates in off-hours when traffic to the systems is lower, but that’s not always the case. Businesses that rely on up-to-date data (like manufacturers, who need real-time inventory updates) will opt to load their data changes in real-time. Whether the loading increments are scheduled or immediate, this phase is ongoing for the lifetime of the integration.  

ETL process

The Versatility of ETL Tools

ETL is widely used for integration because it’s effective and efficient. Its ability to batch process, integrate in real-time, and scale exponentially make it particularly ideal.

  • Batch Processing Efficiency: One of the hallmarks of ETL tools is their prowess in batch processing. These tools efficiently handle large volumes of data, ensuring timely processing and preventing bottlenecks. This feature is invaluable for organizations dealing with massive datasets on a regular basis.
  •  Real-time Data Integration: In the era of instant decision-making, ETL tools have evolved to support real-time data integration. This capability allows businesses to stay ahead of the curve by accessing the most current data in real-time, facilitating agile responses to market changes.
  • Scalability for Growing Needs: As businesses expand, so does the volume of data. ETL tools are designed with scalability in mind, effortlessly accommodating the increasing demands of data processing. This scalability ensures that organizations can handle growing datasets without compromising efficiency.

What Can ETL do?

Perhaps this question should read “What should ETL do?”. ETL has evolved since it first emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. ETL was born because organizations started accumulating huge volumes of data from various sources and needed a systematic approach to integrating, cleaning, and organizing that data for analysis. Today, businesses are moving faster and using more data than ever, and ETL tools must offer capabilities that match the new business normal. So what should a modern ETL be able to do?

Requirements of a Modern ETL Tool

  • Real-time data processing
  • Ability to connect to cloud and legacy/on-prem systems
  • A public API which can respond to Webhooks and real-time process invocation
  • Scalability for large volumes of data
  • Cloud compatibility for efficient processing and data storage
  • Seamless data lake integration with structured and unstructured data
  • Seamless support for big data technologies (Hadoop, Spark, etc.)
  • Data lineage and auditing capabilities for traceability and compliance
  • Easy-to-use interfaces with drag-and-drop features and low-code functionality
  • Robust security features such as encryption and access controls
  • Comprehensive monitoring and logging capabilities
  • Ability to handle streaming data for real-time analytics
  • Effective metadata management
modern ETL tool feature requirements

Modern ETL tools should not only excel in traditional batch processing but also align with the evolving landscape of data integration, supporting real-time processing, cloud environments, big data technologies, and ensuring data quality, security, and flexibility. To learn more about the usability of ETL for your next integration, reach out to our expert team at sales@starfishetl.com.

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