Data Planet: Is dbt Really as Good as They Say?

July 26, 2022
July 27, 2022

Onebridge Data Engineer Bradley Nielsen serves up insights and resources about the data analytics and BI world in every issue of the Data Planet. He gets straight to the point to give you the real story.

It’s both simple and complex at the same time, and it’s rapidly gaining in popularity. Five years in the making, the release of dbt Core v1.0 in late 2021 was a major milestone for the product.

The maintainers of dbt (data build tool), dbt Labs, wanted to signal to the world that dbt Core had reached the point where its stability and maturity should inspire confidence for companies to depend on it for their data infrastructure.

The company has the numbers to back up that claim. They boast 150+ contributors, 5,000+ commits, and 8,000+ projects that run dbt every single week!

What is dbt?

As explained by the company itself, dbt is a development framework that “enables data analysts and engineers to transform their data using the same practices that software engineers use to build applications.”

How do you run dbt?

As of this writing there are three main ways to run dbt:

  • dbt Core:  Open-source version. Users must install and maintain it themselves.
  • dbt Cloud:  Proprietary cloud version produced by dbt Labs.
  • Fivetran Transformations:  Fivetran has integrated dbt as a managed service in their offering.

The main idea is that dbt manages your transformations in an ELT stack. At a high level, ELT is the process by which you:

1. Extract data from a source system

2. Load data as is to a (raw/source/staging) schema in your data warehouse

3. Transform the data inside the data warehouse using SQL

For example, from our own Onebridge data warehouse, here is an example of some transformation logic:

We use SQL to do data transformation tasks: renaming, filtering data, joining tables, and creating business logic.  In dbt speak, this is a “model.”  You can instruct dbt to turn this statement into a table or view.

Example of the ELT Stack - Source: dbt

Our View on dbt

A common comment I hear is, "It just executes SQL. What’s so special about that?” For one model, it seems like overkill. Where dbt shines is when you have hundreds of models spread across multiple environments. The ability of dbt to organize, manage, test, and document these SQL transformations means dbt is as good as they say.

In future articles, we’ll show how Onebridge is utilizing dbt to manage our own data warehouse. Stay tuned.

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