AWS Glue vs EMR (2023 Update)

Data processing is a crucial aspect of modern businesses, and choosing the right service can significantly impact your organization’s efficiency and effectiveness. Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers two powerful data processing services: AWS Glue and AWS EMR.

This article starts with a summary of the differences between AWS Glue and EMR and then provides an in-depth comparison of these services to help you make an informed decision when selecting the best option for your specific needs.

AWS Glue vs EMR – Summary

FeatureAWS GlueAWS EMR
ArchitectureServerlessManaged Clusters
Primary Use CaseETL, Data CatalogingBig Data Processing, Analytics, ML
ETL Code GenerationYes, in Python or ScalaNo, requires manual coding
Language/FrameworksPython, Scala, Glue LibrariesHadoop, Spark, Hive, Flink, and many more
Infrastructure ControlLimitedHighly customizable
IntegrationSeamless with AWS servicesAWS services and third-party tools
Real-Time ProcessingNot idealSupports real-time processing
Pricing ModelPay-as-you-go (based on job runtime)Per-hour pricing (based on cluster resources)
Table 1. AWS Glue vs EMR – Comparison Table

What is AWS Glue?

AWS Glue is a fully managed, serverless Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) service. Glue enables users to automate the process of moving and transforming data between various data sources and destinations. With its built-in data catalog, schema discovery, and automatic ETL code generation, AWS Glue simplifies the process of data integration, transformation, and preparation for analytics and machine learning tasks.

What is AWS EMR?

AWS EMR (Elastic MapReduce) is a managed big data processing service provided by Amazon Web Services. It simplifies the process of running and scaling distributed data processing frameworks, such as Apache Hadoop, Apache Spark, Apache Hive, and Apache Flink. EMR is designed to handle large-scale data processing tasks, including data transformations, analytics, and machine learning workloads.

With its customizable infrastructure and support for various languages and frameworks, AWS EMR offers flexibility and control, making it suitable for complex and long-running jobs.

Pros and Cons of AWS Glue

Pros of AWS Glue

  1. Serverless Architecture: AWS Glue offers a serverless architecture, which means you don’t have to manage any infrastructure or resources, making it easier to set up and maintain compared to AWS EMR.
  2. ETL Code Generation: AWS Glue automatically generates ETL code in Python or Scala, simplifying the process of creating data processing pipelines.
  3. Data Catalog and Schema Discovery: AWS Glue automatically discovers the schema of your data sources and maintains a centralized data catalog, making it easier to manage and organize your data assets.
  4. Seamless Integration with AWS Services: AWS Glue is designed to integrate with other AWS services like Amazon S3, Amazon RDS, Amazon Redshift, and Amazon Athena, providing a more cohesive experience when working with various data sources and destinations.
  5. Pay-as-You-Go Pricing: AWS Glue follows a pay-as-you-go pricing model, where you only pay for the resources you consume while running ETL jobs, which can be more cost-effective for certain workloads compared to AWS EMR.
  6. Easy to get started: AWS Glue requires minimal setup and is easy to start using, making it ideal for users who are new to ETL data processing.

Cons of AWS Glue

  1. Limited Flexibility: AWS Glue is designed primarily for ETL tasks, and may not offer the same level of flexibility as EMR for various types of data processing workloads, including ad-hoc queries, iterative algorithms, and streaming applications.
  2. Less Control Over Infrastructure: While the serverless architecture of AWS Glue simplifies management, it also means you have less control over the underlying infrastructure, making it more challenging to fine-tune your environment for specific performance requirements compared to EMR.
  3. Limited Support for Complex Jobs: AWS Glue may not be well-suited for handling highly complex or long-running data processing jobs, which EMR can handle more effectively due to its customizable infrastructure and support for a wide range of big data frameworks.
  4. No Direct Support for Machine Learning Frameworks: AWS Glue doesn’t offer built-in support for popular machine learning frameworks like TensorFlow, or Apache Mahout, which are available on EMR.
  5. Not Ideal for Real-Time Processing: AWS Glue is designed for batch processing and might not be the best option for real-time or near-real-time data processing scenarios, while EMR can handle such workloads with the help of Apache Flink or other real-time processing frameworks.
  6. Steeper Learning Curve for Custom ETL Code: Although AWS Glue auto-generates ETL code, you may still need to customize the code for more complex tasks. This could require learning and working with AWS Glue-specific APIs and libraries, for example – DynamicFrame, which might be more challenging for users who are already familiar with popular data processing frameworks supported by EMR.

Pros and Cons of AWS EMR

Pros of AWS EMR

AWS Elastic MapReduce (EMR) is a managed big data processing service that offers greater flexibility and customization compared to AWS Glue. Here are some pros of AWS EMR when compared to AWS Glue:

  1. Broader language and framework support: EMR supports a wider range of big data processing frameworks, such as Apache Spark, Hadoop, Hive, and Presto. This allows developers to use multiple programming languages, including Java, Scala, Python, and R, offering more flexibility and options for data processing tasks.
  2. Customizable infrastructure: EMR allows users to configure and manage their clusters, providing greater control over the underlying infrastructure. This enables users to optimize the cluster resources for specific workloads, resulting in better performance and cost efficiency.
  3. Support for complex and long-running jobs: EMR is designed for running complex, large-scale data processing jobs that require significant resources and may take a long time to complete. This makes it better suited for handling heavy workloads and computationally intensive tasks compared to AWS Glue, which is more focused on ETL use cases.
  4. Greater flexibility in job processing: With EMR, users have more control over their data processing jobs, including the ability to submit multiple jobs concurrently, manage dependencies between jobs, and prioritize jobs based on their requirements. This flexibility can be beneficial for organizations with complex and diverse data processing needs.
  5. Integration with third-party tools: EMR offers integration with various third-party tools and services, such as Jupyter, Zeppelin, and Hue, which can help enhance the data processing experience. This enables users to leverage familiar tools and interfaces for their big data workloads, potentially improving productivity and collaboration.

Cons of EMR

While AWS EMR offers greater flexibility and customization compared to AWS Glue, it also comes with some drawbacks. Here are some cons of AWS EMR when compared to AWS Glue:

  1. Infrastructure management: Unlike the serverless architecture of AWS Glue, EMR requires users to configure and manage their own clusters, including provisioning, scaling, and monitoring resources. This can increase the complexity and operational overhead, especially for users unfamiliar with big data processing infrastructure.
  2. Less automation: AWS Glue provides built-in automations for schema discovery, data cataloging, and ETL code generation. EMR, on the other hand, requires users to manually configure and develop their data processing jobs, which may lead to a steeper learning curve and longer development times.
  3. Cost management: EMR pricing is based on the number and type of instances used in the cluster, and the duration of cluster usage. While it can provide cost savings for certain workloads, managing costs in EMR can be more challenging compared to the pay-as-you-go pricing model of AWS Glue. Additionally, users need to ensure they are properly managing cluster resources to avoid unnecessary expenses.
  4. Less native integrations with AWS services: While EMR can integrate with many AWS services, the integration may not be as seamless as with AWS Glue. Users may need to spend additional time setting up and configuring the integration between EMR and other AWS services, such as Amazon S3 or Amazon Redshift.
  5. Complexity and maintenance: Due to the greater flexibility and customization offered by EMR, managing and maintaining the service can be more complex than using AWS Glue. Users need to monitor cluster health, manage updates, and troubleshoot issues, all of which can increase the administrative burden on teams.


Ultimately, the choice between AWS EMR and AWS Glue will depend on the specific requirements, resources, and expertise of an organization. AWS Glue is better suited for organizations looking for a more automated, serverless ETL service, while EMR offers greater flexibility and customization for complex big data processing tasks.

Some of the factors to consider when choosing between AWS Glue and EMR are – Use Case Requirements, Infrastructure Management and Complexity, Cost Considerations, Integration requirements with other AWS services and team expertise and skills.

1. AWS Glue vs AWS EMR: Use Case Requirements

Consider the specific requirements of your use case, such as the level of complexity, the need for real-time processing, or the desired level of customization.

2. AWS Glue vs EMR: Infrastructure Management and Complexity

Evaluate your organization’s ability to manage and maintain infrastructure, as well as the desired level of simplicity or complexity in your data processing environment.

3. AWS Glue vs EMR: Cost Considerations

Compare the costs of running your workloads on AWS Glue and EMR, taking into account factors like pay-as-you-go pricing, infrastructure management, and resource utilization.

4. AWS Glue vs EMR: Integration with Other AWS Services

Determine how important seamless integration with other AWS services is for your use case, as AWS Glue provides tighter integration with many AWS offerings.

5. AWS Glue vs EMR: Team Expertise and Available Skills

Consider the skills and expertise of your team, as well as the resources available for learning and adopting new technologies. Some teams may find it easier to work with the serverless architecture of AWS Glue, while others may prefer the flexibility and customization options of EMR.

AWS Glue vs EMR : Which one should you choose?

As you can see both, AWS Glue and EMR are powerful services for data processing. At the end of the day, selecting one versus the other will depend on your specific use case and requirements.

AWS Glue is well-suited for serverless ETL operations, data cataloging, and schema management, with a pay-as-you-go pricing model that can be cost-effective for certain workloads. On the other hand, EMR offers greater flexibility, customizable infrastructure, and support for a wide range of big data processing frameworks, making it ideal for complex and large-scale data processing tasks.

Use the points outlined in this article to evaluate your use case requirements, infrastructure management, and complexity needs, cost considerations, integration requirements with other AWS services, and team expertise when deciding between AWS Glue and EMR. Doing this will help you make an informed decision that best meets the specific needs of your organization.

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