AWS Glue vs Lambda: Choosing the Right Tool for Your Data Pipeline

Key Takeaways

As we dive into the AWS Glue vs Lambda comparison, understanding how these services differ in key aspects will help you make the right choice for your data pipeline needs. Below is a brief overview of their functionalities, costs, ease of use, and scalability.

FactorAWS GlueAWS Lambda
FunctionalityDesigned for ETL work, with built-in functionalities for data cataloging and job schedulingFlexible for a wide range of tasks, including but not limited to ETL
CostPricing based on ETL job runtime, with separate charges for crawler runtime and data catalog storageCharges based on the number of requests and the compute time required
Ease of UseStraightforward setup for ETL tasks, with visual interface and automation featuresMore flexible for complex data manipulations with support for custom code
ScalabilityScales automatically based on the workloadRequires fine-tuning to manage concurrency and avoid throttling


The array of services AWS offers allows technologists to select the best services for their specific requirements. In this article, we will focus on two such services: AWS Glue and AWS Lambda. While both are fantastic tools, understanding their capabilities and how they differ can guide you in making the right choice for your data pipeline needs.

What is AWS Glue?

AWS Glue is a fully managed, serverless Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) service that automates time-consuming data preparation tasks. AWS Glue is designed to prepare and load data for analytics, discover data, and store associated metadata in the AWS Glue Data Catalog. You can even build rudimentary data governance capabilities using AWS Glue.

Key features of AWS Glue include:

  • Automated ETL jobs.
  • Data Catalog that acts as a centralized metadata repository.
  • Data Crawlers that can discover and catalog data from various sources.
  • Schema discovery and evolution.
  • Compatibility with popular data stores and formats.

For more on AWS Glue basics, you can read here.

What is AWS Lambda?

AWS Lambda is a serverless computing service that lets you run your code without provisioning or managing servers. AWS Lambda executes your functions and scales automatically, freeing you from the overhead of maintaining a continuous service delivery setup.

Key features of AWS Lambda include:

  • Automatic scaling based on the workload.
  • Pay only for the compute time consumed.
  • Integrates with other AWS services, enabling workflow orchestration.
  • Supports languages such as Python, Java, Go, and more.
  • Event-driven computing capabilities.

Related Reading: If you are preparing AWS interview, refer to our guide on AWS Lambda Interview Questions.

Comparing AWS Glue and AWS Lambda

While AWS Glue and AWS Lambda can both be used to handle data, they differ significantly in the primary use cases they address, functionality, cost, ease of use, and scalability.

AWS Glue, as an ETL service, is primarily focused on data integration tasks. It excels in scenarios where you have to extract data from various sources, transform it, and load it into a data store. Its serverless architecture means you only pay for the compute resources consumed during the ETL job execution, making it cost-efficient for large-scale data processing tasks.

AWS Lambda, on the other hand, is a general-purpose computing service. It can be used for various tasks, including data processing, but its strength lies in event-driven computing and seamless integration with other AWS services. The pricing of AWS Lambda depends on the number of requests and the compute time used.

The choice between AWS Glue and AWS Lambda for data pipeline management largely depends on the nature and volume of data to be processed, the complexity of data transformations, and the specific requirements of the pipeline.

AWS Glue for Data Pipelines

When it comes to managing data pipelines, AWS Glue offers significant benefits. Its automatic ETL capabilities make it an excellent choice for workflows that involve data extraction, transformation, and loading. For instance, AWS Glue can crawl your data, infer schema, and store the associated metadata in its Data Catalog. It can then run ETL jobs to transform and load the data into your chosen data store.

Consider an example where an e-commerce company wants to analyze its sales data. The data is stored in various formats and locations, including relational databases, NoSQL databases, and data lakes. Using AWS Glue, the company can automatically discover, catalog, transform, and aggregate the data, making it ready for analysis.

Here are some scenarios where AWS Glue might be more advantageous:

  • Data Lake ETL jobs: AWS Glue integrates seamlessly with data lake architecture. You can use AWS Glue to organize, cleanse, validate, and format data in your data lake, making it analysis-ready.
  • Serverless data preparation: With AWS Glue, you do not need to provision or manage any servers. AWS Glue is fully managed, allowing you to focus on your data preparation tasks and not on infrastructure management.
  • Large-scale data processing: AWS Glue is designed to handle large volumes of data. The service automatically scales to meet your job’s demands and processes data in parallel, reducing job completion times.
  • Data cataloging and discovery: AWS Glue can automatically discover and catalog metadata about your data stored across AWS services. The Glue Data Catalog serves as a centralized metadata repository, making your data searchable and queryable.

AWS Lambda for Data Pipelines

While AWS Lambda is not a dedicated ETL tool like AWS Glue, it can still play a crucial role in data pipeline management, particularly in event-driven and real-time data processing scenarios.

Here are some scenarios where AWS Lambda might be more advantageous:

  • Real-time file processing: You can use AWS Lambda to process files as soon as they are added to Amazon S3 buckets. For example, you could set up a Lambda function to automatically compress images or transcode videos when they’re uploaded.
  • Data validation: AWS Lambda can act as a data validation tool, allowing you to ensure data consistency and quality in real-time. For instance, you could set up a Lambda function to validate incoming data and flag any discrepancies.
  • Event-driven data processing: AWS Lambda shines in scenarios where you need to respond to events. You could set up a Lambda function to trigger based on events in your AWS environment, such as updates to DynamoDB tables or custom events defined in your applications.
  • Microservices and integrations: AWS Lambda works well as a component in a microservices architecture, allowing you to execute code in response to HTTP requests via Amazon API Gateway or software development kit (SDK) invocations.


In summary, both AWS Glue and AWS Lambda are powerful tools in the AWS ecosystem that can handle specific parts of data pipeline management. The choice between the two will largely depend on the nature of your data, your processing requirements, the size of your data, and the specific requirements of your data pipeline.

In general, if your primary focus is on data transformation, integration, and cataloging, especially at a large scale, AWS Glue might be the more suitable tool. If your workloads are more event-driven, require real-time processing, or involve various AWS service integrations, AWS Lambda could be a better choice.

Frequently Asked Questions about AWS Glue vs. Lambda

Q1: Is AWS Lambda preferred over AWS Glue Job? 

Answer: It depends on the use case. AWS Lambda is often preferred for real-time, event-driven processing tasks and lightweight data transformations. AWS Glue, on the other hand, is more suitable for heavy-duty ETL jobs and data cataloging tasks.

Q2: Why use AWS Glue instead of Lambda? 

Answer: AWS Glue is specifically designed for ETL tasks. It allows for large-scale data processing and has built-in features for data cataloging. Glue also automatically generates Python or Scala code for your ETL jobs which can be customized. These features make AWS Glue an ideal choice for complex data processing tasks that Lambda isn’t designed to handle efficiently.

Q3: Can AWS Glue trigger Lambda? 

Answer: Yes, AWS Glue can trigger a Lambda function. This could be done through the use of AWS Glue triggers or CloudWatch events, depending on your use case.

Q4: What are the limitations of AWS Glue where AWS Lambda can help? 

Answer: AWS Glue, while powerful, has a longer cold start time compared to AWS Lambda and it might be an overkill for small, simple tasks. AWS Lambda, with its event-driven model and shorter cold start time, is excellent for real-time processing tasks and handling lightweight transformations. AWS Lambda can also be integrated with a wider range of AWS services for triggering functions.

Q5: How do AWS Glue and AWS Lambda differ in terms of cost?

Answer: AWS Glue and AWS Lambda have different pricing models. AWS Glue pricing is based on a pay-as-you-go model and it charges for ETL job runtime and data processed. AWS Lambda charges based on the number of requests and the duration of your code execution. The cost would depend on your specific use case.

Q6: Which service offers better scalability: AWS Glue or AWS Lambda? 

Answer: Both services offer excellent scalability but in different contexts. AWS Glue is designed to handle large volumes of data and can scale out ETL jobs to accommodate your data size. AWS Lambda automatically scales in response to incoming event triggers and can handle spikes in requests without requiring any intervention.