How to optimise your BigQuery costs

optimise your BigQuery costs

Once you’re using BigQuery, you’ll be able to run blazing fast queries, get real-time insights with streaming and start using advanced and predictive analytics. But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for further optimisations for your data housed in BigQuery. 

Here’s a guide to help you optimise your costs and in turn, business outcomes. One particular benefit of optimising costs in BigQuery is that because of its serverless architecture, those optimisations also yield better performance, so you won’t have to make stressful tradeoffs of choosing performance over cost or vice versa.

Understanding the basics of pricing in BigQuery

For any location, the BigQuery pricing is broken down like this: 

  • Storage
    • Active storage
    • Long-term storage
    • Streaming inserts
  • Query processing
    • On-demand
    • Flat-rate

Here are the BigQuery operations that are free of charge in any location:

  • Batch loading data into BigQuery
  • Automatic re-clustering (which requires no setup and maintenance)
  • Exporting data operation
  • Deleting table, views, partitions, functions and datasets 
  • Metadata operations
  • Cached queries
  • Queries that result in errors
  • Storage for the first 10 GB of data per month
  • Query data processed for the first 1 TB of data per month (advantageous to users on on-demand pricing)

Optimising BigQuery storage cost

Once data is loaded into BigQuery, charges are based on the amount of data stored in your tables per second. Here are a few tips to optimise your BigQuery storage costs.

1. Keep your data only as long as you need it

By default, data stored in BigQuery’s Capacitor columnar data format is already encrypted and compressed. Configure default table expiration on your dataset for temporary staging data that you don’t need to preserve.  

For instance, we only need to query the staging weather dataset until the downstream job cleans the data and pushes it to a production dataset. Here, we can set seven days for the default table expiration.

If you’re updating the default table expiration for a dataset, it will only apply to the new tables created. Use DDL statement to alter your existing tables.

BigQuery also offers the flexibility to provide different table expiration dates within the same dataset. Similar to dataset-level and table-level, you can also set up expiration at the partition level.  

2. Be wary of how you edit your data 

If your table or partition of a table has not been edited for 90 days, the price of the data stored in the table automatically drops by about 50%. There is no degradation of performance, durability, availability or any other functionality when a table or partition is considered for long-term storage. 

To get the most out of long-term storage, be mindful of any actions that edit your table data, such as streaming, copying or loading data including any DML or DDL actions. This will bring your data back to active storage and reset the 90-day timer. To avoid this, you can consider loading the new batch of data to a new table or a partition of a table if it makes sense for your use case. 

Querying the table data along with few other actions do not reset the 90-day timer and the pricing continues to be considered as long-term storage. 

In most cases, keeping the data in BigQuery is advantageous unless you are certain that the data in the table will be accessed at most once a year, like storing archives for legal or regulatory reasons. In that case, explore the option of exporting the table data into the Coldline class of a Cloud Storage bucket for even better pricing than BigQuery’s long-term storage.

3. Avoid duplicate copies of data 

BigQuery uses a federated data access model that allows you to query data directly from external data sources like Cloud Bigtable, Cloud Storage, Google Drive and Cloud SQL. This is useful for avoiding duplicate copies of data, thus reducing storage costs. It’s also helpful for reading data in one pass from an external source or accessing a small amount of frequently changed data that doesn’t need to be loaded in BigQuery every time it is changed. 

Choose this technique for the use cases where it makes the most sense. Typically, queries that run on external sources don’t perform as well compared to queries executed on same data stored on BigQuery, since data stored on BigQuery is in a columnar format that yields much better performance.   

4. See whether you’re using the streaming insert to load your data

Check your last month’s BigQuery bill and see if you are charged for streaming inserts. If you are, ask yourself: “Do I need data to be immediately available (in a few seconds instead of hours) in BigQuery?” or “Am I using this data for any real-time use case once the data is available in BigQuery?” If either answer is no, then it’s recommended to switch to batch loading data, as it is completely free.

Use streaming inserts only if the data in BigQuery is consumed immediately by downstream consumers.

5. Understand BigQuery’s backup and DR processes

BigQuery maintains a seven-day history of changes to your table, which allows you to query a point-in-time snapshot of your data. This means you can revert back the data without restoring from recovery backups. If the table is deleted, its history is flushed after two days.

Optimising query processing cost

You’ll likely query your BigQuery data for analytics and to satisfy business use cases like predictive analysis, real-time inventory management or just as a single source of truth for your company’s financial data. 

On-demand pricing is what most users and businesses choose when starting with BigQuery. You are charged for the number of bytes processed, regardless of the data housed in BigQuery or external data sources involved. There are some ways you can reduce the number of bytes processed. 

1. Only query the data you need

BigQuery can provide incredible performance because it stores data as a columnar data structure. This means SELECT * is the most expensive way to query data. This is because it will perform a full query scan across every column present in the table(s), including the ones you might not need.

By selecting the necessary columns, you can reduce the bytes processed which is a quick way to optimize for cost. Also, note that applying the LIMIT clause to your query doesn’t have an effect on cost.

If you do need to explore the data and understand its semantics, you can always use the no-charge data preview option.

Also, remember you are charged for bytes processed in the first stage of query execution. Avoid creating a complex multistage query just to optimise for bytes processed in the intermediate stages, since there are no cost implications anyway though you may achieve performance gains.  

Filter your query as early and as often as you can to reduce cost and improve performance in BigQuery. 

2. Set up controls for accidental human errors

A query with a magnitude of GBs can cost you a few cents which is acceptable for most businesses. However, when you have dataset tables that are in the magnitude of TBs or PBs and are accessed by multiple individuals, unknowingly querying all columns could result in a substantial query cost. 

In this case, use the maximum bytes billed setting to limit query cost. Going above the limit will cause the query to fail without incurring the cost of the query.

Let’s say you have 10 TB of data in a US (multi-regional) location for which you are charged about $200 per month for storage. If 10 users sweep all the data using [SELECT * .. ] 10 times a month, your BigQuery bill is now about $5,000, because you are sweeping 1 PB of data per month. Applying thoughtful limits can help you prevent these types of accidental queries. Note that cancelling a running query may incur up to the full cost of the query as if it was allowed to complete.

Along with enabling cost control on a query level, you can apply similar logic to the user level and project level as well.

3. Use caching intelligently

With few exceptions, caching can actually boost your query performance and you won’t be charged for the results retrieved from the cached tables. By default, cache preference is turned on. Keep in mind that caching is per user, per project. 

To significantly increase the cache hit across multiple users, use a single service account to query BigQuery, or use community connectors. 

4. Partition your tables

Partitioning your tables whenever possible can help reduce the cost of processing queries as well as improve performance. Today, you can partition a table based on ingestion time, date or any timestamp column. Let’s say you partition a sales table that contains data for the last 12 months. This results in smaller partitions containing data for each day.

Now, when you query to analyze sales data for the month of August, you only pay for data processed in those 31 partitions, not the entire table.

One more benefit is that each partition is separately considered for long-term storage. Considering our above example, sales data is often loaded and modified for the last few months. So, all the partitions that are not modified in the last 90 days are already saving you some storage costs. To really get the benefits of querying a partitioned table, you should filter the table using a partition column.

While creating or updating a partitioned table, you can enable “Require partition filter” which will force users to include a WHERE clause that specifies the partition column or else the query will result in an error.

5. Further reduce sweeping your data using clustering

After partitioning, you can now cluster your table which organises your data based on the content for up to four columns. BigQuery then sorts the data based on the order of columns specified and organises them into a block. When you use query filters using these columns, BigQuery intelligently only scans the relevant blocks using a process referred to as block pruning. 

Clustering is allowed only on partitioned data. You can always use partitioning based on ingestion data or introduce a fake date or timestamp column to enable clustering on your table. 

Understanding flat-rate vs. on-demand pricing

Once your BigQuery monthly bill hits north of $10,000, check your BigQuery cost for processing queries to see if flat-rate pricing is more cost-effective. Flat-rate allows you to have a stable monthly cost for unlimited data processed by queries rather than paying the variable on-demand rate based on bytes processed. During enrollment, you can purchase query processing capacity, measured in BigQuery slots. For now, the minimum flat-rate pricing starts with 500 slots. A good starting point to decide how many slots to buy is to visualise your slot utilisation for the last month using Stackdriver.

If your queries exceed flat-rate capacity, BigQuery will run proportionally more slowly until the slots become available. 

You might be tempted to think that you don’t have to worry about query optimisations with flat-rate at all. The reality is that it still impacts performance. The faster your query executes, the more number of jobs you will be able to complete in the same amount of time with fixed slots.

Buying too few slots can impact performance, while buying too many slots will introduce idle processing capacity, resulting in cost implications. In order to find your sweet spot, you can start with a monthly flat-rate plan, which allows more flexibility to downgrade or cancel after 30 days. Once you have a good enough ballpark estimate on the number of slots you need, switch to an annual flat-rate plan for further savings. 

You can always use a hybrid approach of on-demand rate and flat-rate pricing in your GCP Organisation to maximise your overall savings.

Hopefully, you use BigQuery efficiently and get all the benefits of this modern data warehouse. Everything is fruitless if you don’t monitor the progress and visualise your success. Before you take any action, run a quick report of your BigQuery usage for the past month to get a quick pulse on the cost. Then you can prioritise cost optimisation actions that you will take in the coming days or months and analyse how it affected different metrics using a Data Studio dashboard.

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