Alation Pricing: How to Calculate Total Cost of Ownership

Last Updated on: May 26th, 2023, Published on: May 19th, 2023
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Are you considering Alation as your choice of data catalog? Confused about its pricing model? In this article, we’ll look at how to calculate the total cost of ownership of your data catalog - and what you might end up spending with Alation.

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Table of contents

  1. What Alation offers
  2. Understanding data catalog pricing
  3. Basics of Alation pricing
  4. Challenges with the Alation pricing model
  5. Could using Alation put you behind the curve?
  6. Related reads

What Alation offers

Founded in 2012, Alation is one of the first data catalogs to market. Their product suite consists of three main components:

  • Alation Data Catalog: Enables cataloging a company’s data and searching it using natural language queries, detecting data anomalies, and establishing basic data governance rules.
  • Alation Connectors: Software components that enable integration of data from data warehouses, data lakes, and data lakehouses.
  • Alation Data Governance App: A separate UI for creating, deploying, and enforcing data management policies.

In recent years, Alation has rushed to add new features in an attempt to bring it in line with customer’s expectations for a modern data catalog.

Understanding data catalog pricing

Before we dive into Alation, however, let’s take a step back. Because the total cost of a data catalog is about more than just licensing.

A data catalog enables people in your company to find, trust, share, and track data across the entire organization. That requires interfacing with many of the other components of your architecture and modern data stack.

As such, when evaluating the true pricing of a data catalog, you need to take into account numerous factors:

  • Base licensing costs. How a data catalog charges for its base licensing costs will differ by vendor. Elements of licensing may include:
    • Number of regular users
    • Number of administrative users
    • Licensing costs for data connectors - i.e., the components that interface with data storage solutions and other data providers, including Snowflake, Amazon Redshift, and traditional databases
    • Separate licensing costs for other add-ons supplying additional functionality
  • Hosting costs. Are you hosting your data catalog on premises? Or in the cloud? Or are you purchasing a Software as a Service (SaaS) implementation directly from the vendor? Many companies these days will opt to host in the cloud, so as to easily integrate their data catalog with their other cloud infrastructure. If you choose this route, keep in mind you’ll need to pay your cloud provider for compute costs. You may also incur data egress costs from your virtual private networks to the Internet or other cloud regions.
  • Implementation costs. Does the product support DIY setup? Or is it difficult to integrate with your data stores, authentication systems, and other IT infrastructure? Even a product with reasonable licensing can become expensive if you have to devote weeks or months of engineering hours before anyone can use it.
  • Training costs. How easy or difficult is the tool to use? How much time does it take to onboard employees so they can make productive use of your data catalog? A product that’s hard to use adds to costs in terms of additional support hours and lost employee productivity.
  • Ongoing support and maintenance costs. No piece of software is ever problem-free. Eventually, your IT staff will need to assist with issues - and you’ll likely need assistance from the vendor as well. It’s important to assess how much support will cost - and whether you’ll get the support from your vendor that you need.

Of these, base licensing costs are the most fixed and easiest to calculate. Implementation, training, and support can be more tricky. It’s best to research what other customers have experienced in these areas and formulating at least some rough estimates before you make a commitment.

Basics of Alation pricing

So how does Alation stack up?

It’s hard to get a total sense of Alation pricing because the company doesn’t publish pricing information directly. That’s not shocking. As we said, there are multiple factors to data catalog pricing, making it hard to set out a one-size-fits-all price.

However, we can glean a little bit from information published by others. For example, GigaOm did a breakdown not too long ago comparing the price of various cloud-based analytics stacks. They also looked at various data catalog offerings, comparing Snowflake with Alation against Azure Purview, Amazon Glue Data Catalog, and Google Data Catalog.

In GigaOm’s estimates, the Snowflake with Alation option was by far the most expensive of all three combined. GigaOm estimated that, for a medium enterprise solution, customers would spend USD $4,128,722 a year for their stack.

The Alation portion of that cost came out to $413,660. That includes $198,000 in base licensing costs for 25 contributors. The rest of the cost came from cloud hosting.

GigaOm points out that, in its breakdowns, the cost for Alation outstripped the data catalog costs of similar solutions. In the AWS, Microsoft, and Google stacks, the data catalog came out to less than 1% of the total stack cost. But it was 10% of the total cost of the Snowflake stack.

To be fair, this comparison is sort of apples and oranges. The cloud vendor-specific data catalog offerings, such as Google Data Catalog, don’t support the features - like data lineage, embedded collaboration, and granular governance - that customers have come to expect from modern data catalogs.

Challenges with the Alation pricing model

As we wrote earlier, it’s best to consider input from current and previous customers when evaluating a vendor’s data catalog total cost of ownership. A look at customer feedback on Alation’s pricing model and installation provides some pause for concern.

One common piece of feedback is the lack of a DIY setup procedure. Far from being a DIY process, it requires the help of system integrators who specialize in the product. Even then, according to several customers, it can be a struggle to get Alation up and running. Others report issues getting Alation’s data connectors to work properly.

Customers who installed Alation on-premises reported further concerns about pricing. One called the pricing “confusing”, and said that total licensing costs came out higher than expected because Alation charged for various required add-ons. All of these point to concerns around Alation’s true total cost of ownership.

Could using Alation put you behind the curve?

Modern data catalogs do more than just “catalog data”. Support for features like visual and usable data lineage, collaboration, and active, programmable data governance are critical for keeping up with the data demands of today’s fast-paced business world.

In this regard, there are signs that Alation has struggled to keep up. Several users noted that the product’s data lineage features don’t feel “ready for prime time”. Others pointed out that the system still doesn’t handle lineage well across multiple data sources. Customers also reported usability concerns around common features such as search filtering, reporting, and Power BI support.

Companies can save significant money - and gain a competitive advantage - with a reliable, efficient, and easy-to-use modern data catalog. Sadly in this regard, Alation appears to be showing its age.

We created Atlan to make the promises of the modern data catalog a reality. Atlan supports a DIY setup and a sleek, easy to use UI that reduces ramp-up time and total cost of ownership. Plus, we’ll help you put together a pricing package that delivers a solid return on your investment.

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