Migrate a large data warehouse from Greenplum to Amazon Redshift using Amazon Web Services SCT – Part 3

by Jon Roberts, Suresh Patnam, and Nelly Susanto | on

In this third post of a multi-part series, we explore some of the edge cases in migrating a large data warehouse from Greenplum to Amazon Redshift using Amazon Web Services Schema Conversion Tool (Amazon Web Services SCT) and how to handle these challenges. Challenges include how best to use virtual partitioning, edge cases for numeric and character fields, and arrays.

You can check out the first post of this series for guidance on planning, running, and validating the migration. You can also check out the second post for best practices for choosing the optimal Amazon Redshift cluster, data architecture, converting stored procedures , compatible functions and queries widely used for SQL conversions, and recommendations for optimizing the length of data types for table columns.

Unbounded character data type

Greenplum supports creating columns as text and varchar without specifying the length of the field. This works without an issue in Greenplum but doesn’t work well in migrating to Amazon Redshift. Amazon Redshift stores data in columnar format and gets better compression when using shorter column lengths. Therefore, the Amazon Redshift best practice is to use the smallest character length possible.

Amazon Web Services SCT will convert these unbounded fields as large objects (LOBs) instead of treating the columns as character fields with a specified length. LOBs are implemented differently in each database product on the market, but in general, a LOB is not stored with the rest of the table data. Instead, there is a pointer to the location of the data. When the LOB is queried, the database reconstitutes the data automatically for you, but this typically requires more resources.

Amazon Redshift doesn’t support LOBs, so Amazon Web Services SCT resolves this by loading the data into Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and in the column, it stores the S3 URL. When you need to retrieve this data, you have to query the table, get the S3 URL, and then fetch the data from Amazon S3. This isn’t ideal because most of the time, the actual maximum length of the field doesn’t require it to be treated as a LOB, and storing the data remotely means it will take much longer to fetch the data for queries.

The current resolution is to calculate the maximum length of these columns and update the Greenplum tables before converting to Amazon Redshift with Amazon Web Services SCT.

Note that in a future release of Amazon Web Services SCT, the collection of statistics will include calculating the maximum length for each column, and the conversion of unbounded varchar and text will set the length in Amazon Redshift automatically.

The following code is an example of an unbounded character data type:

CREATE TABLE public.mytable 
(description1 text NOT NULL PRIMARY KEY, description2 varchar);
CREATE INDEX ON public.mytable (description2);

This table uses a primary key column on an unbounded text column. This needs to be converted to varchar(n), where n is the maximum length found in this column.

  1. Drop unique constraints on affected columns:
    ALTER TABLE public.mytable DROP CONSTRAINT mytable_pkey;
  2. Drop indexes on affected columns:
    DROP INDEX public.mytable_description2_idx;
  3. Calculate maximum length of affected columns:
    select coalesce(max(length(description1)), 10),
    coalesce(max(length(description2)), 10) 
    from public.mytable;

Note that in this example, the description1 and description2 columns only contain NULL values, or the table doesn’t have any data in it, or the calculated length of the columns is 10.

  1. Alter the length of the affected columns:
    ALTER TABLE public.mytable ALTER COLUMN description1 TYPE varchar(10);
    ALTER TABLE public.mytable ALTER COLUMN description2 TYPE varchar(10);

You can now proceed with using Amazon Web Services SCT to convert the Greenplum schema to Amazon Redshift and avoiding using LOBs to store the column values.

GitHub help

If you have many tables to update and want an automated solution, you can use the add_varchar_lengths.sh script found in the GitHub repo to fix all of the unbounded varchar and text columns in a given schema in Greenplum. The script calculates the appropriate maximum length and then alters the Greenplum tables so the varchar data type is bounded by a length.

Please note that the script also will drop any constraints or indexes on the affected columns.

Empty character data

Greenplum and Amazon Redshift support an empty string value in a field that is different from NULL. The behavior is the same between the two databases. However, Amazon Web Services SCT defaults to convert empty strings to NULL. This simply needs to be disabled to avoid problems.

  1. In Amazon Web Services SCT, open your project, choose Settings, Project settings, and Data migration.
  2. Scroll to the bottom and find Use empty as null value.
  3. Deselect this so that Amazon Web Services SCT doesn’t convert empty strings to NULL.

NaN and Infinity numeric data type

Greenplum supports NaN and Infinity in a numeric field to represent an undefined calculation result and infinity. NaN is very uncommon because when using aggregate functions on a column with a NaN row, the result will also be NaN. Infinity is also uncommon and not useful when aggregating data. However, you may encounter these values in a Greenplum database.

Amazon Redshift doesn’t support NaN and Infinity, and Amazon Web Services SCT doesn’t check for this in your data. If you do encounter this when using Amazon Web Services SCT, the task will fail with a numeric conversion error.

To resolve this, it’s suggested to use NULL instead of NaN and Infinity. This allows you to aggregate data and get results other than NaN and, importantly, allow you to convert the Greenplum data to Amazon Redshift.

The following code is an example NaN numeric value:

CREATE TABLE public.mytable2 (id int NOT NULL, amount numeric NOT NULL);
INSERT INTO public.mytable2 VALUES (1, 10), (2, 'NaN'), (3, 20);
  1. Drop the NOT NULL constraint:
    ALTER TABLE public.mytable2 ALTER COLUMN amount DROP NOT NULL;
  2. Update the table:
    UPDATE public.mytable2 SET amount = NULL where amount = 'NaN';

You can now proceed with using Amazon Web Services SCT to migrate the Greenplum data to Amazon Redshift.

Note that in a future release of Amazon Web Services SCT, there will be an option to convert NaN and Infinity to NULL so that you won’t have to update your Greenplum data to migrate to Amazon Redshift.

Virtual partitioning on GP_SEGMENT_ID

For large tables, it’s recommended to use virtual partitioning to extract data from Greenplum. Without virtual partitioning, Amazon Web Services SCT will run a single query to unload data from Greenplum. For example:

SELECT * FROM store_sales;

If this table is very large, it will take a long time to extract the data because this is a single process querying the data. With virtual partitioning, multiple queries are run in parallel so that the extraction of data is completed faster. It also makes it easier to recover if there is an issue with the task.

Virtual partitioning is very flexible, but a simple way to do this in Amazon Redshift is to utilize the Greenplum hidden column gp_segment_id. This column identifies which segment in Greenplum has the data, and each segment should have an equal number of rows. Therefore, creating partitions for each gp_segment_id is an easy way to implement virtual partitioning.

If you’re not familiar with the term segment, it’s similar to an Amazon Redshift slice.

For example:

SELECT * FROM store_sales WHERE gp_segment_id = 0;
SELECT * FROM store_sales WHERE gp_segment_id = 1;
SELECT * FROM store_sales WHERE gp_segment_id = 2;
  1. First, determine the number of segments in Greenplum:
    SELECT count(*) 
    FROM gp_segment_configuration 
    WHERE content >= 0 AND preferred_role = 'p';

Now you can configure Amazon Web Services SCT.

  1. In Amazon Web Services SCT, go to Data Migration view (other) and choose (right-click) a large table.
  2. Scroll down to Add virtual partitioning.
  3. For the partition type, choose Auto Split and change the column name to GP_SEGMENT_ID.
  4. Use 0 for Start value, the number of segments found in Step 1 as End value, and Interval of 1.

When you create a local task to load this table, the task will have a sub-task for each gp_segment_id value.

Note that in a future release of Amazon Web Services SCT, there will be an option to automatically virtually partition tables based on GP_SEGMENT_ID. This option will also retrieve the number of segments automatically.


Greenplum supports arrays such as bigint[] that are unbounded. Typically, arrays are kept relatively small in Greenplum because arrays consume more memory in Greenplum than using an alternative strategy. However, it’s possible to have a very large array in Greenplum that isn’t supported by Amazon Redshift.

Amazon Web Services SCT converts a Greenplum array to varchar(65535), but if the converted array is longer than 65,535 characters, then the load will fail.

The following code is an example of a large array:

CREATE TABLE public.sales 
(sales_id int NOT NULL,
customer_id int NOT NULL,
sales_item_ids bigint[]) 
DISTRIBUTED BY (sales_id);

INSERT INTO public.sales values (1, 100, '{1,2,3}'), (2, 100, '{1,2,3}');

In this example, the sales items are stored in an array for each sales_id. If you encounter an error while loading that the length is too long to load this data into Amazon Redshift with Amazon Web Services SCT, then this is the solution. It’s also a more efficient pattern to store data in both Greenplum and Amazon Redshift!

  1. Create a new sales table that has all columns from the existing sales table, but exclude the array column:
    CREATE TABLE public.sales_new 
    (sales_id int NOT NULL,
    customer_id int NOT NULL) 
    DISTRIBUTED BY (sales_id);
  2. Populate the new sales table with the existing data except for the array column:
    INSERT INTO public.sales_new (sales_id, customer_id) 
    SELECT sales_id, customer_id FROM public.sales;

We create a new table that is a cross-reference of sales IDs with the sales items. Instead of having a single row for this association, now there will be a row for each relationship.

  1. Create a new sales item table:
    CREATE TABLE public.sales_items 
    (sales_id int NOT NULL, 
    sales_item_id bigint NOT NULL) 
    DISTRIBUTED BY (sales_id);
  2. To unnest the array, create a row for each array element:
    INSERT INTO public.sales_items 
    (sales_id, sales_item_id) 
    SELECT sales_id, unnest(sales_item_ids) 
    FROM public.sales;
  3. Rename the sales tables:
    ALTER TABLE public.sales RENAME TO sales_old;
    ALTER TABLE public.sales_new RENAME TO sales;

In Amazon Web Services SCT, refresh the tables and migrate the revised sales and the new sales_items table.

The following are some example queries before and after.


SELECT s.sales_id, unnest(s.sales_item_ids) 
FROM public.sales s 
WHERE s.sales_id = 1;


SELECT s.sales_id, i.sales_item_id 
FROM public.sales s 
JOIN public.sales_items i ON s.sales_id = i.sales_id 
WHERE s.sales_id = 1;


SELECT s.sales_id 
FROM public.sales s 
WHERE s.customer_id = 100
AND 10 = ANY(s.sales_item_ids);


SELECT s.sales_id
FROM public.sales s 
JOIN public.sales_items i ON s.sales_id = i.sales_id 
WHERE s.customer_id = 100
AND i.sales_item_id = 10;


Greenplum, like Amazon Redshift, supports the VACUUM command, which reclaims storage space after UPDATE and DELETE commands are run on a table. Greenplum also allows you to add the ANALYZE option to run both statements with a single command.

The following code is the Greenplum command:


This is not very common, but you’ll see this from time to time. If you’re just inserting data into a table, there is no need to run VACUUM, but for ease of use, sometimes developers will use VACUUM ANALYZE.

The following are the Amazon Redshift commands:

VACUUM table;
ANALYZE table;

Amazon Redshift doesn’t support adding ANALYZE to the VACUUM command, so instead, this needs to be two different statements. Also note that Amazon Redshift performs VACUUM and ANALYZE automatically for you so in most cases, you can remove these commands from your scripts entirely.


Greenplum supports an unusual shortcut for eliminating duplicates in a table. This feature keeps the first row for each set of rows based on the order of the data being fetched. It’s easiest to understand by looking at an example:

CREATE TABLE customer 
(customer_name varchar(100) not null, 
customer_address varchar(1000) not null, 
lastupdate timestamp not null);

('ACME', '123 Main St', '2022-01-01'), 
('ACME', '456 Market St', '2022-05-01'), 
('ACME', '789 Broadway', '2022-08-01');

SELECT DISTINCT ON (customer_name) customer_name, customer_address 
FROM customer 
ORDER BY customer_name, lastupdate DESC;

We get the following results:

customer_name | customer_address 
 ACME          | 789 Broadway

The solution for running this in Amazon Redshift is to use the ANSI standard row_number() analytical function, as shown in the following code:

SELECT sub.customer_name, sub.customer_address 
FROM (SELECT customer_name, customer_address, row_number() over (partition by customer_name ORDER BY lastupdate DESC) AS row_number FROM customer) AS sub 
WHERE sub.row_number = 1;

Clean up

The examples in this post create tables in Greenplum. To remove these example tables, run the following commands:

DROP TABLE IF EXISTS public.mytable;
DROP TABLE IF EXISTS public.mytable2;
DROP TABLE IF EXISTS public.sales;
DROP TABLE IF EXISTS public.sales_new;
DROP TABLE IF EXISTS public.sales_items;
DROP TABLE IF EXISTS public.customer;


In this post, we covered some of the edge cases when migrating Greenplum to Amazon Redshift and how to handle these challenges, including easy virtual partitioning, edge cases for numeric and character fields, and arrays. This is not an exhaustive list of migrating Greenplum to Amazon Redshift, but this series should help you navigate modernizing your data platform by moving to Amazon Redshift.

For additional details, see the Amazon Redshift Getting Started Guide and the Amazon Web Services SCT User Guide .

About the Authors

Jon Roberts is a Sr. Analytics Specialist based out of Nashville, specializing in Amazon Redshift. He has over 27 years of experience working in relational databases. In his spare time, he runs.

Nelly Susanto is a Senior Database Migration Specialist of Amazon Web Services Database Migration Accelerator. She has over 10 years of technical experience focusing on migrating and replicating databases along with data warehouse workloads. She is passionate about helping customers in their cloud journey.

Suresh Patnam is a Principal BDM – GTM AI/ML Leader at Amazon Web Services. He works with customers to build IT strategy, making digital transformation through the cloud more accessible by leveraging Data & AI/ML. In his spare time, Suresh enjoys playing tennis and spending time with his family.