dbt cloud vs dbt core: a quick comparison

Functionalities, cost structures, and integration capabilities.

dbt cloud vs dbt core: a quick comparison

Data Build Tool, commonly known as dbt, has emerged as a vital component in the modern data stack. Acting as a compiler for analytics SQL, dbt helps data professionals transform raw data in the warehouse into actionable insights. This article will provide a comparison between two key offerings: dbt Core and dbt Cloud.

History and Development

The dbt suite began with dbt Core , an open-source software that enabled transformations using SQL-based workflows. With the increasing adoption of dbt Core, Fishtown Analytics saw the need for a more enhanced and user-friendly platform, leading to the introduction of dbt Cloud. This variant aimed at expanding capabilities while simplifying integration and deployment for businesses.

dbt Core: An Overview

dbt Core, primarily a command-line tool, facilitates data modeling and transformation in a SQL-friendly environment. Its features include:

  • SQL-based transformations.
  • Version control integration.
  • Extensibility through plugins.

Use Cases: Dbt Core is often chosen by enterprises that require a customizable environment, integration with existing systems, or who prefer self-hosting solutions.


  • Flexibility and adaptability.
  • Open-source, hence cost-effective.
  • Supports multiple database technologies.


  • Lacks a graphical user interface.
  • Requires manual setup and maintenance.

dbt Cloud: An Overview

The standout feature of dbt Cloud is its user-friendliness. It is designed with a focus on accessibility, ensuring that users, even with minimal coding skills, can leverage its potential to the fullest. Consequently, it serves as a platform that both experts and beginners can use to transform their data effectively.

Example of dbt cloud UI. Source.

An evolution of dbt Core, dbt Cloud offers an integrated platform for dbt deployment. Its features are:

  • User-friendly web interface.
  • Scheduling and orchestration tools.
  • Integrated version control.
  • Team collaboration features.

Use Cases: Ideal for teams that prioritize a managed service, need enhanced collaboration tools, or require regular scheduling and monitoring of dbt jobs.

Benefits of dbt Cloud

A Streamlined User Interface

dbt Cloud introduces a brand new look and feel.

One of dbt Cloud's unique selling points is its streamlined, user-friendly interface. It features a web-based integrated development environment (IDE), offering teams the ability to develop, test, and deploy dbt projects with ease.

This efficient tool allows for quick data transformation, providing a bird's-eye view of your entire data pipeline for enhanced data quality. dbt provides a data lineage interface but don't provide column-level data lineage, nor cross-tool data lineage like CastorDoc provides.

Collaboration Simplified

Dbt Cloud enables teams to work together on data transformation projects. Its robust collaboration tools, such as project access controls and version control, provide an easy way for teams to stay on the same page, ensuring high productivity levels and less confusion.

Schedule and Monitor with Ease

With dbt Cloud, scheduling your dbt runs and monitoring them becomes a piece of cake. The built-in scheduler allows you to plan your data job scheduling at intervals that suit your business needs. Simultaneously, the tool's monitoring capabilities provide insights into the progress of your dbt jobs, keeping you in control of your data transformation processes.

Limitations of dbt cloud

  • Less customizable than dbt Core.
  • Subscription costs associated with advanced features.

Key Differences between dbt Cloud and dbt Core

Deployment and Setup

dbt Core

  • Environment: Dbt Core is deployed in an environment the user has control over, whether that's a local machine or a cloud server. This gives users the flexibility to integrate with their existing data systems and choose the infrastructure that aligns best with their needs.
  • Dependencies: Given its command-line nature, users need to ensure that all dependencies are correctly installed. This could include software prerequisites, correct versions of Python, or even specific drivers based on the data warehouse in use.
  • Configuration: Dbt Core requires manual configuration. This involves setting up dbt_profiles.yml for connection configurations and other essential settings.
  • Updates: Users must be proactive in checking for and implementing updates, ensuring compatibility and access to the latest features.

dbt Cloud

  • Platform: Dbt Cloud is a SaaS (Software as a Service) solution, eliminating the need to worry about server specs, capacity, or maintenance.
  • Onboarding: A guided onboarding process facilitates initial setup, making the integration of data sources and the initial deployment of models smoother.
  • Auto-Updates: Being a managed platform, dbt Cloud seamlessly rolls out updates, ensuring users always have access to the latest features without manual intervention.
  • Scalability: With cloud infrastructure, scaling resources based on workload becomes more straightforward, allowing businesses to adapt to growing data needs.

User Interface

dbt Core

  • CLI Experience: For those familiar with the command line, dbt Core offers a robust and direct method of interaction, allowing for scripts, automations, and direct commands.
  • Flexibility: The command-line nature provides users with granular control, allowing for detailed configurations, testing, and deployment.
  • Learning Curve: New users, especially those not familiar with CLI, might face a steeper learning curve. Documentation and community support, however, alleviate some of these challenges.

dbt Cloud

  • GUI: The graphical user interface is intuitive, reducing barriers to entry. This aids in visually constructing workflows, understanding project structures, and viewing logs and outputs.
  • Collaboration: Features like real-time editing, commenting, and version history promote teamwork and concurrent development.
  • Integrated Tools: The interface houses additional tools like query builders, log viewers, and scheduling options, providing an all-in-one experience.


dbt Core

  • Open-Source: The primary advantage is its cost-free nature. Organizations only bear costs associated with the infrastructure it runs on.
  • Customization Costs: While the tool itself is free, organizations might incur costs if they opt for custom integrations, plugins, or extensions not readily available.
  • Maintenance: The absence of subscription fees might be offset by potential costs in maintaining, updating, and troubleshooting the platform.

dbt Cloud

  • Tiered Pricing: Dbt Cloud offers various pricing tiers, each providing a different set of features. Organizations can choose based on their requirements, from basic setups to enterprise solutions.
  • Managed Service: The costs also cover the managed nature of the service, ensuring updates, security, and performance optimization are taken care of.
  • Predictability: Subscription models provide organizations with predictable costs, aiding budgeting and financial planning.

Extensions and Integration Capabilities

One of the hallmarks of a modern data tool is its ability to integrate seamlessly with other tools in the tech stack. Both dbt cloud and dbt core integrates to CastorDoc.

dbt Core

Given its open-source nature, it offers vast potential for extensions and integrations. With a vibrant community of contributors, dbt Core boasts numerous plugins and macros which can be leveraged for specific tasks. For instance, dbt artifacts offer structured metadata about a dbt run, allowing users to connect outputs to other tools or dashboards.

dbt Cloud

Fishtown Analytics has designed dbt Cloud to be more inclusive, with built-in integrations for common data platforms and visualization tools. It provides out-of-the-box connections to platforms like BigQuery, Redshift, and Snowflake. Furthermore, its UI-focused approach facilitates simpler and more intuitive integrations for non-technical users.

Community and Support

Support and community engagement can often play a decisive role in the selection of a tool, especially when troubleshooting or exploring advanced functionalities.

dbt Core

Being open-source, dbt Core enjoys immense community support. From Slack channels to dedicated forums, users can find solutions, share ideas, or contribute to the codebase. This democratization fosters innovation and quick problem resolution.

dbt Cloud

While it also benefits from the general dbt community, dbt Cloud users have an added advantage of official support from Fishtown Analytics, especially for premium subscribers. This ensures a more structured support system for troubleshooting or feature requests.

Security Considerations

In the data-centric world, security and compliance are paramount.

dbt Core

Given that it's primarily self-hosted, security depends on the practices and infrastructure of the organization deploying it. While this allows for custom security measures, it also places the onus of maintaining and updating security protocols on the organization.

dbt Cloud

As a managed service, dbt Cloud provides built-in security features. Regular updates, encryption protocols, and compliance certifications are part of the package, ensuring users can focus on data tasks without fretting over security breaches.

Future Trajectory and Updates

Both platforms, while stemming from the same root, have distinct roadmaps.

dbt Core

Its trajectory is deeply tied to the contributions and needs of its user community. As data ecosystems evolve, so will dbt Core, driven by both Fishtown Analytics and community contributions.

dbt Cloud

Given its commercial nature, dbt Cloud's future is likely to be shaped by both market demands and the strategic objectives of Fishtown Analytics. Users can expect more integrations, enhanced UI/UX, and features that simplify the data transformation process further.

While both dbt Core and dbt Cloud serve the primary purpose of SQL-based data transformations, the choice largely depends on individual enterprise needs. As per community discussions, users have found value in both based on their unique circumstances. Thus, understanding the requirements and evaluating the trade-offs is crucial before deciding on a platform.

In the broader perspective of the modern data stack, dbt serves as a bridge between raw data and actionable insights, irrespective of the version used.

New Release

Get in Touch to Learn More

See Why Users Love CastorDoc
Fantastic tool for data discovery and documentation

“[I like] The easy to use interface and the speed of finding the relevant assets that you're looking for in your database. I also really enjoy the score given to each table, [which] lets you prioritize the results of your queries by how often certain data is used.” - Michal P., Head of Data