Administrators faced with an integration or data migration challenge often jump straight into tool selection without understanding the problem they are trying to solve. There are many Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) tools on the market. While each of these tools claims to extract data from one platform, transform the data’s format, and load it into another platform, they have a widely varying set of capabilities.
If you’ve arrived at this article unsure about what you need in an ETL tool, or even if you need an ETL tool, check out David Masri’s excellent overview of questions you should ask before looking for tools. If you’re sure that you need to buy a Salesforce ETL solution, but you’re overwhelmed by the choices available on the market, this article is for you.
One Direction is a Boy Band, Not a Full-Fledged Solution
For this overview, we’ll assume that your Salesforce integration or migration needs include both import and export. That rules out many popular tools, including Salesforce’s own Data Import Wizard, as well as Fivetran, Etleap, Stitch, Matillion and Alooma. All of those tools only go one way: either into or out of Salesforce.
This leaves us with bi-directional tools. To begin to understand the differences between ETL solutions, I’ve placed some of them on a continuum of capability and cost. On the left are free or inexpensive tools with limited (but significant) capabilities. On the right are full-blown enterprise tools, which include some of the most powerful, and most expensive, ETL software on the market.
The Low End: Free or Cheap, and Simple
Starting at the cheaper, left end of the spectrum, we can categorize the tools into data loaders and ready-made integrations.
Salesforce’s free Data Loader and dataloader.io are two examples of tools in the data loader category. Both support CSV files as sources and targets. Salesforce’s tool is free, but it must run on your desktop, severely limiting its use as part of migrations or integrations scheduled for off-hours. Dataloader.io is a free or inexpensive cloud-based software that installs into your instance from the AppExchange. It allows job scheduling and file transfer with FTP, SFTP and Dropbox sources and targets, making it a more flexible tool for simple integrations.
Unlike the data loaders, ready-made integrations like Zapier and LeadsBridge support a wide variety of sources and targets, including thousands of web-based apps, including Google Drive, Slack, Mailchimp and Twitter. Since ready-made integrations are targeted at specific use cases (such as transferring leads from Salesforce to a Google Sheet), these tools only support data transfer between a small number of standard Salesforce objects, like leads, accounts and opportunities.
Price for these solutions varies from free to a few thousand dollars yearly.
The Mid-Range: Smarter and More Expensive
Mid-range and higher ETL tools distinguish themselves from the low end by having more sources and targets, better scheduling, and, above all, data transformations. Xplenty and Talend are two examples of tools in this group.
Both Talend and Xplenty enable creating data pipelines for integrations and migrations. Pipelines consist of a number of steps that transform data as it travels between one or more systems. Transformations include field-level operations which can reformat or create new fields using predefined functions. Transformations can also filter data out of the pipeline, join data from multiple different sources, and split data, sending it to multiple different targets. Mid-range systems support a large set of cloud system sources and endpoints, as well as on-premises databases and systems that expose a REST API.
The power of mid-range tools comes at a price, both in dollars and complexity. These tools have a learning curve, though their vendors have made them accessible to non-programmers via drag-and-drop graphical interfaces. Still, if you need to target something other than a CSV file, or if one of the pre-built integrations of the low-end tools can’t address your requirements, the mid-range tools offer the ability to build integrations that transform your data without traditional programming.
Mid-level tools are priced in the low to mid five digits for yearly licensing.
The High End: APIs for the Enterprise
Higher-end tools, like Jitterbit, Dell Boomi, Informatica and Mulesoft, all have the data transformation capabilities of the mid-range, along with additional capabilities and complexity. These tools position themselves as API building platforms. Using a specialized interface, administrators are able to define, document, test and deploy APIs for internal and external uses. For example, one of your marketing partners could access your accounts and opportunities via an API built with one of these tools without even knowing that the data was stored in Salesforce.
All of this power at the high end comes with a level of complexity that’s arguably on par with learning a programming language to write an API. Each system has its own proprietary tools for creating and deploying API endpoints, and those tools must be mastered, as does each tool’s deployment lifecycle. When you purchase one of these tools, you are making a commitment to licensing the tool as long as you want to use any of the APIs built with the toolset.
Yearly cost at the high end is generally in the low six figures.
Looking at the Salesforce ETL market on a complexity/total cost of ownership continuum can help you choose the right tool to solve your integration challenge. Simple requirements can be addressed by tools on the left side of the continuum. If your needs are more challenging, your solution is probably closer to the middle or right-hand side of the spectrum. As with all packaged software procurement, the smart buyer is wise to avoid solutions with more features than they need. The good news about the large number of Salesforce ETL tools on the market is that the choices available should allow you to pick one that best fits your needs.