Common Pitfalls When Using Excel With Big Data

Excel boasts a wide range of capabilities, empowering users to organize and analyze data; however, it does come with limitations when handling Big Data. Here are some of the common issues we hear from clients today who are pushing the boundaries of Excel or looking to upgrade their data management strategy:

Row Limit

1 million rows. That may sound like a lot, but the number of data points and the speed at which they are collected will surprise someone relatively new to data management. Sometimes, users split their data into multiple pieces, which can get messy and open the door to errors.

Processing Speed

Imagine having a massive dataset that requires some transformations. This scenario can result in a long wait in Excel, accompanied by the infamous “spinning wheel” icon. The application may become unresponsive after a few moments, forcing the user to close the window and lower overall productivity. Errors can also be tricky to unwind. If an error occurs within a formula, detecting where it stems is like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Data Types and Validation

In everyday work, numeric, character, datetime, and boolean are common data types. Data Validation options are available in Excel but are not comprehensive, nor do they review existing records. Excel will attempt to use the general format if the data type is not detected. Once saved, compatibility issues may arise if used within other analytics and visualization tools.

Access and Version Control

The file size is too large to share. This message may appear when attempting to email or message a coworker with an attached Excel file. If sent successfully, multiple people working on the same file can result in inconsistencies given different work styles. Keeping track of versions is critical in case a reversion is needed.


While Excel is excellent for many tasks, handling Big Data isn’t necessarily one of its strong suits. There are specialized tools available that address these common issues, and Databender aims to educate and recommend solutions to clients that best fit their needs.


If you have a general interest in data or questions about data management or advanced analytics — head to databenderconsulting.com for more information or follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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