AWS Glacier – Big & Slow But Cost-Effective & Good

22 August 2012
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When it comes to cloud services and software, Amazon has been one of the pack leaders for quite some time. The company recently released a new cloud storage service that promises to revolutionize how businesses consider their backup needs. Below is a look at the specifications of Amazon’s Glacier and how it promises to be one of the leading services in cloud data archiving and a vital addition to any company’s IT solutions.

A Brief Look at Amazon Web Services (AWS)

AWS is Amazon’s Cloud service division. On top of data storage options, they also offer computing, software, networking and other services. Launched in 2002, AWS has gone on to offer more than 20 separate cloud services. Their S3 storage service has been operational since 2006 and is one of their most popular offerings today. They have firmly established themselves as one of the leaders in providing easily usable and highly dependable cloud applications.

a Big and Slow glacier

Amazon is answering the competition in the realm of affordable data archiving with Glacier. The service is designed to take the place of your company’s tape archives and other backups. The core principles of the service are an extremely affordable price, amazing data reliability, simplicity and tight security controls.

Why the Switch to Cloud Storage?

Data backups are an absolute necessity in today’s digital world. It is very likely that whoever is reading this has suffered an unexpected data loss on their personal computers that resulted in losing valuable documents, sentimental photos and more. When translated to an enterprise’s data stores, it can mean loss of a massive amount of work and a significant loss of both time and money to replace if there is no backup available. This sets the stage for companies to look for data storage options.

Currently, there are two basic options for data storage: on-site data banks and cloud storage service. The on-site option has a large number of downsides: hardware maintenance, space requirements for the hardware, upgrading digital storage space as the library increases, difficulty in utilizing the backups and additional costs to set up a service from scratch. Cloud storage takes much of the hassle out of setting up a data backup. The only concern that grows with the cloud option is making sure appropriate security is applied. Lower costs, quicker setup, less worry and the benefit of using a dedicated third-party service provider are causing businesses to quickly switch over to the cloud option.

Maximum Space and Costs

The storage costs for Glacier are based on paying only for what you use. At a rate of just a penny per month per gigabyte, a terabyte of data can be stored for just $10 a month, which is more than competitive with other cloud storage options. Amazon’s own S3 charges between 5 to 12 cents per month per GB, and most “unlimited” plans or plans that include a TB of storage will run over $30 a month.

For companies that deal with immense amounts of data, such as financial institutions or research facilities, a petabyte of data will run $1,000 a month. There is no option for an unlimited plan with Glacier, which may limit its viability for these extremely high volumes of data. That said, there are no initial costs involved in setting up a Glacier account. Plus, the other benefits offered can outweigh the increase in cost for larger volumes. It is important to remember that no service is truly “unlimited.” A company that offers unlimited storage for a low fee is going to be cutting services somewhere else.

Data Reliability and Backups

With a data backup, you want to be sure that your information will be available as long as possible without any corruption. Glacier boasts a 99.99999999% data availability rate. Amazon details that the storage offered by Glacier might last as long as its namesake. The service uses redundant data backups and compares them to ensure data integrity before any changes are made. The databases are equipped with automatic repair software.

A quote from Werner Vogels, Amazon CTO, implies that Glacier has been designed for the data that “needs to remain operational for decades if not centuries,” pointing to the high level of reliability that Amazon is aiming for with their new service.

Retrieval Needs and Costs

Glacier has been designed more as a large storage space to store backups or other infrequently accessed data. It is intended more for your full system backups or copies of data in the event of some unforeseen data loss. Retrieving your data may be a bit slower with Glacier than other options and accessing to that data is not free. You are allowed to download 5% of your total storage per month, pro-rated, for free. Beyond that, there is a charge of one cent per gigabyte retrieved. In effect, it will cost slightly less than a full month of service to completely retrieve your data.

Amazon is upfront about this limitation and repeatedly mentions that Glacier is intended to store data archives and is probably not the best option for those who frequently need to access their data. This clarity of focus works to Glacier’s benefit, allowing it to focus on providing an optimal archiving service. Still, it is important to understand the difference between Glacier and more traditional cloud storage options like Amazon’s S3 or DropBox. The company also describes the retrieval speeds, saying it will take “three to five hours” for your data to be available for download once you make the request.

Security

A major concern of any online service is preventing malicious users from gaining access to sensitive data. Whether you are storing customer information, financial records, medical details or company secrets, a security breach can be incredibly costly for a company. Transferring this data across the Internet adds another potential point where an attacker can gain access.

With AWS’s focus on cloud offerings and impressive resume, the security features at launch are robust. A 256-bit encryption key keeps your data safe in storage. Amazon has included its Identity Access and Management (IAM) technology that has already seen use in its other cloud services. The IAM technology allows the database creator to manage access to it much like a network administrator does for local information systems. Uploading and downloading are covered by SSL encryption and use the HTTPS protocol.

The security and reliability that has helped make S3 successful is all being ported to the Glacier service. You can expect the storage to come with tried and tested security measures right out of the gate.

Ease of Use and Support

The true test of any service or software is how easy it is to implement among your staff and into your company’s processes. All of AWS’s services are designed to be quickly integrated with the existing infrastructure. Amazon specifically intends for its services to be utilized by newly starting companies to quickly establish their essential infrastructure needs. Glacier follows the same principles. It should be easy to use for your data archiving needs with little training required for IT personnel.

Amazon offers great and consistent support for all of their services. They reply promptly, professionally and are helpful and effective. AWS makes it clear with their diligent support services that they want their customers to have the best experience possible with their products.

A Well-Rounded Block of Ice

To gain a truer picture of how Glacier stacks up to the competition, it should be compared to archiving services and not to more general cloud storage services. The way that the rates are defined for Glacier is different than other archival services, but the prices are still inexpensive. The reliability, security and ease of use are all industry leading. The retrieval speed is the largest issue — it is largely overshadowed by the other benefits the service offers.

Overall, it should be an extremely competitive archiving option. For more information on Glacier direct from the source you can visit http://aws.amazon.com/glacier/. There you will find information on how to get started, more specifics on the terms and other useful information.