Certifications / Cloud

How to Pick the Right AWS Storage Service for Your Organization

by Team Nuggets
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Published on December 29, 2017

Anyone with big storage needs has undoubtedly considered the cloud in recent years. Despite our desire to make a quick decision and roll with it, cloud storage presents a number of complex variables. For instance, each of the AWS storage services breaks down costs differently while offering its own unique features and pitfalls.

It can become mind-numbingly complicated to sort through the possibilities. But before your eyes glaze over, we're going to dive into the depths of AWS storage services and highlight ideal use cases for each.

Amazon Glacier

There are some major advantages to using the cloud for your backup needs, namely the low cost, ease of retrieval, and adherence to compliance standards. For this purpose, Amazon Glacier provides the lowest cost for storage, with 1TB costing about $4 per month.

Glacier restorations typically proceed at a crawl, therefore it's not recommended for data which needs to be recovered quickly. Restoring large amounts of data can also get expensive, so it's best to only use Glacier for off-site archives you'll likely never need to retrieve. However, the first 10 GB of retrieval per month is free, making Glacier a great option if your volume of restoration is low.

Glacier can be accessed via a number of client applications, many of which are free and open source such as FastGlacier. This makes Glacier among the easiest cloud backup services to configure.

Best Uses:

  • Off-site backups which will rarely (if ever) need to be restored

  • Compliance archives

  •  Backups of developer repositories

  • User home directory backups

Elastic Block Store (EBS)

EBS is the primary storage for EC2 instances, as EBS is a block storage system that behaves like a hard drive. It can be formatted to whatever file system is required for that instance.

EBS can be further divided into several price/performance categories, residing on either more expensive solid-state drives (best for high IOPS) or affordable hard disks (optimized for high MB/s data transfer). Whichever you choose, you can quickly take snapshots from the AWS management console in order to duplicate a server or create a disk image backup.

Best Uses:

  • Operating system and application files for EC2 instances

  • Raid configurations

  • High-volume databases

  • Situations that call for a high number of operations per second

The downside to EBS is that partitions are defined in advance and do not automatically scale, meaning you have to provision and pay for the storage you're not actually using. Without careful monitoring you can quickly run out of storage space, bringing your applications to a halt.

Elastic File System (EFS)

EFS provides an NFS-based file system that allows for globally-available content management. It's typically the most expensive AWS storage option, but it offers the most flexible connectivity options.

EFS can connect to multiple EC2 servers simultaneously, as well as to your local servers using AWS Direct Connect. This means that multiple web servers and applications can all access the same set of files, eliminating storage redundancy and update headaches.

Another area where the Elastic File System soars is in scalability. EFS automatically scales as needed, so you're never paying for storage you don't need. It may even be the lowest-cost option for certain data stores that frequently expand and contract.

Best Uses:

  • E-commerce sites with multiple distributed web servers.

  • High-traffic global content management systems with distributed web servers.

  • On-demand storage for data analytics servers.

  • Software development environments and repositories.

  • Global organizations who need shared access to files.

Simple Storage Service (S3)

S3 is the value leader in on-demand AWS storage. If you need frequent access to data but need to store it as cheaply as possible, S3 is usually the best choice. For this reason, it's popular among companies who need fast access to vast repositories.

A curious benefit of S3's configuration is that it can efficiently serve static web pages without the need for a separate web server or EC2 instance. S3 also allows for data replication across regions, ensuring the safety of critical data from regional disasters. And for U.S. government compliance purposes, data stores can be created in the unique GovCloud region.

Best Uses: – Video streaming services. – Online photo storage and sharing. – Static websites. – Backups that need to be restored frequently and quickly. – Mission-critical data that requires global replication. – Log file storage. – U.S. government contractors who work with sensitive data.

For organizations with data needs in the multi-terabyte range, choosing the proper cloud storage service can mean the difference between a successful implementation or one that breaks the bank.


Based on these best-use scenarios, we can see that the feature and pricing complexity of the various AWS storage services allows us to fine-tune our performance and costs for specific applications. There may be some method to the AWS storage madness after all!



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