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Breaking Down AWS Storage Services: S3, EBS & Glacier

Amazon Web Services offers many different storage tools, but knowing which one is best for your needs isn’t always obvious. We’re here to give you an overview of AWS storage, breaking down what Amazon S3, EBS and Glacier are designed for, how they’re different, while offering you guidance on when to use each service.

Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service)

Amazon S3 is the most common way to collect, store and analyze data across a variety of formats and at scale in AWS. It is a durable platform that can make data accessible from any Internet location. Whether you’re building mobile apps, collecting IoT sensor data or hosting a website, S3 is built with stability and durability in mind.

Durable & Reliable

Amazon S3 is globally available with AZs (Availability Zones) and Regions that allow your data to achieve 99.999999999% durability.

Query from S3

With Amazon S3, you can run big data analytics without loading it into a new system. Tools like Athena and Redshift Spectrum allow you to analyze your data, while paying only for the queries you run making it far more cost effective than using the standard ETL process than the standard ETL process (Extract, Transform, Load) to store the translated dataset elsewhere.

Data Transfer Made Easy

AWS’s APIs make it easy to transfer your data into (or out of) S3 reliably and without rebuilding. Amazon S3 Transfer Acceleration is built for uploading large objects across wide geographical distances, while AWS Direct Connect provides the high bandwidth and low latency you need to transfer data over a dedicated network connection.

Comprehensive Compliance & Security

Amazon S3 is designed to protect your data, ensuring it meets your compliance needs like PCI-DSS, HIPAA, SEC and more. Plus, following AWS’s Shared Responsibility Model ensures you’re protected against external and internal threats.

When to use S3

  • Backup & Recovery
  • Data Archiving
  • Big Data Analytics
  • Hybrid Cloud Storage
  • Cloud-native Application Data
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Static Website Hosting
  • Amazon CloudFront CDS (Content Delivery System)

New features continue to be developed for Amazon S3. The new S3 Infrequently Accessed allows you to reduce cloud costs further without sacrificing recovery time. S3 Infrequently Accessed uses less redundant hardware for storage, and Amazon passes those cost savings along . Amazon S3 also offers Versioning, a tool which automatically creates backups of your frequently used files. These backups provide additional comprehensive security since accidentally deleted files can be restored without redeploying from a full backup.

Amazon EBS (Elastic Block Store)

Amazon EBS provides persistent local block storage volumes used with Amazon EC2 instances. These automatically replicated volumes exist in their Availability Zones with high availability and durability, protecting you from component failure. With Amazon EBS, your cloud infrastructure easily scales while you pay for only what you provision.

Amazon EBS is specifically designed by AWS for application workloads, like Hadoop/HDFS ecosystems, streaming and log processing, or relational and NoSQL databases. If you’re using EC2 instances, the operating system and data volumes will will off EBS.

Secure & Reliability Storage

Every Amazon EBS volume is built for redundancy within its AZ, protecting you against system and hardware failures. On top of that, access control policies and seamless encryption means your data is protected at rest and in-transit.

Performance Optimization

You can minimize network contention between your instance and EBS with an Amazon EBS-optimized network specifically optimized for EBS volumes. This reduces latency and improves performance by allowing instances to deliver dedicated throughput between 500 to 10,000 Mbps.

Scale Up Quickly, Scale Down Easily

With Amazon EBS, you can optimize your volumes around your specific needs&mdashwhether that’s capacity, cost or performance. This flexibility allows you to adapt to your ever-changing business needs.

When to use EBS

  • Relational Databases
  • Enterprise Applications
  • Development and Test
  • NoSQL Databases
  • Business Continuity

Amazon Glacier

Amazon Glacier is the most secure, durable and low-cost cloud storage solution on the market. Ideal for long-term storage and regulatory compliance, Glacier allows you to store data at drastically reduced prices—a fraction of the cost of an on-premise solution and lower than other cloud solutions. However, the cost savings come with longer retrieval times.

Low Cost

With AWS Glacier, you only pay for what you need, without any commitments or upfront fees and at a fraction of the cost of other providers.

Secure & Durable

Your data is transferred over SSL and automatically encrypted. It is durable, with Amazon redundantly storing your data across multiple facilities—and multiple devices—so there are no single points of failure.


Offload the responsibility of managing off-site backups: once your data is in Glacier, it stays there—securely—without any additional effort from you or your team.


There is no limit to how much data AWS can store, and you can store your data in any region you require for your company’s regulatory and business needs.


Setting Amazon S3 Lifecycle policies allows you to automate your data migrations from S3 to Glacier (and from Glacier to S3), so you only pay for the services you need, when you need them. Use S3 when you need fast retrievals and high performance and move data to Glacier when you don’t need that speed.

When to Use Glacier

  • Media Archiving
  • Healthcare Information Archiving
  • Compliance & Regulatory Archiving
  • Scientific Research Data Storage
  • Digital Preservation
  • Magnetic Tape Replacement
  • Off site data storage compliance requirement

Glacier has fewer use cases, but is ideal for long-term cold storage—like HIPAA compliance when it comes to PHI. As long as you can wait for your data (because Glacier regularly can take four hours to get a single file out) it’s a cost-effective way to save data securely off-site.

When configuring your AWS architecture, your storage needs must balance between performance, availability and budget. EBS is the fastest of the three, while Glacier is the slowest.

Think of it this way: Amazon EBS looks a lot like the SSHD on your OS. It has everything you need readily available. S3 is the external hard drive on the side, everything is there, but it isn’t quite as fast. Glacier is the backup thumbdrive in the filing cabinet: you know it’s somewhere in the drawer but you don’t know exactly where, and it may take you awhile to get that file you’re actually looking for.

Amazon Web Services offers a complete range of cloud-based storage tools and technologies. While they all provide reliability, security and stability, each tool is optimized for a specific feature (speed, cost, etc.). To get the most out of your cloud infrastructure and cloud spend, it’s important to choose the right storage tool for the job. If you have questions about what the right mix is for you, drop us a line in the contact form!



  1. How do AWS storage services like S3, EBS, and Glacier handle data encryption and ensure security compliance?

AWS storage services, including S3, EBS, and Glacier, prioritize data encryption in transit and at rest, utilizing robust encryption standards to secure data. They also offer detailed access control mechanisms and compliance certifications to meet various regulatory requirements, ensuring high security for stored data.

  1. Can data stored in AWS Glacier be accessed more quickly if needed urgently, and what are the costs associated with faster retrieval?

AWS Glacier provides expedited retrieval options that allow for faster access to data when needed urgently. However, expedited retrievals come at a higher cost than standard or bulk retrieval options, reflecting the premium for quicker access.

  1. What are the specific scenarios or use cases where S3's infrequently accessed storage options are more cost-effective than standard storage?

S3's infrequently accessed (IA) storage options become more cost-effective than standard storage for scenarios where data is accessed less frequently but still requires prompt availability. These options balance accessibility and cost, suitable for backup and disaster recovery solutions.

Author Spotlight:

Kiril Dubrovsky

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