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Former S3 employee here. I was on my way out of the company just after the storage engineering work was completed, before they had finalized the API design and pricing structure, so my POV may be slightly out of date, but I will say this: they're out to replace tape. No more custom build-outs with temperature-controlled rooms of tapes and robots and costly tech support.

If you're not an Iron Mountain customer, this product probably isn't for you. It wasn't built to back up your family photos and music collection.

Regarding other questions about transfer rates - using something like AWS Import/Export will have a limited impact. While the link between your device and the service will be much fatter, the reason Glacier is so cheap is because of the custom hardware. They've optimized for low-power, low-speed, which will lead to increased cost savings due to both energy savings and increased drive life. I'm not sure how much detail I can go into, but I will say that they've contracted a major hardware manufacturer to create custom low-RPM (and therefore low-power) hard drives that can programmatically be spun down. These custom HDs are put in custom racks with custom logic boards all designed to be very low-power. The upper limit of how much I/O they can perform is surprisingly low - only so many drives can be spun up to full speed on a given rack. I'm not sure how they stripe their data, so the perceived throughput may be higher based on parallel retrievals across racks, but if they're using the same erasure coding strategy that S3 uses, and writing those fragments sequentially, it doesn't matter - you'll still have to wait for the last usable fragment to be read.

I think this will be a definite game-changer for enterprise customers. Hopefully the rest of us will benefit indirectly - as large S3 customers move archival data to Glacier, S3 costs could go down.




I wasn't holding my breath, but I was thinking there's a possibility they were using short-stroking to speed up most of their systems hard drives by making a quarantined barely touched Glacier zone in the inside of their drives: https://plus.google.com/113218107235105855584/posts/Lck3MX2G...

My backup wouldn't it be cool if is, unlike the above reasonableness, a joke: imagining 108 USB hard drives chained to a poor PandaBoard ES, running a fistful at a time: https://plus.google.com/113218107235105855584/posts/BJUJUVBh...

The Marvell ARM chipsets at least have SATA built in, but I'm not sure if you can keep chaining out port expanders ad-infinitum the same way you can USB. ;)

Thanks so much for your words. I'm nearly certain the custom logic boards you mention are done with far more vision, panache, and big-scale bottom line foresight than these ideas, even some CPLD multiplexers hotswapping drives would be a sizable power win over SATA port expanders and USB hubs. Check out the port expanders on OpenCompute Vault 1.0, and their burly aluminium heat sinks: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151285070574606...


That would definitely be cool. Pretty unlikely, however. When it comes to hardware, they like to keep each service's resources separate. While a given box or rack many handle many internal services, they're usually centered around a particular public service. S3 has their racks, EC2 has theirs, etc. Beyond the obvious benefit of determinism - knowing S3 traffic won't impact Glacier's hardware life, being able to plan for peak for a given service, etc - I'm guessing there are also internal business reasons. Keeping each service's resources separate allows them to audit costs from both internal and external customers.

Then there's failure conditions. EBS is an S3 customer. Glacier is an S3 customer. Some amount of isolation is desirable. If a bad code checkin from an S3 engineer causes a systemic error that takes down a DC, it would be nice if only S3 were impacted.

I probably shouldn't go into the hardware design (because 1) I'm not an expert and 2) I don't think they've given any public talks on it), but it's some of the cooler stuff I've seen, especially when it came to temperature control.


It wasn't built to back up your family photos and music collection.

But at its price points, with most US families living under pretty nasty data cap or overage regimes, it sounds superb, with of course the appropriate front ends.

There's no good (reliable), easy and cheap way to store digital movies, e.g. DVD recordable media is small by today's standards and it's much worse than CD-Rs for data retention (haven't been following Blu-ray recordable media, I must confess, I bought an LTO drive instead, but I'm of course unusual). And the last time I checked very few people made a point of buying the most reliable media of any of these formats.

In case of disk failure, fire, tornado (http://www.ancell-ent.com/1715_Rex_Ave_127B_Joplin/images/ ... and rsync.net helped save the day), for this use case you don't care about quick recovery so much as knowing your data is safe (hopefully AWS has been careful enough about common mode failures) and knowing you can eventually get it all back. Plus a clever front end will allow for some prioritizing.

Important rule learned from Clayton Christensen's study of disruptive innovations (where the hardest data comes from the history of disk drives...) is that you, or rather AWS here, can't predict how your stuff will be used. So if they're pricing it according to their costs as you imply they're doing the right thing. Me, I've got a few thousand Taiyo Yuden CD-Rs who's data is probably going to find a second home on Glacier.

ADDED: Normal CDs can rot, getting them replaced after a disaster is a colossal pain even if your insurance company is the best in the US (USAA ... and I'm speaking from experience, with a 400+ line item claim that could have been 10 times as bad since most of my media losses were to limited water problems), so this is also a good solution to backing up them. Will have to think about DVDs....


Not saying it couldn't be very useful for the data-heavy consumer. Just guessing this is more of an enterprise play than anything else. :)


Very possibly, but who knows; per the above on disruptive innovations, Amazon almost certainly doesn't.

I personally don't have a feel for enterprise archival requirements (vs. backups), but I do know there are a whole lot of grandparents out there with indifferently stored digital media of their grand-kids (I know two in particular :-); the right middlemen plus a perception of enough permanent losses of the irreplaceable "precious moments" and AWS might see some serious business from this in the long term.


The math doesn't come close to replacing tape - basically once you go north of 100 terabytes (just two containers - at my prior company we had 140 containers in rotation with iron mountain) Glacier doesn't make financial or logistical sense. Far cheaper and faster to send your LTO-5 drives via driver.


It may not make sense today. Amazon is notorious for betting on the far future. They're also raising the bar on what archival data storage services could offer. When you ship your bits to Amazon, they're in 3+ DCs, and available programmatically.

Separate from the play for replacing tape, there's also the ecosystem strategy. When you run large portions of your business using Amazon's services, you tend to generate a lot of data that ends up needing to be purged, else your storage bill goes through the roof. S3's Lifecycle Policy feature is a hint at the direction they want you to go - keep your data, just put it somewhere cheaper.

This could also be the case where they think they're going after tape, but end up filling some other, unforeseen need. S3 itself was originally designed as an internal service for saving and retrieving software configuration files. They thought it would be a wonder if they managed to store more than a few GB of data. Now look at it. They're handling 500k+ requests per second, and you can, at your leisure, upload a 5 TB object, no prob.

But maybe you're right. The thing could fail. Too expensive. After all, 512k ought to be enough for anybody.


Thanks very much for the insight - what you are saying actually makes a lot of sense in the context of systems inside the AWS ecosystem. After all, they need to archive data as well. Also - my 140 container example w/Iron Mountain was Pre-versioning and always-online differential backups. We basically had a complex tower-of-hanoi that let us recover data from a week, a month, six months, and then every year (going back seven years) from all of our servers. (And, by Year seven, when we started rotating some of the old tapes back in - they were a generation older than any of our existing tape drives. :-)

Clearly, with on-line differential backups - you might be able to do things more intelligently.

I'm already looking forward to using Glacier, but, for the forseeable future, it looks like the "High End" archiving will be owned by Tape. And, just as Glacier will (eventually) make sense for >100 Terabyte Archives, I suspect Tape Density will increase, and then "High End" archiving will be measured in Petabytes.

Thanks again.


Have you considered the cost of the tape loaders? Our loaders cost significantly more over their lifetime than the storage costs of the tapes themselves.

The tradeoffs will be different depending on how many tapes you write and how often you reuse them.


Until I took over backups, and instituted a rotation methodology, the guy prior to me just bought another 60 AIT-3 tapes every month and shipped them off site to Iron Mountain.

Agreed - how-often you re-use tapes (and whether you do) - has a dramatic effect on "system cost" of your backup system.




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