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« BroadbandWiki Beta Begins | Main | Amazon S3 – Backstory for Nerds - Part 1 »

Amazon S3 – Very Cheap Storage in the Sky

When I was building the Vermont Telecom Authority’s broadbandwiki web page, I had a problem: where do I store the information that users provide? Obviously, the data has to be somewhere that is accessible from anywhere on the web; it has to be reasonably secure against accidental or malicious destruction; and there has to be enough space and Internet connectivity to that space available for an unknown amount of use. The answer turned out be a Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3).

Because Amazon is sharing its buying power with you, the storage is very, very cheap. My bill for the couple of weeks I was testing on it (granted, small volumes) was $.04 – and I suspect there is some rounding up to the nearest penny in that.

With a little more packaging by Amazon and a lot more promotion, there could be a whole wave of Internet innovation enabled by the availability of S3. Note to developers: I did not use any application server; all the communication is directly between the web pages of the application and S3. There’s no PHP; no LAMP stack, no use of Amazon EC2. The web pages themselves are hosted on S3. More in a subsequent howto post.

When you use S3 your data is stored on Amazon’s servers. In fact it’s replicated (copied) to a number of different Amazon servers to make it both more secure and more accessible. You pay for the amount of data you actually store and the amount of access there is to that data. You DO NOT reserve any amount of storage or access in advance so your costs are not affected by the fact that you don’t know in advance the quantity of resources you’re going to need or what your usage is going to be. If you should be so lucky as to have a huge spike of interest, it’s unlikely that Amazon’s servers will notice the difference.

One alternative to using Amazon would have been to buy a server, put it under my desk, and make it accessible through my Internet access. That would have been at least a thousand dollars up front, more as more capacity is needed, and would not have provided either redundancy or reliability. Moreover, I would have had to do some additional programming to get my server to talk to the browser application.

More realistic would have been to have my server hosted at any one of a number of hosting services or to rent access to a server at a hosting service. Still, I would have had to make a minimum volume commitment and would be restricted to using the amount of capacity – both storage and bandwidth – that I reserved. Relatively easy to set up (I hear) but almost certainly more expensive and more limited than Amazon. This is, however, the way most new Web applications are launched.

LocalReplay.com, a company in which I’ve invested, has its very professional and very large data store including video clips hosted on S3. They’ve been as happy with it as I am. They’ve experience less outages than any other startup service I’ve been involved with. Moreover, when traffic is low between sports seasons, their costs go down. When a tourney gets huge attention, costs are up some but the capacity is there.

In the future, I’ll want to know why any web application company I advise or invest in DOESN’T use S3 (or a competitor should they emerge). If providing storage is NOT a key talent of a company and a key differentiator, it’s hard to see why it would want to compete with Amazon. No Amazon brand at all needs to show through, just quality and price. There’s even a mechanism for having Amazon bill your customers on your behalf if that’s appropriate.

Even companies which are not in the web business but use the web as part of their business should think about S3 as an alternative to both self-hosting and traditional hosting services. Here are the rates for storage including access in the US (Europe slightly higher).

$0.15 per GB-Month of storage used

Data Transfer
$0.10 per GB - all data transfer in

$0.18 per GB - first 10 TB / month data transfer out
$0.16 per GB - next 40 TB / month data transfer out
$0.13 per GB - data transfer out / month over 50 TB

$0.01 per 1,000 PUT or LIST requests
$0.01 per 10,000 GET and all other requests*
* No charge for delete requests


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Thorsten - CTO RightScale

Did you see the new announcement Amazon made about storage volumes? The AWS blog has the official stuff and I wrote some more about how it changes the game at http://blog.rightscale.com/2008/04/13/
The Amazon folks are on a roll!

With the addition of the storage volumes there's no doubt in my mind anymore: the cloud adopters will have much more computing horsepower and flexibility at their fingertips than those who are still racking their own machines. Cloud computing is going to be as significant for deployment as agile is for software development. You either compute in the cloud or you'll be left behind by your competitors because they can deploy faster, better, and cheaper than you can.

Jessi Bell

Hi all, i'm using Memopal (www.memopal.com) that seems a very well done software, friendly interface, backup on real time and 250GB storage (5 free). It's sharing tool as well.


I share your enthusiasm for S3. Indeed I have been using it for my application as well. I have been hoping that you will touch upon the metered pricing, since in other contexts you have expressed a preference for fixed pricing model. There are other storage providers who charge for only storage and nothing for bandwidth consumption. I surmise that these providers have modeled usage pattern and have included it in the storage price. But I understand S3 pricing model and feel it is more transparent than the bundled model. I am curious to know your thoughts.

On a related point that ISPs, especially WISPs should use Amazon's pricing model. Then they do not have to worry about P2P and they do not have to place restrictions on which applications are permissible and which are not.

Roland Dobbins

Why do you spend so much time talking about S3, yet say nothing about EC2?


[quote]..all the communication is directly between the web pages of the application and S3[/quote]
Can you please elaborate on that at a high level? I have a stack of pages on S3. How do access one of them through an application running elsewhere?

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