While cloud storage is convenient, it’s not the cheapest storage option. Yes, the fierce competition between companies like Carbonite, Mozy and CrashPlan has led to dramatic price drops for services, but there exists an even cheaper method of cloud data storage called Amazon Glacier. Boasting fees as shockingly low as $0.01 per GB per month, Amazon Glacier seems poised to snatch up every last customer in both the consumer and enterprise market. So what’s the catch? Surely there’s a catch, right?
The “Other” Low-Cost Amazon Cloud Service
Amazon already offers a relatively inexpensive cloud storage service called Amazon S3 (short for Amazon Simple Storage Service) and it’s proven to be wildly popular, with excess of two trillion user files stored, according to Amazon. But at a rate of $0.095 per GB per month for the first TB, that’s still almost 10x what you’ll pay with Amazon Glacier.
Of course, there’s the benefit of being able to access your stored data easily. With S3, it’s essentially a snap. With Glacier, retrieval of data can take between three and five hours just to begin processing, and you’re charged extra for the bandwidth necessary to access your stored information.
For this reason, you may want to put some thought into which of Amazon’s offerings is ideal for you. If you’re thinking you’ll want to access your stored data on a regular basis, stick with S3. If you’re thinking of using Amazon Glacier as “cold storage,” a place to permanently archive gigs and gigs of irreplaceable data you’ll probably never want to access again, or that you’ll only ever need to access in an emergency, then you’re on the right track.
In addition to the very low cost, Amazon Glacier imposes no data limits and users are only billed for what they use. But here’s the bad news: Amazon Glacier doesn’t come with any native automation. None. Zip. It’s just storage space. In order to use it, you either have to have an established platform, or you have to download one from a third party website.
Before You Do Anything…
Having said that, there’s good news. You don’t have to have a degree in computing to figure out how to work Amazon Glacier (although it wouldn’t exactly hurt). You just have to be patient enough with yourself to figure out how to make it work for you. Here are a few tips to help you out.
First things first, you’ll need to set up an Amazon Web Services (AWS) account. AWS is sort of like the entry portal that gives you access to an enormous variety of cloud computing goodies, including apps, software, and 30GB of free block storage or 5GB of free object storage. You’ll need an AWS account to use Glacier.
If you’re already using S3, you already have an account. If not, setting up an AWS account requires you to enter credit card information so that you can be billed for the amount of storage space you use beyond the allotted free storage space.
Once you’ve jumped through the necessary hoops of signing up, which also requires an easy-peasy automated telephone ID verification, your next step is to choose an AWS support plan. There are a variety of paid support plan options that range from free Basic (gives you a number to contact customer support for billing questions, access to community forums and assistance for resources that don’t pass system health checks), Developer for $49/mo (lets you ask tech questions online and receive a reply within 12 business hours), and Business for $100/mo (comes with 24/7/365 phone and chat support, one-hour response to online submissions, help with third party software, access to Trusted Advisor for increased performance, fault tolerance, security). Then there’s the Enterprise plan, which runs a tidy $15k/mo and gets you a 15-minute response to web cases, an assigned technical account manager, and “white-glove case handling.”
Unless you’re using Amazon Glacier for some level of commercial data storage, however, you don’t need to bother with any of the paid support plans. Choose Basic and move on.
Next, you’ll be required to download a third party external client to facilitate storage and retrieval. As we mentioned before, one of the drawbacks to Amazon Glacier is the lack of any platform to help you get your stuff uploaded. While enterprise data experts will already be equipped, the prospect could be a bit daunting for the average Joe or Jane. The good news is that there are a few reliable third-party software platforms out there to assist.
One of the best out there at the moment is called FastGlacier, and it’s free to use for consumer purposes. A commercial license can be purchased for $29.95. FastGlacier is a Windows-only platform, so if you’re running a Mac or a Linux machine you’ll need to find something else. Simple Amazon Glacier Uploader (SAGU) is Java based, therefore plays well with Windows, Mac or Linux.
FastGlacier offers a well-designed, user-friendly dashboard that gives you the option to create new vaults, manage existing vaults, choose from the various storage regions offered by Glacier, and upload and retrieve files utilizing your full bandwidth – no imposed throttling here. Drag and drop functionality is enabled to make file upload and retrieval simple. There’s also support for managing multiple Glacier accounts through the same interface.
FastGlacier’s folder sync tool also provides easy syncing between local and remote storage locations. The folder sync tool compares what you’ve previously uploaded to Glacier with the contents of your local folder and gives you numerous syncing options, including uploading only files that are new or that have changed, keeping both versions, and deleting any files from Glacier that you no longer have in local storage.
According to the developer’s website, the free version of FastGlacier is intended for use only by consumers. If you own a business, you’re required to download a FastGlacier Pro license for $39.95.The pro version enables faster uploading through better multi-threading support. The free version limits uploads to two concurrent uploads, whereas the pro version doesn’t. Pro lets the user set the number of simultaneous uploads, effectively enabling the use of full network connection speed.
Simple Amazon Glacier Uploader (SAGU) works in a similar manner to FastGlacier, earning the “simple” in its name by delivering full upload/download, vault creation and management, and region selection in a single window. Once you’ve provided your AWS login credentials, there’s no additional configuration required. There’s not even any file installation required after you’ve downloaded the file, which comes available in .jar format. Files can be accessed and uploaded or retrieved using traditional “select file” or drag and drop. Inventory of uploaded files can also be performed with a single button.
Neither FastGlacier nor SAGU can be scheduled to run automatically. Both must be manually launched, and specific file types have to be selected by the user.
Uploading Your Data
Amazon Glacier works by allowing you to upload individual files or batches of files, called archives. Archives can be as large as 40TB and are stored inside of vaults that you create and name. You can create as many as 1,000 vaults per region. There are three available regions within the United States: Northern Virginia for east coasters, and Oregon and northern California for west coasters, which represent four physical data storage centers.
When you add up all the options, this essentially means endless room for storage. Each vault can be assigned notifications to let you or your work team know when specific tasks are completed, like alerting you when uploads are complete or when retrieval requests have been approved. Vault inventory only run once per day, so your uploads may take as long as 24 hours to show up.
Uploads can be left to run in the background while you busy yourself with other things, but be aware that you may be waiting some time before your entire movie catalogue is safely backed up. In a test performed using the free version of FastGlacier, upload averaged approximately 2GB per hour.
Accessing Your Data
Amazon Glacier has been designed primarily for individuals and organizations who need long term data storage. As a result, data retrieval is slow, on a par with dripping molasses. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there are a few catches you should be aware of. While there’s no charge (other than the $0.01 per gig cost of storage) to upload data to the Amazon cloud, you will be charged a retrieval fee to download your information. You can access five percent of your stored data for free per month, but anything that goes beyond that percentage is billed.
Your five percent free limit is determined on a prorated basis that’s based on an average of how much data you have stored. The going cost for downloading beyond your free limit is calculated on a couple of factors: how much data you are downloading and how fast you retrieve it. To learn more about how Amazon calculates your retrieval fee, click here. If you need to download large quantities of your data, you also have the option to mail Amazon a portable storage device and have it shipped back to you. This costs $80 per device you send, and $2.49 per hour for the data loading.
Keep in mind that Amazon Glacier was not built for single file retrieval, or for files that you’ll need frequent access to. Download times are equivalent to the length of time it took you to upload, but the additional three to five hour wait times can make nabbing one file an exercise in patience. If you require the flexibility to get to your archived data fast, it’s wise to look elsewhere for another cloud storage service.
Deleting Data from Glacier
Uploader beware: if you delete stored data from Glacier too soon, you will be charged. Early deletion fee? You bet. In fact, that’s exactly what Amazon calls it. Since Glacier is designed with long term cold storage in mind, you will be required to keep (and pay storage fees) for everything you upload for a minimum of three months if you don’t want to pay that early deletion fee.
The fee for deleting data prior to 90 days is $0.03 per gig, or the exact amount you’d pay if you simply kept it in place until the 90 days elapsed. However you slice it, you’re locked in for paying for three months’ worth of data storage once the upload is complete.
Addressing Durability Concerns
Not everyone entirely trusts cloud storage. In the case of Amazon Glacier, since you’ll be using a DIY-type interface, you might even be led to think that security won’t be as good as it will be with a more highly priced, automatic service. But according to Amazon, Glacier offers extremely high annual durability of 99.999999999 percent for every archive you upload. Data is stored across multiple facilities to ensure that durability, and self-healing data integrity checks are performed regularly. AES-256 encryption is utilized, but if you want to manage your own encryption prior to uploading you have the freedom to do that too.
Cheap and Reliable
For the individual or corporation that’s looking at price as the key determining factor, Amazon Glacier is it. Simply put, it’s the cheapest and likely the most reliable mainstream cloud storage system available. But if you’re a novice, if you’re not entirely comfortable handling the actual upload of data, and if you’d prefer a more automated service that will search your computer for you and upload data while you’re busy Facebooking your pals, you may be better off considering a different option altogether.