Amazon Glacier stores your data for centuries

Ok. I admit it. We were curious about this claim as well. After looking over the materials, here’s what we found.

Amazon Web Services has always been about delivering IT on demand. Spin up a virtual server, or a few thousand, anytime you’d like. Store and access as much data as you need to your heart’s content.   But even in a Web-driven world, there is need for services that don’t offer instant results, but will be around for eternity (or as close as possible). So today, Amazon introduced Glacier, a data archival service that will store data for one penny per gigabyte per month. As befits its name, Glacier is designed to last for a long time, but is slow: accessing data will take three to five hours. Amazon hasn’t detailed exactly what technology is storing the data, but massive tape libraries are a good bet given the lengthy retrieval windows.

The official statement is as follows:

“Glacier is built from inexpensive commodity hardware components,” and is “designed to be hardware-agnostic, so that savings can be captured as Amazon continues to drive down infrastructure costs.”

We also don’t know exactly how Amazon measures the reliability of its storage, but the company is promising 11 nines of annual durability (99.999999999 percent) for each item, with data stored in multiple facilities and on multiple devices within each facility.

While Amazon says Glacier can sustain the concurrent loss of data in two facilities, there is still risk data could be lost forever. If you store 1TB, Amazon’s promised durability rate suggests you can expect to lose an average of 10 bytes per year. Amazon is betting that will be an acceptable risk for the service’s low price.

As mentioned, pricing is one cent per gigabyte per month, although that can go up to a whopping 1.1 cents if you store in Europe rather than the US, and up to 1.2 cents for storage in Japan.

There is no cost to transfer data into the service over the Internet, but some customers transferring large amounts of data may end up paying for Amazon’s import/export service, which involves portable storage devices shipped from the customer to Amazon.

Retrieval of storage is free if you’re only grabbing 5 percent of your data per month. After that, retrieval fees start at 1 cent per gigabyte, but vary widely based upon what region you’re in.

Glacier is really for the data you can’t delete (perhaps for legal and regulatory reasons) but will hardly ever need. In that sense, Amazon is trying to displace the giant tape libraries enterprises build, or offsite archival vendors. While the service has quite a different purpose than Amazon’s traditional cloud businesses, Glacier can be managed from the same console as S3 and Amazon’s database services.

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