Amazon launches Glacier cloud storage, hopes enterprise will go cold on tape use

The tapeless Glacier service sees Amazon Web Services target on-premise tape systems with a redundant cloud storage technology, though to win business it will have to battle enterprise concerns about the stability of its cloud.
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Amazon has released Glacier, a data archive service for enterprises and small businesses that encourages companies to give up their tape systems and move to the cloud.

AWS Glacier
Amazon Web Services has launched Glacier, its new tapeless storage service. Image credit: AWS

The cloud-based technology, launched on Tuesday, sees Amazon take on tape, the leader in enterprise storage. Files stored via Glacier have an annual durability of 99.999999999 percent, according to Amazon; this means that if a company uses it to hold 100 billion objects, it can expect to lose one each year. There is no limit to the amount of data businesses can place in Glacier.

"Using Amazon Glacier... unlimited archival storage is available to [AWS customers] with a familiar pay-as-you-go model," Werner Vogels, the company's chief technology officer, wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. "The service redundantly stores data in multiple facilities and on multiple devices within each facility."

The service aims to compete with on-premise storage systems on data redundancy and price. The starting cost of Glacier is $0.01 per gigabyte per month. The archiving of media assets, research and scientific data, and enterprise information, as well as magnetic tape replacement, are ideal use cases for Glacier, according to Amazon.

A replacement for tape

Asked what IT equipment Glacier uses, Amazon told ZDNet it does not run on tape. "Essentially you can see this as a replacement for tape," a company spokesman said via email.

Instead, Glacier runs on "inexpensive commodity hardware components", he said, noting that the service is designed to be hardware-agnostic. This suggests the system will be based on very large storage arrays consisting of a multitude of high-capacity low-cost discs.

But to convince businesses of the value of the technology, Amazon needs to show that the service is resilient and accessible. This is not a sure thing, and time will tell. Each time Amazon has a major outage, it makes it easier for an organisation to turn away from the cloud, as the chance, however slight, of critical data loss can hurt businesses.

There are other factors that might crimp the service's appeal for enterprises. Data stored in Glacier takes three to five hours to access. Furthermore, though customers can retrieve five percent of that data for free each month, after that they are charged a retrieval fee. This charge comes with additional data-transfer fees — it costs nothing to load data into Glacier, apart from the bandwidth a business pays their own ISP. However, to take out anything over a gigabyte per month costs money, starting at $0.120 per gigabyte.

Amazon is encouraging customers to use Glacier for archival, rather than short-term, storage. If information is deleted within three months of being uploaded, there is an "early deletion fee", it said.

Boon for enterprises

Aaron Levie, chief executive of enterprise data storage and collaboration service Box, reacted favourably to the announcement.

"[Glacier] seems like a huge boon for enterprises and the cloud," Levie told ZDNet. "Amazon is continuing to show it's going to be the most disruptive player in cloud infrastructure."

Meanwhile, commenters on popular developer message board Hacker News praised the technology; user 'kdsudac' noted that Glacier is an order of magnitude cheaper than Amazon's mainstay storage service S3, while buro9 praised it for its redundancy.

In the future, we can expect Glacier to gain integration with Amazon S3 to let customers "seamlessly move data between Amazon S3 and Amazon Glacier based on data lifecycle policies", Vogels said.

Glacier is available now from datacentre clusters located in Europe (Ireland), the US (North Virginia, Oregon, North California) and Asia (Tokyo).

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