Amazon Web Services: 'Ship us your drives'

The cloud services provider has come up with a way to deal with large amounts of data and insufficient upload bandwidth
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Amazon Web Services has unveiled a new service that lets users physically ship their data on drives, to be uploaded to the company's cloud-based S3 storage facilities.

AWS Import/Export, currently in beta, was announced on Thursday. In an Amazon Web Services (AWS) blog post, the team noted that "hard drives are getting bigger more rapidly than internet connections are getting faster", and said a service such as Import/Export had been frequently requested by customers who wanted their data to be remotely hosted, but who had storage requirements at the terabyte and petabyte level.

"It is now relatively easy to create a collection of data so large that it cannot be uploaded to offsite storage (eg Amazon S3) in a reasonable amount of time," the team wrote. "Media files, corporate backups, data collected from scientific experiments and potential AWS Public Data Sets are now at this point. Our customers in the scientific space routinely create terabyte data sets from individual experiments."

Uploading a terabyte of data over a 1.5Mbps T1 broadband line would take more than 80 days, the team noted.

According to the AWS team, customers who sign up to the limited beta can ship their data to AWS, who will load the data onto a designated S3 bucket in a secure facility, then return the drive to the sender. "Once the data has been loaded into S3, you can process it on EC2, and then store the results anywhere you would like — back into S3, in SimpleDB, or on EBS volumes," the team wrote.

At the end of the loading process, the storage device will be shipped back to the sender at Amazon's expense.

There are certain constrictions on the size and nature of the hardware the team will be able to accept during the limited beta period. Devices will need a USB 2.0 or eSata connector and to be formatted according to the FAT32, ext2, ext3 or NTFS file system. Drives will usually have to weigh less than 50 pounds and fit within an 8U rack, although the team said "special arrangements" could be made for larger and heavier devices.

Unreadable files will be rejected, as will files larger than 5GB. Encrypted files will be accepted, but encrypted file systems are not supported. According to the blog post, "all personnel involved in the process have undergone extensive background checks".

AWS Import/Export is currently only available in the US, but the company will be able to accept packages at a European facility "in the near future", the team said.

"Also, as you can probably guess from the name of the service, we have plans to let you transfer large amounts of data out of AWS as well," the team wrote. "We will provide further information as soon as possible."

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