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Amazon Glacier Offers Low-Cost Data Archiving

Amazon Web Services expanded its cloud services portfolio Tuesday with the launch of Amazon Glacier, a low-cost archiving option. Befitting its chilly namesake, the new service aims to be the data equivalent of cryogenic storage--that is, it's designed for content that usually sits dormant, is rarely accessed, and isn't expected to "wake up" quickly.

Glacier's main selling point is cost. Monthly charges for a GB of storage are only a penny for content stored in AWS's North Virginia and Oregon regions, and fractionally more than one cent per month for content stored in the Northern California, Ireland, and Tokyo regions. Amazon says many companies over-pay for data archiving, when hardware costs, staffing, power, and maintenance costs are factored in. Glacier "changes the game for data archiving and storage" by offering a pay-as-you-go model consistent with its other cloud product, according to AWS.

Amazon says there is a wide spectrum of information that could be stored on such a low-cost system. The Glacier product page cites a number of examples: emails, legal records, and financial documents stored for future contingency use or due to policy compliance; media assets such as high-definition video files; sets of raw research data; etc. The challenge for IT departments is to store infrequently used data in an economical fashion and ensure it can be retrieved when needed.

Users can select either AWS Management Console or Amazon Glacier APIs to create "vaults" into which "archives," which can be either single files or a bundle of files, are stored. Up to 5% of an account's average monthly storage, which is prorated daily, can be accessed each month free of charge. Beyond that amount, data retrieval ranges from 1 cent to 12 cents per GB, depending on the AWS region in which the data is archived.

Data transfers between AWS EC2 storage and Glacier, meanwhile, are free within the same region. Fees apply, on both sides of the transfer, for transfers between EC2 and Glacier across others regions, however. The fees only kick in after the first GB of information has been moved and range between 5 cents to slightly more than 20 cents per GB, depending on the volume of content and regions involved.

The low prices come with a catch--slow retrieval. Glacier can be viewed as a supplement to Amazon's S3 storage service, which lets customers get at their data more quickly and more often but at a higher price. When Glacier users want to summon stored content, they must initiate a request that typically takes 3.5 hours to 4.5 hours to complete.

Amazon says Glacier will provide data protection of 99.999999999% annually for a given archive. The service redundantly stores data on "multiple devices across multiple facilities in an AWS region," a spokesperson said in an email. All data is transferred over Secure Sockets Layers and automatically encrypted.

New innovative products may be a better fit for today's enterprise storage than monolithic systems. Also in the new, all-digital Storage Innovation issue of InformationWeek: Compliance in the cloud era. (Free with registration.)