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AWS debuts 50TB Snowball storage appliance to speed up cloud data transfers

Cloud giant Amazon Web Services makes surprise move into on-premise hardware with release of 50TB data transfer appliance

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has unveiled a 50TB on-premise storage appliance designed to help enterprises beat the bandwidth bottlenecks that affect how quickly large quantities of data can move to the cloud.

Enterprises can download the large volumes of data they want moved to the cloud onto the Snowball appliance, as it has been dubbed, and then arrange to have it shipped by courier to an AWS datacentre for uploading to the cloud, with the firm charging $200 for each import/export job.

The device uses 256-bit encryption to safeguard any data stored on it, and users will receive notifications about the location of the device and how their information is being processed until it is uploaded to an AWS cloud store.

Once that process is complete, the appliance will be wiped and users will receive confirmation that all their data has been successfully deleted from the Snowball device.

The unit comes equipped with an Amazon Kindle-based user interface and is supplied in a tamper-proof box that also acts as its carry case.  

The appliance was unveiled by AWS during the first-day keynote at its Re:Invent user conference in Las Vegas, where Andy Jassy, senior vice-president of AWS, said data transfer speeds and bandwidth limitations can affect how quickly enterprises can move to the cloud.

"It's pretty difficult to get large amounts of data from point A to point B, even for companies with pretty good connections," he said.

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To tackle this, they can either choose to invest in network upgrades or increased bandwidth capabilities, or they can download the data onto individual disks and ship it to their chosen infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider.

If users opt for the latter approach, said Jassy, they can end up shelling out large sums of money on procuring the disks, and then copying data over to them takes time too.

Jassy went on to highlight the difficulties enterprises face when addressing this problem, explaining that – in some cases – it can take firms up to 100 days to shift 100TB of data to the cloud.

Alternatively, he said, users can use multiple Snowball appliances to move large batches of data to the cloud at once, meaning that 100TB of data could be uploaded in about a week.

The announcement may come as a surprise to some, given how AWS has spent the best part of a decade calling on enterprises to ditch their on-premise storage and servers and use its cloud-based infrastructure services instead.

However, with the company billing Snowball as a "data transport appliance" that enables users to move more of their data to the cloud, it's not such a radical departure for the firm as it might first seem.

To reiterate this point, during a Q&A session at Re:Invent, Jassy said the firm had no plans to follow up Snowball with any further forays into hardware. "We have no current plans to do so. Snowball is designed to help organisations get more of their data into AWS more quickly," he added.

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