Amazon's data shipping goes both ways now

AWS Import/Export can now send data from the S3 storage cloud back to customers on storage media

Amazon Web Services has expanded a shipping service for large data sets on its S3 cloud storage platform so customers can get their content back instead of just sending it.

The AWS Import/Export service, announced in May, lets customers use standard shipping services to send Amazon chunks of data that would take days or weeks to get there on typical leased lines.

For example, enterprises with a T-1 line (1.5Mb per second) typically can avoid an 82-day upload by sending 1TB of data via AWS Import/Export, according to Amazon. Customers are already uploading terabytes of data every week, the company said.

Amazon launched the service with just "import" capability, which allowed customers to send data to AWS on disks and other storage media. Now AWS can also export data back to customers, according to a posting on the AWS blog Thursday.

All customers need to do is prepare a shipping manifest file and e-mail it to Amazon, receive a job identifier in return, and send a storage device that's been prepared with a signature file. Amazon will load the data residing at S3 onto that storage device and ship it back to the customer.

Prices are the same as for exporting data with the service: US$80 per device and $2.49 for each hour AWS spends copying data to the device, plus normal S3 storage charges.

Customers can get prepared manifest files from Amazon by sending the e-mail command "create export plan" to Amazon and describing the block size and the capacity of the storage device.

Also on Thursday, AWS said it is working on ways to handle shipments to and from countries other than the U.S. and provide support in Europe.

The core business of S3 is providing storage for companies that use Amazon's EC2 cloud computing service for Web-based or other applications. In addition to the obvious uses of disaster recovery and retrieving large data sets that have accumulated through EC2-based applications, AWS suggested two other potential purposes for the export service.

Companies could sell copies of a large data set stored on S3 and use AWS's export system for distribution, or they could temporarily upload a large set of data and apply EC2's processing power to it for computationally intensive processing.

The AWS exporting option might help enterprise Web developers who can't get the computing or storage resources they need internally, said Henry Baltazar, an analyst at The 451 Group.

Some are now turning to EC2 and S3 on the side just to do their development, and if their application succeeds and they want to take it back in-house, there could be a large amount of data collected there to move.

The shipping option might also be ideal for sharing data with business partners or even companies seeking information under legal e-discovery, Baltazar said.

Rather than give outsiders access to its own network, a company could use Amazon as a neutral third party and have AWS ship just the data that had to be shared, he said.

However, the offering only goes part of the way to where the cloud storage industry should be, Baltazar said.

It would be cumbersome to use AWS Import/Export to move data from S3 to another storage cloud, because the enterprise would have to take back all its data and then send it back out to the next service provider.

"In a perfect world, if we had standards, you'd be able to move from one cloud to another," Baltazar said.

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Stephen Lawson

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