The Amazon Web Services (AWS) portfolio is quickly becoming more than a quick read. New features such as the Virtual Private Cloud and feature enhancements such as two-factor authentication are rapidly being released yet are only the tip of the iceberg. AWS recently announced the ability to perform snapshots on Elastic Block Store (EBS) to the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) cloud. Before I jump into what that really means, let’s identify these components, as this is critical to getting a concept of how cloud solutions can work for you.

The EBS cloud is a storage offering that is associated with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances. An EC2 instance is something that most “brick-and-mortar” IT administrators are familiar with, most frequently a server such as Windows Server 2003 or some Linux offering. These EC2 instances have a storage requirement, and that storage is kept in the EBS cloud. The S3 cloud is a storage resource that is frequently accessed via an API or directly through other clouds. Are you with me so far? Good because here is where it gets cool.

The new snapshot feature of these instances allows the snapshot to be sent to the S3 cloud. This means that the EC2 server instance running on an EBS storage cloud can have the snapshot sent to the S3 cloud. This effectively equates to a cloud federation, albeit within the Amazon family. In my opinion, this is a big step forward in building legitimate cases for using cloud solutions for traditional IT shops flirting with going to a cloud solution.

Using the snapshot functionality of the EBS volume is quite easy. As a primer, it is important to understand that an EBS volume is attached to a running EC2 instance as additional storage. An EBS snapshot is not analogous to a virtual machine snapshot that takes the entire workload at a point in time. The EBS snapshot is applied to a volume that is attached to an EC2 instance, as shown in Figure A.
Figure A

Click image to enlarge.

The EBS volume snapshots, when applied, are sent to the Amazon S3 cloud. The storage costs are priced slightly different for the two offerings. EBS is $.10 per allocated GB per month and $.10 per 1 million I/O requests per month. The S3 storage is priced at $.15 per month per GB, and there are data transfer pricing tiers as well as per-request charges outlined here.

Do cloud snapshots stir some interest? I think it should. This emerging area is quickly adding functionality and comfort to the idea of putting a technology footprint in the cloud. Share your comments below.