Exploring Storage Options on AWS
Written by Nikola Brežnjak   
Monday, 05 February 2018

Amazon AWS offers a bewilderingly wide range of storage options. They all share the key benefit of eliminating the need for you to manage your own server, but you are faced with the problem of which to select. This overview is intended to demystify acronyms like S3, EFS and EBS that you will have probably already have come across and help you choose the AWS service you need.



Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a flexible, cost-effective, easy-to-use cloud computing platform. What this means is that they offer a lot of various solutions for the developer, so that you don't have to manage your server. 

AWS has a detailed 54-page long whitepaper which explains the different storage services and features available in the AWS Cloud. It provides an overview of each storage service or feature in great detail and describes usage patterns, performance, durability and availability, scalability and elasticity, security, interfaces, and the cost model. This article is based on this great resource with the goal of summarizing the content for a quicker overview.

Before you get started, here is a nice tutorial describing AWS EBS and showing how to manage EBS volumes in the cloud. 

AWS Storage Services Overview

Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)

scalable and highly durable object storage in the cloud

Amazon Elastic File System (EFS)

scalable network file storage for Amazon EC2 instances

Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS)

block storage volumes for Amazon EC2 instances

Amazon CloudFront


a global content delivery network (CDN)

Amazon Glacier


low-cost highly durable archive storage in the cloud

Amazon EC2 Instance Storage

temporary block storage volumes for Amazon EC2 instances

AWS Storage Gateway


on-premises storage appliance that integrates with cloud storage

AWS Snowball


service that transports large amounts of data to and from the cloud

Let’s review the first four in more detail, and just briefly cover the last four.


Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)

Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) is a secure, durable, highly scalable object storage at a low cost.

Four common usage patterns for Amazon S3: 

  • store and distribute static web content and media - great for video and photo-sharing websites

  • host entire static websites - HTML, CSS, JS, images

  • data store for large-scale analytics, such as financial transaction analysis, clickstream analytics, and media transcoding

  • backup and archiving of critical data 

Amazon S3 doesn't suit all storage situations. In the following table we’ll present some storage needs for which you should consider other AWS storage options: 

Storage Need



AWS Services


File system

Amazon S3 uses a flat namespace and isn't meant to serve as a standalone, POSIX-compliant file system.


Structured data with query

Amazon S3 can't be used as a database or search engine as it doesn't offer query capabilities to retrieve specific objects. When you use Amazon S3, you need to know the exact bucket name and key for the files you want to retrieve from the service.

DynamoDB, RDS, CloudSearch

Rapidly changing data

Data that must be updated very frequently might be better served by storage solutions that take into account read and write latencies, such as Amazon EBS volumes, Amazon RDS, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon EFS, or relational databases running on Amazon EC2.


Archival data

Data that requires encrypted archival storage with infrequent read access with a long recovery time objective (RTO) can be stored in Amazon Glacier more cost-effectively





Dynamic website hosting



Although Amazon S3 is ideal for static content websites, dynamic websites that depend on database interaction or use server-side scripting should be hosted on Amazon EC2 or Amazon EFS






Amazon S3 stores your data across multiple devices and multiple facilities within your selected geographical region. Error correction is built-in, and there are no single points of failure. Amazon S3 is designed to sustain the concurrent loss of data in two facilities, making it very well suited to serve as the primary data storage for mission-critical data. 

An Amazon S3 bucket can store a virtually unlimited number of bytes. 

Amazon S3 is highly secure, as it provides multiple mechanisms for fine-grained control of access to Amazon S3 resources, and it supports encryption. 

You can use versioning to preserve, retrieve, and restore every version of every object stored in your Amazon S3 bucket.You can also enable access logging, where each access log record provides details about a single access request. You can access S3 via the AWS REST API, and it has SDKs for several popular programming languages. 

As for the price, you pay only for the storage you use. For new customers, AWS provides the AWS Free Tier, which includes up to 5 GB of Amazon S3 storage, 20000 get requests, 2000 put requests and 15 GB of data transfer out each month for one year, for free. You can find pricing information at the Amazon S3 pricing page

Amazon EFS

Amazon Elastic File System (EFS) delivers a simple, scalable, elastic, highly available, and highly durable network file system as a service to EC2 instances.

Amazon EFS supports highly parallelized workloads and is designed to meet the performance needs of big data and analytics, media processing, content management and web serving.

Due to its nature, you wouldn't use it for storing archival data, relational database data, or temporary storage. 

Amazon EFS is designed to be as highly durable and available as Amazon S3.

Learn more about pricing here.

Amazon EBS

Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) volumes provide durable block-level storage for use with EC2 instances. 

Amazon EBS volumes are network-attached storage that persists independently from the running life of a single EC2 instance. After an EBS volume is attached to an EC2 instance, you can use the EBS volume as a physical hard drive, typically by formatting it with the file system of your choice. 

EBS also provides the ability to create point-in-time snapshots of volumes, which are stored in Amazon S3.

Amazon EBS is well-suited for use as the primary storage for a database or file system, or for any application or instance (operating system) that requires direct access to raw block-level storage. 

Due to its nature, you wouldn't use it for temporary storage, multi-instance storage, highly durable storage, static data or web content.

You can find pricing information for Amazon EBS here.

Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront is a content-delivery web service that speeds up the distribution of your website's dynamic, static, and streaming content by making it available from a global network of edge locations. 

When a user requests content that you're serving with Amazon CloudFront, the user is routed to the edge location that provides the lowest latency (time delay). 

Amazon CloudFront supports all files that can be served over HTTP. These files include dynamic web pages, such as HTML or PHP pages, and any popular static files that are a part of your web application, such as website images, audio, video, media files or software downloads. For on-demand media files, you can also choose to stream your content using Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) delivery. Amazon CloudFront also supports delivery of live media over HTTP. 

CloudFront is ideal for distribution of frequently accessed static content that benefits from edge delivery, such as popular website images, videos, media files or software downloads.

Other solutions

Amazon Glacier can reliably store your data for as little as $0.007 per gigabyte per month. Amazon Glacier enables you to offload the administrative burdens of operating and scaling storage to AWS so that you don't have to worry about capacity planning, hardware provisioning, data replication, hardware failure detection, and repair, or time-consuming hardware migrations. 

Amazon EC2 instance store volumes (also called ephemeral drives) provide temporary block-level storage for many EC2 instance types. This storage consists of a preconfigured and pre-attached block of disk storage on the same physical server that hosts the EC2 instance for which the block provides storage. 

AWS Storage Gateway connects an on-premises software appliance with cloud-based storage to provide seamless and secure storage integration between an organization's on-premises IT environment and the AWS storage infrastructure. 

AWS Snowball accelerates moving large amounts of data into and out of AWS using secure Snowball appliances. At less than 50 pounds it is light enough for one person to carry. It is entirely self-contained, with a power cord, one RJ45 1 GigE and two SFP+ 10 GigE network connections on the back and an E Ink display and control panel on the front. It is water-resistant and dustproof and serves as its rugged shipping container.


Here we've explored some storage options on AWS. We've looked at the solutions such as EFS, EBS, S3, etc covering the pros and cons of each to help you decide which storage to use on AWS or which to learn about in more detail.newamazonwssq

  • Nikola Brežnjak is an engineer at heart and a jack of all trades. He holds a masters degree in computing from the University of Zagreb and has written books about Ionic framework and the MEAN stack.

More Information

AWS Storage Services Overview

Amazon EFS: How It Works

What is Amazon S3



Related Articles

AWS Storage Gateway 

Amazon Glacier For Cold Storage 

Amazon S3 Essentials (Book Review)

Programming Amazon EC2 (Book Review)


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Last Updated ( Monday, 05 February 2018 )