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AWS Storage Solutions 101

Dec. 08, 2014
Chris Littlefield


This white paper explores the native AWS storage solutions, enabling you to deliver applications in the cloud in the most efficient, cost-effective, and secure manner. In terms of storage, it's important to understand the characteristics of each AWS storage option so that you can implement one or more AWS storage services to meet your needs. Often, you'll find that utilizing multiple storage options together will give you the best outcomes.


In this white paper, we will discuss the variety of storage solutions available from Amazon Web Services (AWS). Developing a broad understanding of the storage capabilities at AWS will enable cloud architects to design architectures that ensure that cloud deployments are highly scalable and available. The goal is to deliver applications in the cloud in the most efficient, cost-effective, and secure manner. Third-party options are also valid within your AWS ecosystem, but for this paper we will limit the focus to the AWS native storage services.

In each section, we introduce a different product that AWS provides to store data in the cloud. Then we'll discuss some of the use cases each storage solution is ideal for. Finally we'll give a high-level summary of the security measures you can implement to secure them. For additional service specific information, please follow the links provided at the end of each section.

Block Storage

The Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is the virtual server at AWS. EC2 instances support Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD. When we spin up EC2 instances, we store at least the OS data on block storage attached to the EC2 instance. Administrators can choose to use multiple drives for their virtual instance, and the options depend upon the EC2 instance type they select.

There are two types of block storage for EC instances. The first block storage option for EC2 is the instance store, and the second option is the Elastic Block Store (EBS) volume. The root volume can be either instance store, or EBS backed. The secondary volumes can be either instance store or EBS volumes, or a mix of both. Let's look at each EC2 block storage option in turn.

Amazon EC2 Instance Stores:

Instance storage is ephemeral block storage that is directly attached to the EC2 instance. So the instance store and the EC2 instance are running on the same hardware and hypervisor. Instance storage provides administrators with various sized drives based on the instance type. Instance storage is not available with all EC2 instance types. On the EC2 instance types where instance storage is an option, the cost is inclusive of the EC2 instance hour price. You will find standard drive performance and even SSD drives available for your EC2 instances.

When you work with instance stores, we need to take into account the volatile nature of the instance store. The instance store's lifetime is tied directly to the EC2 instance lifetime, so the data is lost when you stop or terminate the associated EC2 instance. Data is also lost if the underlying hardware the instance is running on fails. There are no built-in backup options for instance storage, but we can still backup the data using OS level tools.

By default, the instance store is EXT3 formatted, and can then be formatted with any file system you wish. The key advantage of instance storage over EBS storage is cost, and access to much larger disks with zero network variability.

Security in Brief-EC2 Instance Storage:

You can launch instances in the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). You can choose to encrypt your instance store volumes. You can use any encryption tools for file systems you wish. You should also consider securing your instance access via SSL/TLS and configuring your security group(s) with a tight, least privilege approach.



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