Requesting a Snowcone
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This course explores how the AWS Snowcone service can be used to provide portable edge computing and data transfer. We'll cover the basics of the service, what it's used for, how to request one, and how to transfer data in and out of it. For any feedback relating to this course, please contact us at

Learning Objectives

  • Learn the basics of AWS Snowcone, its features, and its typical use cases
  • Learn how to request a Snowcone and transfer data with it

Intended Audience

  • Anyone looking to understand more about the AWS Snowcone and how it can be used to run operations at the edge in addition to providing data transfer capabilities both into and out of AWS.


To get the most out of this course, you should have an understanding and awareness of the Amazon S3 storage service in addition to a basic understanding of edge computing.


In this lecture, I want to take a review of what the process looks like from the initial request of a snowcone all the way through to returning the device to AWS for an off-line data transfer.

So firstly, you will likely have a requirement to implement edge computing or have a need to transfer data from the edge using a portable device to collect, process, and move data to AWS from remote and extreme locations.  Once you are committed to ordering your snowcone you can create a job, either programmatically using the AWS CLI or via the Snow family dashboard in the Management console.  For the rest of this lecture, I will be referencing the AWS Management Console.

Using the Snow Dashboard in the console you can select 1 of 3 types of job you would like to raise:

  1. Import into Amazon S3 
  2. Export from Amazon S3
  3. Local compute and storage only

The first 2 options allow you to move and migrate data into and out of AWS, the last option simply allows you to perform local compute and storage capabilities without needing to move any data to or from AWS.  

Once you have chosen your use case, let’s say for example ‘Import into Amazon S3’, you will be prompted to supply details including:

    1. Your shipping address
    2. The type of snow device you require, snowcone or snowball
    3. The pricing option, either on-demand or committing to 1 year or 3 year period
    4. An S3 bucket you’d like to transfer data to, and the buckets that you select will appear as directories on your snowcone when it arrives.  Any data stored in these directories will then be migrated back to the S3 bucket when it’s sent to AWS or when it’s transferred on-line using AWS DataSync 
    5. You will also select the Amazon Machine Image to be used for the EC2 instance that is pre-loaded onto the snow device
    6. You can select the Encryption key backed by KMS that you want to encrypt the data with 
    7. A service-link role can then be defined which will give the snow device permissions to write to your S3 bucket and publish Simple Notification Service messages on your behalf, detailing status updates of your job.
    8. You can then specify which SNS topic messages will be published to
    9. Finally, you will be asked if you want to download AWS OpsHub, which provides a graphical user interface to help you manage your snow family of devices
  1. AWS will then reserve and prepare the snowcone  for you and ship it out to the address defined during the job creation process
  2. When the device arrives, you can then power the snow device and use the AWS OpsHub software to unlock it using an encrypted manifest code stored and created in the AWS Snow Family Console that’s associated with your job
  3. You must then configure the snow device as required, connecting it to your local network if required using a static IP address or one that is dynamically assigned using DHCP 
  4. You can then use the device as required storing any data or using the edge computing potential for processing your edge workloads
  5. Once you have finished with the snow device, you can either transfer the data on-line using the AWS DataSync agent or return it to AWS to transfer the data offline.  
  6. To send the device back to AWS for offline data transfer you must prepare the device for its return trip.  The snow devices used an E-ink digital return label which automatically selects the correct return address.
  7. When the device reaches AWS, the data will be transferred to the location specified during the job creation process, and the data will then be deleted from the snowcone using a secure erase meeting NIST standards. 

There are a couple of points I want to expand upon from this process, the unlocking of the device when it arrives, in addition to the configuration of it, and also the E Ink label that I mentioned.

So when your snowcone first arrives you will need to you need to power the device using a 45-watt USB-C cable, which is not delivered with the device, and in fact, you’ll get a notice about this when you create your snowcone job:

Once you have sufficient power to the device, you must then obtain the IP address of the snowcone that it was shipped with, which will be displayed on its LCD display.  This IP address is used by OpsHub to help you authenticate your device.  

As a result, you need to install OpsHub onto a client, if you have not already done so, which can be downloaded from here.  In addition to the IP address, you will also need the jobs manifest file and unlock code which can be found from within your job you created from within the Snow Dashboard or API.  Once you have downloaded the manifest file to your client, along with the 29-character code unlock code, OpsHub can use this information, in addition to the IP address of the snowcone to authenticate you and your permissions to access the snowcone.  

Once you have access to your snowcone, OpsHub can be used to begin your data transfer through simple drag and drop operations.  Previously, you were required to configure and manage the device by using the AWS CLI or REST APIs, this approach of using AWS OpsHub makes it a lot more intuitive and easier to do.

Let me now quickly explain more about the E Ink shipping label and clarify what this is exactly.  The snowcone comes with its own in-built digital labeling system on the device.  Using the digital display, this E ink label is updated with the shipping details when the snowcone leaves AWS, where it can then be tracked by SNS, text message, and also via the Management Console.  Once the customer has finished with the device and the snowcone is configured to be returned to AWS, the device's digital E Ink label will be automatically updated with the AWS location for the device to be returned to, allowing any off-line data transfer to occur.  As a result, the customer does not have to create and attach any kind of returns label, it’s all built into the device, and with the device having its own ruggedized enclosure, there is no need to package the device to be returned, it’s sent as it is.

About the Author
Learning Paths

Stuart has been working within the IT industry for two decades covering a huge range of topic areas and technologies, from data center and network infrastructure design, to cloud architecture and implementation.

To date, Stuart has created 150+ courses relating to Cloud reaching over 180,000 students, mostly within the AWS category and with a heavy focus on security and compliance.

Stuart is a member of the AWS Community Builders Program for his contributions towards AWS.

He is AWS certified and accredited in addition to being a published author covering topics across the AWS landscape.

In January 2016 Stuart was awarded ‘Expert of the Year Award 2015’ from Experts Exchange for his knowledge share within cloud services to the community.

Stuart enjoys writing about cloud technologies and you will find many of his articles within our blog pages.