The Snowcone and its Features
The Snowcone and its Features

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.


The AWS Snowcone is a part of the AWS snow family of devices.  These devices are physical pieces of hardware that are used to transfer data into AWS from the edge or beyond the Cloud, such as your Data Center, but they can also be used to transfer data out of AWS too, for example, from Amazon S3 back to your premises. 

Usually, when working with AWS, your interactions and operations occur programmatically via a browser or command line interface, but here we are talking about an actual piece of hardware you can touch!  The snowcone is sent to you by AWS, allowing you to perform any compute operations at the edge and store any data before it’s sent back to AWS for that data to be transferred to Amazon S3.

As I mentioned, the device itself allows you to run operations and workloads at the edge, but what is edge computing? In simple terms, Wikipedia defines this as

 ‘....a distributed computing paradigm that brings computation and data storage closer to the location where it is needed to improve response times and save bandwidth. It is a topology rather than a technology.’

To understand more about this device, let’s take a look at it to see what we are actually talking about here and focus on some of its key features.

So this is a picture of an AWS snowcone, it measures 8.94” inches long, 5.85” inches wide, and 3.25” inches tall, and weighs a mere 4.5 lbs (2.1 kg), so it’s fairly small and lightweight.

The device comes preloaded with 2 vCPUs, 4GB of memory, and 8 Terabytes of usable HDD storage, which allows you to run an inbuilt EC2 instance which can also support AWS IoT Greengrass, providing a means to process edge computing operations, including IoT workloads with ease, in remote locations.  With this specification and its very small size, the snowcone is a great choice when working in restricted environments allowing you to collect, process, and store data with little or no consistent network connectivity and a lack of power and cooling, which would normally be required for running data center infrastructure.  

When you request your snowcone device, you can select which AMI you’d like it to come built with, and at this stage, you can select an AMI with IoT Greengrass as well.  If you are new to AWS IoT Greengrass, it’s open-source edge runtime and cloud service that helps you build, deploy, and manage device software allowing you to quickly and easily build intelligent device software while providing a secure way to seamlessly connect your edge devices to any AWS service as well as to third-party services. 

Looking at the physical ports of the device, there are 2 ports for power supplied via USB-C connections with an optional lightweight battery add-on for when a power source is not available.  Using the battery you can run a light workload at 25% CPU usage for approximately 6 hours.  It’s also fitted with 2 wired network ports capable of running up to 10Gb ethernet, in addition to Gigabit wi-fi support.

From a data transfer point of view the AWS Snowcone supports Windows, Linux, MAC-OS, and NFS File Systems from on-premises allowing you to transfer data to the device.  Then to get this data back to Amazon S3, you have 2 options.  Firstly the Snowcone comes equipped with the AWS DataSync agent allowing you to transfer the data online over traditional network connectivity directly to AWS. For those unfamiliar with AWS DataSync, it’s a service that allows you to easily and securely transfer data from your Snowcone or your on-premise data center, to AWS storage services.  It can also be used to manage data transfer between 2 different AWS storage services too, so it’s a great service to help you migrate, manage, replace and move data between different storage locations.    Alternatively, you can transfer the data offline by shipping the snowcone back to AWS premises for AWS personnel to transfer the data.

The enclosure itself has been built to be very tough and rugged, handling free-fall shock and vibration, in addition to being able to handle both freezing and extreme heat environments.  From an operational point of view, it can be used in temperatures ranging from 0ºC/32ºF to 38ºC/100ºF. However, when the device is being shipped back to AWS to transfer the data from the device onto AWS services, it can withstand temperatures from -32ºC/-25.6ºF to 63ºC/145.4ºF.

As it’s designed to be used in all conditions the enclosure is also dust, water, and wind-resistant! This makes it a highly protected piece of hardware to be used in the most diverse of environments.

Being a data transfer device, there are stringent security features that have been added to the snowcone.  It comes fitted with tamper-resistant mechanisms to ensure the integrity of data during transit, in addition to the implementation of 256-bit keys used for encryption backed by the Key Management Service (KMS) which ensures full encryption of data to help maintain confidentiality.  If you’d like to learn more about the KMS service, then please see our existing course here.

As these devices are packed full of data, it’s essential that the data is deleted once the transfer has been completed and the snow device is no longer required by the customer.  As a result, AWS carries out a secure erase which meets the National Institute of Standards and Technology, more commonly known as NIST for the sanitization of the media and storage. 

So to summarize at a very high level, the snowcone is a robust, secure, small, and portable lightweight device allowing you to carry out compute processing and data transfer at the edge.


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.