Using AWS Snowball for Data Transfer
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With an on-premises data backup solution within your data center, it’s critical for your business to have a disaster recovery plan built into your business continuity plans. You need to have a plan in place should a disaster occur that affects your operation of the business. The same is true when you start to leverage the cloud for its storage capabilities for your backed-up data.

This course explains how cloud storage fits in with DR and the different considerations when preparing to design a solution to back up your on-premises data to AWS. It will explain how Amazon S3, AWS Snowball, and AWS Storage Gateway can all be used to help with the transfer and storage of your backup data.

You should not assume that just because you are backing data up to the cloud it will solve your every need: there are many points of consideration when planning a DR backup solution to the cloud, such as AWS. However, it does also provide opportunities that may not have been possible with a standard on-premises backup solution. It’s these points of interest that many enterprises are focusing on to gain a significant advantage when it comes to disaster recovery.

AWS has a number of different services available to help you architect the best solution for your needs. To allow you to set up the correct solution that works for you, you must first understand how each of these services can be of benefit to you.

To help you implement effective solutions, you must first have answers to the following:

  • What is your RTO (Recovery Time Objective)?
  • What is your RPO (Recovery Point Objective)?
  • How quickly do you need to retrieve your data?
  • How much data do you need to import/export?
  • What durability is required for your data?
  • How sensitive is your data?
  • What security mechanisms are required to protect your data?
  • Do you have any compliance controls that you need to abide by?

When you have answers to these questions, you will be able to start working towards an effective backup solution to create a cost-efficient, highly reliable, durable, and secure data backup storage solution.

Learning Objectives

  1. Gain an understanding of how your storage solution can affect your business continuity and DR plans.
  2. Obtain the knowledge to know when to use specific AWS storage solutions to your advantage between Amazon S3, Amazon Glacier, AWS Snowball, and AWS Storage Gateway.
  3. Understand how each of these services can provide a DR solution to fit your specific needs.

Intended Audience

This course has been designed for:

  • Engineers who need to manage and maintain AWS storage services
  • Architects who are implementing effective data backup solutions from on-premises to AWS
  • Business continuity management managers
  • Anyone looking to prepare for the AWS Solutions Architect - Professional certification


As a prerequisite for this course, you should have a basic understanding of the following:

  • Business continuity
  • Disaster recovery
  • Data backup terms and methodologies
  • Amazon S3
  • Amazon EC2
  • Elastic Block Store (EBS)

This course includes

7 lectures


If you have thoughts or suggestions for this course, please contact Cloud Academy at


Resources referenced within this lecture

Shipping an AWS Snowball Appliance


Lecture Transcript

Hello, and welcome to this lecture focusing on the AWS Snowball service. Essentially, this service is used to securely transfer large amounts of data, and I'm talking up to petabyte scale here, in and out of AWS. Either from your on-premise data center to Amazon S3, or from Amazon S3 back to your data center using a physical appliance known as a Snowball.

The Snowball appliance comes as either a 50 terabyte or 80 terabyte storage device, depending on your region. Currently, the 50 terabyte version is only available within the US regions. The appliance is dust, water, and tamper resistant, and can even withstand an 8.5 G jolt from within its own external shipping container. And so it's been built to cope with a lot of stress conditions to ensure the durability of your data.

The Snowball appliance has been designed to allow for high speed data transfer, thanks to a range of interfaces allowing you to select the most appropriate connection for your needs. On board the Snowball appliance, the following I/O 10 gigabit interfaces are available. RJ45 using Cat6, SFP copper, and SFP optical. By default, all data transferred to the Snowball appliance is automatically encrypted using 256-bit encryption keys generated from KMS, the key management service.

Whilst on the topic of security, it also features end-to-end tracking using an E Ink shipping label. This ensures that when the device leaves your premises, it is sent to the right AWS facility. The appliance can also be tracked using the AWS simple notification service with text messages or via the AWS Management Console. From a compliance perspective, AWS Snowball is also HIPAA compliant, allowing you to transfer protected health information in and out of S3.

When the transfer of data is complete, either into S3 or into a customer's data center, and the appliance is sent back to AWS, it is then the responsibility of AWS to ensure the data held in the Snowball appliance is deleted and removed. To control this process, AWS conforms to standards and guidelines set by NIST, the National Institute of Standard and Technology, to ensure this is performed and controlled, and that all traces of data are removed from the media.

When sending or retrieving data, Snowball appliances can be aggregated together. For example, if you needed to retrieve 400 terabytes of data from S3, then your data will be sent by five 80 terabyte Snowball appliances. So, from a disaster recovery perspective, when might you need to use AWS Snowball? Well, it all depends on how much data you need to get back from S3 to your own corporate data center, and how quickly you can do that, or on the other hand, how much data you need to get into S3. This will depend on the connection you have to AWS from your data center.

You may have direct connect connections, a VPN, or just an internet connection. And if you need to restore multiple pet parts of data, this could take weeks or even months to complete. As a general rule, if your data retrieval will take longer than a week using your existing connection method, then you should consider using AWS Snowball. Your global location will affect specific shipping times. And so more information on this can be found using the link onscreen.

If you did decide to use AWS Snowball to retrieve your data in the event of a disaster, the process to use AWS Snowball is a fairly simple process. At a high level, this is how it looks. Firstly, you need to create an export job form within the AWS Management Console. Within this job, you can dictate shipping details, the S3 bucket, and the data to export it, security mechanisms such as the KMS key for data encryption, and also notifications. You will then receive delivery of your Snowball appliance. You can now connect the appliance to your local corporate network.

Firstly, use the ports to connect the appliance to your network whilst it's powered off. Next, power on the device and the E Ink display will let you know that it's ready. You can then configure the network settings of the device such as the IP address to enable communications. From here. you are now ready to start transferring the data. To do this you must first gain specific access credential via a manifest file through the management console which has to be downloaded. You must then install the Snowball client software, and you can now begin transferring data using the client software once authenticated with a manifest file.

When the data transfer is complete, you can disconnect the Snowball appliance. The appliance must then be returned to AWS using specified shipping carriers. It's important to note that all Snowball appliances are the property of AWS and the E Ink label will display the return address. Much like many other AWS pricing for storage, any data transferred into AWS does not incur a data transfer charge. However you are charged for the normal Amazon S3 data charges I discussed in a previous lecture.

For each data transfer job there is a charge in addition to shipping costs associated to the job. As I mentioned previously, there are two sizes of Snowball, for the 50 terabyte Snowball there is a $200 charge, and for the 80 terabyte it's $250, unless it's in the Singapore region, which will then be $320. You are allowed the Snowball for 10 days in total. Any delays requiring additional days incur further charges between 15 to $20, depending on the region. The data transfer charges out of Amazon S3 to different regions is priced as follows. And the shipping will vary depending on your chosen carrier. For further information on this, please visit the following link.

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.