Understanding Simple Storage Service And Whether S3 Is The Right Choice For You
Diving into everything you need to know about Simple Storage Service and whether going with S3 storage is the right business option for your needs.
15:28 12 May 2020
Where does your business currently store its data?
Many companies used to save their data in-house. With a tower server humming in the corner, data transfer was limited to one office on a small network.
Those days are long gone. S3 storage and Cloud computing now provide the best way to save and share your data.
Simple storage service or S3 offers a scalable and cost-effective way to store data online. Originally pioneered by Amazon, S3 providers bring the benefits of cloud object storage to your business.
From lower costs, hyper speeds, and secure, reliable transfers, your data can work smarter than ever before.
This article explains what S3 storage is, its main features and benefits, and if it's right for you.
What Is S3 Storage?
Simple storage service allows your business to store data online via the Cloud. It covers:
- Storage and backup
- Hosting of applications
- Hosting media
- Software delivery
Your website and business apps link to S3 storage to access content from any Internet-enabled device. And because it's online they can do this simultaneously, no matter how many users request it.
Data is hosted on the Cloud, a network of integrated systems providing a lightning-fast service around the globe. But what makes that different from traditional web hosting?
Traditional Web Hosting vs S3 Storage
Your existing website and database are likely saved on a single web server. All your pages, media files, and scripts are kept on one computer that you pay to rent every year.
That solution works fine for a small number of visitors but what if traffic spikes?
Shared web hosts grind to a halt when traffic increases. You may have a set amount of bandwidth or data transfer per month. Go over that limit and you'll be charged; usually at significant costs.
Even a dedicated hosting plan has its limits. If your database is a traditional SQL system there are only so many concurrent connections it can handle. Scaling resources will always hit a ceiling. Then what?
A simple storage service works with the power of the Cloud via a Content Delivery Network or CDN.
A CDN is a network of computers that delivers your data in the most efficient way possible. They copy or cache your files which speeds the download process. Users access the closest geographic server which also reduces transfer times.
Unlike a traditional web host where data is held on one server, CDNs copy your data almost instantaneously to multiple servers. This decreases the load on a single computer by spreading the burden. When your apps grow the storage and distribution of data grow with them.
The bottom line is many servers are better than one.
Advantages of S3 Storage
Maybe you're happy with your existing web hosting platform and don't see a reason to make the switch to S3.
Here are some of the reasons why cloud object storage will help your business. They'll benefit not only your IT systems but also your bottom line.
Pay for What You Use
The huge plus of S3 is you only pay for the data you store and transfer.
S3 costs divide into three categories:
- Inbound data transfer (usually free)
- Outbound data transfer
Providers charge in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB). Costs are a fraction of a dollar per GB, usually around $0.02. Storage and transfer rates combine into one value.
For example, say you store one hundred PDFs with an average size of 10mb per file. If ten thousand visitors download all those PDFs the calculation would be:
100 * 0.01GB * 10,000 = 10,000GB (10TB)
$0.02 * 10TB = $200
Most web hosting companies would tear their hair out if they saw 10TB of bandwidth being used. They would also charge a lot more money for the privilege.
Cheap S3 storage is one of the main reasons businesses flock to the platform. And if you decide to stop using the service the charges stop too.
There are no annual commitments or extra fees for starting or stopping. No contract means more flexibility, which is great in the current economic climate.
Traditional systems of storing and accessing data couldn't cope with the rise of social media. Facebook now has 2.4 billion users, something that would've killed older systems.
Instead of building bigger servers, they built more servers and so the Cloud was born.
S3 storage is the result of this horizontal scaling method. If you need more data saved you add another server. Data copies so fast you'd swear it came from one computer.
The result is a fully scalable storage system that grows as your business grows.
Cloud-based storage is designed to be 100% reliable and durable.
Although the odd mishap occurs, uptime to your data is guaranteed. It's estimated that if you store 1 million data objects you experience a loss of just one every 10,000 years!
How many times has your web host gone done this year? Now compare that to a Cloud platform.
If your data's shared amongst different data centers how is it kept secure?
Digital and physical security are priorities so every S3 provider ensures both are met with high standards.
Your information's encrypted before the transfer begins then verified by an MD5 checksum. There's also constant digital surveillance against breaches. Data centers have rigid security protocols to keep intruders out.
Remember to read the terms and conditions of your S3 provider. Especially when it comes to the geographic location of your data. Each country has its own data privacy laws so ask for clarification.
As mentioned earlier, S3 hosted data downloads faster as it's physically closer to the user. Data is shared with multiple regions simultaneously so when a user makes a request the nearest server provides.
For example, a visitor to your website from Japan downloads images from Asia and not North America. It makes sense and works well. Really well.
Main Features of S3
Here are some of the features every simple storage service provider offers.
A bucket is basically a folder where your data objects are kept. Data is described as an object because it can be in any format e.g. JSON text files, JPG, MP4, etc.
Cloud object storage also contains metadata or descriptive data. This helps organize things, especially for large buckets like video libraries.
Simple Storage Service API
Every S3 provider has a simple interface to work with their systems. This is usually done via a RESTful API that your software can hook into.
The provider gives a unique API key that identifies which storage buckets you can access. Roles for data read/write access are set-up in your account.
Add your key to your favorite IDE and bingo! You're ready to go.
Many IDEs integrate drag-and-drop elements. These link to the S3 data directly enabling uploading, removing, and editing of your cloud objects.
S3 offers simple and predictable pricing but each provider offers different rates.
All providers offer a calculator to cost your estimated usage. Make sure your estimations verge on the higher end of the scale to give a bigger ceiling.
Service Level Agreement (SLA) and Support
Before signing, make sure you read the small print.
What support's on offer and how do you access it? Are there any guarantees and if so what if they're broken? Who do you call if things go wrong?
A good S3 provider will make this clear on their website. Read their support guidelines to make sure everything's in order.
Many S3 server options include a reporting tool to analyze your data. This is often an additional service but some providers offer it for free.
At a minimum you'll want to see how many objects are in your buckets, the space they're using, and how much your monthly data transfer costs.
Who Uses S3 Storage?
Do you recognize these companies that use Amazon S3 storage?
From small businesses to large enterprises, many companies have migrated to the Cloud. Your S3 provider will give you advice on how to manage the process so ask them before making the jump.
Is a Simple Storage Service Right for Me?
Although Amazon's S3 platform is the market leader that doesn't mean they offer the best value for money.
Some Cloud companies provide 80% savings over AWS yet deliver the same service. Use their calculators to compare costs. You may save a fortune by finding a better alternative.
The issue of downtime raises its ugly head too. A few years ago Amazon's S3 went down taking 50% of the country's top retail stores with it. Check usage reports going back several years and see who is consistent.
If you don't want to host all your data on the Cloud why not use it for back-ups?
Many businesses take advantage of cheap S3 storage costs to save their data online. Back-up apps exist that integrate with cloud object storage.
Make sure you do your homework and don't let your head get stuck in the cloud!
Send I.T. to the Cloud
With cloud object storage, every cloud has a silver lining.
The main benefit of a simple storage service like S3 is 100% uptime. Access to business-critical information is vital so the cloud platform is the perfect solution.
If you only want to pay for what you need, gain major speed boosts, and have the flexibility going forward, then check out S3.
Remember to read more of our extensive coverage on cloud computing in our stories section.