Amazon Snowmobile – The big white elephant in the room

A cloud made up of ones and zeroes

Posted on Monday, December 5, 2016

The Las Vegas debut of Amazon’s new Snowmobile data center semi-trailer has been quite popular, generating hundreds of headlines from enthusiastic enterprise technology journalists. We even covered it here on the CDS blog yesterday.

But the impressive technical feat of packing 100 petabytes of storage into the back of a giant white truck is also a giant white reminder of perhaps the biggest problem with cloud storage adoption. And it’s a lesson that everyone seems to be ignoring.

What about that legendary flexibility?

The whole reason for the existence of Amazon Snowmobile is the problem of migrating data from onsite data centers to the Cloud. Internet bandwidth is simply insufficient to deal with the transfer of hundreds of petabytes of data – so Amazon supply a vehicle capable of making a physical transfer.

Using Snowmobile, the transfer to cloud storage can be completed in a matter of weeks, allowing you take advantage of OpEx billing, elastic storage provisions, and pay-as-you-use resources. Everything looks great from that point forward.

Snowmobile just made you a hostage

But what happens if Amazon changes it pricing model, reducing your savings? Or a change in service means that AWS no longer matches your own computing strategy? If you need to get your data back out of Amazon’s data centers?

The existence of Snowmobile underscores how difficult it is to transfer huge amounts of data. It also serves as a prophetic reminder of the almost impossible task of moving your data out of the AWS cloud should you choose to change provider.

Not only will you run into the same bandwidth issue when trying to move petabytes of data out of AWS, but you will also be billed for the traffic. And there is absolutely no way Amazon will allow you to connect a competitor’s Snowmobile equivalent to their data center to assist with a physical transfer.

Although technically innovative, the Amazon Snowmobile is a big, white reminder that a move to AWS is effectively a one-way journey. Welcome to the new era of vendor lock-in.