Amazon’s Snowmobile debut in Las Vegas shows why Cloud archiving doesn’t work

A cloud with a circle filled with an X on it.

Posted on Friday, December 2, 2016

Cloud providers like Amazon have long advertised their unlimited storage capacity as the solution to the limitations of on-site data centers. And although AWS does have virtually limitless capacity, there is one major drawback with public cloud storage – the actual process of migrating data to the hosted data center.

Even if your corporate internet connection is capable of delivering a constant 10Gbps upload, it would take years to complete the transfer of hundreds of petabytes of data currently stored on site. Insufficient bandwidth is why a wholesale move to an offsite cloud is simply unfeasible for enterprise-class organisations.

Amazon’s solution – the Snowmobile

Amazon took the opportunity to showcase what they believe the solution to this problem is at the recent Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. The Snowmobile looks just like a giant, white semi-trailer – because that’s exactly what it is.

Packed inside the trailer is 100 terabytes of storage, ready to replicate a customer’s data store for physical transport to the nearest Amazon data center. The Las Vegas audience were shown how the Snowmobile could be “filled” at a rate of 1Tb per second when joined to the customer’s network via multiple 40Gbps fiber connections. Which is quite an impressive technical feat.

A game changer? Not really

Despite transfer rates being considerably faster than an upload to a remote data center, it still takes around 10 days to fill the Snowmobile. That’s 10 days during which you need to carefully track changes so that they can be resynced once the data has been transferred to AWS.

According to Amazon, one enterprise customer is already using Snowmobile to perform a "pretty gigantic" migration. The fact that AWS CEO Andy Jassy stated the client is using Snowmobile indicates that the data center-to-truck stage of the transfer process has not yet completed for this customer.

The reality is that the Snowmobile may help to reduce the time needed for a migration to the Cloud – but the process is still not quick enough. And the big white truck in Las Vegas is just a huge advertisement of this fact.

On site cloud still makes more sense

The security of data in as physical truck is an obvious concern – particularly as virtually every data asset an organization owns could be on board. Amazon do offer an enhanced security service, with additional on-site security during the export procedure, and further escort as the Snowmobile makes its way back to the AWS data center.

Data is also encrypted as it is written to disk in the back of the truck, adding a further layer of protection in the event of hijack. However at-rest data encryption is an optional extra under standard AWS contract terms – so the bill for migration and off-site hosting continues to escalate beyond the headline price.

Similar scalability and functionality can be achieved using a software defined storage infrastructure, allowing organizations to retain complete control of their data and avoid the need for gimmicky data centers-on-wheels.

  • To learn more about how software defined storage can be used to deliver an AWS-like storage infrastructure, please get in touch