Amazon Glacier is already making waves as an ultra low-cost online backup and data archiving solution for businesses – this article takes an in-depth look at Amazon Glacier, its unique features and design and how businesses can maximize its benefits.

What is Amazon Glacier?

For the benefit of those who may not already know, let’s briefly introduce Amazon Glacier: launched in August 2012, Amazon Glacier is a highly-inexpensive and reliable web service for long-term online backup and data archiving of large volumes of infrequently-accessed data.

The term ‘highly inexpensive’ is used with caution: while data uploads are free and storage is extremely affordable at only a cent per GB per month, transferring or downloading your data incurs costs based on a rather complicated system that must be carefully understood and implemented to avoid alarming additional charges.

amazon glacier

To support its low-cost model, Amazon Glacier is not intended for frequent data retrieval, but rather low frequency access (something like once a month, for example) with high retrieval latency of up to 5 hours. Accessing the service regularly for data retrieval may also result in large additional costs.

Glacier is part of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud, and is offered as a much cheaper version of their established and widely-used Simple Storage Service (S3). Up to 90% cheaper than S3, Glacier offers unlimited data storage for $0.01 (1 cent) per GB (Gigabyte) per month – along with no extra cost for uploading the data. Data transfers and downloads, however, have a rather complex pricing model.

How is Amazon Glacier Different from other Online Backup Services?

Before delving into how Glacier is different from other online backup services, let us first analyze what online backup entails for businesses. Bear in mind that the term ‘online backup’ can mean several different things depending on the application we are considering.

Generally, online backup services provide a facility for securely and conveniently storing files and data online for real-time availability, redundancy, privacy, and easy retrieval at a later time. For corporate applications, however, online backup is more complex and covers a number of broad areas as illustrated in the figure below.

For corporate online backup, many businesses backup three types of data: Business Process Data, Client-side Data, and Internal Data. Business process data are created as part of the output of daily business processes and are usually stored for future analysis. Examples include staff payment records, daily inventory reports, time sheet data, product distribution data, and so on. This type of data is archived daily and is only retrieved once a month, once a year, or a few times a year for analysis.

Client-side data are provided by clients and stored by a company or organization for ongoing projects and communication. Examples of this type of data include project plans, contact sheets, directories, project resources, SOW (scope of work) data, and so on. Data of this sort needs to be accessed daily, but is only archived from time to time.

Internal data include resources created within the company or organization to be used for ongoing projects. These are similar to client-side data, except they are maintained and provided by the company or organization.  Like client-side data, internal data are accessed daily but will only need to be archived from time to time.

Now that we understand what is covered under corporate online backup, we can explore how Glacier differs from other online backup services.

The truth about Amazon Glacier: Amazon Glacier differs from most other online backup services because it only caters for ‘cold storage’ of passive business process data, as opposed to typical online backup solutions that may additionally cover ‘active storage’ of client-side and internal business data.

Andy Jassy Amazon Web Services CEO

This means that Amazon Glacier is not a complete or standalone online backup solution for businesses. Glacier should be combined with other solutions for passive as well as active data storage and retrieval. Consequently, the cost savings Glacier provides for businesses only applies to storage of passive business data – businesses will have to maximize this opportunity by investing in other cost-effective systems working in tandem with Glacier and catering for active business data.

How to Derive Maximum Benefit from Amazon Glacier

Amazon Glacier already works wonders as a cheap backup solution for passive business process data; this type of data is created daily and also needs to be archived daily. Glacier’s free unlimited data upload and ultra-cheap storage costs make it simply perfect for storing this type of data.

Also, the fact that Glacier is not designed for frequent data retrieval lines up perfectly with the fact that passive business process data is only retrieved a few times a year for analysis and reporting. These factors make Glacier ideal for this type of data only.

In fact, Glacier may currently be the best option businesses have for backing up passive data. Here’s a checklist on how to derive maximum benefit from glacier.

1. Use Glacier for your day-to-day archiving of passive business data such as staff time sheets, inventory reports, or product distribution schedules. This will be a zero-cost solution because Glacier offers free unlimited data uploads.

2. Use a second cloud backup solution for your day-to-day backup and retrieval of active data you use for work on a regular basis such as accounting sheets, product manifests or logistics records.

3. Some good examples of inexpensive, high-performance online backup and data archiving solutions that can cater for your active data including client-side data and internal data are CrashPlan and Backblaze.

4. This arrangement is extremely cost-effective since passive data needs to be archived daily (and you won’t pay a cent for this with Glacier), and your active data needs to be accessed daily as well (and the second backup solution will most likely offer a more affordable data transfer and download package than you can get with Glacier.


The summary of it all: the use of Amazon Glacier for daily backup of passive business data while using a second service for periodic backup and frequent retrieval of active business data as required can maximize cloud backup and data archiving benefits for businesses.

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