Amazon Simple Storage Service (or Amazon S3) offers object storage for businesses, providing them with inexpensive and scalable online storage. For this Amazon S3 review, we’ll be focusing on its storage capabilities, although S3 offers far more than that as part of the broader Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem.
In case you haven’t heard of it, AWS is the most popular infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider today. It provides web hosting, cloud computing and development services, all wrapped into one interconnected suite. Amazon S3 is a crucial part of that, as it stores all the files your company needs to create content in AWS.
- Amazon S3 is an object storage service with a flexible and scalable pricing model.
- The main advantage of S3 comes when you use it in tandem with the rest of the Amazon Web Services suite, with which it is seamlessly integrated.
- Although its security is good on paper, AWS’ complexity leads to security breaches, and good customer support comes at a high cost.
We’ll mention a few third-party clients that let you interact with S3 using an interface that’s more familiar to the uninitiated. If you’d like a jump start, give our CloudBerry Backup review a read. We’ll also try to clear up the mind-boggling Amazon S3 pricing details and delve into its user experience, so stay tuned.
People mainly use Amazon S3 to host files. However, within the AWS ecosystem, this means those files are available for instantaneous access while you’re developing an app or a website using AWS’ many services.
As part of the world’s largest IaaS platform, Amazon S3 is highly reliable. However, the AWS platform is huge and difficult to set up properly. There are often reports of security failures, as companies struggle to properly implement S3 and take advantage of its security features.
An S3 bucket is a place where you store your files on AWS servers. Think of it as the main folder where all your subfolders are located. You can have multiple buckets dedicated to different projects to better organize your data.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Strong server network
- Reasonable costs
- Good user experience
- Confusing costs
- Pricey support
Amazon S3: What Is Amazon Simple Storage Service?
As we mentioned, Amazon S3 is a cloud IaaS platform, which means it provides the infrastructure your business needs to implement online solutions. This could mean many different things. It could be a way to simply store data, as an alternative to business cloud storage. It could be a way to backup your data for archival purposes, as if it were an online backup service.
However, Amazon S3 is most useful as a repository for storing the data you need for creating and hosting content, such as websites and apps. This is especially true if you’re using other AWS services to create or host that content.
Amazon S3 Buckets Explained
Unlike classic cloud file storage services, Amazon S3 offers object-based storage, meaning that when you upload a file to its servers, it’s converted into an “object.” Objects are similar to files, but they can store much more detailed metadata, which leads to better data organization and accurate deep searches.
However, you can’t just have these objects floating around everywhere. An S3 bucket is where you store all those objects, and you can have multiple buckets as well. When you create a bucket, you choose which Amazon S3 server to host it on, and that choice will impact both speeds (depending on how close you are to the server) and pricing, as you’ll see in the next section of this review.
S3 buckets act sort of like file folders, which hold multiple objects. While there are actual folders in your bucket, the rich metadata in your objects also creates logical links between files based on shared properties and other delineators that you can set. This makes the S3 folder hierarchy much easier to search than a typical file-folder structure.
Despite being called Simple Storage Service, its pricing model is anything but simple. Not including Amazon Glacier, the company has four major plans, and prices can go up as you cross certain storage thresholds depending on your plan. Prices vary by region, too, and there are 23 different regions.
Like many IaaS solutions, Amazon S3 charges you not only when you store a file, but also when you use it. In some cases, there are API call charges to worry about, too.
The four Amazon S3 storage plans are called S3 Standard, S3 Intelligent – Tiering, S3 Standard – Infrequent Access and S3 One Zone – Infrequent Access. Signing up for an S3 account is free, and you can store up to 5GB at no cost for the first year.
Amazon S3 Pricing Options
Amazon S3 Standard provides hot storage, a term for storage that will be frequently accessed (read our hot vs cold storage article). Choose this if you intend to use Amazon S3 for cloud storage with third-party client software such as CloudMounter.
The two infrequent access plans are designed for less routine access, making them better for online backup. Both the Standard and Standard – Infrequent Access plans store data in multiple regions for resiliency, while the One Zone – Infrequent Access plan keeps data in a single region.
Amazon Glacier, which you can read about in our Amazon Glacier review, is designed for long-term storage of files that you rarely need to access.
Storage rates for S3 Standard are much higher than both infrequent access plans, but usage rates are much lower. To try to make things simpler, we’ll look separately at costs for storage and usage. You can also use Amazon’s storage calculator to estimate costs.
AWS S3 Intelligent Pricing
The Intelligent tiered pricing is in a league of its own in terms of complexity. There are four storage tiers — frequent access, infrequent access, archive and deep archive — and it charges an additional fee for monitoring and automation.
It has three frequent access tiers according to your storage use, which mirror the Standard plan’s pricing. Thankfully, the rest of its pricing tiers have flat-rate pricing.
Now, this all may seem complicated (and granted, it is) but there is an upside. The S3 Intelligent plan’s complexity also brings flexibility, since you don’t have to change pricing plans as your usage patterns change.
AWS S3 Cloud Storage Rates
Amazon bills per gigabyte and per month. There are no minimum storage requirements and you can store as large a volume of data or as many objects as you require. There is a limit on the size of individual objects stored, which is 5TB.
For Standard storage, there are three different pricing tiers depending on how much you have stored, while the Infrequent Access plans are priced at a flat rate. Those rates are listed for the U.S. East (Ohio) region in the tables below.
|S3 Standard:||Storage Pricing:|
|First 50TB||$0.023 per gigabyte per month|
|Next 450TB||$0.022 per gigabyte per month|
|Next 500TB||$0.021 per gigabyte per month|
|S3 Intelligent – Tiering:||Storage Pricing:|
|Frequent Access – First 50TB||$0.023 per gigabyte per month|
|Frequent Access – Next 450TB||$0.022 per gigabyte per month|
|Frequent Access – Next 500TB||$0.021 per gigabyte per month|
|Infrequent Access (all storage)||$0.0125 per gigabyte per month|
|Archive Access (all storage)||$0.004 per gigabyte per month|
|Deep Archive Access (all storage)||$0.00099 per gigabyte per month|
|Monitoring and Automation||$0.0025 per 1,000 objects|
|S3 Standard – Infrequent Access:||Storage Pricing:|
|All Storage||$0.0125 per gigabyte per month|
|One Zone – Infrequent Access:||Storage Pricing:|
|All Storage||$0.01 per gigabyte per month|
|S3 Glacier:||Storage Pricing:|
|All Storage||$0.004 per gigabyte per month|
|S3 Glacier Deep Archive:||Storage Pricing:|
|All Storage||$0.00099 per gigabyte per month|
Storage rates vary by region, but not by much. For example, data stored in Northern California has a Standard storage rate of 2.6 cents, and the rate in Frankfurt is 2.45 cents. Keep in mind that these regions aren’t tied to where you’re located; it’s just the location of the servers where you’ve chosen to store your S3 buckets.
The storage costs are reasonable for a network of Amazon’s size, and the company has lowered prices considerably in recent years to compete with other IaaS data storage options. Although its hot storage is a fraction of a cent more expensive than Microsoft Azure’s, S3 undercuts Rackspace Cloud Files by over 75 percent (read our Rackspace Cloud Files review).
For much cheaper rates, you could go with Wasabi or Backblaze B2 (read our Backblaze B2 review), but neither has the server infrastructure you’ll get with Amazon.
Data uploads and downloads are free for S3 Standard. Both infrequent access plans have a flat one cent per gigabyte rate for retrieval.
For those who intend to use S3 for application development, there are charges for API calls like PUT, GET, DELETE and COPY. For the non-programmers out there, this basically means retrieving (GET), updating (PUT), deleting (DELETE) and copying (COPY) data automatically with an external app. You can find the rates for these API calls detailed on the S3 pricing page.
Amazon S3’s network infrastructure is a big reason the service maintains its position as the IaaS market leader. In total, Amazon S3 has 23 data centers across the globe, which is just one server shy of Google Cloud’s network. Though not as large as the Microsoft Azure network, file copy speeds to and from the S3 network and multiregion storage are pluses.
Amazon has four S3 data centers in the U.S., located in northern Virginia, Ohio, Northern California and Oregon, plus two dedicated servers for government organizations (named GovCloud) on the East and West coasts. There’s another North American facility in central Canada and one in South America in Sao Paulo.
There are six data centers in Europe, specifically in Ireland (city not specified), London, Frankfurt, Milan, Paris and Stockholm. Africa and the Middle East have a single server apiece, in Cape Town and Bahrain, respectively, and the Asia-Pacific region has seven servers, in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Osaka, Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore and Sydney.
Ease of Use
As we previously explained, before you can upload files to Amazon S3, you have to create storage buckets. Buckets are file containers used to simplify management, since otherwise you’d be storing every file in one place, whether for backup, cloud storage or some other purpose.
To add new buckets, log in to the Amazon AWS console and type “S3” in the search bar. The linked page will display buckets you’ve already created. There’s also a “create bucket” button you can use to add new ones.
Each bucket must be given a name that’s unique across all Amazon S3 accounts, not just yours. You’ll also need to pick a server region for your new bucket and set various features, like file versioning, log creation, tags and encryption. To speed things up, you can choose to copy the settings from a bucket you’ve already created, if you have one.
How to Store Your Data on Amazon S3
With your bucket created, you can start storing files. While the S3 interface lets you upload files and folders to a bucket, there’s no option to automate the process. For that, you’ll want to use a more feature-packed client like CloudBerry Backup. Here’s a broad-strokes version of how to connect a cloud backup service to Amazon S3.
- Locate Your API Key
In order to pair a third-party client with Amazon S3, you’ll need an API key. Retrieve this by clicking your name near the top of the interface and selecting “my security credentials” from the drop-down menu. Then click the “access keys” header.
- Generate Access Key
You’ll need two credentials to establish a connection: the key ID and the key itself. The “access keys” page will let you generate a key, but you can only do so once, so make sure you write it down or download the key file when given the chance. Simply click on “create new access key” to generate a key.
- Connect to Your Chosen Cloud Service
While using Amazon S3 can prove a little tricky at first since it’s buried in the larger AWS ecosystem, once you know what links to click, setting up and managing buckets should be easy.
Amazon takes many steps to ensure S3 data security, including an option to set default encryption for storage buckets. That’s a nice addition, since many IaaS providers only provide in-transit protection and put server-side encryption on the user’s shoulders.
The encryption protocol is the standard AES, used by many cloud services, set to 256-bit. You can also opt to use AWS-KMS, which is Amazon’s key management system. Amazon Key Management Service makes it easier to create and destroy encryptions keys, as well as log access.
Because weak passwords pose one of the more commonly exploited security holes, Amazon also supports multi-factor authentication (MFA). With MFA turned on, you’ll be required to enter an additional security code when logging in. This code gets delivered to your mobile phone by text. You can also use an MFA device like a key fob or smartphone app.
To ensure server facility integrity, Amazon undergoes third-party audits, limits access based on the principle of least privilege, controls access points using detection systems and multifactor authentication and maintains 24/7 surveillance, among other measures.
Facilities are also secured against environmental threats like fires, floods and earthquakes using automatic sensors, responsive equipment and data redundancy measures in case the worst happens.
We won’t go into all the safeguards Amazon has in place to protect its data centers, but they’re considerable. That doesn’t surprise us, though, considering that server facilities are the backbone of Amazon’s core business.
While we have plenty of security concerns regarding Amazon’s cloud storage solution, Amazon Cloud Drive, S3 looks strong as far as security measures go. There have been numerous reports of S3 breaches, but those tend to be the result of careless missteps by the users.
On the other hand, as the market leader, Amazon S3 no doubt offers a more tempting target for hackers and the like, so there is that to take into consideration.
Good support for Amazon S3 requires an AWS support plan. There is a free, basic support plan that provides 24/7 access to customer service, but doesn’t include technical support, meaning it will only do for the odd question and, of course, sales and billing support.
The cheapest paid support option costs $29 a month and gets you tech support during business hours and only by email. Round-the-clock technical support, including both live chat and phone access, starts at $100 a month. There’s also a special solution for large enterprises, which starts at a premium of $15,000 per month.
For simple questions, Amazon’s online knowledgebase and support forum should suffice, both of which are free to use. The knowledgebase is searchable and has both articles and tutorial videos. The support forum, as you might expect of a popular IaaS, is active and in most cases, you won’t be left waiting long for help.
It’s hard to fault users for flocking to Amazon S3. For an IaaS provider with its network and features, the storage and usage rates charged are more than reasonable, even if it can take several hours of head scratching to figure out how much it’s all going to cost.
Whether or not it’s truly the best Iaas available, despite leading the market, is a matter of debate. While second-place Microsoft Azure still trails Amazon S3, it provides a larger network at a lower cost. Cheaper options like Backblaze B2 and Wasabi are also on the rise.
How does your business use Amazon S3? Do you rely on another IaaS solution instead? Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on S3’s place in the IaaS market in the comments below, and thanks for reading.