Amazon cloud uses FedEx instead of the Internet to ship data

Amazon cloud customers 'bypass the Internet' by shipping storage devices via airmail

Amazon's new way to quickly move data to the cloud relies on air mail, not the Internet.

Amazon's cloud storage service has unveiled a brand new way to quickly move giant amounts of data to the cloud, one so technologically advanced that it actually allows customers to "bypass the Internet."

What is this new technology, you may ask? It's called FedEx. For large amounts of data, terabytes, it could actually take weeks to upload to Amazon's servers over the Internet. So Amazon is now letting customers put a storage device in the mail and Amazon will take care of the data transfer within its own high-speed internal network.

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The new Amazon Web Services Import/Export service, which became generally available Thursday, is at once a convenient method of easing the pain caused by large data transfers and a recognition that the Internet as it stands today doesn't necessarily provide the unlimited, on-demand scalability that cloud computing providers like to promise.

"AWS Import/Export accelerates moving large amounts of data into and out of AWS using portable storage devices for transport," Amazon says. "AWS transfers your data directly onto and off of storage devices using Amazon's high-speed internal network and bypassing the Internet. For significant data sets, AWS Import/Export is often faster than Internet transfer and more cost effective than upgrading your connectivity."

The data transfer costs $80 per physical storage device, plus $2.49 for each hour it takes to load data. The standard Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) charges also apply. Devices can be shipped to Amazon locations in Seattle, Virginia, and Dublin, Ireland.

Amazon provides an online calculator to help customers decide whether it makes financial sense to ship data via mail rather than uploading over the Internet. You plug in the number of terabytes, devices, average file size, return shipping information and other factors, and find out how much the data transfer would cost via mail compared to standard Internet uploads.

For example, transferring data from a single device containing 2TB would require 26 hours of data loading time and cost $144.74. Uploading the same amount of data over the Internet would cost $204.80. The calculator does not show how long the Internet transfer would take.

One thing to note is that Internet-based data transfers are currently free, but this temporary promotion will end on June 30. The charge of $204.80 would apply for data transfers after June 30.

Mailing storage devices to vendors is a decidedly old-school method. Customers can still send tapes and other storage boxes to disaster recovery vendors, such as Iron Mountain. But this is the first time Amazon has provided such a service, a company spokesperson said.

While AWS Import/Export is just now hitting availability, Amazon detailed three businesses that have already used the service, including Quantivo, which has been mailing its customers' data to Amazon. The Import/Export service appears to have been in beta since December.

"Ramping up a new customer involves loading months or years of historical data (many terabytes), and would require weeks of data transfer over the Internet," Quantivo CTO Paul O'Leary said in the Amazon announcement. "AWS Import/Export allows our customers to transfer their data directly to Quantivo's analytics running on Amazon Web Services. This entire process takes just a few days, and allows us to get even our largest customers up and running in less than two weeks, further increasing our value for customers."

Amazon provides a list of storage device requirements – for example, they must use file formats FAT32, ext2, ext3 or NTFS, weigh no more than 50 pounds and hold no more than 4TB. Amazon also notes that "You must ship your storage device with its power supply and interface cables. Without these we can't transfer your data and will return your device."

Amazon says customers can use any shipping company, but recommends using one that provides tracking numbers. Amazon will ship devices back to customers after data transfers are complete, but warns businesses to keep a second copy of their data internally.

"Although AWS has a number of internal controls and procedures to prevent loss, damage or disclosure of your data, AWS is not responsible for damages associated with loss or inadvertent disclosure of data; or the loss, damage, or destruction of the physical hardware," Amazon says. "You should always retain a back-up copy of your data."

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

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