This is how Amazon cleans its servers when customers are done with them

And when they reach end of life, AWS shreds them to tiny pieces

Every day thousands of customers spin up and down virtual machines and make billions of requests for processes on the storage being held in the Amazon Web Services cloud. But what happens when a customer is done renting that hardware? 

At AWS great lengths are taken to ensure its servers are clean, the company's chief information security officer Steve Schmidt says. In addition to the VMs being cleared when the customer finishes paying for them, the company also wipes them clean before giving them to another customer. "Test it yourself," Schmidt challenged users, inviting customers to check to see if a VM has any data on it when it's given to them. 

The company takes even more extreme measures when the hardware has reached its end of life.

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To provide an idea of how fast AWS is growing, executives say that each day AWS adds enough new server capacity to support the retail site when it was a $7 billion company back in the early 2000s. It adds the capacity not just to keep up with new demand for its services, but also to replace hardware that needs to be decommissioned. The company operates by a clear and simple security rule: No hardware leaves AWS facilities intact. To do that is somewhat of a fun process, Schmidt says.

For spinning disks, AWS uses a large magnet to degauss the hardware - meaning that the magnetic properties the disk uses as the basis for storage are rendered useless. Then, AWS chomps them up into miniscule chips.

For solid state disks, the company can't use the degaussing method because it's not a magnetic-based storage process. So, instead the company shreds them until they are basically turned into dust-sized particles.

Using the public cloud is a leap of faith for many organizations, and one that comes with concerns for some users about what happens to the data it once it's in the service providers hands. Its processes like these that can help dissuade those concerns though. 

Senior Writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing for Network World and He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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