12 Benefits of Amazon's S3 Simple Storage Service

If you’re looking for an affordable, multi-purpose means of storing data in the cloud, then Amazon’s S3 Simple Storage Service is an option worth considering.

S3 is designed to deliver 99.999999999% durability whilst scaling past trillions of objects. This of course means that no matter how much data you’re looking to store, S3 can handle your requirements.

Whilst S3 is primarily used by customers looking to backup large volumes of data to the cloud, there are a number of lesser known benefits of Amazon S3 are overlooked which will likely prove useful in your next application.

In this article we’ll walk you through the primary benefits of Amazon’s S3 service that make it such a fantastic cloud-based storage product. From using S3 storage as part of a robust Content Distribution Network (CDN), to temporary storage of large data volumes, to integrating data within S3 buckets into your applications; we’ll show you how S3 storage can benefit you whether you're looking to store or deliver content on the web.

#1. Ease of integration with third-party applications

Of the many benefits of Amazon S3, one of our favourites is how easy it is to connect data stored on S3 via Amazon’s Restful API and SDK with third-party applications.

We’ve used AWS S3 storage a number of times in unison with applications (both mobile and web based) that require regular access to data on the fly, and have found it to follow industry standards for service integrations allowing our development team to deliver on client requirements without any real challenge or unexpected “quirks”. Not only this, but performance has been excellent with limited lag time across the board regardless of the application type we’ve been developing.

As expected Amazon's documentation for developers using the S3 storage service is solid and provides enough information without going overboard for you to get what you need done. After all, the success of AWS' cloud product suite would likely not be possible without quality documentation.

#2. Scalability on-demand

If scalability of your application both up and down over time is a consideration for you when selecting a cloud-based data storage service, then S3 is definitely a good pick.

The benefits of S3’s simple yet highly scalable architecture are many, especially when combined with the extremely intuitive product interface Amazon provides that lets you scale your storage both up and down via the click of a button.

For example, if you were using S3 to store a few terabytes of data for a month, you can do that then scale back your storage size saving you considerable monthly expense.

To see what we mean, it’s worthwhile checking out Amazon’s S3 calculator. This service let’s you determine how much of a difference scalability as part of a cloud-storage service can make to your bottom-line. As shown below, we inputted 3 terabytes (3000 gigabytes) worth of data into the calculator to see how much it would cost us to store on AWS S3 in the Sydney data centre. The cost was $143.88. Cut that back to 500GB, and the cost drops to $81.38. Not bad hey?

AWS S3 calculator results

#3. Industry-leading security

Organisations each day are developing tighter more stringent restrictions around security both within their organisations and externally. With this in mind there are a number of security benefits of AWS S3 that developers and organisations will no doubt find attractive.

Natively Amazon has built into S3 the capability to set permission based security on a file by file basis using SSL. This is particularly useful if you’re looking to implement a user security model providing access to files on your S3 bucket, or if you're looking to integrate with services such as Amazon IAM (Identity Access Management).

If you haven’t needed to delve beyond data transfer over SSL before, S3 can offer some very tangible benefits in the security arena when combined with a sturdy user permissions model. For example, if you wanted to only allow access to files for a given set of users, either via SSL, SSH, SFTP, or via an application interface; you or your cloud management partner could configure this all via S3.

#4. 99.99% availability backed by an “actual” SLA

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen organisations in the web industry tell you they offer an up-time guarantee close to 100% only to go down for a day and provide no recourse of reimbursement of lost time and effort on your behalf to work to restore a service. With the size and seriousness of which Amazon takes its cloud services business, a 99.99% up-time guarantee is actually the "real thing".

In my experience it’s not often that quality hosting providers go-down, and certainly not for any period longer than a few minutes. However, in the event that a major event occurs where Amazon does experience an outage you're well protected against down-time and the like via a generous Service Level Agreement (SLA) designed to protect Amazon customers.

This of course is possible because of the size of Amazon’s business across the board, but it’s nice to know that these agreements actually offer you recourse with which to arm yourself in the event your mission critical service is down for any significant amount of time.

#5. Content Storage and Distribution

As mentioned S3 can easily form the basis of an awesome Content Distribution Network (CDN). The reason this is possible is because S3 is built for content storage and distribution, not one or the other.

Paired with Amazon CloudFront, S3 can be configured to distribute virtual instances of your data across any number of Amazon’s global data centres. If your user base is split across a number of locations worldwide, an S3 based CDN can provide a major performance benefit for your users reducing lag time, increasing content availability, and improving the overall quality of your applications.

As shown in the below diagram, you may look to configure a number of copy servers closer to where your user base access your content to provide a performance boost across your web and mobile applications.

CDN example

Actual data centre locations may differ from the above diagram.

#6. Static website hosting

Did you know you can host your static website on Amazon S3?

If you’re looking to produce a static website that's primarily built with HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the odd array of images, then S3 is a highly affordable and easy to configure option.

If you’re looking to implement an informational brochure-style website or a set-and-forget type site, S3 is an option that will run fast, can be configured to include nothing but the basics and will definitely do the job if this forms the basis of your project requirements. However if your requirements extend to a database driven solution that utilises a CMS such as WordPress, we recommend setting up an EC2 instance.

#7. Big data and analytics on Amazon S3

Amazon S3 is a prime candidate to store large volumes of data online...that much we know. However, combined with Amazon’s QuickSight UI can form the basis of an incredibly powerful big data tool.

With users literally storing millions of files online in S3 buckets, it makes complete sense that tagging of these files for use in big data visualisation sets is something that you may want to consider; especially if your bill is running high and you’re looking to optimise the cost effectiveness of your data solution.

Big data and complex analytics is a niche that is growing rapidly across the globe, with a large portion of the providers in this space choosing S3 to store and interpret their big data.

AWS smart visualisations for big data using S3

#8. Backup and archiving of your data on S3

One of the major benefits of Amazon S3 is the ability to implement version controlled backups of your data within S3 buckets.

Whether you’re implementing an array of scheduled backups of your website, undertaking a manual backup of files on an internal server, or simply storing stop-point versions of an important file you’re working on; S3 has got you covered.

Amazon S3’s backup and archiving capability is quite extensive and offers all the common tools you would expect from an enterprise-level archiving tool at an affordable price-point. Because Amazon’s reach and size of it’s cloud business is so extensive now, this is just another benefit we can an all enjoy which would otherwise be out of reach.

#9. Disaster recovery using Cross Region Replication (CRR)

If you’re running a major application that requires a disaster recovery strategy, S3 can be an extremely useful cog in this important process.

Utilising Amazon’s Cross Region Replication (CRR) technology, your S3 data can be replicated across any number of Amazon’s worldwide data centres.

For example, if your application is based in the Sydney data centre, you may wish to implement a disaster recovery procedure which replicates your data to the AWS data centre in Northern California. This will of course decrease the likelihood of complete and utter loss of application data, and can be configured directly from your AWS console.

#10. Free Usage Tier and S3 Pricing

Like a number of Amazon Web Services, S3 offers a free usage tier to get you started. In the case of S3, you’ll receive 5GB of free storage in the standard storage class inclusive of 20,000 GET requests, 2000 PUT requests, and 15GB of data transfer out each month for the first year.

This generous free usage tier is a fantastic reason to at least spin up an S3 instance and try it out. What have you got to lose right?

In terms of ongoing pricing past your first free tier cap, AWS offer an affordable region dependent model you can take advantage of.

At the time of writing this article, the below table shows S3 pricing for storage at the Sydney data centre. If lag time or location is not an issue for you, we recommend checking out the pricing across a number of AWS regions for more affordable options. As an example we noticed the U.S East (North Virginia) location was more affordable than the Sydney region.

Amazon S3 Pricing example

#11. Multiple Storage Classes

You will have noticed by now that Amazon offers three different storage classes as part of it’s S3 offering. These being General Purpose, Infrequent Access, and Archive storage.

Amazon’s General Purpose S3 storage offers high durability storage for frequent access. An example use case of General Purpose S3 storage may be a CDN or bucket consisting of static website content.

If storage with limited access is your goal, then Amazon’s S3 Infrequent Access (IA) storage is your best bet. This storage class is designed for infrequent access and content migration. This storage class offers a low cost data storage and retrieval solution which is an attractive option for those looking for set and forget type solutions.

Finally, S3 Archive storage using Amazon Glacier is another great storage class you may want to consider if you’re looking for a long term archiving solution. This of course offers even greater pricing benefits over the IA storage class due to the nature of the storage type, and the limited number of access requests to your data you will likely make.

#12. Object tagging

One of our favourite features of the S3 product is object tagging. This of course takes cues from numerous web applications which let you organise and add meaning to data files through metadata beyond simple information architecture.

This is a fantastic tool if you’re looking to build an application on top of an S3 bucket, with smart tagging a feature which can be fully accessed using the AWS S3 API.

If you haven’t utilised a tagging model before across data files or web pages, this process offers an excellent means of further describing data, which can be very useful for classifying data, building custom views, and reporting on data.

Conclusion

Amazon’s S3 product is a fantastic multi-purpose cloud-based storage service with few peers in it’s class.

Not only is S3 highly scalable, durable and flexible, but it’s an incredibly affordable and easy to manage storage service for organisations of all shapes and sizes.

What we really love about S3 is that it’s a product that Amazon is investing heavily in. From S3’s overall capability, to integrations with the Amazon eco-system and external applications, S3 has been built with both developers and customers in mind.

If you’re looking to store your files online at an affordable rate regardless of the amount of data you have or the number of requests you’re looking to put through, S3 likely has an option that will meet your needs.

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