Want to upload lots of data to Amazon S3? Now you can mail them your hard drive

Amazon has just launched a pretty cool service for those of its AWS customers who have large amounts of data that they want to upload to Amazon S3: AWS Import/Export. It’s essentially what used to be called a sneakernet, i.e. you can just mail your data on hard drives to Amazon via snail mail instead of sending it over the Internet.

Why would you want to do that? Well, sometimes you may have such a huge amount of data that that sending it over the Internet simply isn’t practical, especially if you don’t have a killer Internet connection. It would just take way too long. We have written about this phenomenon in the past (FedEx still faster than the Internet). For example, Google uses this method to send large sets of data from the Hubble space telescope to universities (they jokingly call it FedExNet).

If uploading data to your Amazon S3 account would take a week or more over the Internet, you might want to consider sending it as snail mail instead. This table from Amazon has a few examples to illustrate this, depending on what kind of Internet connection you have:

Here are the scenarios Amazon has in mind for when you might want to use AWS Import/Export:

Data Migration – If you have data you need to upload into the AWS cloud for the first time, AWS Import/Export is often much faster than transferring that data via the Internet.
Offsite Backup – Send full or incremental backups to Amazon S3 for reliable and redundant offsite storage.
Direct Data Interchange – If you regularly receive content on portable storage devices from your business associates, you can have them send it directly to AWS for import into your Amazon S3 buckets.
Disaster Recovery* – In the event you need to quickly retrieve a large backup stored in Amazon S3, use AWS Import/Export to transfer the data to a portable storage device and deliver it to your site.

Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon.com, has written a blog post explaining the reasoning behind this new service in detail. It’s a good read, so check it out. He makes the point that a service like this one is necessary because although networks are getting faster all the time, the amount of data we are generating is growing at an even faster rate.

It may sound like a backward solution, but he’s right. The Internet will soon support transfer speeds we can only dream about today, but just think about how much data will be living in the Cloud by then. (Yes, we used the C word… 😉 )

For now, the service is in limited beta and data will only be imported to S3 buckets in the United States, but support for Europe is coming. We think this is a good move by Amazon, and let’s face it, this whole sneakernet thing has a certain “cool factor” as well.


  1. I’d venture to say that when using the public internet, FedEx wins out even at much lower quantities of data. Taking overnight express into consideration and allowing for 24+12 hours for delivery, this would mean on a typical ADSL upload speed of 3Mbit per second, amounts over 50 Gigabytes are already faster at their destination using FedEx.. They should turn that into a commercial!

    See below for calculation:

    1. @Vince: Yeah, express delivery does change the numbers a bit.

      And on a side note, Wolfram Alpha is starting to seem cooler and cooler… Nice link. 🙂

  2. We are so glad Amazon made initial data transfer even simpler. No longer you have to wait weeks before you initial backup completes. Hopefully this will make the tools like CloudBerry Backup for S3 even more appealing.

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