Amazon S3 - Features, Pricing, Alternatives, and More

Matthew Guay
Reviewed by Matthew Guay · Last updated September 16, 2016
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Amazon started life as the world's largest bookstore, but today it's equally well known for its Amazon Web Services—tools to help you manage your entire tech infrastructure in the cloud. Unlike traditional hosting—where you'd have a dedicated server or VPS running Linux to host your website, send your emails, log data reports, and store files—Amazon split each task off into its own app. You use EC2 to run computing tasks, SES to send emails, RDS to run databases, CloudWatch to monitor your site, S3 to store files, and more.

S3 isn't just a hard drive in the cloud. It's a full storage service, one that can handle your encrypted archives and backups, the files you need inside your app, or public-facing files for your website. It's a great tool if you want to store a couple GB in the cloud—and an equally great tool to build the next Dropbox. And with 11 server locations around the globe—on the US east and west coasts, along with a number of locations throughout Asia and Europe and one location in South America and Australia—you can store your files closest to where they're needed for the lowest latency.

Amazon S3 stores your files in Buckets, or a storage resource. Think of it as an external hard drive. You'll give your bucket a name, and choose which region it's stored in. Then set its access permissions, choose whether you want it to log access requests and events, and enable versioning to save an archive of each version of your files in Amazon S3 Glacier.

By default, your files will be stored in S3's standard storage, which charges a slightly higher rate for storage along with lower fees for accessing the files. Those files are stored with 99.999999999% durability, able to survive 2 concurrent faculty faults. For cheaper storage, you can use Reduced Redundancy which has only 99.99% durability—that data is only stored in one location, so you have a slightly higher risk of data loss. There's also Standard Infrequent Access for cheaper storage with the same durability, but higher access fees which make it a good option for storing files you don't need to access often. And for your backups and archives that you only intend to access rarely if ever, Glacier offers the cheapest storage but also the highest access rates.

That gives you a lot of options on how to manage your files. You can set lifecycle rules to automatically migrate files to the storage level that best fits them, or use Reduced Redundancy or Glacier by default if your files are already duplicated elsewhere and you're only using S3 as a backup.

Managing individual files in S3 is both simple and includes the same detailed level of control. You can access S3 through its API or 3rd party apps like Transmit or Cyberduck, or you can view and upload files through the S3 web interface. The web app lets you upload files up to 5GB each, or upload complete folders with the Java-powered Enhanced Uploader.

Files are private by default, but you can make them public to share them with the world if you'd like, as a great way to store your website's files. You can even turn your entire bucket into public hosting to run a static website, if you'd like. Or, you can encrypt files locally or on the server for additional security.

Need to move files around between buckets, or to another region? Want to change one folder's storage service level? You can do that and more through the S3 app or API. It's a detailed way to manage your files in the cloud, just for secure file storage or to build the storage backend for your next app.

Amazon S3 Resources:

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Amazon S3 Features

  • Store files in the cloud with servers around the world and high uptime and durability
  • Access and manage files via the Amazon Management Console or APIs
  • Organize files into buckets and standard folders, and move files between buckets
  • Make files public for a simple static website hosting solution
  • Use Reduced Redundancy, Infrequent Access, or Glacier storage for cheaper file archival
  • Encrypt files in the cloud

Amazon S3 Pricing

  • $0.03/GB per month for Standard Storage
  • $0.024/GB per month for Reduced Redundancy Storage
  • $0.0125/GB per month for Standard Infrequent Access Storage
  • $0.007/GB per month for Glacier Storage
  • Additional charges for PUT, COPY, POST, LIST, and GET requests, higher for Infrequent Access and Glacier storage

Pricing for US East region, for first TB of data. Rates for Standard Storage go down to $0.0275 if storing over 5000 TB, while base rates may be higher in some regions. Glacier not available in all regions.

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Amazon Simple Storage Service is a fully redundant data storage system. It makes it easy to store and retrieve any amount of data, anytime, from anywhere.