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What is Amazon S3?

Man marveling at the amount of data he has stored in, and is now overflowing from, his bucket.
With so much data, where do you put it? In S3! What's an "S3"? Let's talk about it...

Imagine you have a large collection of data, files, “stuff”, you’d like to store safely - photos, videos, important documents, backups, you name it. Now, you could keep all of that under servers of your own control (EG: your own computer, external hard drive, or server), but what if you run out of space, your hardware fails, or something catastrophic happens? These circumstances are where a service like Amazon S3 comes into play.

Amazon S3 stands for “Amazon Simple Storage Service”. Think of it as a massive, super-secure warehouse in the cloud where you can store as much data as you need. It’s akin to renting a storage unit, but instead of physical stuff, you’re storing digital files. You can access your files from anywhere in the world, anytime, as long as you have an internet connection. I have seen it referred to as “the internet’s hard drive”, which, at this point, is a reasonable and accurate distillation. For a comprehensive deep dive into the history and technical scale of S3 go read this post at allthingsdistributed.com from Andy Warfield, VP and distinguished engineer at Amazon.

Amazon S3 is the brand name for what is more generically called cloud “object storage”. You might consider it akin to what “Kleenex” is to “facial tissues”, or what “Xerox” is to “photocopiers”, or “Google” to “web searching”. As a result, there are other object storage vendors out there: Cloudflare, Google, IBM, Wasabi, and DigitalOcean to name a few. There are also open source solutions like MinIO or Garage.

It should be noted, however, that Amazon’s S3 is the originator of this space. They created the technology, the concept, the utility, and should be afforded the respect and admiration for their innovation.

So, what is a “bucket”?

Considering Shubox is in the business of providing you buckets on-demand - you should know! A bucket is a container for objects stored in S3. If S3 is a giant warehouse, then a bucket is your personal, ever-expanding, storage locker. A bucket serves as a means of keeping companies’ and individuals’ data sequestered away from everyone else’s.

Why is it useful?

  • Scalability: You can store an almost unlimited amount of data. That “storage unit” analogy? Imagine it could expand, on demand, as soon as you need more space.
  • Security: Amazon S3 will keep your data safe. They’ve got loads of security measures in place, so you don’t have to worry about your data getting into the wrong hands.
  • Accessibility and Sharing: You can access your data from anywhere and easily share it with others. Permissions are flexible and robust enough where you could go from “world readable” to “restricted to specific Amazon roles and users”.
  • Affordability: The cost is inexpensive to start (think pennies) until you reach a considerable scale of storage and data transfer.

What are some example use-cases?

  • Backup and Storage: This is the no-brainer. Whether you’re a big company or someone with a lot of digital photos, S3 is great for keeping that data safe, and off-site.
  • Website Hosting: Have a website with many images and/or videos? Storing and serving them via S3 is more efficient and reliable than keeping them on your own servers.
  • Big Data Analytics: Companies can store massive amounts of data on S3 and then use other Amazon services to analyze this data to gain insights.
  • Disaster Recovery: In case something goes wrong with your primary data storage, having a backup on S3 can be a lifesaver. It is, effectively, an insurance policy for your data.

In a nutshell, Amazon S3 is a versatile, super-sized digital storage unit in the cloud. It’s an essential tool for anyone dealing with significant amounts of data, whether for personal use or business. And with its pay-as-you-go pricing, it is also wallet-friendly. If you’re still wondering whether you should use it, this post at Onixnet sums it up rather succinctly:

If you’re still not sure whether Amazon S3 is right for your organization, consider this: Amazon S3 is designed for 99.999999999% (11 9s) of data durability. With that level of durability, you can expect that if you store 10,000,000 objects in Amazon S3, you should only expect to lose a single object every 10,000 years!

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