Amazon (AWS) Can Literally Carry a Truck-load of Data with AWS SnowMobile

AWS Snowmobile

At Amazon Web Services’ re:invent conference in Las Vegas this November, one of the show-stoppers was a big white 18-wheel trailer truck. Its purpose: to carry exabytes of data back and forth from the customer to AWS for upload to the cloud. Its name: AWS SnowMobile

While this might seem like a joke – and, apparently, that what a lot of conference attendees initially thought – AWS is serious about the SnowMobile being a data transfer tool – in more ways than one.

Amazon Web Services already has store-and-ship solutions under the “Snow” line of products. SnowBall originally came out in 2009 and was given a refresh last year. This year they also launched SnowBall Edge, a more compact data storage unit that also serves as a computing node. That means an on-premise solution for companies working with terabytes of data.

Click to Read: Amazon Launches Snowball Edge and AWS Greengrass, Acknowledges Need for Hybrid Cloud

The SnowBall was meant to store up to 80TB of data, meaning a bunch of them could work for shipping petabytes (PB) of client data. But the SnowMobile is the granddaddy of them all, despite being the youngest. Each can carry 100PB of of data, which means exabyte-scale data can easily be moved from customer to AWS in a relatively short period of time – weeks instead of years.


But what about the security aspects of having a mobile unit with so much valuable data driving up and down busy highways? Amazon has thought this one through:

“On the security side, Snowmobile incorporates multiple layers of logical and physical protection including chain-of-custody tracking and video surveillance. Your data is encrypted with your AWS Key Management Service (KMS) keys before it is written. Each container includes GPS tracking, with cellular or satellite connectivity back to AWS. We will arrange for a security vehicle escort when the Snowmobile is in transit; we can also arrange for dedicated security guards while your Snowmobile is on-premises.”

They thought of everything! But what about the viability of such a project? Let’s take a look…

Who Needs an AWS SnowMobile?

So the question now is not about how it will be done, but who will need that kind of data volume transferred from point A to point B.

Jarrod Levitan, Chief Cloud Officer of Vancouver-based solution provider TriNimbus, says that the use cases are quite limited.

“It has great potential but really only for the federal government and maybe 200 other companies on the planet that would have enough data for a SnowMobile. It is cool and it does solve a problem but don’t look for mass adoption”

And those thoughts might be coming from any seasoned cloud professional, including executives at IBM, Microsoft and Google. They know their exabytes, and they also know that there is limited scope for such a service.

Unlike DigitalGlobe, which transferred 100PB of archived satellite imagery to an Amazon Glacier Vault using one AWS SnowMobile, every company that has this kind of data archived isn’t going to be open to using this as a means to transfer data to the cloud. In all probability, they would prefer a hybrid model where mission-critical data can be stored on-premise – a domain that has IBM sitting at the top.

So why is AWS doing this? For the company, it is merely a means to an end, and that end is to eventually move as many companies to the cloud as is virtually – and, now, physically – possible.

In the article linked above, we spoke about Amazon’s first acknowledgement of a hybrid model, and how the SnowBall Edge and AWS Greengrass were the lead players for Amazon in that game. But Amazon’s core agenda is still about convincing companies to move completely to their cloud. That’s not about to change because the aggressive thinking they have shown along those lines is what has taken them to the top of the cloud infrastructure industry. And the SnowMobile is literally the biggest validation of that, so far.

Is the AWS SnowMobile expensive? No, they don’t actually charge for the truck. What you pay is what you see as the “per GB” rate you’ll see on their website, and nothing more, unless you want additional on-premise power or enhanced physical security.

While this could be seen as a flashy PR exercise with limited ROI, it’s certainly a bold move by Amazon Web Services.

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