Mobility Made Simple: Exploring the AWS Snow Family

May 8, 2024 | By Zoey Zelmore

The AWS Snow Family is a service offering designed to assist customers in leveraging Amazon Web Services (AWS) closer to where their data is generated, primarily in sites where internet connection may not be viable. When used, clients can run applications with minimal delay and comply with data storage location requirements. The Snow Family includes Snowball Edge and Snowcone, which are designed for two main purposes: running applications in harsh conditions and moving data from remote places to AWS. Today, we will break down the features of each device, along with ways to leverage the AWS Snow Family, and the security features that make them ideal for complex remote migrations.  

Snowcone vs. Snowball 

AWS Snow Family offers various options for transferring data efficiently. Snowball Edge, for instance, provides different versions tailored to specific needs. The Snowball Edge Storage Optimized variants come with either 80 terabytes or 210 terabytes of storage capacity, making them suitable for large-scale data storage and transfer. However, Snowball Edge Compute Optimized models are designed for locations requiring higher computational power. These devices offer 40 terabytes of storage and even include a variant with GPU support for tasks demanding enhanced graphical processing capabilities.  

For smaller-scale operations, there’s Snowcone: portable, compact devices that are roughly the size of a few hard disks or a PlayStation console. Snowcone comes in two variants: one with 8 terabytes and another with 14 terabytes of solid-state storage. These smaller devices, along with certain Snowball Edge variants, are typically deployed in remote locations where space and resources are limited. These devices are handy for storing data locally and transferring it in bulk. The Compute Optimized versions of Snowball have powerful CPUs, lots of RAM, and storage options, including SSD and HDD. Additionally, these devices support GPUs tailored to a client’s specific tasks.  

Leveraging the Snow Family  

Running edge compute operations using Snow devices is ideal for locations with limited network connectivity to AWS. The AWS Snow Family caters to two primary purposes: rugged, mobile edge compute, and data migration. These services are tailored for scenarios where network access is denied, disrupted, intermittent, or limited (DDIL), facilitating edge compute and data storage. AWS Snowball Edge and AWS Snowcone serve as versatile tools, functioning as IoT hubs, conducting data analytics, image and video analytics, and even AI/ML inference at the edge. 

In practical terms, many customers use Snow devices to migrate data from AWS to their on-premises systems. This process involves import and export jobs, where data is moved between AWS and on-premises environments. Challenges often arise when dealing with large quantities of small files, leading to delays in data importation. To mitigate this, AWS recommends aggregating smaller files into larger chunks before transferring them to Snowball Edge devices. This practice reduces encryption overhead, as Snowball Edge devices encrypt all transferred data, resulting in faster migration speeds and avoiding unnecessary delays. By adhering to this best practice, businesses can streamline their migration processes and maintain efficient timelines without compromising security.  

Security and the Snow Family  

Ensuring the security of Snow devices is paramount, and several features contribute to simplifying the safeguarding of data. Each device is equipped with NFC tags, allowing customers to check for tampering simply by using an app on their phone. If any tag is broken, it’s a clear indicator that the device may have been compromised during shipping, upon which clients can return the device and request a replacement. Additionally, device access is restricted, with only users who have ordered through the AWS console and possess the necessary IM privileges able to access the manifest file and unlock code required to use the device. Furthermore, data transferred to and stored on Snow devices is safeguarded with 256-bit encryption using AWS KMS keys chosen by the user, enhancing security measures.  

To address customer concerns about data handling post-importation into AWS, devices undergo a thorough cleaning process following NIST erasure standards once data is imported into S3 buckets, ensuring compliance with established protocols. These robust security measures, combined with AWS’ shared responsibility model, reinforce the platform’s reputation for reliability and security, even in complex migration scenarios. 

Interested in learning more about the AWS Snow Family, edge computing and data migrations? Check out Opti9’s latest Tech Talk with guest Mayank Pathak (AWS Technical Account Manager), where we dive deeper into the features, capabilities, and best practices of the AWS Snow Family. Whether you’re looking to optimize edge compute operations or streamline data migration processes, this Tech Talk provides valuable insights and practical tips for your next data migration.

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