Last week, Amazon announced a new service for uploading large amounts of data to its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud storage. Dubbed Snowmobile, it’s an actual 18-wheel semi-truck hauling a storage container filled with hard drives. See, it’s not meant for times when you need to back up your photo or video collection, but rather for an entire company’s data, such as a movie studio’s archives or a government agency’s library of satellite imagery.
For any company that orders the service, the AWS Snowmobile truck will drive to their data center and connect its hard drives to the servers via a fiber connection. From there, the truck can carry up to 100 petabytes (that’s 1 million gigabytes) of data, drive it back to Amazon’s data centers, and upload to cloud storage.
Snowmobile is an expansion on Amazon’s existing Snowball service, where they ship a 80TB storage unit to customers, who then load it up with data over a 10Gbps connection. When finished, the Snowball unit is shipped back to Amazon and uploaded to their servers. At an even smaller scale Amazon already lets users ship their standard hard drives to be put in the cloud. Snowmobile is just this same idea but on a massive scale.
While using a physical truck to transport data around the country may seem impractical, it turns out to be faster than trying to upload it directly. Amazon points out that it would take more than 20 years to upload 100 petabytes of data, even with a fiber connection. With Snowmobile, a drive from New York to Los Angeles combined with the data transfer time is just 10 days.
As for pricing, Amazon charges based on how much data is on the truck per month, with rates starting at $0.005 per gigabyte. A fully loaded Snowmobile could come out to roughly $500,000, which is pretty decent deal considering the trucks are temperature controlled, tamper-resistant, and water-resistant, as well as being escorted by security personnel, with GPS tracking, alarm monitoring, and 24/7 video surveillance.