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What is AWS Snowball?
Updated on 31st May, 23 517 Views

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What is AWS Snowball?

It is a facility that provides secure, robust, and sturdy devices so one can bring AWS computing and storage ability to their edge environments and transfer data to and from AWS. These devices are generally known as AWS Snowball devices or AWS Snowball Edge devices.

What is an Amazon Snowball Device?

A Snowball device is a petabyte-scale data transfer solution that utilizes reliable appliances to transport large quantities of data to and from the AWS cloud. Using Snowball tackles general challenges that are faced when dealing with large-scale data transfers including extreme network expenses, long transfer duration, and security issues.

AWS Snowball Device

Key Features of AWS Snowball

  • Fast data transfer: It is possible as the encryption is performed on the device itself, which, in turn, facilitates a high data throughput rate and shorter data transmission duration.
  • Edge computing workloads: AWS OpsHub is a user interface for simple management and monitoring, enabling the users to efficiently deploy edge computing workloads.
  • Clustering: Clustering enables the creation of a local storage tier, which has increased durability for better performance.
  • Encryption: Encryption is done automatically on all data transferred to Amazon Snowball with 256-bit encryption keys.
  • Portability: Rugged and portable case of Snowball facilitates durability.
  • End-to-end tracking: All locations that are covered by the Snowball device are specified as they are being delivered to the desired location.
  • Secure: Once the job of specific data transmission is completed, AWS ensures that secure data erasure is performed on Snowball.

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How to use AWS Snowball?

Before starting to use Snowball, one needs to place an order for the same on AWS. Once it is received, one can follow these steps to ensure successful usage of the device.

Step 1: Connect the Snowball Device to the local network

  • Connect the turned off Snowball to the local network
  • The power cable is to be attached to the back of the device and then to be plugged into a reliable power supply
  • Press the power button and wait till the e-link display says ready
  • After the device is ready, the following will be displayed on the screen
How to use AWS Snowball
  • The device is now ready to transfer data.

Step 2: Data Transfer

  • The first step in transferring data using a Snowball is getting the credentials
  • After the credentials are received, one needs to download and install the Snowball client tool
  • The next step is to run and authenticate the access to the device
    • For authentication, open the command prompt and type in the following command:
snowball start -i [Snowball IP Address] -m [Path/to/manifest/file] -u [29 character unlock code]
  • After authentication, a confirmation message is received and now one can begin the transfer of data from the Snowball.

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Step 3: Disconnect the Snowball

  • Once all data transfer with the device has ended, one can turn it off by pressing the power button located above the LCD display. It takes about 20 seconds for the device to shut down.
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Benefits of AWS Snowball

The following are the benefits of Snowball:

  • Scalable: The data that the client wants to transfer is transported to cloud storage or specifically Amazon S3. Snowball, with the help of multiple devices, enables a very speedy transfer of terabytes of data in an efficient manner.
  • Security: At AWS, security is of utmost importance. It is considered a shared responsibility between the consumer and AWS.

The shared responsibility model comprises the security of the cloud and security in the cloud.

  • Security of the cloud: The infrastructure that runs services of the Amazon cloud is protected by AWS. The security of the AWS cloud is checked on a regular basis by third parties so as to maintain its effectiveness.
  • Security in the cloud: This is the part where the clients’ responsibilities are determined by AWS. Data sensitivity, the consumers’ company requirements, and applicable regulations are the responsibilities of the clients.
  • High speed: Due to huge traffic over the web these days, it takes approximately a month to transfer huge amounts of data, which can be done in a week’s time when using this.
  • Flexible data recovery: Amazon Snowball tends to ease the tedious job of data transmission from the clients’ own premises.
  • Simple and compatible: Amazon Snowball has a lucid working; the management consoles work on providing a better experience to the clients while surfing AWS.
  • Economical: As the number of internet users is perpetually increasing, the time it takes to transfer any data across the network is tiringly copious and, hence, very expensive. This is where Snowball comes in, as it is fast and inexpensive as compared to the internet.

Use Cases of Snowball

Few use cases are mentioned below:

  • Cloud data migration: The migration of digital assets to the cloud is done efficiently with the help of Snowball.
  • Content distribution: It eases the process of distributing the data as it can be directly sent to a client’s or customer’s location.
  • Tactical edge computing: Organizations that take responsibility for the safety of the public, continuously require data collection from sensors, drones, and cameras. It provides security, flexible storage, and powerful computing, which is suitable for such organizations.

What is Snowball Edge?

This facilitates the technology as it provides an increase in the local computational power and it automatically encrypts data on the device without the need for Snowball client download. As compared to AWS Snowball, AWS Snowball Edge provides faster and comparatively reliable services.

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Snowball Edge has the following three configurations:

  • Storage optimized
  • Compute-optimized
  • Optional onboard GPU

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Difference between Snowball and Snowball Edge

The basic difference between Snowball and Snowball Edge is the capacity they provide. Snowball provides a total of 50 TB or 80 TB, out of which 42 TB or 72 TB is available, while Amazon Snowball Edge provides 100 TB, out of which 83 TB is available.

The general idea behind both types of devices falls under the same umbrella but Snowball Edge does not require downloading a client’s data in order to perform encryption and other tasks, while Snowball heavily relies on it.

Best Practices while using AWS Snowball

A few practices are helpful, if maintained, such as:

  • If the Snowball seems suspicious, one need not connect it to the local internet network.
  • A copy of the unlock code should never be saved at the same address as the job manifest since this prevents third parties from gaining unauthorized access.
  • After every data transfer, a log is automatically generated and saved into the client’s system. This is potentially sensitive information and it is suggested that one must delete the log after the job is done.
  • One must always make sure that their workstation is the local host for their data.
  • The workstation should be a system that is efficient enough in terms of networking and memory.
  • Parallel instances of a Snowball client can be made to run in multiple terminals, where each terminal uses the copy operation for speeding up the transfer.
  • Do not interrupt the data transmission by disconnecting the Snowball mid-transmission.
  • All files that are to be transferred must be in a static state.
  • It is recommended that there should be no more than 500,000 files or directories within each directory.
  • A job can be canceled only when the status is Job Created.
  • Until the data is successfully imported to Amazon S3, it is recommended to not delete your local copy of the data.

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Limitations while using Amazon Snowball

As useful as the service may be, there are a few limitations that one must remember while working with AWS Snowball and AWS Snowball Edge:

  • Regional limitations

Both types of devices, Snowball and Snowball Edge have available with regards to the region, which is mentioned in the table below:

RegionSnowball AvailabilitySnowball Edge Availability
US East (Ohio)50 TB and 80 TB100 TB
US West (Oregon)50 TB and 80 TB100 TB
Asia Pacific (Mumbai)80 TB only100 TB
Europe (Ireland)80 TB only100 TB
  • Job limitations
    • Data transfer should not exceed more than 90 days for security reasons
    • Server-side encryption is not supported in Amazon Snowball Edge devices
    • The maximum number of Snowballs that one can have at a given point in time is one
    • Changes are applied to the metadata of all objects that are transferred to Snowball
  • Limitations regarding the transfer of on-premise data
    • All files need to be in a static state for successful transmission
    • Jumbo frames with more than 1,500 bytes are not supported
    • Any objects that end with forwarding slash or backward slash will not be transferred
    • Multipart data transfer cannot exceed more than 512 MB
  • Limitations regarding shipping
    • A Snowball will never be shipped to a post office box
    • No shipping is possible between non-US localities
    • If a Snowball is moved to an address outside the specified country without a job created, it is considered a violation of the AWS service terms.
  • Limitations on returning Snowball for import
    • The device must not be compromised under any circumstances
    • No physical damages are expected on the device
    • The Snowball’s e-ink must clearly display the automatically generated return label

Pricing of an AWS Snowball Device

AWS pricing is based on the consumption of all individual services. The total combined usage of each service generates the bill each month.

Amazon Snowball pricing has four main cost components:

  • The service fee for every job, which is a one-time setup charge, is ordered through the console including 10 days of on-scene usage
  • Data transfer into Amazon S3 amounts to null, while on the other hand, data out of Amazon S3 is region-specific
  • Shipping charges depend on the standard carrier fee
  • The number of days a Snowball is kept on site after the first 10 days, has a per-day charge, which is region-specific


If you are thinking about making use of the AWS Snowball Edge technology, do some research into the steps that you should take. You will need to create an AWS account that includes administrator-level AWS Identity and Access Management permissions.

The files and folders that you want to transfer also need to follow object key naming conventions for Amazon S3. The exact steps depend on whether you wish to import data, export data, or use compute instances; so, read up on the details to ensure that you get the job done right.

If you thought our AWS Snowball tutorial was helpful, let us know in the comments below.

If you have any more questions about AWS Snowball Please feel free to leave it on our AWS Community!

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