Amazon redefines the sneakernet with Snowball data courier

Back in the not-so-good old days, data was carried around on floppy disks and rewritable CDs. The adventurous would perhaps lug around a portable hard drive. This kind of file transfer is colloquially called the "sneakernet," and the practice generated a mantra: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." Now, Amazon is redefining that concept with its Snowball data transfer device, targeted at serious Amazon Web Services users.

Here's how it works: users ask for a Snowball by way of the AWS console. The hardware itself is a 50-pound box that can hold up to 50 TB of data. When it arrives, you attach its 10 Gbps Ethernet port to your network and transfer your data. The Snowball will encrypt the data stream on the fly, and when it's done, the E Ink screen on its side will automatically show a shipping label for the correct AWS facililty. After the data is pulled off the Snowball and into an AWS account, the Snowball is data-sanitized. Neat, eh?

Multiple Snowballs can be used by an organization at the same time, the casing is tamper-proof, and the device can withstand shocks up to 6 gs. Data is secured by 256-bit encryption backed by a Trusted Platform Module. Encryption keys are managed by users and never stored on the appliance.

A Snowball can be used for exporting data from AWS, say, if one of your local servers caught fire and you needed to pull a multi-terabyte backup from AWS pronto. Data sharing between AWS clients is also a possibility.

Customers will pay $200 for each data transfer job plus shipping costs, which gets a Snowball on site for up to 10 days. A $15-per-day charge applies past that window. Data transferred into an S3 account is free, but pulling data off it costs 3 cents per gigabyte. Amazon isn't selling the Snowballs themselves, though.

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