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EBS vs EFS vs FSx vs S3: How These Storage Options Differ

EBS vs EFS vs FSx vs S3: what are the differences between them? This guide helps you choose the Amazon storage option that is right for your use case.

9 min read
EBS vs EFS vs FSx vs S3: How These Storage Options Differ

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What are the different types of Amazon Web Services storage options, and which is best to host your data on the cloud?

Business adoption of cloud storage continues to rise, with 30% of companies now storing information online. AWS dominates the data storage market. Amazon S3 Standard holds a commanding 27% share of frequently accessed simple storage service.

However, AWS offers multiple data storage services, not just S3. Want to know more about AWS EFS vs S3? When to choose FSx over EFS?

EBS vs EFS vs FSx vs S3 often confuses new customers. What does each service offer? And which one is right for your business needs? What about EC2 instance store vs EBS?

This article helps explain the different AWS storage options.

Learn the differences between Elastic Block Store and Standard Storage Service. See how FSx compares to Elastic File System.

Read on to choose the correct storage option to future-proof your company. And how hiring the right AWS partner is critical to that success.

Amazon Web Services storage options

AWS offers a range of data storage services, including block storage, file storage, and object storage. Each employs a unique way to store information on the cloud.

For example, simple storage service or S3 tends to be a catch-all system for companies to store data in 'buckets.' Objects include metadata for easy reference and retrieval as needed.

On the other hand, block storage holds no metadata, which often gives the advantage of speed and stability for larger data sets. In comparison, file storage works with hierarchal information.

We'll discuss these three types throughout the article, but what does AWS offer in terms of storage services?

AWS storage services

Amazon Web Services has eleven ways its data storage and transfer solutions can be used. They include backup and data migration to transfer your information to the cloud.

The four primary services that deal specifically with storing data are:

This guide breaks each of these down by explaining what they do and how they work. We also summarize the main pros and cons when matching the services together, then provide a summary at the end.

Elastic Block Store

Amazon Elastic Block Store or EBS is a high-performance, block-storage service that provides volumes that work with any operating system running in EC2.

EBS volumes attach to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances for transaction-heavy workloads that scale. Large enterprise apps may use EBS to store self-managed relational and NoSQL databases. They may then run big data analytics engines against this information that work at lightning speed.

Amazon offers six types of volume to suit any budget and performance specification. They come in either SSD or HDD flavours. Each can be fine-tuned, and the volume size increased without disrupting the overall service.

But what exactly is block storage, and what are the benefits it brings?

What is block storage?

Block-level storage saves data as 'blocks' or segments on cloud-based environments. Every block has its unique identifier but contains no related information like metadata.

Developers choose this option when they need ultra-quick, reliable, and efficient data access.

The reason is that blocks get stored wherever they're most efficient. They don't need to reside on one server or one specific operating system. Because they're decoupled, the underlying storage system gathers blocks together as required. And that makes the service run fast.

AWS EBS Storage Pricing

EBS is priced based on a few different dimensions including the volume type (gp3, gp2, io2) and then the amount of storage by GB-month, provisioned IOPS (input/output operations per second) per month, and throughput measured in MB/s per month. More details on AWS EBS pricing is available at the AWS EBS pricing page.

Pros and cons of Elastic Block Store

EBS's biggest strengths are its reliable performance and flexibility.

It's ideal for apps that need low latency with many IO operations like database servers. It's scalable, so you can add extra block storage volumes without dropping performance.

Unlike object storage, block stores only overwrite individual data blocks, not the entire object. That alone speeds the update process significantly.

While most EBS volumes can only bind to one server at a time, the launch of Amazon EBS Multi-Attach as outlined in this announcement for provisioned IOPS volumes offers greater flexibility in some scenarios. AWS EBS multi-attach allows you to connect a single EBS volume to multiple instances of supported types, a feature that has been long awaited by many.

Searching blocks also takes time as they contain no corresponding metadata. On the flipside, it's easy to set up automated EBS snapshots so your backup needs are taken care of.

EC2 Instance Store vs EBS

An EC2 instance store is a type of SSD storage located on the physical server that hosts an EC2 instance. Instance store is a kind of temporary block-level storage for your EC2 instance, which is located on disks that are directly attached to the host computer. Instance store is sometimes referred to as "ephemeral storage".

Instance store is suitable for applications that require temporary storage, such as buffer caches, staging areas, and spooling directories. The data on your instance store volumes will be lost when the instance is stopped or terminated. Therefore, you should not use instance store for persistent data.

If you need persistent storage for your application, you can use Amazon EBS volumes instead of instance store volumes.

Which sort of storage do Amazon EFS and Amazon FSx provide?

Read on to find out more about these two distinct file storage solutions.

Elastic File System

Amazon Elastic File System (EFS) is a fully managed and scalable NFS file system that can be mounted to Linux and Mac EC2 instances and on-premises compute resources.

EFS offers elastic/scalable storage, reaching petabytes of data without disrupting apps. The service works with thousands of Amazon EC2 instances with consistent low-latencies. That's why many enterprises use it to transfer their apps directly onto the cloud.

Amazon offers two standard classes of file system storage in EFS: Standard and Infrequent Access storage class (EFS Standard-IA).

The latter option reduces the cost to as low as $0.025/GB-month. And as 80% of typical workloads are infrequently accessed, this results in huge savings.

It also offers two one-zone storage classes, One Zone and One Zone Infrequent Access.

What is file system storage?

File storage, or file-level/file-based storage, has been a staple of traditional computing for decades.

Data gets saved in directory trees, folders, and traditional files. It's similar to a local hard drive running Microsoft Windows or Linux. There's one way to access data, unlike block storage's method of distribution.

A user-level interface works with file storage data to retrieve, save, and delete files and hierarchies.

This layer of abstraction is great when working with cloud data. And AWS overcomes the problems of limited storage with NAS technology by providing a scalable way to save information.

AWS EFS Pricing

EFS is billed based on the amount of storage used (it is fully flexible so you don't have to provision a particular volume size as with EBS), for provisioned throughput if applicable, and in the case of Infrequent Access storage classes, you pay for read and write acccess to the data. One-Zone storage classes cost roughtly half the standard classes at around $0.04/GB-Month and $0.08/GB-Month respectively.

Pros and cons of Elastic File System

Does your business need a centralized way to store files within a hierarchical folder system? Do you need that data to be easily accessible, scalable, and affordable? If so, the AWS EFS is a perfect choice.

EFS makes shared file systems cloud-compatible and is simple to integrate without significant code changes.

EFS filesystems have UNIX-style user/group permissions and enforces the POSIX chown_restricted attribute.

On the downside, file-based storage doesn't offer the same performance level as block storage on an IOPS basis. It also only operates with standard protocols like NTFS and NFS. That restricts usage across different platforms.

EFS is not compatible with Windows.

Amazon FSx

Amazon FSx provides a comprehensive managed file storage service tailored to the needs of AWS customers. Based on the Windows Server foundation, FSx offers compatibility with a wide range of Windows Server platforms, ensuring seamless integration and performance.

The service offers two distinct solutions to cater to different business needs:

  1. Amazon FSx for Windows File Server: This service is designed to provide robust file storage for business applications. It offers the familiarity of Windows Server Message Block (SMB) services, enabling users to access files seamlessly from various platforms such as Windows, macOS, or Linux. This accessibility can be from in-house systems or virtualized AWS environments.
  2. Amazon FSx for Lustre: Aimed at high-performance computing workloads, this solution optimizes shared storage for fast processing.

Integration with Microsoft Active Directory ensures businesses can easily manage user groups and access. Security is a top priority, with FSx offering end-to-end encryption in transit and at rest. Additionally, users benefit from fully managed backups, ensuring data integrity and availability.

Another innovative service within the FSx family is the AWS FSx File Gateway. This hybrid storage service facilitates access to fully managed file shares in FSx for Windows File Server via on-premises SMB or directly from business applications.

For businesses familiar with the ONTAP storage operating system, AWS FSx for ONTAP presents a friendly environment. This service allows users to leverage ONTAP features like SnapMirror, SnapRestore, SnapVault, and even integration with Active Directory. Notably, the scalability of this service ensures that storage capacity can be adjusted up or down without the need for new hardware provisioning.

Furthermore, AWS FSx for ONTAP Capacity Pool Storage is a cloud-native file storage solution that seamlessly integrates with existing on-premises storage infrastructure. This service provides a cost-effective avenue for storing and retrieving data in the cloud, with flexibility in scaling storage capacity as needed. It is available in two distinct editions: Standard and Advanced, catering to various business requirements.

Amazon FSx offers a multifaceted storage service portfolio, each designed with specific business use cases in mind. Whether routine business applications or high-performance computing tasks, FSx provides the tools for optimized file storage and accessibility.

For an AWS FSx FAQ of sorts, visit the AWS FSx documentation

AWS FSx Pricing

FSx bills, like most managed storage services, for the amount of storage, the throughput capacity, and any backups you require. There are a number of use cases for AWS FSx Pricing, so we recommend reviewing the documentation

The cost of AWS FSx for ONTAP depends on the edition you choose and the region in which you deploy it. Standard Edition starts at $0.30 per hour, while Advanced Edition starts at $1.20 per hour.

Pros and cons of Amazon FSx

FSx offers an excellent Windows-based service with its built-in SMB and Active Directory support, compatible with UNC path format.

It includes all the security and redundancy benefits that Windows Server brings, like DFS namespaces. Amazon adds Amazon Virtual Private Cloud security to manage network traffic. It also logs system events for auditing purposes.

General Purpose SSD volumes provide a balance between performance and price and are appropriate for most workloads. Provisioned IOPS SSD volumes are designed for high performance and low latency. You can select the capacity you need with sizes reaching 64TB.

However, Amazon FSx can suffer from lower transfer rates compared to native Windows Server platforms. And of course, if you don't use Windows as your OS, then FSx is a non-starter.

Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) offers scalable and secure object storage for any data type.

Businesses of all sizes use AWS S3 to host their website files, mobile apps, data archives, and data lakes. The 'simple' part refers to how easy the service is to integrate with your use-cases. An easy-to-use API enables quick file operations using the command line, SDKs and the web console. Millions of companies worldwide take advantage of S3 to store and share their data on the cloud.

S3 has built-in data redundancy so there is no need to backup data you have stored in S3 but if you have a requirement to copy your data to another region or bucket you can configure S3 to automatically replicate your objects to a different AWS region with what is called S3 Cross-Region Replication (CRR) or to another bucket in the same region by using S3 Same-Region Replication (SRR). This will of course increase your storage costs.

S3 has versioning optionally available with the flick of a switch so you can keep older versions of your objects if needed.

Pros and cons of Amazon Simple Storage Service

Amazon S3 requires no up-front investment, so you can use the service as needed, and you are charged for quantity of data stored and outbound data transfer. There are a number of different storage tiers available with varying costs and retrieval times. The longest retrieval time tier, Glacier, also offers the lowest cost. You can configure lifecycle policies to automatically transition your data throught the tiers eventually to cold storage. S3's very high data durability (up to 99.999999999% durability) makes it an excellent option for reliable and safe long term storage of critical files.

The service is affordable and scales automatically. Objects can include any data, so S3 lets you serve videos to spreadsheets and everything in between.

S3 forms the backbone of AWS file sharing solutions like the Media Exchange on AWS solution.

The web interface can take some getting used to, but it's important to take the time to go through all the tabs and options to ensure your buckets have been configured with the privacy, access policy, and encryption options required for your particular use case.

You can get started very quickly with S3 on the default tier, but this is also the most expensive so it's worthwhile to read the documentation and make sure you've chosen the right option for your use case.

EBS vs EFS vs FSx vs S3

Choosing the right storage option for your cloud architecture design depends on what you need it to do.

For Windows Server requirements, choose the new FSx storage. It's designed to work with that platform and optimized with SMB in mind and is a great AWS fileserver solution.

If you need high-speed, low-latency data access for individual EC2 instances, choose EBS.

Elastic File System is perfect if you use a folder/file system and need something that automatically scales in size, and it can be mounted to multiple EC2 instances. Choose this if you must attach to Linux or Mac instances.

Finally, for everything else, use S3.

AWS Simple Storage Service holds any type of data object you throw at it. So if you're not sure of all the kinds of objects you'll need to store or how you will process them, choose S3.

We are your AWS consulting partner

EBS vs EFS vs FSx vs S3 opens up Pandora's box when choosing the right data storage option.

Careful consideration must be given to select a file system or block storage approach. Your choice depends on things like IO requirements and scalability, operating systems, and integration with other AWS services like Athena and Kinesis.

That's why many companies hire Pilotcore to provide them with expert consultancy on AWS storage.

As certified Amazon Web Services partners, we will share our knowledge and expertise with you. That includes AWS cloud architecture design from the ground up.

We can also reduce your monthly AWS bills through our cost optimization service.

Learn more about our services and reach out to discuss your cloud architecture. You'll soon discover why 20+ years of our IT consulting experience and AWS certified engineering will benefit your business.

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