AWS 101: Understanding Amazon Elastic Block Store

Posted by Gerald Van Guilder, Senior Cloud Architect

Nov 04, 2020


Storage for mission-critical systems and the most-demanding workloads needs to deliver robust performance day in and day out. Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) saves the day with reliable, scalable persistent block-level storage volumes in the AWS cloud.

In this latest installment of AWS 101, we’re going to dive into how Amazon Elastic Block Store works with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to remain available and protect against failures to ensure data integrity and accessibility in a secure AWS environment.

What is Amazon Elastic Block Store and How Does It Work?

Amazon EBS is an easy-to-use block storage solution that, as noted, works with Amazon EC2 instances. It offers high-performance storage for critical workloads.

discussing data

Amazon Elastic Block Store offers five different volume types that help you find the balance between price and performance that best suits your organization. These include the following:

  • General Purpose SSD (gp2)
  • Provisioned IOPS SSD (io1 and io2)
  • Throughput Optimized HDD (st1)
  • Cold HDD (sc1)

EBS volumes act like “raw, unformatted block devices.” This means you can attach these volumes to single EC2 instances as if they were a device. It is important to note that these volumes persist independently from the instances they are mounted on and can be used similarly to a hard drive.

You can encrypt volumes on the same servers that host your Amazon EC2 instances. This gives you encrypted data-in-transit between EC2 instances to the EBS storage.

EBS volumes work well as primary storage for file systems, databases and apps requiring granular updates. For example, you can create a file system on top of EBS volumes and change the volume’s configuration at any time.

HDD-backed volumes support large, sequential workloads, while those backed by SDD offer options for high-volume needs, whereas general-purpose volumes are recommended for most typical workloads.

Does Amazon Elastic Block Store Have Benefits?

In addition to the general reasons listed in the section above, Amazon EBS offers a number of benefits as a storage solution for Amazon EC2 users.

Easy to Use

Creation, protection, encryption and more are simple. This includes managing and adjusting volume storage capacity and performance.

Secure and Highly Available

Volumes are designed to protect against failure by replicating with the Availability Zone at 99.999% availability. You can encrypt files easily by default with a single setting in your account.


Increase your storage capacity without disrupting critical workloads for projects as little as 1 GB or petabytes of data in just a few clicks.

What Are Some Typical Use Cases?

AWS recommends using EBS for data that needs to be “quickly accessible and requires long-term persistence.” This storage solution works best with “database-style applications that rely on random reads and writes” and “throughput-intensive applications that perform long, continuous reads and writes.”

man working with data

Typical use cases include:

  • Enterprise applications - Run with Microsoft, Oracle, Sharepoint, SAP and VMWare applications, among others.
  • Business continuity - Minimize data loss and recovery time with regular backups.
  • File systems and media workflow - Easily add additional volumes with a choice of types.
  • Relational databases - Deploys with SAP HANA, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, MySQL and PostgreSQL.
  • NoSQL databases - Provides consistent, low-latency performance with such databases as Cassandra, MongoDB and CouchDB.
  • Big Data analytics engines - Offers data persistence, dynamic performance adjustments and detachment/reattachment of volumes and cluster resizing for big analytics engines like Hadoop and Spark.

You can monitor your EBS for any of these use cases using Amazon CloudWatch. You’ll find such performance metrics as bandwidth, throughput, latency and average queue length in your AWS Management Console. This allows you to ensure your volumes are providing enough performance for your applications without paying for resources you don't need.

We want to be sure you understand all that Amazon Web Services has to offer, so be sure to check out other blogs in our AWS 101 series.

AWS 101: An Introduction to Modern Cloud Computing

AWS 101: What is Amazon WorkSpaces?

AWS 101: How Does Amazon EC2 Work in Cloud Computing?

AWS 101: What is Amazon S3 and Why Should I Use It?

AWS 101: How AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) Works

AWS 101: How AWS Cloud Security Securely Protects Your Data

AWS 101: Why You Should Be Deploying AWS Lambda to Run Code

AWS 101: Using AWS Auto Scaling to Manage Infrastructure

AWS 101: What is Amazon Route 53?

AWS 101: What is Amazon S3 Glacier Storage?

AWS 101: A Look at AWS Database Services


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Gerald Van Guilder, Senior Cloud Architect

Gerald (Jerry) Van Guilder specializes in GCP and AWS architecture, deployments/implementations and migrations. One of the many things that he enjoys is enabling clients to feel empowered not only by technologies but also in the skill/knowledge transfer that transpires during the course of an engagement. Jerry lives (and works) in Syracuse, New York, with his wife and two pups.

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