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

No matter where you are in the process of moving to the AWS cloud, from consideration to the migration process, it’s always important to learn more about what it is, how it works, and how you can optimize it for your organization. 

In this blog, we will give you an understanding of the Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), why it is such an important and foundational service — and most importantly, how it provides the underlying storage layer for your data lake in AWS.

What is Amazon S3?

Amazon S3 is a program that’s built to store, protect, and retrieve data from “buckets” at any time from anywhere on any device. 

Organizations of any size in any industry can use this service. Use cases include websites, mobile apps, archiving, data backups and restorations, IoT devices, enterprise application storage, and providing the underlying storage layer for your data lake.

How Does Amazon S3 Work?

Organizing, storing and retrieving data in Amazon S3 focuses on two key components: buckets and objects that work together to create the storage system. As AWS describes it, an S3 environment is a flat structure — a user creates a bucket; the bucket stores objects in the cloud. 

Amazon S3 Objects

As mentioned above, in Amazon S3 terms, objects are data files, including documents, photos, and videos. Each object is identified by a unique key within the S3 environment that differentiates it from other stored objects. The maximum object file size is 160 GB for uploading, however there are various AWS tools to help you add files larger than this.

Amazon S3 Buckets

Amazon S3 bucketsIn an S3 environment, objects need somewhere to go, which is why buckets exist, serving as fundamental storage containers for objects. 

You can create up to 100 buckets in each of your AWS cloud accounts, with no limit on the number of objects you can store in a bucket. If needed, you can request up to 1,000 more buckets by submitting a service limit increase.

When you create a bucket, you have the ability to choose the AWS region to store it in. To minimize costs and address latency concerns, it’s best practice to select a region that’s geographically closest to you. Objects that reside in a bucket within a specific region remain in that region unless you transfer the files elsewhere.

It’s also important to know that Amazon S3 buckets are globally unique. No other AWS account in the same region can have the same bucket names as yours unless you first delete your own buckets.

Amazon S3 Console

In the Amazon S3 Console inside AWS Management, you can easily manage objects and buckets. The console provides an intuitive, browser-based user interface for interacting with AWS services.

This is where you can create, configure, and manage buckets, as well as upload, download, and manage objects. The console allows you to organize storage using a logical hierarchy driven by keyword prefixes and delimiters. 

Objects and buckets form a folder structure within the console, making it easy to locate files since every Amazon S3 object can be uniquely addressed through the combination of the web service endpoint, bucket name, key — and optionally, version. You can set access permissions for all buckets and objects within the management console.

What are the Advantages of Amazon S3?

If you’re looking for secure storage that’s simple and robust, Amazon S3 is a great choice. AWS built this tool with a minimal feature set that delivers big advantages. Let’s take a look at a few: 

Scalability

Storage providers often offer predetermined amounts of storage and network transfer capacity, similar to how some cell phone or cable providers bundle data and bandwidth usage. If you stay within your limits, you’ll pay a flat rate even if you don’t use all of your capacity. But if you exceed your limit, the provider will charge pricey overage fees or perhaps suspend your service until the beginning of the next billing cycle. 

Amazon S3 charges only for what you actually use. With no hidden fees or overage charges, this service allows you to scale your storage resources up and down so you can meet your organization’s ever-fluctuating demands with ease.

Durability and Accessibility

Business Reputation and durability

According to AWS, Amazon S3 is “...designed for 99.999999999% (11 9s) of durability, storing data for millions of applications for companies all around the world.” The service automatically creates and stores your S3 objects across multiple systems, meaning your data is protected and you can access it quickly whenever you need it. 

As AWS notes, “If you store 10,000,000 objects with Amazon S3, you can on average expect to incur a loss of a single object once every 10,000 years.”

Cost-Effective Storage

When you use Amazon S3, you can store your data in a range of “storage classes” based on the frequency and immediacy you need to access your files. 

Storage classes range from the most expensive cost level for immediate access to your mission-critical files to the lowest level for files you rarely touch, but need to have available for regulatory or other long-term needs. 

AWS provides tools that allow you to monitor your objects and determine if they should be moved to a less expensive storage class. For example, S3 Intelligent Tiering is a program that’s set to automatically move your data from higher-priced storage classes to lower ones based upon your ongoing access patterns.

Versioning

While not enabled by default, versioning is a setting that allows for multiple variants of a file or object to exist in the same bucket. This provides an opportunity to roll back or recover a deleted object. 

Powerful Security

security

Thanks to encryption features and access management tools, data stored in your AWS S3 environment is protected from unauthorized access. This includes blocking all public access from all of your objects — at both the bucket and account levels. 

By default, the users within your organization only have access to the S3 buckets and objects they create. You can use a variety of AWS security management features to change and customize access permissions. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) can also be utilized to allow users to permanently delete an object version — or to modify the versioning state of a bucket. 

AWS also offers tools so you can analyze your bucket access policies to quickly find and fix any discrepancies that might allow unauthorized use and/or unintended access.

Why Should I Consider Using Amazon S3?

If you’re still not sure whether Amazon S3 is right for your organization, consider this: Amazon S3 is designed for 99.999999999% (11 9s) of data durability. With that level of durability, you can expect that if you store 10,000,000 objects in Amazon S3, you should only expect to lose a single object every 10,000 years! 

Amazon S3 automatically creates and stores copies of all uploaded objects across multiple systems, allowing your data to be protected against failures, errors, and threats and available when needed. 

Let our AWS experts help you get started with a consultation today!

Check out our other blogs in this AWS 101 series to learn even more about what Amazon Web Services has to offer: 

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Meet the Author

Gerald Van Guilder, Senior Cloud Architect

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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