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5 Ways EBS Snapshots Can Make Your Life Easier

By January 9, 2020Article

Amazon Web Services (AWS) currently account for around 33% of the cloud market share. Part of the reason for this popularity is the wide range of services it offers, including Elastic Block Storage (EBS).  

EBS is one of AWS’s primary storage services and is supported by a wide variety of functionalities, including built-in snapshot backups. In this article, you’ll learn what snapshots are and some ways you can use them to maximize the value of your EBS services.


What Is EBS?

EBS is Amazon’s block storage service. It enables you to store large amounts of data in a variety of formats, including applications, file systems, databases, and raw data. Block storage provides flexible, high-performance storage.

EBS storage blocks are called volumes and work like individual hard drives. EBS volumes are persistent and are not tied to whether or not a volume is being actively used or is attached to an Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) instance.


What Are EBS Snapshots?

EBS snapshots are point in time backups of specific EBS volumes. Snapshots are created by dumping data to a backup in EBS, packaging it into a proprietary snapshot file, and transferring that file to AWS’ Simple Storage Service (S3).

Snapshots are a different type of backup than Amazon Machine Images (AMIs). 

AMIs are backups of entire EC2 instances, including any attached volumes, links to root devices, or links to snapshots. In contrast, snapshots are simple data backups.


Considerations When Using Snapshots

There are a few considerations to keep in mind when using EBS snapshots. 

  • Storage cost—snapshots are stored in S3 which provides cheaper storage options than EBS. However, if you store multiple copies of snapshots, particularly if you store copies in multiple regions, costs add up quickly. If you don’t manage snapshots carefully, you may end up spending more than you intend.

  • Recovery time—can be slow because snapshots must be moved from S3 back to EBS before a volume can be recreated. To speed this process, you can pre-warm your newly created volumes by making sure to access all data in the volume. Pre-warming makes future access faster.

  • Proprietary—snapshots cannot be easily exported outside of AWS, creating vendor lock-in and providing less granular control over your data. This is in comparison to other cloud storage services, such as Azure file storage, which enables you to store backups in a hybrid system. To get around this, you may wish to create additional backups using third-party tools.


5 Ways EBS Snapshots Can Make Your Life Easier

Snapshots are an easy to use and reliable way of backing up your data in EBS. These backups can help you simplify your cloud management processes and increase your return on investment. Below are some ways to derive enhanced benefits from snapshots.

  1. Automation

Snapshots can be easily automated through AWS Backup, Lifecycle manager, or with custom scripting. Using these methods, you can define the frequency that snapshots are taken, the time of creation, and how long individual snapshots are kept for. Automating snapshots can help minimize tedious work and ensure that your data remains available for recovery. 

Make sure to schedule your backups for slow or off-business hours to avoid impacting your volume performance. When creating your policies, you should also keep in mind that you can only retain up to 10,000 snapshots for up to 1000 days each. This may seem like a lot but if you are taking daily snapshots and not deleting older copies, this allowance can quickly fill up.

  1. Eases RAID configurations

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) is an architecture in which copies of your data are stored in mirrored locations. Mirroring enables you to take advantage of parallel processing and access, and increased performance. It also provides data redundancy and eliminates single points of failure.

You can use snapshots to quickly mirror EBS volumes and add volumes to your RAID configuration as needed. Using snapshots ensures that your volumes are perfectly mirrored and reduces the chance of misconfiguration.

  1. Storage Savings

Snapshots can be used to store data from inactive or archival volumes. If you are not actively using or planning to use volumes, there is no reason to use EBS storage. EBS storage is more expensive than S3 storage and does not ensure great data durability. 

Snapshots are also more efficient at storing data than duplicate volumes or traditional backups. 

Snapshots are stored incrementally, saving only the minimum amount of data needed to protect against data loss. 

Each time a new snapshot is taken, only the data that has changed since the last snapshot is recorded. Incremental snapshots are then chained together to form a complete backup. When you delete older snapshots, data from those backups is condensed into the remaining snapshots. This compilation ensures you retain a complete backup at all times.

  1. Disaster and Data Recovery

Snapshots can enable reliable disaster or data recovery, particularly if you are taking snapshots frequently and consistently. Using snapshots, you can easily restore lost volumes or replace compromised ones.

To ensure that your snapshots are secure and available, you might consider storage in a separate AWS account. At a minimum, you should store snapshot copies in a different region than your primary resources. These tactics can ensure that if an attacker gains access to your systems they aren’t able to access all data copies.

  1. Easy Data Sharing

You can use snapshots to easily share data between departments or even organizations. 

Rather than providing access to your resources, you can provide third-parties with their own copy.

Sharing data through snapshots can help avoid the need to open resources and environments to others. It can also eliminate risks related to third-party changes or vulnerabilities. When sharing snapshots, use encryption during transfer to ensure that your data is only shared with your intended recipient.



When using AWS EBS, snapshots can provide you with a relatively fast and easy way to backup and archive your data. With a bit of extra effort, snapshots can also be used to increase your utilization of both EBS and EC2 and your overall ROI. 

Hopefully, this article helped you understand what an EBS snapshot is, including its limitations and functionalities. Using the tips covered here, you should be able to derive greater value from your snapshots and improve the efficiency of your systems.


Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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