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7 Little-Known Amazon EBS Features You Should Be Using

By January 17, 2020Article

Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) is one of many services offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). Among these services, you can find storage, networking, databases, compute and development tools. AWS EBS provides persistent storage volumes that can connect to Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances. Moreover, EBS volumes provide low-latency storage for different high-performance cloud applications. Use cases include database management and big data analytics. 

Whether you’re new to EBS or an established user, there are many useful features you can use to optimize your system and ROI. In this article, you’ll learn about seven relatively easy to implement features you should be using.

1. EBS Snapshots Save Money

EBS snapshots are point-in-time copies of data that are useful for backup and disaster recovery. EBS snapshots are compressed and stored in the low-cost Simple Storage Service (S3). As a result, snapshots cost less than active volumes. In addition, you can create snapshots of low access volumes, enabling you to delete the source EBS volume to save more money.

Keep in mind, however, that too many snapshots can increase your cloud costs due to their incremental nature. Snapshots are incremental copies of data, created according to changes made since the last snapshot. Each copy references previous copies to form a complete backup. For cost optimization, you should delete snapshots older than 30 days.

2. EBS Volumes are Elastic During Use

The elasticity of cloud services enables adaptable workload changes. EBS is highly elastic. You can easily change the type and size of a volume, and the Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS). In older generations of EC2, you had to stop the instance and detach the volume before making any changes.

In addition, you had to take a snapshot of your previous storage volume, set up the new volume, then start the instance again and attach the modified volume. As a result, the application introduced unwanted downtime.

In new generations of EBS, you can modify volumes on-the-fly while running the instance. Increasing the size of currently in-use volumes eliminates the need for expensive over-provisioning and minimizes downtime.

3. Unattached Volumes are Expensive

Persistent storage, which enables you to keep EBS volumes that are not attached to active EC2 instances, is a useful feature of EBS volumes. However, you still have to pay for unattached volumes although they are not actively in use. 

Companies with large cloud deployments can easily lose track of unattached volumes. For example, when cloud admins delete an EC2 instance, they may forget to delete their attached EBS volumes. AWS console settings enable you to automatically remove unattached EBS volumes of terminated instances. Enabling this setting is risky since this volume may become useful someday.

If you don’t want to automatically delete volumes, cloud admins should check regularly for unattached volumes and manually remove them. Alternatively, you can archive your data outside of the cloud. With AWS, the best way to do this is through their hybrid services. Unfortunately, this can be more complicated to manage than with comparable hybrid services such as those offered by Azure file storage.

4. EBS Performance Optimization

There are many different ways to optimize the performance of EBS volumes. Here are two options that you may be unaware of:

Plan your desired volume size The size of EBS volumes directly impacts performance by determining the baseline for IOPS. However, choosing the largest storage size to enhance performance and allow future growth, often results in multiple unused resources. Reducing volume size requires more effort and downtime compared to expanding an EBS volume with insufficient size. 

Plan sizes conservatively to strike a balance between performance and cost. You can always expand volumes later if you need to. Optimize EBS instances

EBS–Optimized Instances provide optimized configuration and additional capacity for EBS volumes. Optimized instances provide dedicated network bandwidth for EBS volumes. As a result, there is no interference between EBS traffic and other network resources. EBS optimized instances can be more expensive but are often worth the cost for critical workloads. 

5. Initializing of EBS Volumes

New EBS volumes do not require initialization. EBS volumes reach maximum performance the moment they are created. However, to restore volumes from snapshots, you have to pull them down from S3 and write to the volume before you can access storage blocks. The performance of the restored volume can drop by 50 percent. 

To avoid this initial performance degradation in a production environment, you can use one of the following options:

  • Force an immediate initialization of the entire volume. This takes time upfront but speeds later processes.
  • Deliver all provisioned performance by enabling fast restore on a snapshot. Fast snapshot restore enables you to create a fully-initialized volume from a snapshot creation.

6. EBS Volume Tagging

Tags are metadata with values and keys that enable you to locate, manage and filter resources on your console. Tagging is useful because you can group and manage resources together. You can tag most AWS resources, including EC2 instances, EBS volumes, and snapshots. In addition, you can standardize tags according to usage and can select which tags appear in your reports. 

You can use tags to identify expensive volumes. For instance, you can use cost allocation tags to visualize the billing process or tag values like Dev, Test, and Backup to generate usage reports. 

7. Use RAID configurations

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) is an architecture for storing data in different locations. RAID eliminates the risk of data loss caused by single points of failure. In addition, RAID enables you to increase your network throughput and Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS) by dividing requests and workload over numerous drives.

EBS enables you to use any RAID configuration supported by your operating system. However, AWS recommends using RAID 1 or RAID 0 for maximum benefit. RAID 0 does not replicate data replication but can give you higher performance than you can provision on a single EBS volume. RAID 1, on the other hand, does not enhance performance but provides data redundancy for critical applications. 


EBS configuration can be overwhelming, especially if it is the first time you are setting up an AWS service. After the initial steps, you will likely want to focus on the optimization of your system and cost reduction. Hopefully, at least a few of the features mentioned above can help you do just that or at least give you some ideas to start exploring.


Connect with Gilad David Maayan on LinkedIn.

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