6 Little-Known Amazon EBS Features You Should Be Using

Guest post today from Gilad David Maayan. I thought it interesting and learned from it so I hope it is useful to you too. This is only my second time with a guest author so let me know what you think.


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In 2018, Amazon Web Services (AWS) held 85% of the cloud computing market share. A humble 9.9% out of that market share is held by Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS), the popular storage solution for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances. EC2 was reported to hold 58% of the AWS slice of the market share.

This article is meant for anyone who uses or plans to use Amazon EBS. By the time you finish reading, you should gain a better understanding of what Amazon EBS really is, what it’s meant for, and how to use it to your advantage while maintaining a reasonable budget.

What Is Amazon EBS?

Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) is a cloud-based block storage service. You can manage the service from the AWS platform, where you’ll be offered a variety of controls for changing the volume size and type, and optimizing the performance

The main advantage of block storage models lies in the system’s ability to save huge volumes of data into blocks. Each block operates like a hard drive that stores data, and all the block volumes are controlled by server-based operating systems.

The most common use for EBS is the storage of data from Amazon’s Virtual Machine (VM) service, Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Additionally, block storage systems provide high performance, which makes them ideal for transactional and frequently changing data.

EBS supports a variety of data types, including Docker containers, applications, structured and unstructured databases, big data engines, and file systems. EBS is designed to prevent data loss by replicating volumes into Availability Zone (AZ).

10 Little-Known Amazon EBS Features Your Should Be Using

EBS comes with a robust set of bells and whistles. Here are some of the little-known, but highly useful, features that would save your time and money.

  1. Use and Share EBS Snapshots

EBS Snapshots are a feature that enables incremental backups. It’s a built-in backup solution that was designed especially for EBS volumes. Snapshots “snap a shot” of the latest version of your volume, and then compress the data. You can then store the snapshot in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Saving a compressed EBS snapshot reduces your backup costs.

You can share snapshots across AWS Accounts, privately or publicly. Unencrypted snapshots can be shared with everyone. Encrypted snapshots can only be shared with the AWS users in possession of a custom Customer Managed Key (CMK).

  1. Automate EBS Snapshots

You don’t have to set up each EBS snapshot manually. EBS provides a feature for automating the process, called Amazon Data Lifecycle Manager. All you need to do is create your EBS snapshot policy, feed it to the Data Lifecycle Manager, and let the system do the work. To set this up, go to the AWS console, then the APIs section, or use the command line interface (CLI).

A basic snapshot lifecycle policy defines processes such as creating and deleting snapshots, and tagging volumes. You can also include the retention model, and let the Data Lifecycle Manager delete snapshots accordingly. Because each tag represents a different policy, you’ll be able to apply multiple policies to one volume.

  1. Delete Redundant Resources

EBS enables the persistence of volumes after EC2 instances stops. However, over time your block storage system will accumulate orphaned (aka, unattached or unused) volumes. Unattached volumes don’t carry traffic, and no longer have an active use, yet you pay for the space they occupy. To reduce the costs, you can delete some or all unattached volumes.

If you find the data useful, or believe it would be of use in the future, you can backup the volumes into snapshots. Keep in mind that, after a while, even your snapshots will lose their value. To maintain a healthy—and cost-effective—storage pricing, make it a habit to continually analyze the usefulness of snapshots. You’ll discover many redundancies to delete.

  1. Tag Volumes

A tag is a type of metadata that attaches a keyword or term to a piece of information. Tags are used for organizing, categorizing, sorting, filtering, and searching purposes. You can tag your EBS volumes, EBS snapshots, and EC2 instances, and other AWS resources. To maintain consistency, be sure to set up your tagging system in advance.

You can create a tagging system that tracks resources expenditure across different operations, such as DevOps, testing, and backup. You can tag the type of information, and keep track of how much transactional storage costs you, as opposed to the storage of sensitive information. When you need to evaluate costs, your tagging system will provide you with valuable insights.

  1. Configuring Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) Levels

RAID is a type of data storage virtualization technology, which is commonly used for achieving higher network throughput with better Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS). RAID techniques enable the storage of the same data, in different places, on multiple hard disks. The goal is to protect the data if a drive fails.

Before configuring RAID in EBS, note that not all RAID levels will provide redundancy. Amazon EBS doesn’t recommend RAID 5 and RAID 6, because some of the writes of these RAID levels will consume the IOPS of your volumes, which will overblow the cost. Assess your storage needs, and configure RAID array accordingly, preferably to levels 1-4.

  1. Optimize Volumes Performance 

Not everyone knows this, but you can resize your EBS volumes and optimize them according to how well they perform. You do this by using the Logical Volume Manager (LVM), which is a disk management mechanism for virtualizing disk drives.

LVM provides controls for managing the space capability, such as the ability to add or remove AWS EBS volumes on-demand. You can also use the LVM for creating, shrinking, or moving virtual disk partitions, to reduce the space used by each EBS volume.

It’s A Wrap!

Amazon EBS is a powerful block storage service, with a robust set of features. Each capability is designed to solve the unique problems cloud consumers face, especially the optimization of pricing models

The cloud offers often simple and quick resources, but without organized management you might wake up one day with a huge storage expense. Assess your needs in advance, and use the features outlined in this article to save time and money. With automation policies in place and a well-defined tagging structure, you can delegate repetitive EBS work to the system.

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