Amazon has a new service that makes Google Fiber seem slow. And it rides on 18 wheels.
Yes, today’s speediest internet connections make it faster to download movies than to go to the store and buy them. But downloading or uploading truly large amounts of data can still take days, months, or even years—think a film studio’s entire video archives or the satellite imagery collections of government agencies. That lag is a problem for Amazon, which wants companies to store their information in its lucrative cloud. But it’s also a natural one for Amazon—a logistics company at heart—to solve. So this week the company announced one of its strangest ideas yet: a tractor trailer that will transport your data to Amazon’s own data centers. (Insert information superhighway joke here.)
Amazon announced the new service, confusingly named Snowmobile, at its Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas this week. It’s designed to shuttle as many as 100 petabytes–around 100,000 terabytes–per truck. That’s enough storage to hold five copies of the Internet Archive (a comprehensive backup of the web both present and past), which contains “only” about 18.5 petabytes of unique data.
Amazon has long let businesses ship hard disks full of data to Amazon for uploading into the retail giant’s cloud. But copying 100 petabytes to individual hard drives isn’t practical. Snowmobile acts like a giant hard drive that comes to you.
Using multiple semis to shuttle data around might seem like overkill. But for such massive amounts of data, hitting the open road is still the most efficient way to go. Even with a one gigabit per-second connection such as Google Fiber, uploading 100 petabytes over the internet would take more than 28 years. At an average speed of 65 mph, on the other hand, you could drive a Snowmobile from San Francisco to New York City in about 45 hours—about 4,970 gigabits per second. That doesn’t count the time it takes to actually transfer the data onto Snowmobile–which Amazon estimates will take less than 10 days–or from the Snowmobile onto Amazon’s servers. But all told, that still makes the truck much, much faster. And because Amazon has data centers throughout the country, your data probably won’t need to travel cross-country anyway.
“On the security side, Snowmobile incorporates multiple layers of logical and physical protection, including chain-of-custody tracking and video surveillance,” Amazon cloud evangelist Jeff Barr wrote in a blog post announcing the service. In other words, Amazon is keeping a close eye on your data while it’s on the road. Each truck is weather-proofed and tamper-resistant and all data is encrypted, Barr says.
The big question is whether there are many businesses out there who need or want such as service. Snowmobile is an outgrowth of an existing Amazon service called Snowball, in which Amazon sends customers an appliance that can hold 80 terabytes of data. Customers fill this up and ship it back to Amazon, which uploads it directly into its cloud.
Apparently Snowball wasn’t quite enough for some customers. In fact, Amazon seems to believe that some companies will need multiple Snowmobiles. The site advertises itself as capable of handling data at the exabytes scale—or by Amazon’s new measurement, ten truckloads.