Amazon S3 (Amazon Simple Storage Service)

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solution provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS) that offers scalable storage. Amazon S3 provides the same storage infrastructure that uses to support its own e-commerce operations.

What is Amazon S3 used for?

Some uses of the service include:

  • Data storage
  • Data archiving
  • Hybrid cloud storage
  • Data lakes
  • Data backup
  • Disaster recovery (DR)
  • Running big data analytics tools on stored data
  • Media hosting for images, videos, and music files
  • Website hosting
  • Content delivery
  • Hosting for web and mobile applications and Internet of Things (IoT) devices

Features of Amazon S3

Amazon S3 offers cloud storage and hosting services that scale with a business’s needs. The service is controlled through a web interface control panel. Pricing is based on actual usage, rather than a flat fee.

S3’s is due in part to storing data as objects, each of which has a unique identifier and metadata. The flat nature of object storage allows it to scale massive amounts of data. Objects are good for storing unstructured data that can be easily searched, which makes it highly suitable for running analytics on large amounts of data.

Amazon’s service also boasts 99.999999999% durability—only one object in storage is guaranteed to fail every 10,000 years. Versioning allows for variants of an object to be rolled back or recovered if deleted, and for non-current versions to be removed.

Amazon S3 includes access management tools and encryption, and it meets multiple security standards. Permission controls can be configured at many layers beyond account access, allowing for detailed control over who has authority to access specific features.

Advantages of Amazon S3

The scalability and pricing scheme of Amazon S3 can make it a cost-effective and versatile choice for organizations that require variable data storage and delivery capacity, or organizations that store and analyze large quantities of data.

S3’s access controls and other security features, durability, versioning, and Amazon’s long-term stability and position in the market all ensure against costly disruptions of user operations.

Downsides of Amazon S3

With scalability comes complexity. Pricing based on usage that can flexibly scale makes for a complicated fee structure, leading to difficult cost projections and possible unexpected surges in costs. In addition, just because the pricing is usage-based does not necessarily mean it is more cost-effective for all businesses.

The interface is also designed for developers and can be complex to set up properly. Usage-based costs, access breaches, and other liabilities can be substantial if the service is not properly configured.

Alternatives to Amazon S3

Services offering comparable features include:

  • Google Cloud Storage
  • Microsoft Azure Blob Storage
  • Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Object Storage
  • Zadara Storage
  • IBM Cloud Object Storage
  • Cloudian
  • DigitalOcean Spaces
  • Alibaba Cloud Object Storage Service (OSS)

Get more information and reviews on enterprise cloud storage options with’s comprehensive Product Selection Tool.

NOTE: Originally published in April 2012, this article has been extensively updated by Lucas Ledbetter in October 2021.





Vangie Beal
Vangie Beal is a freelance business and technology writer covering Internet technologies and online business since the late '90s.

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