Balance Performance and Cost: Select the Right AWS Storage Solution for Your Applications

Storage class and tools are complex and challenging. Here's how to choose the right one.

AWS Admin
Amazon Employee
Published Sep 7, 2023
Last Modified Jun 21, 2024
Choosing the right storage class and tools for your use case can be daunting. The wrong choice can lead to performance issues, reduced scalability, and higher costs. Even the same application can have different storage needs depending on its specific use case, which means understanding the nuances of each storage option is crucial to ensuring optimal performance and cost-efficiency.
In this blog, we break down the basic classes of storage and explore the specific tools that AWS offers for successful implementation. We explore factors such as performance, durability, scalability, access controls, data retrieval, and cost optimization. Let's dive in!
A diagram showing a box at the top labeled "Storage Services" with three arrows pointing to boxes labeled "Block Storage," "File Storage," and "Object Storage," with lists of AWS services beneath each box
Storage Services

Storage Classes

There are three main cloud storage types: object storage, file storage, and block storage. Each of these have various sub types, but without getting too bogged down, let's go over the basics.

Object Storage

Object store is a storage architecture for unstructured data that stores data as objects with metadata and unique identifiers for easy access. It's ideal for large amounts of data, such as media files, documents, logs, and backups. Object stores are highly scalable, provide high availability and durability, and are cost-effective. Amazon Simple Storage Service(S3) is an Object Storage service from AWS that can store and manage petabytes of data with 11 9's of durability. Amazon S3 offers a range of storage classes that you can choose from based on the data access, resiliency, and cost requirements of your workloads, such as:
  1. Frequently accessed data: The Standard storage class is designed for frequently accessed data that requires low latency and high throughput performance. This storage class is ideal for use cases such as web and mobile applications, content distribution, and big data analytics.
  2. Infrequently accessed data: S3 Standard-IA and S3 One Zone-IA are cost-effective storage classes for infrequently accessed data requiring fast access, such as backups and disaster recovery. They have lower storage costs than S3 Standard, but higher retrieval costs. S3 One Zone-IA is less expensive than S3 Standard-IA, but is not resilient to physical loss of Availability Zones due to disasters. Use S3 One Zone-IA if data can be recreated and for object replicas in S3 Cross-Region Replication (CRR).
  3. Archiving objects: Amazon S3's Glacier storage class archives rarely-accessed objects for long-term retention with low storage costs, though retrieval time is slower. It's suited for regulatory requirements, legal docs, and healthcare records. Three low-cost storage classes are offered: S3 Glacier Instant Retrieval, for rare but quick access; S3 Glacier Flexible Retrieval, for partially quick access with a 90-day minimum storage period; and S3 Glacier Deep Archive, the cheapest option for seldom-accessed data with a 180-day minimum storage period and longer default retrieval time.

File Storage

File storage stores data in a hierarchical structure and is ideal for frequently accessed structured and unstructured data. It's a great choice for shared data workloads with multiple simultaneous users, like content management and media sharing. It's also good for accessing data over network protocols like NFS or SMB. File storage is cost-effective and easy to manage, and it scales well as your data grows. It's a better choice than block storage for large amounts of data that don't need the high performance or low latency of block storage. AWS offers Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS) and Amazon FSx as File Storage Service:
  1. Amazon EFS: Amazon EFS is an ideal choice for use cases that require shared file storage accessed by multiple instances simultaneously. It provides scalable, highly available, and durable file storage, making it suitable for applications like content management, web serving, and data sharing. It's also well-suited for big data workloads, machine learning, and media processing applications that need to read and write large files quickly.
  2. Amazon FSx: Amazon FSx lets you choose between four widely-used file systems: NetApp ONTAP, OpenZFS, Windows File Server, and Lustre. This choice is typically based on your familiarity with a given file system. Visit the Choosing an Amazon FSx File System for more information on these.
If you have Linux-based workloads that require high concurrency and scalability, choose EFS. Similarly, if you have a Windows-based workload select FSx. Choose other options from FSx based on your familiarity with a given file system.

Block Storage

Block storage is a storage architecture that stores data in fixed-sized blocks, offering high-performance, low-latency access, making it suitable for low-latency access workloads like financial transaction records and ERP systems. It is commonly used for databases, enterprise applications, and transactional workloads since it can be attached as a local drive to provide fast access to data. AWS offers Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) and Instance Store as its block storage service. EBS provides persistent block-level storage volumes for use with Amazon EC2 instances. On the other hand, Instance Store is a temporary block-level storage option that is directly attached to an EC2 instance. Below, read more about them.
  1. Amazon EBS: It is a suitable option for workloads that require long-term persistence of data, including databases like MySQL, PostgreSQL, or Microsoft SQL Server, mission-critical enterprise applications such as ERP systems or CRM software, and for safeguarding transaction logs and financial records that demand data integrity and rapid access. EBS offers a range of volume types, including General Purpose SSD, Provisioned IOPS SSD, and HDDs, to meet different performance needs.
  2. Instance Store: It is perfect for short-term storage needs like caching, temporary data from processing tasks, scientific simulations, and computational workloads. It offers exceptional performance and low latency compared to EBS but lacks data persistence; information is lost when the instance stops or terminates. Therefore, it's fitting for scenarios where data loss isn't critical or data recreation is feasible
It's important to carefully choose between EBS and Instance Store based on the specific workload requirements and performance needs.
The table below quickly summarizes the discussion so far:
Storage TypeUse CaseAdvantagesDisadvantages
ObjectBig data storage, backups, regulatory requirementsUnlimited scalability, cost-effective, metadata richNot suitable for structured data, slower performance compared to block storage
FileShared file storage accessed by multiple instances simultaneously, NASPetabyte scale scalability, shared access, parallel accessLimited scalability compared to object storage
BlockDatabases, mission-critical enterprise applications, short-term storage needsHigh performance, low latencyLess cost-effective, not suitable for sharing data

Choosing the Right AWS Storage Solution

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you choose the right storage on AWS:
  1. Understand requirements: Analyze data type, growth rate, performance levels, durability, availability, access patterns, and compliance/regulatory needs.
  2. Determine storage options: Familiarize yourself with AWS storage services like S3, EBS, EFS and FSx. Understand their strengths and limitations to choose the most suitable service for your needs. This blog acts as a good starting point and it's always best practice to refer to official document.
  3. Evaluate performance requirements: For low-latency persistent block storage, choose Amazon EBS. For high-throughput file storage, consider Amazon FSx or Amazon EFS. Evaluate each service's performance capabilities for your workload demands.
  4. Evaluate the durability and availability requirements: Amazon S3 offers 99.999999999% (11 nines) durability and replication across Availability Zones. Services like Amazon EBS and Amazon FSx have different characteristics. Assess these aspects to ensure data protection and accessibility as needed.
  5. Consider cost implications: Review storage pricing based on data volume, storage type, data transfer, and additional features. Examine pricing models for different services and calculate anticipated costs. Consider both upfront and ongoing operational costs to make an informed decision. As an example Amazon S3 Glacier Deep Archive provides the cheapest storage on AWS, but pricing may increase exponentially if data is accessed frequently. This storage is best suited for long term archival where data is rarely accessed. Also, with S3 and EFS you are charged only for amount of data stored where as with EBS you are charged for amount of storage provisioned.
  6. Consider security and compliance: Ensure the chosen storage service meets specific security and compliance requirements. AWS offers security features like encryption at rest and in transit, access controls, and compliance certifications. Evaluate these features to align with security and compliance needs. Example, With S3 Object Lock, you can store objects using a write-once-read-many (WORM) model. Object Lock can help prevent objects from being deleted or overwritten for a fixed amount of time or indefinitely.
  7. Consider future storage needs and growth projections: Determine if your storage requirements will increase over time. Ensure the chosen storage service can scale without disruptions. AWS's elasticity and scalability features can accommodate evolving storage needs. Both EFS and S3 are petabyte scale storage with high elasticity. Whereas, EBS provides storage up to few TBs.
  8. Leverage online resources, customer reviews, and use cases to gain insights into real-world experiences. Visit platforms like AWS Customer Success Stories and AWS This is My Architecture to gather valuable information for an informed decision.
  9. Experiment and iterate before committing to a particular storage service, consider running a small-scale proof of concept (POC) or pilot project to validate your assumptions and evaluate the service's performance and suitability for your specific use case. This allows you to make adjustments and iterate before scaling up.
  10. Remember that storage requirements can evolve, and it's always a good idea to periodically reassess your storage needs to ensure you're utilizing the most appropriate storage solution on AWS.


Choosing the right AWS storage class and tools can be confusing, but with enough information you can confidently select the best solutions for your applications. For more information about AWS storage service, check out Choosing an AWS storage service.

Any opinions in this post are those of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of AWS.