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AWS Backup

AWS S3 Backup: Why, What and How to Backup to S3

What is Amazon Simple Storage Service Backup (Amazon S3)?

Amazon S3 lets you store and retrieve large amounts of data from anywhere. It is a durable, elastic store that can be used for application data, static files, and is commonly used for file-level backups and restore operations.

Amazon S3 is commonly used for AWS backup. It provides highly reliable and durable storage for several Amazon Web Service (AWS) storage solutions, including:

  • Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2)—employs Amazon S3 for the purpose of storing Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) snapshots for EBS volumes as well as EC2 instance stores.

  • AWS Storage Gateway—offers seamless integration with Amazon S3. This enables on-premises environments to use assets backed up by Amazon S3, including tape libraries, files shares, and volumes.

  • Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS)—employs Amazon S3 for the purpose of storing and using database snapshots.

  • Third-party backup solutions—integrate with Amazon S3. Arcserve Unified Data Protection, for example, supports Amazon S3 for durable backup of cloud-native and on-prem servers.

In addition, S3 can be used to back up on-premises workloads or workloads running in other clouds. You can achieve this by directly copying backup data to S3, or using a backup solution or service that integrates with Amazon S3.

In this article, you will learn:

Using Amazon S3 for Backup and Archive

There are several advantages and disadvantages of using Amazon S3 for backup and recovery purposes:


  • Different storage classes in Amazon S3 buckets.
  • Choose between different storage tiers. There are, for example, faster yet expensive storage categories and cheaper yet slower storage categories.
  • Amazon offers flexible pricing strategies for using Amazon S3 storage, ensuring that S3 remains an affordable option for many users. Learn more in our guide to AWS backup pricing


  • If you do not want to manually copy files using the AWS web interface, you’ll need to use the S3 command line interface (CLI) or application programming interface (API), which require some technical expertise.

S3 Backup Use Cases

Here are several use cases for using Amazon S3 as a backup destination:

  • You can use Amazon S3 to back up EBS volumes attached to EC2 instances.
  • Backup data stored in another S3 bucket.
  • Backup data stored on locally running physical or virtual machines (VMs).

Related content: Read our guide to EBS to S3 data transfer

Tools for S3 Backup and Restore

Many external backup and storage systems support the Amazon S3 API and let you access S3 storage through their proprietary interfaces. Here are two built-in tools provided by Amazon that let you backup data to S3.

Command line tool
You can backup data from one S3 bucket to another using the AWS SDKs or CLI tools. Common tools for Linux and Windows are available, such as s3cmd, s4cmd, and the AWS CLI. You can use these tools to transfer data to and from an S3 bucket, and copy data between storage tiers for backup and recovery.

You can back up to S3 using command line scripts, but this requires effort and is error prone. This method is mainly applicable for data backup of S3 buckets, EC2 instances, physical machines and virtual machines.


  • CLI tools and scripts are provided free.


  • To maintain data consistency during the backup process, you must stop running applications and use features such as volume snapshots in the operating system. Using scripts for backup configuration is complex and in general, unreliable.

AWS Storage Gateway
If a VM is running in your local data center, you can use AWS Storage Gateway to transfer data to an Amazon S3 bucket.

AWS Storage Gateway is a hybrid storage service deployed as a VM. Its main advantage is that it provides caching options for faster file access. There are three types of AWS Storage Gateways—file gateways, volume gateways, and tape gateways.

After the storage gateway is deployed, you can access Amazon S3 storage using standard shared protocols, such as SMB, NFS, and iSCSI. AWS Storage Gateway is available as a virtual appliance on VMware vSphere as well as Hyper-V platforms. Storage Gateway does not have a separate cost—usage is billed as S3 objects and requests. But there may be some additional charges.


  • A convenient way to backup data from on-premises environments
  • Highly reliable, with the ability to resume failed backups and set policies


  • Requires a local virtualized environment based on VMware or Hyper-V
  • Can be initially complex to setup

S3 Features Useful for Backup Scenarios

Amazon S3 Storage Classes

You can configure Amazon S3 lifecycle policies to manage your data and send it to the specified storage class at each phase of its lifecycle.

The seven storage classes in Amazon S3 are:

  • S3 Standard—for frequently accessing data with high throughput and low latency
  • S3 Intelligent-Tiering—for data with unknown or changing access requirements
  • S3 Standard-IA—affordable option for less frequently but quickly accessed data
  • S3 One Zone-IA—for infrequently used data that requires quick access
  • S3 Glacier—the cheapest storage option, for archival storage only as data cannot be accessed quickly
  • S3 Glacier Deep Archive—for data that requires minimal access
  • S3 Outposts—provides S3 storage features and APIs for AWS Outposts environments on-premises

You can reduce your backup costs by implementing a tiered storage approach, selecting storage classes according to RTO and RPO requirements. For example, use Standard for recent daily backups, Standard-IA for weekly backups, Glacier for quarterly backups and Glacier Deep Archive for yearly backups.

Versioning in S3 Buckets

You can use versioning in Amazon S3 to keep multiple variants of an object in one bucket. The S3 Versioning feature allows you to store, retrieve and recover any version of any object stored in your bucket. This makes data recovery easier in the event of an application failure, accidental overwrite or deletion. When an object is deleted, it isn’t removed permanently—a delete marker takes its place as the current version.

Buckets can be unversioned (by default), versioning-enabled, or versioning-suspended. Versioning is enabled and suspended at the bucket level. You cannot restore a bucket to an unversioned state once it has been version-enabled.

S3 Object Lock

S3 Object Lock allows you to store objects in a write-once-read-many (WORM) model, which helps prevent objects from being overwritten or deleted, either indefinitely or for a fixed period. Some regulatory requirements require WORM storage.

You can manage object retention with Object Lock in two ways:

  • Retention period—a fixed period of time is specified during which an object remains locked
  • Legal hold—protection is indefinite, until it is explicitly removed

Object Lock only works in versioned buckets, while retention periods and legal holds only protect the specified object version and don’t apply to new versions.

Backup to AWS S3 with NetApp Cloud Backup

NetApp understands ONTAP better than anyone else, which is why the best backup solution for ONTAP systems is NetApp Cloud Backup. Designed by NetApp specifically for ONTAP, Cloud Backup automatically creates block-level incremental forever backups. These copies are stored in object format and preserve all ONTAP’s storage efficiencies. Your backups are 100X faster to create, easy to restore, and much more reliable than with any other solution.

Cloud Backup simplifies the entire backup process. It’s intuitive, quick to deploy, and managed from the same console as the rest of the NetApp cloud ecosystem. Whether you’re looking for a less expensive way to store your backups, a faster, more capable technology than NDMP, or an easy way to enable a 3-2-1 strategy, Cloud Backup offers the best backup solution for ONTAP.

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Semion Mazor, Product Evangelist

Product Evangelist