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AWS Big Data

AWS Snowball vs Snowmobile: Data -Migration Options Compared

What Is AWS Snowball?

What Is AWS Snowmobile?

AWS Snowball offers secure, rugged devices that enable you to use AWS storage and computing capabilities in edge environments. You can use it to transfer data into AWS and out of the AWS cloud. The device currently offered as part of the Snowball service is AWS Snowball Edge, which provides storage of between 40-80 TB and on-board computing capabilities.


In the past, the term AWS Snowball referred to an earlier hardware version of storage devices, but AWS later replaced this model.

AWS Snowmobile is a managed service that enables exabyte-scale data migration. The service can help you migrate big data from a local data center to the AWS cloud.


A Snowmobile vehicle comes with a maximum of 100 PB (petabytes) storage capacity. You can use multiple Snowmobiles to move greater amounts of data.


AWS personnel arrive at the site with the Snowmobile and connect it directly to the network backbone.


This is part of our series of articles about AWS big data.

In this article:

Snowball Edge vs. Snowmobile: Use Cases

Here are the primary use cases for each service:

  • AWS Snowmobile—ideal for migrating big datasets containing 10PB or more and stored in one location. Snowmobile can help you migrate all of these large datasets at once, but the process requires a high-speed backbone with hundreds of Gb/s of spare throughput.
  • AWS Snowball—ideal for datasets storing less than 10PB or datasets distributed across multiple locations. You can use Snowball to migrate data incrementally—this is a good alternative if you do not have enough bandwidth on the network backbone.

Snowball Edge vs. Snowmobile: Work Process

How Snowball Edge Works

Here is how you can use Snowball Edge device to move data between an on-premises data center and AWS:

  1. Specify the amount of data for the transfer job and assess the compute requirements for local processing.
  2. Go to the AWS Management Console and request one device or several, as needed. You can choose between Snowball Edge Storage Optimized or Snowball Edge Compute Optimized devices.
  3. You can now specify configurations, selecting data, buckets, Lambda functions, and Amazon EC2 AMIs. The service uses this information to automatically configure, encrypt, and preinstall the specs on the devices shipping them to you.
  4. When your device arrives, you can connect it to the local network and set up the IP address. You can set this up manually or automatically using DHCP.
  5. Verify the integrity of a Snowball Edge device or cluster by using the Snowball Edge client software, job manifest, and unlock code. Doing this allows you to unlock the device for use.

Amazon is responsible for all logistics and shipping. Once the copying is complete, AWS automatically updates an E Ink shipping label with the return address. After the device ships, you can get tracking status updates directly from the console, through Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS), or via generated texts and emails.

Learn more in our detailed guide to AWS Snowball Edge.

How Snowmobile Works

Here is the process you follow to move data from your on-premises data center and Amazon via a Snowmobile vehicle:

  1. Place an inquiry for a Snowmobile.
  2. After receiving the request, AWS staff reach out to you to discuss your requirements for a Snowmobile deployment and schedule the job.
  3. AWS personnel drive the Snowmobile equipment to the site.
  4. After arriving at the site, AWS personnel connect the Snowmobile to the local network to enable high-speed data transfer from local storage servers or appliances to the Snowmobile.
  5. Once all data is transferred to the Snowmobile, AWS personnel drive the Snowmobile to a designated AWS region.
  6. Upon arrival to the AWS region, AWS personnel upload the data into predetermined AWS storage services, such as Amazon Glacier or Amazon S3.
  7. AWS personnel collaborate with you to validate that all data was successfully uploaded.

In a Snowmobile data import project, all logistics is managed and coordinated by dedicated AWS staff, who will be in touch with your data center personnel.

Learn more in our detailed guide to AWS Snowmobile

Snowball Edge vs. Snowmobile: Technical Specifications

Snowball Edge Specifications

Snowball Edge devices offer the following device configuration options:

  • Storage-optimized Snowball Edge device for data transfer—has a storage capacity of 100 TB (80 TB usable storage).
  • Storage-optimized Snowball Edge device with EC2 compute functionality—has a usable storage capacity of up to 80 TB, 32 GiB of memory, and 24 vCPUs for compute functionality. This option also offers an additional 1 TB of SSD storage space for block volumes attached to EC2 AMIs.
  • Compute-optimized Snowball Edge device—offers the highest compute functionality, with 39.5 usable (total 42 TB) storage space, 208 GiB of memory, 52 vCPUs, dedicated NVMe SSD of 7.68 TB for compute instances EC2 compute instance block storage volumes. It has an HDD capacity of 42 TB for block or object storage.
  • Compute-optimized Snowball Edge device with GPU—this option is the same as the regular compute-optimized device but installed with a GPU, similar to the GPU offered by P3 Amazon EC2 instances.

All Snowball Edge device options support:

  • S3 API-based transfers
  • RJ45 (2x 10 Gbit), SFP+ (1x 25 Gbit), and QSFP28 (1x 100 Gbit) network interfaces
  • Device dimensions of 548mm/320mm/501mm and weight of 22.3 kg (49.7 lbs.)
  • Support for storage clusters of 5-10 nodes
  • Support for IoT Greengrass and EC2 AMI onboard computing options.

Snowmobile Specifications

Here are the main physical and technical specifications of the Snowmobile service:

  • Snowmobile is a standard 45-foot container, which requires 1.83m of clearance.
  • The Snowmobile vehicle is a cluster of Snowball Edge devices with 100 PB usable HDD storage
  • Snowmobile does not provide usable RAM, SSD storage, or vCPUs
  • The vehicle is equipped with a 6x 40 Gbit network interface and mobile connector racks that can be used to connect directly to the network backbone
  • Amazon can provide an auxiliary chiller unit in case the vehicle needs to park in an uncovered area

Snowball Edge vs. Snowmobile: Security

Snowball Edge Security

Amazon generates a unique manifest and unlock code for your device, binding it to your account and the Snowball Edge device. It is not possible to use the manifest and unlock code created for you with any other devices. AWS further secures this process by automatically encrypting data copied to Snowball Edge and storing it in pre-specified buckets.

Snowball Edge is HIPAA compliant and supports NFS-based transfers, with 256-bit encryption.

Snowmobile Security

Snowmobile encrypts all data using a specified 256-bit encryption key before writing new data. You can use AWS Key Management Service (KMS) to manage encryption keys. Keys are not permanently stored on Snowmobile and are automatically deleted when the Snowmobile shuts down.

In addition to encryption, Snowmobile is operated exclusively by AWS personnel, physical access to data containers is strictly controlled, and hardware is protected by secure access control. Snowmobiles are also protected by 24/7 video and alarm monitoring, GPS tracking and can be escorted by security vehicles during transit.

Data storage devices are isolated from any network access port that serves to load or delete data. This means that AWS staff can connect a Snowmobile to the local data center without requiring physical access to a data container.

AWS Storage Optimization with NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP, the leading enterprise-grade storage management solution, delivers secure, proven storage management services on AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. Cloud Volumes ONTAP capacity can scale into the petabytes, and it supports various use cases such as file services, databases, DevOps or any other enterprise workload, with a strong set of features including high availability, data protection, storage efficiencies, Kubernetes integration, and more.

In particular, Cloud Volumes ONTAP assists with lift and shift cloud migration. Download our free guide The 5 Phases for Enterprise Migration to AWS to learn more.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP also provides storage efficiency features, including thin provisioning, data compression, and deduplication, reducing the storage footprint and costs by up to 70%. Learn more about how Cloud Volumes ONTAP helps cost savings with these Cloud Volumes ONTAP Storage Efficiency Case Studies.

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Yifat Perry, Technical Content Manager

Technical Content Manager