Amazon's Snowmobile Lets You Upload Data by the Truckload -- Literally
By Alex Hern. Updated December 05, 2016.
“The internet is not something that you just dump something on,” the American senator Ted Stevens famously said in 2006. “It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”
Ted Stevens was wrong. The internet is a big truck, and Amazon wants to drive it right up to your gaff to give you better upload speeds.
That truck isn’t a metaphor, by the way. It’s literally a big truck, called the “snowmobile,” [pictured here] carrying a shipping container holding a mobile data center which can store up to 100 petabytes (100 million gigabytes) of information. Drive it up to your own data center, plug it in with a fiber connection, fill it up and let it go.
If you need to upload 100 petabytes to the cloud, it turns out there is literally no faster way than driving it down the highway at 75mph.
The truck is the successor to 2015’s “Snowball”, a pre-packed hard drive that could store 50TB of data that Amazon would post to customers needing to upload large amounts of data. The Snowball, which can now store 80TB, even uses a Kindle screen on the outside to skip the need for a pre-printed postage label.
Both services are marketed at developers who want to use Amazon’s cloud computing service, AWS, but don’t have the time to upload large amounts of data. They’re a twist on the old concept of the “sneakernet”: physically transporting storage media to send large files around the workplace, often by carrying a USB flash drive or portable hard-drive.
The sneakernet, and it’s modern equivalents, can often beat the internet on both speed and cost. Even a fast modern connection, at 1Gb/s, uploading 50TB of data will take four days; uploading 100 petabytes over the same connection would take a little over 25 years. On cost, however, Amazon is tight-lipped, saying nothing more than “we intend to make sure that Snowmobile is both faster and less expensive than using a network-based data transfer model”.