Ankur Mandal

Elastic Block Storage: A Comprehensive Guide


Ankur Mandal

6 min read

As businesses increasingly transition their infrastructure to AWS, it is crucial to grasp and fully utilize AWS services' capabilities. One such function critical to AWS is Elastic Block Storage (EBS). EBS offers block-level storage volume for use with EC2 instances and is essential for storing persistent data in the cloud. 

This blog provides an in-depth exploration of EBS, covering its key features, advantages, and recommended strategies for effectively leveraging it to meet storage requirements in Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

EBS is one of the two block storage types offered by AWS. It is a high-performance block storage service used within the EC2 cloud to store persistent data. When data is stored on EBS, it allows for preserving information that would have been lost had the corresponding instance been terminated. Even if the EC2 instances are shut down, your data is still in the AWS server. Presented to customers raw and unformatted, it is suitable for storing persistent data while offering high-availability block-level storage for use with AWS EC2 instances.

The storage can be stacked vertically, similar to EBS volumes, and a file system can then be established on top. This configuration is ideal for organizing and operating a database or server and fulfilling various other needs, such as functioning as a block device or hard drive.

Importance Of EBS In Cloud Computing

EBS boasts a feature-rich infrastructure, making it an essential part of the cloud computing scenario. Listed below are some of the reasons why EBS is important in cloud computing.

  • High-performance: EBS offers high-performance block storage tailored for random access tasks. EBS volumes can achieve a maximum of 64,000 IOPS and 1,000 MB/s throughput per volume.
  • Scalability: EBS volumes can be effortlessly scaled up in size to meet demand without affecting running EC2 instances. This flexibility enables users to adjust storage capacity as needed dynamically, ensuring optimal performance and cost-effectiveness.
  • Persistence: EBS volumes possess the quality of persistence, ensuring that the data saved on them remains intact even after the instance is terminated. This feature simplifies storing and retrieving substantial data in the cloud environment.
  • Snapshots: EBS can capture point-in-time snapshots of your volumes, which are stored in Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) for enhanced durability and availability. These snapshots can create new volumes or restore volumes to a previous state.
  • Encryption: EBS volumes can be secured with encryption at rest through AWS Key Management Service (KMS), adding an extra layer of protection to your data.
  • Availability: EBS volumes are engineered to be highly available and resilient. Your data is replicated across multiple copies within an Availability Zone (AZ), ensuring constant accessibility.
  • Data Replication: EBS volumes can be replicated within the same Availability Zone (AZ) or across multiple AZs to increase availability and fault tolerance. This replication guarantees data accessibility during hardware failures or AZ outages, strengthening application resilience and reducing data loss risks.

Types Of EBS Volumes

Now that we have a fair idea of EBS, let's dive deep into its crucial aspects, starting with the types of EBS volumes.

The types of EBS volumes are categorized into two types- 

Solid State Drive

SSD-backed volumes are tailored for transactional workloads, in which the volume handles numerous small read/write operations. Their performance is quantified in IOPS (input/output operations per second). There are two types of SSD Volumes.

  • General Purpose SSD(gp2): The device is a solid-state drive (SSD) that balances price and performance for various workloads. Known by its API name gp2, this device offers volume sizes ranging from 1 GiB to 16 TiB. By default, this is the volume selected by EC2 instances. When used as a root volume, it enhances server performance. It can be used for any workload.
  • General Purpose SSD (gp3): The gp3 volumes are the next-generation general-purpose SSD volumes, offering better performance and cost efficiency than gp2 volumes. They provide a higher baseline performance of up to 3,000 IOPS and 125 MiB/s throughput per volume, with the ability to scale to 16,000 IOPS and 1,000 MiB/s throughput. gp3 volumes are ideal for many transactional and throughput-intensive workloads like databases, development, and testing environments.
  • Provisioned IOPS SSD (io1) : The io1 EBS volumes are known for their speed and high cost. They have an API name of io1 and come in sizes ranging from 4 GiB to 16 TiB. The io1 volumes have a maximum IOPS of 64,000 (with 16 KiB I/O), and each instance can handle up to 80,000 IOPS. Additionally, the maximum throughput per instance is 1,750 MiB/s. It can be used for applications that are i/O intensive, such as relational databases or NoSQL databases.
  • Provisioned IOPS SSD (io2): The io2 volumes are the new generation of provisioned IOPS SSD volumes, delivering increased durability, higher throughput, and lower costs compared to io1 volumes. These volumes offer up to 64,000 IOPS and 1,000 MiB/s throughput per volume, with superior durability (99.999% availability) and a lower price per provisioned IOPS than io1 volumes. Suitable for critical business applications needing high-performance, low-latency storage with improved durability and cost-efficiency.

Hard Disk Drive

HDD-backed volumes are optimized for handling extensive sequential workloads where maximizing throughput is the primary objective, measured in MiB/s. There are two subsets within each category of these volumes.

  • Throughput Optimized HDD: A low-cost magnetic storage, throughput-optimized HDD performance is measured in terms of throughput. The API name for this storage type is "st1." Its volume size can range from 500 GiB to 16 TiB. IOPS is set at 500 (1 MiB I/O), with a maximum of 80000 IOPS per instance. Additionally, the maximum throughput per instance is 1750 MiB/s. They can be used for extensive, continuous workloads such as big data, data warehousing, and log processing. They are commonly utilized alongside Hadoop clusters.
  • Cold HDD: The cost of these options is lower than st1, and they are optimized for handling large, sequential, and cold workloads similar to a file server. The API name for these options is sc1, and the volume size ranges from 500 GiB to 16 TiB. For gp2, the IOPS is set at 250 (1 MiB I/O), with a maximum of 80000 IOPS per instance and a maximum throughput of 1750 MiB/s per instance. These systems are optimized to handle large, sequential, and cold workloads, mimicking the performance of a file server. Additionally, they excel in managing workloads that are less frequently accessed.

Benefits of EBS Volumes

Mentioned below are some of the benefits of EBS volumes that make it stand out.

  • Cost-effective: EBS offers a pay-as-you-go pricing model, which means you pay for the resources you provide. Moreover, EBS offers different volume types optimized for different workloads, allowing users to select the most cost-efficient options depending on their performance requirements.
  • Reliable: Through features like replication within the availability zones and point-in-time snapshots, EBS enhances fault tolerance and ensures data availability even during hardware failure or outages.
  • Flexible: EBS offers flexibility in adjusting configuration settings even when the service is live. It thus enables modifications in volume types, size, and IOPS capacity without disturbing the internet services running. 
  • Data security: EBS has built-in encryption policies to protect sensitive data at rest. Users can use AWS Key Management to ensure their data remains secure and compliant with the regulatory requirements.
  • Enhanced performance with minimal storage needs: Utilize SSD EBS volumes to ensure low latency and dependable I/O performance tailored to your specific workload requirements—separate performance provisioning from storage capacity for applications that demand high performance with limited storage.
  • Flexible geographic deployment: Leverage EBS to effortlessly replicate snapshots across various AWS regions, enabling the distribution of resources and data in multiple locations. This feature simplifies disaster recovery, data center transitions, and geographical expansion.

Use-case Of EBS

AWS EBS can be used in the following situations

  • Testing and Development: Easily adjust your testing, development, or production environments by scaling, archiving, duplicating, or provisioning them as needed.
  • NoSQL Databases: Benefit from the low-latency performance and reliability that EBS provides for NoSQL databases, ensuring peak performance.
  • Relational Databases: EBS is adaptable to accommodate your evolving storage requirements, making it an ideal option for deploying databases like PostgreSQL, MySQL, Oracle, or Microsoft SQL Server.
  • Business Consistency: Enhance data protection and expedite recovery times by replicating EBS Snapshots and Amazon Machine Images (AMIs) across different AWS regions, safeguarding log files and data integrity.
  • Enterprise-wide Applications: Address a range of enterprise computing demands with EBS's robust block storage capabilities, supporting critical applications such as Microsoft Exchange, Oracle, and Microsoft SharePoint.
  • Database storage: EBS is a popular choice for storing databases due to its high-performance block storage optimized for random access operations.
  • Data warehousing: EBS is suitable for data warehousing, allowing users to persistently store large amounts of data in the cloud.
  • Big data analytics: EBS supports big data analytics by offering high-performance block storage capable of handling large datasets.
  • Backup and recovery: EBS enables users to create point-in-time snapshots of volumes for backup and recovery purposes.
  • Content management: EBS is a reliable and cost-effective solution for content management, offering scalability and efficient access to extensive amounts of data.

EBS Vs. EFS Vs. S3 

So far, we have discussed the intricacies of EBS, but there are other storage options in AWS, such as EFS S3. 

So, how does EBS differ from EFS and S3? 

Let us dive in to find out.

We have already covered EBS; let's talk about EFS and S3.

Elastic File Storage: EFS, unlike EBS, allows multiple EC2 instances to mount it, allowing numerous virtual machines to store files within a single EFS instance. Its primary advantage lies in its scalability, as EFS can expand or contract based on demand, accommodating additional files seamlessly without disrupting your application or requiring the provisioning of a new infrastructure.

Amazon S3: Amazon S3 offers object storage with a unique identifier for each object, allowing access via web requests from anywhere. Additionally, S3 supports hosting static web content that is accessible from the S3 bucket or AWS CloudFront. With a remarkable data durability rate of "eleven nines" - 99.999999999%, S3 ensures high levels of security for your data.

AWS EBS Optimization Strategies

We have intensively covered different aspects of EBS volume. Now, it's time to understand how we can fine-tune the EBS performance to work efficiently without escalating the bill.

1. Choosing Volume Types Based On The Data Stored

The pricing and performance capabilities of an EBS volume differ depending on the volume types, so selecting the appropriate type based on the workload priority is essential. You can choose the one from the list mentioned above. For optimal performance, mission-critical applications, such as large database workloads, you should utilize Provisioned IOPS SSD. On the other hand, general-purpose SSD volumes are a cost-effective option for low-priority workloads.

2. Burst Credits

Burst credits are utilized to enhance performance during periods of high activity. You automatically receive a certain amount of burst credits when you create a volume. Each new volume has enough credits to accommodate an increase of 3000 IOPS for 30 minutes. You can attach a mirror volume if your productivity is hindered due to insufficient credits. 

You can distribute IOPS and access an additional burst credit pool by utilizing mirror volumes. Another solution is to increase the size of your volume to 1TiB or larger. Burst credits do not constrain large-size volumes and can achieve optimal performance levels.

3. Using RAID levels

As mentioned above, a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) is an architecture that utilizes mirrored volumes to improve performance through workload distribution or prevent single points of failure. By creating RAID configurations, you can swiftly duplicate EBS volumes.

Choose a RAID configuration that is compatible with your operating system. AWS recommends utilizing RAID 0 or RAID 1 for optimal performance.

  • RAID 0: Enhances performance and distributes workloads when changing volume types cannot achieve additional performance.
  • RAID 1: Offers data redundancy, although AWS already provides extensive data duplication features. However, it can be beneficial for critical applications and essential data.

4. Identifying Idle/Unused And Overprovisioned EBS resources

AWS charges for the resources that have been provisioned, regardless of whether you use them. This means that EBS resources that are idle/ unused due to overprovision may incur costs if not identified and fixed at the right time. 

But how much could storage affect the cloud bill?

Storage makes up for a significant portion of the overall cloud bill. According to a study conducted by Virtana in 2023, titled "State of Hybrid Cloud Storage in 2023," involving over 350 cloud decision makers, it was revealed that

  • 94% of respondents reported an increase in their cloud storage costs.
  • 54% of respondents believed cloud storage costs rose faster than overall cloud expenses.

 In a separate study focusing on storage usage among over 100 Azure cloud clients, we found that:

  • More than 40% of cloud expenditures were attributed to storage resource utilization.
  • EBS played a significant role in inflating cloud bills.
  • The utilization of EBS for root volumes, application disks, and self-hosted databases was notably low.
  • Despite overestimating growth and overprovisioning, organizations experienced at least one downtime incident per quarter.

Moreover, we have observed a practice among organizations leveraging AWS: to ensure that they have sufficient resources, they implement tactics for resource provisioning, which involves improving the buffer. However, this practice has its challenges, such as

  • Manual Intervention: Enhancing the buffer requires deployment, alerting, and monitoring tools, each with unique requirements. This necessitates assigning a DevOps team to ensure these tools' seamless setup and functionality, requiring considerable time and effort.
  • Time Inefficiency: Some cloud service providers have extended downtimes for specific tasks, such as reducing 1 TB of disk space or upgrading disks, lasting at least 4 and 3 hours, respectively. These limitations challenge maintaining uninterrupted operations, mainly when ongoing service availability is critical.
  • Latency Increase: Disk upgrades lead to increased latency, impacting the responsiveness of networked applications and services ultimately affecting overall performance.
  • Expansion Delays: The organization faces a minimum 6-hour wait for the subsequent expansion process, impeding the application's ability to scale quickly according to changing demands.

Despite these challenges, organizations overlook storage optimization and overprovision the resources to remain safe. However, there are understandable reasons for this, which are

  • Crafting bespoke solutions for enhanced storage efficiency: Given the limited features available through Cloud Service Providers (CSPs), organizations must develop customized tools tailored to their specific storage optimization requirements.
  • Dedication to DevOps and resource allocation: Creating and maintaining specialized storage optimization tools require a significant commitment to DevOps practices and a substantial investment of time. This includes continuous development, thorough testing, and ongoing upkeep.
  • Shortcomings of CSP tools: Depending solely on CSP-provided tools for storage optimization can result in inefficiencies due to their constraints, hindering the completion of comprehensive optimization tasks.
  • Labor-intensive and manual processes: Relying exclusively on CSP tools may necessitate manual and resource-intensive methods to meet optimization needs, depleting valuable workforce and resources.
  • Absence of Live Shrinkage: AWS does not provide live EBS shrinkage capabilities for storage operations, requiring manual processes. These manual procedures entail the creation of new volumes and snapshots, resulting in downtime.

Due to the reasons mentioned above, organizations prefer overprovisioning resources over-optimizing storage. This leads to operational inefficiency and increased costs. Cloud service providers charge for all provisioned resources, so overprovisioning means paying for unused space.

The reasons mentioned above necessitate AWS cost optimization best practices that can prove instrumental in reducing hidden cloud costs. To optimize AWS costs effectively, the initial focus should be identifying and monitoring the factors contributing to inflated storage expenses.

You can manually discover them or use AWS cost management tools specializing in monitoring and visibility.

However, relying solely on manual discovery and monitoring tools can burden DevOps teams heavily. This can lead to labor-intensive efforts and the need to invest in costly deployment solutions. Managing complex storage environments is becoming increasingly challenging, particularly in terms of costs, as they grow in intricacy.

Cloud cost automation with Lucidity Storage Audit for storage auditing is a better alternative. Unlike manual discovery or using a monitoring tool, Lucidity Storage Audit is a one-click process that automates the identification of idle/unused and overprovisioned resources. Lucidity Storage Audit streamlines the process by utilizing a user-friendly executable tool. This tool aids in gaining insights into disk health and usage, allowing for efficient spending optimization and downtime prevention with ease.

Lucidity Storage Audit provides comprehensive insights into the following by seamlessly deploying with minimal DevOps requirements.

  • Overall disk spend: Determine your current disk expenditures, identify the ideal cost optimization, and strategize ways to decrease them by 70%.
  • Disk wastage: Discover the underlying reasons for inefficiencies, such as excess idle volumes and over-provisioning, and explore strategies to address and eliminate them effectively.
  • Disk downtime risk: Identifying potential downtimes can help prevent financial and reputational losses.

Lucidity Storage Audit is a leader in tracking storage usage data, offering distinct benefits.

  • Automated Workflow: Say goodbye to manual labor and complex monitoring tools with Lucidity Storage Audit. This tool streamlines the auditing process with a user-friendly, pre-configured platform, minimizing unnecessary complexities.
  • Comprehensive Insights: Easily grasp your disk health and usage with Lucidity Storage Audit. Gain valuable insights to optimize spending and prevent downtime, ensuring optimal performance across your storage landscape.
  • Optimized Analysis: Utilize Lucidity Audit to make informed decisions on resource allocation and efficiency improvements. By analyzing storage utilization percentages and disk sizes, drive efficiency and maximize resource utilization efficiently.
  • Guaranteeing Data Security: Rest assured that your data is safeguarded with Lucidity Audit's Data Privacy Assurance. The tool efficiently collects storage metadata and secures personally identifiable information (PII) and sensitive data by utilizing AWS internal services. Unauthorized access or breaches are prevented, fortifying the protection of your valuable information.
  • Maintaining Cloud Environment Integrity: Safeguard the integrity of your cloud environment and resources effortlessly with Lucidity Storage Audit. The streamlined operating system is designed to conduct audits seamlessly without disrupting your infrastructure. Enjoy uninterrupted operations during the auditing process while upholding the effectiveness of your system.

5. Auto-Scaling EBS Resources

An AWS EBS cost optimization is incomplete without auto-scaling the resources. Unlike the traditional methodology, which, due to inefficient resource allocation, either leads to overprovisioning or underprovisioning of resources, Lucidity automates the EBS scaling process.

To alleviate the burden on organizations caused by the need to constantly adjust or delete resources, resulting in unnecessary storage wastage, Lucidity has developed an innovative solution known as the Lucidity Block Storage Auto-Scaler. This groundbreaking technology is the first of its kind in the industry, offering autonomous storage orchestration to streamline block storage management, making it more reliable, cost-effective, and user-friendly.

The Lucidity Block Storage Auto-Scaler automates the process of resizing storage resources, ensuring that storage space is always sufficient to meet changing demands promptly. By automating the expansion and shrinkage of storage resources, organizations can avoid the hassle of manual adjustments and maximize the efficiency of their storage infrastructure.

Sitting on top of block storage and cloud service providers, the Lucidity Block Storage Auto-Scaler boasts a range of features designed to enhance storage management and optimize resource allocation.

  • Effortless Integration: Simplify the process of incorporating Lucidity Block Storage Auto-Scaler into your storage management system with just three simple clicks. Witness a remarkable shift in how you manage your storage.
  • Storage Optimization: Boost your storage capacity instantly and maintain an optimal utilization rate of 70-80%. This efficient utilization helps reduce costs significantly, making your storage management more cost-effective.
  • High Responsiveness: Respond swiftly to sudden spikes in traffic or workload efficiently. The Block Storage Auto-Scaler's expansion capabilities allow you to add more storage capacity quickly in a minute. This seamless scalability enables you to handle unexpected surges efficiently, ensuring uninterrupted operations.
  • Minimizing Performance Impact: Lucidity has been crafted to reduce the impact on your system's resources. The highly optimized agent is designed to consume less than 2% of CPU and RAM during onboarding, ensuring your workload remains unaffected. This allows you to focus on your tasks without interruptions.

Lucidity Block Storage Auto-Scaler makes the EBS effortless, economical, and reliable in the following ways:

  • Automated shrinkage and expansion: The Lucidity Auto-Scaler is precisely engineered to autonomously regulate disk scaling in just 90 seconds, enabling seamless management of large amounts of data. Traditional EBS volumes, like Standard EBS, are typically restricted by a cap of around 8GB per minute (125MB/sec). Our Auto-Scaler maintains a solid buffer to efficiently handle sudden increases in data flow, ensuring that the imposed EBS throughput limit is not exceeded.
  • Reduce storage expenses by up to 70%: Lucidity's Block Storage Auto-Scaler allows you to avoid overallocation with cloud service providers, saving you money by only paying for the resources you use. Our ROI Calculator, tailored to Azure customers, lets you input key financial and usage data to see the potential cost savings for your storage expenses.
  • Elimination of Downtime: Traditional provisioning methods often lead to downtime due to multiple processes. However, this issue is resolved with Lucidity Block Storage Auto-Scaler. By promptly adjusting to fluctuating storage space requirements, the Block Storage Auto-Scaler guarantees the prevention of downtime.

Moreover, Lucidity offers a user-friendly "Create Policy" tool for customizing policies to meet specific use cases and performance needs. The Block Storage Auto-Scaler will then adjust storage resources in accordance with these policies, optimizing efficiency.

You can learn more about how Lucidity offers comprehensive cloud cost optimization in our blog by clicking here.

We hope you have a fair understanding of the nuances of EBS and its work by now. EBS is an intricate part of AWS, a specialty that can be leveraged by implementing the right strategies, such as those mentioned above. 

If your cloud bill exceeds expectations and you cannot figure out why, contact Lucidity for a demo and watch how automation can help your organization optimize storage usage and cost and create an efficient cloud infrastructure.

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