Hands on with Amazon Storage Gateway

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Amazon's new Storage Gateway offers a twist on cloud-based backups, but beware of the rough edges

Last week, Amazon announced the most recent addition to its AWS product portfolio: The Amazon Storage Gateway, a simple, powerful way to back up on-premise data to Amazon's S3 storage infrastructure.

But the Storage Gateway is not just a cloud-based backup solution. It also opens the door to using Amazon EC2 instances as a means to provide disaster recovery.

To get a better feel for the possibilities, I decided to set one up for myself. What I found is an initial release product that is not without some serious limitations, but well worth the time to experiment with, nonetheless.

A quick tour of Amazon Storage Gateway
In basic terms, the Amazon Storage Gateway is a virtual appliance that allows you to snapshot your own on-premise storage into Amazon's highly redundant  AWS S3 storage infrastructure. In that sense, it seems much like other cloud backup offerings. But there are some crucial differences.

The first difference is that the Storage Gateway presents the storage that you allocate to it back to you as a block-level iSCSI volume. That means you can place literally anything on that volume, regardless of the file system or type of data -- and protect it lock, stock, and barrel in S3. A block-level approach does have its downsides (such as making file-level restores impossible), but it gives you the flexibility to do whatever you want with that storage (file system encryption, deduplication, you name it). You can even use it to provide offsite snapshot protection for a production storage volume.

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