AWS Snowmobile: Large-scale data migration for startups

Harshada Pawar 14th July 2023 - 5 mins read

To emphasize how strange it would be if Amazon drove in a 15-meter-long truck… this is how they unveiled AWS Snowmobile during the re: invent 2016 conference in Las Vegas.

AWS Snowmobile is the first exabyte-scale data migration service that allows the moving of vast volumes of data from on-premises to AWS. Transfer up to 100 PB (100,000 TB) per Snowmobile, a 45-foot-long ruggedized container pulled by a semi-trailer. According to Amazon, this is the fastest data migration method available now. The service is available in all regions, including India, so you need to migrate a massive amount of data; Amazon will send a truck for you… we got you covered!

How Does Snowmobile Work:

The basic structure is Inquire -> Connect -> Deploy.

The first step is to place your inquiry for Snowmobile; AWS personnel will connect with you to understand the requirements and schedule a job for deploying a Snowmobile to the site.

After reaching the site, once the connection with the Local network is established, the data is transferred from the local premises to Snowmobile. Once the transfer is completed, the Snowmobile is returned to the designated location/ AWS region, and data is transferred to services which you have selected such as S3, Glacier, etc. Finally, AWS validates that data has been successfully uploaded.

What are the requirements of a Snowmobile:

Snowmobile needs physical access to the data centre to allow network connectivity. It comes with a removable connector rack, which can be directly connected to two kilometres of network cable, which directly relates to the leading network in the data centre. Snowmobile can be parked in a shade or uncovered area but needs to be big enough to fit a trailer, even adjacent to the data centre and close enough to connect the networking cables. Temperature is not a problem. Snowmobiles can work in extreme temperatures, although an auxiliary chiller might be provided based on the site survey.

Note: Do keep a source copy until AWS verifies that the Snowmobile copy has been successfully uploaded to AWS.

Where does Snowmobile get power from:

A fully powered Snowmobile requires ~350 KW. It can also be connected to the available power sources at the data centre locations. If this does not work, AWS can dispatch a generator set along with Snowmobile if your site permits using the generator.

Disclaimer: The generator set takes up similar space as the Snowmobile container, so it better has a sufficient parking space for both!

How to verify data has been transferred to Snowmobile:

When the data is copied to the Snowmobile, a set of logs is generated with checksum for each file transferred. These logs are available for verification. The records can also be used when data is imported from Snowmobile to AWS to verify nothing is left behind!

How do I know if my data is secure in Snowmobile (Physically and Digitally):

Nothing to worry AWS got you covered in terms of security Physically and Digitally!


Snowmobile is operated by AWS personnel, and physical access to the data container via secure hardware controls. Moreover, all the storage equipment is separated from network access ports used to load/unload the data. Due to this, physical access to the container is optional once the set-up is done.

Snowmobile is 24/7 under video surveillance, GPS tracking and alarm monitoring and might be escorted by a security vehicle during transit.


The data is encrypted with the keys before being uploaded to Snowmobile. All the data is encrypted with 256 encryption, and the keys can be managed by service AWS KMS (Key Management Service), which means the keys are not stored on Snowmobile and are removed as soon as the power supply is removed from Snowmobile.

How much will Snowmobile cost:

Snowmobile provides a practical solution to the vast amount of data migration and also is faster and cheaper than the other network-based solutions, which require a lot of investment.

Snowmobile job costs 0.005$/GB/Month based on the amount of provisioned Snowmobile storage capacity and the duration of the job, which starts as soon as the Snowmobile departs the AWS data centre to the time data migration to AWS is completed.

What happens to Snowmobile after data transfer is completed:

Once the data import is successful, AWS performs the software erasure, which follows the NIST guidelines (National Institute of Standards and Technology) for media Sanitization.

While not everyone has massive data, Amazon unveiled AWS Snowball Edge – a 100 TB hard drive stack with a rugged enclosure. It can also be used by those who need to carry their data to remote/offline locations.


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