Amazon serves up Glacier: Slow moving storage for backup and archives

In its never-ending quest to deliver new features to the Amazon Web Services (s amzn) product portfolio, the online retailer has added a new storage service designed for archival and backup storage. AWS Glacier is cheap, slow and Amazon hopes startups find it the prefect place to put files that aren’t accessed very often. And if it takes off it could become a problem for the existing backup and recovery business (which is often the first offering many smaller telco cloud providers launch to customers).

Amazon argues that backup services generally require an upfront payment to a vendor, are generally over-provisioned because no one wants to be the guy who lost a key file because he cheaped out on hard drives and are thus more expensive than they need to be. So for less than a penny per gigabyte per month Amazon can keep your genome data, files required for regulatory compliance and even archival data. Of course, getting your files to Amazon might incur some hefty bandwidth charges or require the use of snail mail, which in itself is an upfront fee of sorts.

This service feeds Amazon’s enterprise customer base, but in its release Amazon also sets up an interesting promise — that this service is great for archival of records not just for the next decade but perhaps the next century. The release includes a quote from Steve Shultis, CTO New York Public Radio discussing the use of Glacier for archives:

“An organization like ours thinks in centuries when it comes to content retention, and long-term preservation of our Master Archives is a critical part our mission here at NYPR,” said Steve Shultis, CTO New York Public Radio. “Storing these core assets on traditional media such as local disk and off-site tape exposes us to corruption and even outright-loss of data. We are excited to move our archives to Amazon Glacier, which will be a better long-term solution.”

Given that the preservation of digital content is still an ongoing problem for conservationists because of new types of media (remember Zip disks?) and changing software (who among us can still open a found WordStar program without a long search for file converters?) So, the idea of dumping a bunch of files in AWS and letting Amazon deal with the hardware problem at least, is probably a relief.

This is a telling move. Amazon’s S3 storage service stores huge amounts of data for users. But the company is not necessarily the low-cost leader in archival storage for the kinds of things companies typically stick on tape drives. Companies including SpiderOak claim lower-than-Amazon pricing on data archiving.

Clearly, Amazon is not taking that challenge laying down.

GigaOM’s Barb Darrow contributed to this story.