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How to Optimize AWS Storage Costs

Get the ultimate guide to AWS cost optimization strategies
If you're looking to save on your AWS storage bill, then follow these helpful tips to ensure maximum optimization of your AWS resources.
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Amazon Web Services (AWS) continues to evolve as a platform that provides scalable solutions for business IT needs. However, managing costs is crucial in reducing the risk of overspending. Costs of different AWS services vary, so it’s important to take advantage of elasticity to reduce your operational costs. Moreover, services like storage and databases don’t tend to be as elastic as services like compute and networking, presenting a handful of challenges when our goal is to optimize AWS storage costs.  

This article will help you evaluate your current AWS spending, identify potential places to improve, and implement cost-saving strategies. You will learn the different AWS pricing models, common tools to manage AWS cloud costs, cost storage tiers, and how to choose the right storage tier for your cloud needs. 

Let’s start by understanding the purposes of Amazon EC2, Amazon RDS, and Amazon S3, which are three of the most popular AWS compute, database, and storage services, respectively.

  • Amazon EC2: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud or EC2 is a service that provides scalable compute capacity in your AWS environment. It allows you to launch and manage virtual machines (VMs) that are isolated from each other and from your local machine. You can use EC2 VMs to run different services and applications, including databases, web servers, and big data processing applications.

VMs can be created and destroyed quickly, so it can be hard to keep track of which VMs are running and which ones are not. This can lead to “orphaned” resources that continue to incur costs. 

TIP: With N2WS, you can easily monitor volume usage and even schedule resources to turn off when they’re not needed.

  • Amazon RDS: Amazon Relational Database Service or RDS provides managed relational databases in AWS infrastructure. It allows you to create and manage relational databases without knowing or worrying about the underlying architecture. Amazon RDS supports several database engines, including SQL Server, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle.

RDS costs may be higher than running databases directly on EC2, but there are valid reasons for this discrepancy. RDS manages routine database tasks such as patching, backups, and failover. That alone is a win for the reduced time spent managing operations. 

One challenge with RDS is that it can be difficult to understand the costs and configurations. There are multiple pricing options available, and you may need to pay additional charges for features such as multi-AZ deployments and reserved instances.

  • Amazon S3: Amazon Simple Storage Service or S3 provides object storage for workloads in the AWS environment. You can store any type of data in S3, including documents, videos, images, and backups. S3 is a highly scalable storage service designed to be available in almost every type of workload.

Amazon S3 offers several storage classes, each with its own set of features and pricing. This can make it difficult to choose the right storage tier for your needs. Storage classes and retrieval options can make cost tracking complex, which may confuse newcomers on how to properly manage cloud object storage and data lifecycle management.

Understanding the nuances of these popular AWS services is vital for effective cost management. By recognizing how these services work and how they’re priced, you can make informed decisions about how to use them to meet your needs without having to worry about cloud overspend.

One major resource that tends to lead to unexpected costs and operational challenges is storage.

Evaluate Current AWS Storage Spending

Before optimizing your AWS storage costs, you first need to understand your cloud consumption. You can do this by evaluating your current AWS spending. This evaluation should include the following:

  • Identify all of your AWS resources: This includes several services such as EC2 instances, EBS volumes, S3 buckets, and any other AWS services that you’re using.
  • Track your AWS costs over time: You can analyze certain areas where your expenses are rising.
  • Monitor your AWS usage patterns: This will help you determine which resources you aren’t using and which ones you’re using inefficiently.

You need to be aware of your resource usage and what those resources are attached to (e.g. which application they support). Using a tool like N2WS, which provides you with visibility into volume usage, reporting tools, and automatic data lifecycling, can be instrumental in your cost optimization strategy.

It’s also ideal to implement a comprehensive tagging methodology. Tagging resources to keep track of them will be helpful as you manage those resources across other platforms and tools. (Pro tip: N2WS allows you to easily add custom tags — even when you’re performing a recovery).

Potential Places to Improve and Save Money

There are several ways to improve your AWS storage costs. Here are a few examples:

  • Rightsize your EC2 instances: If you are using more EC2 instances than you need, you can save money by rightsizing your instances. This means using smaller instances for less demanding workloads and larger instances for more demanding workloads.
  • Use S3 Intelligent-Tiering: S3 Intelligent-Tiering is a class of storage that allows you to automatically move objects between Frequent and Infrequent Access tiers. By doing this, you can save your budget costs for objects that do not require immediate accessibility.
  • Delete unused EBS volumes: If you have EBS volumes that you are not using, it’s best to delete them in order to save money and free up storage.
  • Delete unused EBS snapshots: It’s likely that you will accrue many costly snapshots over time, which is what makes introducing lifecycle management for snapshots so crucial. (Hint: N2WS can do this automatically when archiving snapshots).
  • Use an Integrated 3rd Party Platform: Look for existing platforms you have (e.g. N2WS) which have cost and usage insights built into them. 
  • Use AWS Trusted Advisor: AWS Trusted Advisor is a service that can provide recommendations to help you manage your AWS spend and map to other best practices in the AWS platform. 

Implementing these tips is an easy way to cut down on your AWS storage bill and, by extension, optimize costs.

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Why Optimize Costs on AWS?

Besides the obvious reason of saving money (I mean what business doesn’t want to do that?), the other oft-overlooked reason is to increase agility. This is a continuous balancing act. Many AWS services offer dynamic tiering and scaling, but at a greater cost per hour due to the inclusion of various automationing tools. 

Save Money

Optimizing your AWS storage costs can save you a lot of money. By recognizing and eliminating areas of excess and inefficiency, you can reduce your cloud costs significantly. You can use the saved money for other important use cases, such as buying new services or products, expanding your business operations, or improving customer service.

Let’s say you’re using Amazon EC2 instances to power your application, but you’ve allocated more CPU and memory than you need in the instance type you’ve chosen. You can use AWS Cost Explorer to track your storage costs and identify situations where you’re running at low capacity. You can then adjust the resources to match demand using AWS Auto Scaling.

Increase Agility

Optimizing your AWS storage costs can also help increase the agility of your cloud infrastructure. By right-sizing your resources and adopting intelligent storage practices, you can create a more responsive and flexible IT environment.

For example, you’re a retail company that experiences sudden spikes in web traffic during holiday sales. To handle this uptick in activity, you can utilize AWS Auto Scaling to automatically increase your server capacity and accommodate this surge in traffic. This will ensure that your website remains up and running during peak hours, and it will also prevent you from overpaying for idle resources during periods of low demand.

Optimizing your AWS storage costs can help you save money and increase the agility of your cloud infrastructure. By having an optimized environment, you are afforded the ability to experiment and thus benefit from the on-demand nature of AWS services. 

Tools to Help You Manage Current AWS Costs

There are several tools available to help you manage your AWS costs. These tools can help you track your spending, discover potential savings, and implement cost-saving strategies. AWS is fairly adept at helping customers reduce costs, as they want customers to continue using their services. There are various partner solutions for cloud cost visibility, but let’s first start with what’s available natively. 

Here are some of the built-in tools for managing AWS costs:

  • AWS Billing and Cost Management console: This console gives you detailed information about your AWS spending and allows you to track your expenses, identify savings opportunities, and create a comprehensive budget.
  • AWS Cost Explorer: This tool provides you with more granular insights into your AWS costs. You can use it to analyze your costs by tags, service, and/or region.
  • AWS Budgets: This resource allows you to create budgets for your AWS costs and then use these budgets to track your spending, receive alerts when you exceed your allotted budget, and take action to reduce your costs.
  • AWS Trusted Advisor: This service offers suggestions for optimizing your AWS costs and performance.

Incorporating these tools into your AWS infrastructure can assist in effectively managing your AWS expenses. Look for other cost management integrations with your AWS-connected tools. It’s ideal to have your 3rd party products and services include cost awareness in their platforms (like N2WS does with its built-in Cost Explorer). 

Different Strategies to Optimize AWS Storage Costs

There are several different strategies you can use to optimize your AWS storage costs. Here are some of the most effective ones:

  • Use the right storage class: AWS offers a variety of storage classes, each with different cost and performance criteria. By using the right storage class for your data, you can optimize your costs without sacrificing performance.
  • Reduce overprovisioning: Overprovisioning occurs when you provision more storage resources than necessary, which causes you to incur unnecessary costs (more on that below).
  • Locate and eliminate unused resources: It’s important to regularly review your AWS resources and be aware of any unused or idle resources that you may have.
  • Take advantage of all the available AWS pricing models: AWS offers multiple pricing models that vary based on cost and usage characteristics. It’s vital that you understand the nuances of each pricing model so that you can choose the one that best fits your needs.

Incorporating these strategies into your cloud optimization approach forms the cornerstone of a robust financial strategy. As you navigate the diverse challenges and opportunities within the AWS ecosystem, these strategies empower you to sculpt a cloud environment that is both technologically adept and financially prudent.

Overprovisioned, Unnecessary, and Idle Resources

One of the best tactics you can employ to save money in AWS is to identify and eliminate overprovisioned, unnecessary, and idle resources.

Identify Which Instances Are Unused

Recognizing idle instances is a pivotal part of the cost optimization process. AWS provides tools like Amazon CloudWatch, which furnishes insights into resource utilization. By monitoring metrics such as CPU, memory, and network activity, you can find situations that are ripe for downsizing or termination.

As with many AWS services, there are costs associated with using CloudWatch. The costs of CloudWatch should be weighed against the importance of monitoring the resource and the value you get from taking the action that it advises. CloudWatch costs are nominal compared to the costs of the services being monitored, so it’s generally worth it to take advantage of CloudWatch to gather more information for active or future use. 

Enforce Resource Control

Implementing stringent resource control ensures that instances are not spun up indiscriminately. AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) is a potent tool for managing user permissions and restricting the creation of new resources without proper authorization.

By creating policies that restrict access to idle resources, you can help prevent these resources from being used unnecessarily. While resource control may come with its fair share of loose policies, the time invested in learning IAM policy architecture is well worth it in knowing you have more secure, granular resource controls.

Automating the shutdown of resources provides you with the elasticity that was promised with cloud computing. For example, N2WS offers a robust Resource Control feature that provides flexible provisioning of your resources, thereby increasing potential savings and ROI. 

Your goal should be using the dynamic nature of the cloud to track your usage patterns and drive lower costs. This has to be done carefully without sacrificing performance or usability, which is why integrated resource control solutions tend to be the ideal approach. 

Implement Tagging

Resource tagging emerges as a powerful technique for determining the purpose of each resource. Tagging allows you to add metadata to your resources such that you are able to ascertain the resource project, owner, and environment just from the tags alone.

Tags have become one of the more popular outcomes from cloud and cloud-native platform engineering. The dynamic nature of cloud workloads makes tagging an effective way to track and manage your resources. Backups that utilize tags help ensure that new workloads coming online aren’t left vulnerable because they weren’t added to a list. N2WS also offers custom tags on recovery which extends the automation even further. These same tags can be used for cost optimization and other operational processes. 

By embracing these practices, organizations can not only optimize costs, but also cultivate an environment of resource mindfulness where each instance serves a purpose and contributes to broader strategic objectives. 

AWS Pricing Models

Understanding AWS pricing models is pivotal to effective cost optimization. AWS offers a variety of pricing models, each with its own cost and set of usage characteristics. Here are the four main pricing models:

On-Demand

This is the default pricing model and charges you based on the compute capacity you use. While it offers unparalleled flexibility, it can become costlier than other options for sustained workloads. 

You must also keep performance and availability in mind, which will consequently impact your costs. Though some cost differences may be marginal, the cost of availability and performance must still be incorporated. Here’s an example of the SLAs in AWS S3 storage. Each of these service tiers can have vastly different costs over time as you scale your storage; they may also change as your data patterns and the service itself evolve. 

S3 StandardS3 Intelligent-TieringS3 Standard-IAS3 One Zone-IAS3 GlacierInstant RetrievalS3 GlacierFlexible RetrievalS3 GlacierDeep Archive
Designed for durability99.999999999%(11 9’s)99.999999999%(11 9’s)99.999999999%(11 9’s)99.999999999%(11 9’s)99.999999999%(11 9’s)99.999999999%(11 9’s)99.999999999%(11 9’s)
Designed for availability99.99%99.90%99.90%99.50%99.90%99.99%99.99%
Availability SLA99.90%99%99%99%99%99.90%99.90%
Availability Zones≥3≥3≥31≥3≥3≥3
Minimum capacity charge per objectN/AN/A128 KB128 KB128 KBN/AN/A
Minimum storage duration chargeN/AN/A30 days30 days90 days90 days180 days
Retrieval chargeN/AN/Aper GB retrievedper GB retrievedper GB retrievedper GB retrievedper GB retrieved
First byte latencymillisecondsmillisecondsmillisecondsmillisecondsmillisecondsminutes or hourshours
Storage typeObjectObjectObjectObjectObjectObjectObject
Lifecycle transitionsYesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Table 1 – S3 storage classes capabilities – Sept 2023

Be sure to include data protection and resiliency in your cost assumptions. This is a common pitfall with optimizing costs in AWS, as many optimization tools only account for primary storage and compute resources and do not extend to data protection and disaster recovery, which is why using a tool like N2WS is critical.

Savings Plans

This pricing model allows you to commit to a certain amount of compute or storage resources over a year. In return, you receive a discount on the cost of those resources. There are two types of Savings Plans: 

  • Compute Savings Plans: These plans can be applied to usage across Amazon EC2, AWS Fargate, and AWS Lambda regardless of instance size, region, OS, or AZ. With these plans, you can save up to 66% on your consumption.
  • EC2 Instance Savings Plans: These plans can only be applied to EC2 and also disregard instance size, region, OS, and AZ when determining cost savings. The benefit of EC2 Instance Savings Plans is they can save you up to 72%, greater than the 66% maximum savings with Compute Savings Plans.

Reserved Instances

This pricing model allows you to reserve a specific instance type and size for an extended period of time, such as one year or three years. In return, you earn a fixed discount on the cost of those instances. Thus, this model is best suited for workloads with predictable resource requirements.

Spot Instances

With this pricing model, you can bid on unused EC2 instances. If your bid is accepted, you will be able to use the instance for a fraction of the on-demand price. However, there is no guarantee that a spot instance will be available when you need it.

The best pricing model depends on your distinct requirements and usage patterns. If you’re unsure which pricing model is right for you, you can use an AWS Pricing Calculator to help you estimate your costs.

Archival to Colder Storage

Colder storage is less expensive than standard storage but has slower access speeds. AWS offers a variety of colder storage options that are primarily aimed at availability. AWS object storage boasts an 11 nines (99.999999999%) availability, so they are designed for high durability.

You need to understand the recovery options and limitations of each service tier. Use the following as a guide to determine which options are the most economical based on your retrieval requirements. 

S3 Standard

S3 Standard offers the fastest access speeds and the lowest latency. However, it is also a more expensive storage class compared to other S3 storage classes. With S3 Standard:

  • You’ll be charged for the amount of data stored and the number of requests made to the bucket
  • No minimum storage duration requirement exists

S3 Intelligent-Tiering

S3 Intelligent-Tiering allows you to automatically move data to the most cost-effective storage tier based on access patterns. This can save you money on storage costs by moving data that is not accessed frequently to a colder storage tier. However, it is important to note that S3 Intelligent-Tiering can also increase your storage costs if you have data that is accessed frequently. Akin to S3 Standard, there is no minimum storage duration requirement for S3 Intelligent-Tiering.

S3 Standard-Infrequent Access

S3 Standard-Infrequent Access, or S3 Standard-IA, is less expensive than S3 Standard but has slower access speeds. S3 Standard-IA is a good option for data that you don’t need to access frequently, such as backups, archives, and log files. With S3 Standard-IA:

  • You’ll be charged on the amount of data stored and the number of requests made to the bucket
  • There is a minimum storage duration requirement of 30 days

Glacier Instant Retrieval

Glacier Instant Retrieval is designed for data that needs to be accessed quickly, even though it is archived. Glacier Instant Retrieval is more expensive than S3 Standard-IA, but it has faster access speeds. Glacier Instant Retrieval is a great option for data that you need to access occasionally, such as financial data and compliance records.

  • Charges: Charges are based on the amount of data stored, the number of requests made to the bucket, and the retrieval latency.
    • Storage: The storage costs are the same as Amazon Glacier Deep Archive.
    • Requests: The request costs are also the same as Amazon Glacier Deep Archive, except that there is no charge for the first 10,000 requests per month.
    • Retrieval latency: The retrieval latency is up to 15 minutes.
  • Minimum storage duration: For Amazon Glacier Instant Retrieval, there is a minimum storage duration requirement of 90 days.

When choosing between Amazon Glacier Instant Retrieval and Amazon S3 Standard-IA, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • Access frequency: If you want to frequently access your data, then Amazon Glacier Instant Retrieval is a better option.
  • Budget: Amazon Glacier Instant Retrieval is slightly more expensive than Amazon S3 Standard-IA.
  • Retrieval latency: If you need to access your data quickly, then Amazon Glacier Instant Retrieval is a better option.

AWS Glacier Instant Retrieval is one of the unknown advantages for AWS customers. The cost is marginally higher than other Glacier tiers because of the rapid recovery. Looking at the pattern your data lifecycle follows, you are probably not restoring large amounts of data, or just recovering data and applications, very often. You can rely on the instant retrieval capabilities and SLAs which nearly always prove to be a financial advantage over other AWS storage options. 

Glacier Deep Archive

Glacier Deep Archive is a storage class that is designed for data that needs to be archived over long periods of time. It is the most cost-effective storage class, but it also has the slowest access speed. Glacier Deep Archive is a good choice for data that is infrequently accessed, such as historical data and cold backups.

  • Charges are based on the amount of data stored and the number of retrieval operations.
  • There is a minimum storage duration requirement of 90 days for Amazon Glacier Deep Archive.
  • Retrieval times can take several hours or even days.
  • There is a retrieval fee of $0.00099 per GB for the first 10 GB of data retrieved, and $0.000099 per GB for every additional GB retrieved.

What Each Tier Entails

When choosing a colder storage option, it’s important to understand the specific features of each tier. Here are three key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Price for retrieval: The price for retrieving data from each tier varies. Some tiers offer quick access at higher retrieval costs, while others prioritize cost efficiency over immediate availability.
  • Availability and latency: The availability and latency of data access also differs across tiers. Tiers like S3 Standard and S3 Intelligent-Tiering prioritize quick access, while others like Glacier Deep Archive are designed for long-term storage with extended retrieval times.
  • Minimum storage duration: Certain tiers impose minimum storage duration requirements. For instance, Glacier Deep Archive mandates that data be retained for a specific period to avail of its cost-efficient benefits.

By archiving your data to colder storage, you can save money on your AWS storage costs. However, it’s important to choose the right colder storage option for your needs. Consider the access frequency, data size, budget, and retention period when making this decision.

Did you know that with N2WS, you can archive to any S3/Glacier tier! We have a handy cost-savings calculator that allows you to estimate how much you’d save (up to 98%) by archiving data to a lower cost storage tier.

How to Optimize AWS Storage Costs: in conclusion

Optimizing your AWS storage costs can save you a significant amount of money and free up space in the budget for other important business activities and initiatives. There are many ways to optimize your AWS storage costs, including:

  • Use the right storage class for your data: AWS offers several storage classes with different cost and performance characteristics. By using the right storage class for your data, you can save money without sacrificing performance.
  • Reduce overprovisioning: Overprovisioning occurs when you provision more storage resources than you need, which often leads to unnecessary costs. By reducing overprovisioning, you can free up money to invest in other, more productive areas.
  • Identify and eliminate unused resources: It’s important to regularly review your AWS environment to find any unused or idle resources. These resources are costing you money, so you need to terminate them immediately.
  • Take advantage of all the available AWS pricing models: AWS offers a variety of pricing models, each with different cost and usage characteristics. By understanding the different pricing models, you can choose the one that’s right for your needs and that will best help you optimize your costs.

Your cost optimization strategy needs to incorporate many of these methods. Integrated operational platforms like N2WS can significantly boost your savings opportunities in both people time and cloud hosting costs.

If you’re looking to save big on your AWS storage bill, then follow these helpful tips to ensure maximum optimization of your AWS resources. By adopting the above measures, you’re building practices and processes that allow you to make the most out of your AWS environment so that you don’t have to constantly worry about cloud overspend.

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