amazon-ec2 - mcq - instance store vs ebs




Benefits of EBS vs. instance-store(and vice-versa) (8)

99% of our AWS setup is recyclable. So for me it doesn't really matter if I terminate an instance -- nothing is lost ever. E.g. my application is automatically deployed on an instance from SVN, our logs are written to a central syslog server.

The only benefit of instance storage that I see are cost-savings. Otherwise EBS-backed instances win. Eric mentioned all the advantages.


[2012-07-16] I would phrase this answer a lot different today.

I haven't had any good experience with EBS-backed instances in the past year or so. The last downtimes on AWS pretty much wrecked EBS as well.

I am guessing that a service like RDS uses some kind of EBS as well and that seems to work for the most part. On the instances we manage ourselves, we have got rid off EBS where possible.

Getting rid to an extend where we moved a database cluster back to iron (= real hardware). The only remaining piece in our infrastructure is a DB server where we stripe multiple EBS volumes into a software RAID and backup twice a day. Whatever would be lost in between backups, we can live with.

EBS is a somewhat flakey technology since it's essentially a network volume: a volume attached to your server from remote. I am not negating the work done with it – it is an amazing product since essentially unlimited persistent storage is just an API call away. But it's hardly fit for scenarios where I/O performance is key.

And in addition to how network storage behaves, all network is shared on EC2 instances. The smaller an instance (e.g. t1.micro, m1.small) the worse it gets because your network interfaces on the actual host system are shared among multiple VMs (= your EC2 instance) which run on top of it.

The larger instance you get, the better it gets of course. Better here means within reason.

When persistence is required, I would always advice people to use something like S3 to centralize between instances. S3 is a very stable service. Then automate your instance setup to a point where you can boot a new server and it gets ready by itself. Then there is no need to have network storage which lives longer than the instance.

So all in all, I see no benefit to EBS-backed instances what so ever. I rather add a minute to bootstrap, then run with a potential SPOF.

I'm unclear as to what benefits I get from EBS vs. instance-store for my instances on Amazon EC2. If anything, it seems that EBS is way more useful (stop, start, persist + better speed) at relatively little difference in cost...? Also, is there any metric as to whether more people are using EBS now that it's available, considering it is still relatively new?


EBS is like the virtual disk of a VM:

  • Durable, instances backed by EBS can be freely started and stopped (saving money)
  • Can be snapshotted at any point in time, to get point-in-time backups
  • AMIs can be created from EBS snapshots, so the EBS volume becomes a template for new systems

Instance storage is:

  • Local, so generally faster
  • Non-networked, in normal cases EBS I/O comes at the cost of network bandwidth (except for EBS-optimized instances, which have separate EBS bandwidth)
  • Has limited I/O per second IOPS. Even provisioned I/O maxes out at a few thousand IOPS
  • Fragile. As soon as the instance is stopped, you lose everything in instance storage.

Here's where to use each:

  • Use EBS for the backing OS partition and permanent storage (DB data, critical logs, application config)
  • Use instance storage for in-process data, noncritical logs, and transient application state. Example: external sort storage, tempfiles, etc.
  • Instance storage can also be used for performance-critical data, when there's replication between instances (NoSQL DBs, distributed queue/message systems, and DBs with replication)
  • Use S3 for data shared between systems: input dataset and processed results, or for static data used by each system when lauched.
  • Use AMIs for prebaked, launchable servers

For someone new to all this and if accidentally landed here

As of now all AMI's in quickstart section are EBS backed

Also there's a good explanation at official doc for difference between EBS and Instance store

& this image pretty much sums it up


I'm just starting to use EC2 myself so not an expert, but Amazon's own documentation says:

we recommend that you use the local instance store for temporary data and, for data requiring a higher level of durability, we recommend using Amazon EBS volumes or backing up the data to Amazon S3.

Emphasis mine.

I do more data analysis than web hosting, so persistence doesn't matter as much to me as it might for a web site. Given the distinction made by Amazon itself, I wouldn't assume that EBS is right for everyone.

I'll try to remember to weigh in again after I've used both.


If you run multiple instance and assign a scheduled service of AWS Instance as one of your priority on Avoiding Unexpected Charges, I would recommend not to use the instance-store.

As explained on documentation of EBS Volumes and the answer from j2d3 and Siddharth Sharma the instance-store can run for as long as you want, but it cannot be stopped. Means that the service cannot be scheduled by an Automatic Start/Stop or Instance Recovery.

Moreover, for this kind of scheme there is also no benefit to use EBS Backed on Elastic Beanstalk as it is designed to ensure that all the resources you need are keep running. It will always do an automatically relaunches any services that you stop. Reviewing all the rest, out of the total charges on using the VPC, EBS and ELB that added to EC2-Classic, the EC2-VPC with ELB is mostly the best choice where unlike on EC2-Classic, a stopped instance retains its associated Elastic IP addresses and the EBS volume is stored automatically.

As conclusion, taking the main part of your question:

it seems that EBS is way more useful (stop, start, persist + better speed) at relatively little difference in cost...?

The answer is yes but if your instance is EBS-based, it can be stopped. It will remain in your account, you will not be charged for it. You will be charge only the volume but EBS is charged hourly. You may also consider that among all available types you have a flexibility to Resize the EBS Volume.

Beside the benefits that already listed by Eric, it shall also be aware that in term of cost S3 may or may not be cheaper than EBS. I agree that it relatively little difference in cost if you keep running both types of instance within the same platform and architecture of the application all the time.

However if there a scenario to run the application on a lower cost service, pull all unhandled task and role them to the VPC/EBS via a pipeline or lambda within a short time basis say <1 hour a day, which impossible to do when you use an instance-store, then it will be a different story.


Most people choose to use EBS backed instance as it is stateful. It is to safer because everything you have running and installed inside it, will survive stop/stop or any instance failure.

Instance store is stateless, you loose it with all the data inside in case of any instance failure situation. However, it is free and faster because the instance volume is tied to the physical server where the VM is running.


The bottom line is you should almost always use EBS backed instances.

Here's why

  • EBS backed instances can be set so that they cannot be (accidentally) terminated through the API.
  • EBS backed instances can be stopped when you're not using them and resumed when you need them again (like pausing a Virtual PC), at least with my usage patterns saving much more money than I spend on a few dozen GB of EBS storage.
  • EBS backed instances don't lose their instance storage when they crash (not a requirement for all users, but makes recovery much faster)
  • You can dynamically resize EBS instance storage.
  • You can transfer the EBS instance storage to a brand new instance (useful if the hardware at Amazon you were running on gets flaky or dies, which does happen from time to time)
  • It is faster to launch an EBS backed instance because the image does not have to be fetched from S3.
  • If the hardware your EBS-backed instance is scheduled for maintenance, stopping and starting the instance automatically migrates to new hardware. I was also able to move an EBS-backed instance on failed hardware by force-stopping the instance and launching it again (your mileage may vary on failed hardware).

I'm a heavy user of Amazon and switched all of my instances to EBS backed storage as soon as the technology came out of beta. I've been very happy with the result.

EBS can still fail - not a silver bullet

Keep in mind that any piece of cloud-based infrastructure can fail at any time. Plan your infrastructure accordingly. While EBS-backed instances provide certain level of durability compared to ephemeral storage instances, they can and do fail. Have an AMI from which you can launch new instances as needed in any availability zone, back up your important data (e.g. databases), and if your budget allows it, run multiple instances of servers for load balancing and redundancy (ideally in multiple availability zones).

When Not To

At some points in time, it may be cheaper to achieve faster IO on Instance Store instances. There was a time when it was certainly true. Now there are many options for EBS storage, catering to many needs. The options and their pricing evolve constantly as technology changes. If you have a significant amount of instances that are truly disposable (they don't affect your business much if they just go away), do the math on cost vs. performance. EBS-backed instances can also die at any point in time, but my practical experience is that EBS is more durable.


We like instance-store. It forces us to make our instances completely recyclable, and we can easily automate the process of building a server from scratch on a given AMI. This also means we can easily swap out AMIs. Also, EBS still has performance problems from time to time.





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