Is There Food?

by Daniel Woolstencroft

Amazon Glacier and Arq

When Amazon first launched Glacier, their super cheap alternative to S3, my immediate reaction was “when will Arq support it?”. Answer: now.

So hurrah, right? We should all ditch our Crashplans and our Backblazes and our Dropboxes, and even our S3s and move to Glacier, yes? Well, probably not.

Glacier is super cheap for storage, yes. Ludicrously cheap in fact. According to various Glacier calculators online, storing 100gb of data for a month would set me back a single dollar (at the time of writing, 62 of my shiny British pence). Currently I back up 82gb of family photos and video to Crashplan at a cost of $5 a month. So I could move that the Glacier and save a few dollars.

I could also nuke Crashplan’s Java based Mac app, and install Arq which is all lovely and native. Although Crashplan’s app allows me to not only back up my content using their online service, but also allows me to very easily perform a backup to an attached USB drive and network attached storage, which Arq doesn’t do now, and based on conversations with the developer, probably never will.

There’s another reason though. Suppose I wanted to pull that 100gb of data back from Glacier. Doing so would cost me quite a lot of money.

Glacier isn’t really geared up for retrieval of data. It’s fire and forget. You don’t want to store this pile of data that you rarely look at? Fine, throw it at Glacier. You’re unlikely to ever want it back, and if you did, you’d probably only want a sliver of it.

But with family photos, videos, mp3s, and the kind of consumer data that’s so commonly found on the hardrives of computer users today, you a) want that to be accessible for those nostalgic strolls down memory lane, b) want to know it’s safe, and c) want it back pretty damn quick if you lose it.

Thanks to the impenetrable voodoo pricing scheme that Glacier employs, it’s a little tricky to work out how much data retrieval will cost. Online calculators help, but it’s still such a dark art that I’m not entirely certain they’re accurate. Which is a problem in itself.

According to the calculators to retrieve 100gb of data in one shot would cost nearly $180. The tricky thing is, Glacier doesn’t want or expect you to pull data back in one shot, so you get a retrieval allowance. On 100gb, the retrieval allowance is something like 170mb per day, or 5gb per month. So if I didn’t mind waiting 20 months to pull back my 100gb of family photos, it wouldn’t cost me anything1.

If I wanted to pull my data back from Crashplan? I just do it. No questions asked, no costs incurred. Even better, if I want to check a specific file or photo in Crashplan, they have a pretty good iOS app that lets you access your stuff. Which is very handy, but also gives real peace of mind.

Before switching to Glacier, make sure you know it’s the right fit. As another layer of backup on an existing solution, which you’ll only ever need to rely on in the worst possible scenario, it might suit. But I’d quite like my last line of defence to be something I can prove works, and I can’t test a complete download from Glacier without incurring a huge bill. Your mileage may vary.

Regardless of whether you decide to use Glacier or not, you should have a look at Arq. It’s a great app.


  1. My understanding of the retrieval costs could be nonsense - that’s a distinct possibility. If it is, I’d love to know, so please tweet me and tell me I’m an idiot (and explanation as to why I’m an idiot would be nice too).