Amazon S3: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, Pros, and Cons

amazon s3

Amazon S3: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, Pros, and Cons

Amazon created S3 to help organizations maintain data integrity while also streamlining the link between data storage and analytics and machine learning projects. 

This “simple storage service” is designed to, well, simplify even the most demanding of data storage operations. No matter the complexity or scale of your data, Amazon guarantees that S3 is the most robust and efficient way to store and protect your company’s critical data. 

Using S3 comes with a number of benefits. For one, it’s a cloud-based solution, so it’s easily scalable and has virtually limitless capacity. It’s also flexible, efficient, and relatively low-cost. 

In this guide, we introduce you to everything you can do with S3. We’ll take a close look at its main features, use cases, and benefits. We’ll also give you some tips on learning to work with S3. If you’re not totally sold on S3, we’ll also advise you on some alternative storage services to consider. 

Ready to take a deep dive into AWS’ object storage service? Let’s get started! 

5 Must-Know Facts About Amazon S3

  1. Amazon S3 is an Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud storage solution designed to scale to growth and to easily integrate with other applications. 
  2. With “11 9s” data durability, there’s little risk of losing important data when storing objects in the S3 cloud. 
  3. S3 offers a variety of storage class options to meet the needs of widely varying data management cases. 
  4. Amazon’s best-in-class security features include automatic encryption of every object uploaded to an S3 bucket. 
  5. S3 comes with an extensive line of administration features so that large organizations can carefully manage access to data. 

What Is Amazon S3: Explained

Released by Amazon as part of its huge catalog of AWS products, S3 is a cloud-oriented data storage solution designed to evolve and grow alongside your business’ data operations. S3 puts you in control of creating the buckets in which your data lives.

It also gives you all the tools you need to manage stakeholders’ access to data and to conceptualize the way your organization leverages data for BI, analytics, and machine learning functions. 

Use Cases

The use cases for AWS S3 are as varied as the organizations that this product serves. In other words, you can do just about anything with S3. Here’s just a sampling of some possibilities. 

With S3, you can build data lakes, or centralized repositories that store structured and unstructured data at basically any scale. Data lakes don’t require you to structure your data before being used for analytics or machine learning applications. Because S3 provides the necessary ingredients for data lakes, it drives much faster and more adaptable BI and ML. 

Thanks to its massive data storage capabilities, you can also use S3 to run ultra-powerful cloud-native apps. CapitalOne, for instance, uses S3 to deliver customer service solutions on their app within weeks, instead of months or years. 

AWS S3 also makes it a breeze to back up and restore mission-critical data. With its bevy of replication features, you’re at far lower risk of losing data should anything go awry with your systems. In fact, Amazon boasts 99.9999999% data durability.

Those eleven nines aren’t just for show. “11 9s” is data science jargon for, well, really good data integrity. It means that if you were to store 1 million objects in S3 for a span of 10 million years, you’d expect to lose just one file. 

In terms of choosing how to store your data, S3 comes with numerous storage class options to meet different needs, scales, and budget constraints. And for rigorous data protection, Amazon offers a variety of security, compliance, and auditing features. 

If all that wasn’t enough, you can also create buckets to your heart’s content, specify your own storage regions, set access controls, specify management options, and quickly pair your data with AI, ML, and advanced analytics tools.  

Storage Classes

To give you a clearer picture of how S3 delivers all these perks, let’s go over some of S3’s main components in more detail. The big priorities with S3 include data storage, data integrity, and data protection, so the main features we cover here will deal with those priorities. 

With that in mind, AWS Storage Classes cover — as you can probably guess — the manner in which you store your data in S3. 

Largest data center companies
Amazon S3 manages data with an object storage architecture.

©Gil C/Shutterstock.com

Which storage class you choose depends on your budget constraints and your organization’s style of usage. Are you a nonprofit or a humble startup with limited means but considerable data needs? Do you have ever-changing or unknown access policies? Are you mainly using S3 for archiving purposes? These are all questions to consider when choosing a storage class. 

Access Points

These days, most data are stored on the cloud and are shared. That’s great, but it could also cause serious issues with data integrity. A user changing just one element in one column or row of data can potentially have disastrous downstream effects. We need to be able to place limits on who can access shared sets of data. 

This is where S3 Access Points come in. Access Points provide a simple way to control access to data sets, giving you personalized access points with designated names and customized permissions. You manage all aspects of access point policies through either the S3 console or the Command Line Interface. 


Having good data integrity also means having safeguards in place to prevent the permanent loss of data. In that regard, replication is an extremely useful tool.

S3 allows you to replicate objects between buckets — either within the same region or across regions. This means you can essentially create copies of your records in case something goes wrong with one of your buckets. 

As an important side note, replication also potentially enables cost reductions by giving you the option to put replicated objects into lower-cost storage classes like S3 Glacier. 


Lastly, you don’t want your data being compromised or getting into the wrong hands. S3 comes equipped with best-in-class methods for preventing unauthorized access. It does so mainly by automatically encrypting objects as they’re uploaded to buckets. 

On top of encryption, Amazon also gives you abundant access management tools in order to say, block public access to your cloud data, set policies around which users can access which data, or set up a Query String Authentication so that access to data is time-limited. 

For ongoing security monitoring, Amazon S3 also provides support for audit logs so that your trusted administrators can frequently check in on who’s accessing your data. 

How to Use Amazon S3

By now, you should be raring to get started with Amazon S3. Who wouldn’t want to simplify their data storage operations, and protect their data integrity while doing it? To that end, we want to outline how you can get access to S3 and start building your own platform. 

First, you need to create an AWS account. If you already have one, fantastic! If not, it’s easy to make one. Once you’ve got your account and you’re signed in, you just need to follow some basic prompts to configure S3. 

If you’re interested in starting S3 on a trial basis before having to pay for anything, you can do that. We recommend starting with the Free Tier, which you can use for up to 12 months — though under limited storage capacity. 

After you configure S3 and enable the Free Tier, you can use the console to create your first bucket. From here, you simply upload an object of your choice to the bucket. 

How to Learn Amazon S3

If you want to be successful with using Amazon S3, you need to take some time to learn how to use it. This is not an entry-level program. There are entire jobs, such as data analysts and data scientists, devoted to managing an organization’s data warehouses.

Suffice it to say that using S3 requires some fundamental understanding of data science principles or, at the very least, a solid grasp of S3’s main functionality. Here, we’ll restrict ourselves to giving you some helpful pointers on how to start gaining proficiency in S3.

Amazon itself provides lots of free online courses in S3. These tutorials cover everything from the basics of data storage, protecting and replicating data, establishing data security, running S3 audits, and more. 

In addition to the tutorials, Amazon also has you covered with a library of documentation for different types of users. This way, if you ever get stuck on your journey to better data management, you have resources to refer back to. For developers, Amazon also provides code samples to help you get started on building an application with S3. 

One of the best resources for getting started is Amazon’s YouTube channel, where they offer a free introduction to S3.

One of our personal favorites for learning the basics of S3 is the Be a Better Dev YouTube channel. He is an expert on AWS and breaks down the concepts very well.

If you’ve got the cash and some time on your hands, you might also check out third-party courses on using Amazon S3, say on Udemy or Coursera. Your employer might even cover the enrollment costs for you. 

Amazon S3: When Is It Not the Best Choice?

In terms of flexibility, durability, security, and ease of integration, you’re unlikely to find a superior cloud storage service than Amazon S3. It’s a no-brainer for organizations that have the staff with plenty of technical competencies to properly run data infrastructure. However, S3 shouldn’t be considered an appropriate choice in every situation. 

The main issue some might have with Amazon S3 is that its complex functionality and granular customizability make it far from entry-level. If you don’t have a dedicated IT team, you’re probably going to encounter a lot of technical issues that can’t be resolved with a simple phone call to the Amazon support staff. 

Another more minor quibble: Amazon fails to make S3’s pricing transparent. Mind you, it’s designed to be low cost and for rates to decline the more data you commit to S3, but a lot of small to mid-sized businesses would like to know exactly how much they need to budget from the get-go. 

Owing to its complexity and difficulty in estimating prices, S3 may not be the best choice for smaller businesses. If you’re an emerging brand but still want to be smart about how your business manages data, you might want to consider a couple of user-friendly alternatives with greater pricing transparency.  

Google Drive for Work 

Here’s another cloud storage solution that makes up for Amazon S3’s extensive bells and whistles with greater simplicity and good compatibility with non-Google products. For as little as $5 a month per user, you get up to 30 GB of secure cloud storage, plus excellent tools for document sharing and collaboration.

For $5 more, Google throws in advanced administration capabilities, archiving functions, and unlimited storage. With G Suite Business, then, you get a stripped-down, easy-to-use cloud storage option that hits on some of S3’s major features — just without all the technical complexity. 

Dropbox Business

Dropbox Business gives you the same cloud file storage and document sharing options as Google, though, unlike Google Drive for Work, it’s not set up for in-line file editing. However, it does offer quite extensive storage capacity — 3 TB at minimum, and unlimited for more expensive plans. 

Though Dropbox does have its drawbacks and certainly can’t compete with Amazon S3’s advanced functionality, the focus here is on simplicity and affordability. If you’re a small business owner that wants to get a secure handle on your data without having to commit to an IT administrator, this could be just the thing you need. 

Amazon S3: Release History

Amazon S3 hit the U.S. market in March 2006, making it one of the elders in the sprawling AWS family. Looking at where S3 has gone since its initial release gives you a compelling glance at the stunning evolution of data and technology in that span of time. 

For one thing, the amount of data stored through S3 has ballooned. In October 2007, Amazon noted that 10 billion objects had been uploaded to S3 buckets. By March 2021, that number grew to 100 trillion objects. 

At the same time, the way S3 manages data storage has increased exponentially in sophistication. Over the past 17 years, we’ve witnessed S3’s integration capabilities grow increasingly nuanced as more data manipulation, analytics, and engineering technologies have been introduced to the world of cloud computing

Of course, S3’s security features have taken great strides as well. As of 2017, for instance, AWS now automatically encrypts all data uploaded to S3 buckets — which probably made everyone happy, save for the people whose job it was to handle the encryption process manually. 

Amazon S3: Full Guide with Features, Benefits, Pros, and Cons FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is AWS S3?

AWS S3 is an Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud storage solution that allows people and companies to store, protect and manage their data efficiently. It is designed to scale to growth and to easily integrate with other applications in the Amazon Web Services ecosystem.

What is AWS S3 used for?

AWS S3 is used for a variety of purposes, including data lakes, cloud-native applications, backup and restoration of mission-critical data, and running advanced analytics and machine learning projects.

What is the difference between S3 and EC2?

Both EC2 and S3 are different services at their core. While EC2 is a comprehensive cloud computing solution that lets you run servers and managed systems, S3 is primarily an object storage service.

What is a S3 bucket in AWS?

An S3 bucket is a container for storing objects or files that you upload. A bucket is similar to a folder in a file system on your computer, where you can store different objects consisting of data and descriptive metadata.

What are the main components of AWS S3?

The main components of AWS S3 include Storage Classes, Access Points, Replication, and Security. Storage classes refer to the manner in which you store your data in S3.

Access Points provide a simple way to control access to data sets, while replication allows you to replicate objects between buckets. Security features include automatic encryption of every object uploaded to an S3 bucket, access management tools, and audit logs.

Is S3 a database in AWS?

Many developers will tell you that S3 is not a database, but the fact is that you can use it as a form of NoSQL database fairly easily, given its key-value format and its similarity to a single-table database.

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