One of our favorite utilities and one that we feel is probably one of the most underused technologies is Amazons S3. For those of you that are not familiar with S3,  it is a simple network storage solution. Amazon provides you a simple way of storing and securing all of your files online. It is most commonly used for file backups such as by systems like dropbox. But there are many, many other uses for Amazon S3.

I think a lot of people are scared away from S3 because of the fact that it charges fees for uploading and downloading files. Don’t let that scare you away however. 1st of all, they give you an extended grace. When you create a new account before a lot of the fees kick in. When we signed up, they gave us a full year. Then, even after your grace period expires, the rates are almost trivial. You have to be doing a huge amount of volume before you the rates are getting get anywhere near significant. More than likely it’ll only cost you a few dollars a month.

S3 Versus CDN

Amazon S3

Now don’t confuse Amazon S3 with CDN or Amazon’s cloud front storage. S3 is for simple network storage, whereas the CDN (called CloudFront in Amazon) is used for geographically distributed storage ideal for Web delivery. CDN stands for Content Delivery Network.

With CDN storage, multiple copies of your content are stored in multiple geographical locations all over the world. So, for example, when a user comes to your site from Los Angeles the video is streamed to them from a server that is close to them on the West Coast to minimize delivery time. If another user comes to your site from New York, that same video will be streamed to them from an East Coast storage location. The CDN automatically serves the data from the closest geographical location to minimize download time. Smart – very smart.

S3, however, is not geographically located and is more ideal for simple storage and backup. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t use it for web delivery – many do as a way of avoiding putting large bandwidth videos and files on their local web server. While not as ideal as CloudFront (CDN) for this purpose, it is still much better than putting these files on your local server. It will reduce delivery time and server overhead over a local server option, just not as ideal or fast for website usage as CDN.

Both are Powerful and Have Benefits and Drawbacks

Each type of storage has some benefits and drawbacks. For example, if you’re updating files frequently, S3 is the way to go. As soon as you update a file on S3 it is live. When you perform an update on the CDN it can take hours sometimes because the update has to be propagated out to the entire network.

S3 works more like a virtual hard drive and is therefore more appropriate for simple file storage – especially files that will be frequently update. Where the CDN shines, however, is in access time. Because of the geographically dispersed network of servers, it is faster than S3 for serving that data to your users. The CDN is most commonly used for video and audio files, for example.

The cost of Amazon S3 or CloudFront is a very small price to pay for secure network storage and peace of mind, not to mention enhanced speed. When you see all of the creative ways you can use S3 to help your business, I think you’ll agree. So I thought I’d list out just a few of the top uses for Amazon S3 and maybe give you some ideas and suggestions.

Top 10 Uses for Amazon S3

Automatic WordPress Backup

You can install a WordPress Plugin that will automatically backup your entire site to Amazon S3. This is absolutely brilliant, and highly recommended – we use it on all of our sites. The plugin we use is called BackupBuddy.

Backup Your Source Files

If you do any video editing or screen capture via either ScreenFlow (Mac) or Camtasia (PC or Mac) then S3 is an awesome way of keeping a copy of that large source capture without eating up tons of your local storage. These capture or video source files can be huge – gigabytes in size – and really fill up your local hard drive in a hurry (especially if you, like me, have a small 256gig SSD drive like my MacBook Air has). 256 gigs just doesn’t go very far these days.

Use S3 as Ultra Flexible File Share

I do this all the time. If I want to give a JV partner a copy of a video I will simply upload it to a folder we have designed for JVs to access and send them a URL.

Use S3 instead of attaching large files to your email

There’s nothing more annoying than getting an email with an attachment that is 20megs in size. Most people *assume* that everyone has lightening fast Internet service. But many times I’m operating off of a 3g connection, for example. Getting large file attachements via email is a pain in the a**. So use S3 instead. Just upload it to S3 and insert the URL link into the email instead.

Backup your personal photos & videos

 I have thousands of photos and videos because it’s a hobby of mine and has been for many years. There’s no better place to keep a secure copy of them than S3. It’s too easy these days to lose those digital moments that you can never get back. In the “old days” we used to have negatives and so even if we lost the prints, we could make another one from the negatives. Today, it’s up to you to safeguard your digital images.

Send large files to your clients

 I use this all the time for our Video Site Analysis’ that I record. It’s a 40 minute video analysis of the client’s site and is very large. So I just throw it up in S3 and send the client a link to download it.

Use “expiring” access files for short term access

This can be a bit tricky, but I use a utility to make it super easy called CyberDuck. BTW, CyberDuck works on both Mac and PC and is also a full FTP client as well – I use it for both S3 and FTP needs. The URL will be large and ugly, but it will include encoding to allow the person access for a specified period of time. This way you don’t have to give the file public read access, you can leave it as restricted and just grant access via this “expiring” time-coded link.

Use Backupify to backup GoogleDocs and other social data

his is a great way to backup your GoogleDocs data and not worry about it. Backupify will also backup other social network data from Flickr, Twitter, Delicious, Photobucket and others.

Use S3 to deliver large downloads for eBooks and other info products

Take it up a notch as well and integrate it with timed expiring access codes if you wish to prevent the links from being shared.

Host an entire website on S3

I’ve seen this becoming increasing popular lately for small sites that are dedicated membership sites with video training downloads. As long as your site is just simple static HTML content you can put the entire thing up on S3. Crazy, huh? Here’s a tutorial.

Conclusion

Well that’s our Top 10 list – what’s yours? If you’ve got some other uses for Amazon S3 that I didn’t list here tell me about it in the comments! I encourage you to pick a couple of these and put Amazon S3 to use in your business. If your site(s) use WordPress, well, using Amazon S3 and BackupBuddy if nothing else would be a huge win.

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