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AWS Snowcone A Step Towards The Portable Computing Devices


In the breeze of summer, Amazon updated its product list with AWS Snowcone, a new member of the Snow family – a portable, ruggedized, secure, edge computing device with tight integration with AWS compute and storage service. 


The size of the AWS Snowcone box is similar to the standard tissue box, but it weighs around 4.5 lbs (2.1 kg). Amazon adds the ruggedized casing and packaging to make robust against the extreme weather conditions and harsh environments like shop floor, refineries, and factories. 

The device is equipped with 2 vCPUs, 4GB RAM and 8TB HDD that makes it capable of running workloads at the edge. It has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, WiFi, a USB-C type port for power, and another USB-C port for data transfer. Like its contemporaries, Snowcone also has an eInk-enabled touch screen for basic UI and for showing the shipping labels. 

What is unique about Snowcone is that a battery pack can power it. The device can use any standard 45W+ USB-C power bank as the power source. It helps the tool to be highly compact and versatile.

AWS Snowcone is also equipped with NFC share by which data can be uploaded and downloaded from the device. In terms of the compute services, it offers two choices – AWS IoT Greengrass and Amazon EC2. 

Where AWS Snowcone gets the edge above the rest? 

Customers can use AWS Snowcone as an IoT gateway to orchestrate device-to-device communication and ingest telemetry data for industrial IoT use-cases. Moreover, lambda function can process that telemetry data flowing into cloud through the edge device. 

Snowcone also enables customers to launch EC2 to run end-to-end applications that can process and analyze the data. 

The capability of running Amazon EC2 instances on AWS Snowcone can turn it into a fully-fledged hyper-converged infrastructure appliance at the edge. There is a specific class of EC2 instances under the group of snc1 that can be provisioned on the device. The instances are based upon Ubuntu and CentOS AMIs. AMIs that runs on the T2 instance types, like t2.micro, t2.small, and t2.medium in AWS, are very compatible with the SNC1 instance types such snc1.micro, snc1.small, and snc1.medium, and these are available on AWS Snowcone. 

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Like any other device from the Snow family, Snowcone also runs AWS DataSync to synchronize the data among the local NFS share and AWS Storage services like S3, EFS, and FSx. For bulk uploads, users can populate the device with the content and send it to an AWS region for uploading the data to Amazon S3. 

For the management of devices locally in an offline mode, Amazon is also shipping a tool called AWS OpsHub that provides a GUI to manage Snowcone. This can be used to launch EC2 instances, manage NFS File Share, and configuring DataSync to transfer files to AWS. AWS CLI can also be used as an alternative to OpsHub for the lifecycle management of EC2 instances.  

The security offered by AWS Snowcone

The data Snowcone stored is always encrypted using 256-bit keys that customers can manage by using the AWS Key Management Service (KMS). Moreover, the encryption keys never get stored on the device to ensure the data stays secure during device transit. 

AWS Snowcone is also equipped with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) that provides a hardware root of trust. The TPM offers interfaces to the trusted software stack during the measurements and verification of the boot environment integrity when the power is turned on, and before the device is ready to use. AWS also practices additional tamper-indicating inspection after each AWS Snowcone device is received back to the AWS Region. 

Does AWS Snowcone is the device to beat?

Well, No! There are not many, but few limitations are there when we compared it with Snowball Edge Storage and Compute Optimized Devices. 

  1. Snowcone does not expose the Amazon S3 API endpoint that means tools that upload data to S3 buckets cannot point towards Snowcone. There is only one way of moving data into Snowcone is NFS File Share.  
  2. It’s magnetic disk type storage, not a Solid State Drive (SSD). Though external SSD disk can be attached to it for that, USB-C type ports are present. However, the clustering of devices is not supported by Snowcone, which means you can manage multiple devices as one fleet. 

There are only two types of vCPUs which limit the processing power exposed through EC2. Given that the backend storage is NFS, not a typical EBS volume; hence running IO intensive workloads like RDBMS and NoSQL databases is not recommended. Since there is no GPU support, that means Snowcone cannot be used for accelerating AI inference. 

However, a battery can power the device, opening the new scenarios or new use cases that its counterparts cannot tackle. 


Firstly, AWS Snowcone is available only in the US East (Northern Virginia) and US West (Oregon) AWS Regions. The availability in other AWS Regions is expected in the coming months. 

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Final Word

Last year, Microsoft announced a similar kind of a portable Azure Stack device branded as Azure Stack Edge Rugged; which is expected to become available by the latter half of the year. 

AWS Snowcone and Azure Stack Edge Rugged are knocking the right doors by emphasizing the need for portable, ruggedized edge computing devices that can bring compute and storage services closer to the origin of data.


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