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AWS EBS Volumes: 5 Ways to Optimize Performance and Costs

Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) provides block storage for applications that are running in the cloud. However, not every company is getting the most out of the EBS volumes they are using. Some companies can pay too much for EBS volumes without utilizing the allocated storage and IOPS. Other organizations may pay high prices because they are using the wrong disk type for their needs. This article explains five techniques you can use to optimize the performance of your EBS workloads.

What Is EBS?

Amazon EBS is a cloud-based block storage system, typically used for storing data from Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). You can deploy various types of data on Amazon EBS, including applications, containers, big data engines, file systems, and databases.

You can replicate EBS volumes between Availability Zones (AZ), to prevent data loss. You can also back up recent changes using EBS snapshots. EBS storage is flexible, enabling users to change volume sizes and types, and optimize performance.

EBS Features

The following features enable you to manage block volumes in EBS:

  • Amazon EBS Elastic Volumes — used to optimize volumes. This feature enables you to manually change the performance and capacity of volumes, according to your needs. If you want to automate this process, you can integrate with Amazon CloudWatch and AWS Lambda.
  • Amazon EBS-optimized instances — used to optimize EC2 instances by reducing the contention between traffic from your instance and EBS I/O. You can use this feature when you want to give your EC2 instances the same level of performance as the EBS volumes. This feature requires additional cost, however. That’s why we suggest you also make sure to to optimize EC2 and EBS costs by monitoring their performance.

The following features provide security controls for EBS volumes:

  • Amazon EBS encryption — used to encrypt snapshots and volumes. You can use the AWS Key Management Service (KMS) to create Amazon-managed keys or create your own keys. The EBS encryption mechanism is designed to encrypt data instances that move from and into EC2, and data at-rest inside the EBS system.
  • AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) — used to provide access control to AWS resources, including EBS volumes. You use AWS IAM to define and manage the privileges and roles each user gets when accessing your AWS resources.

You can use the following features to configure backup processes for EBS volumes:

  • Amazon EBS snapshots — You can use snapshots to create new volumes in a number of ways. You can do this by restoring previous versions of volume blocks, by duplicating a snapshot, by increasing the size of an existing volume, and by sharing a snapshot with a colleague.
  • Amazon data lifecycle manager — enables snapshot automation. You only have to manually configure the lifecycle policy. Then you run the policy and the lifecycle manager does all the work. The lifecycle policy tells the system how to create and manage snapshots.

How to Optimize AWS EBS Performance: 5 Tips to Optimize Volume Costs

If you’ve decided to use EBS as your storage solution, you need to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your storage system. Follow the tips below to enhance EBS performance.

Choose the Right Volume Types and Sizes

The pricing and the performance capabilities of an EBS volume vary according to volume types. Here are the most commonly used volume types:

  • SSD volumes — used for high-performance workloads that need high IOPS and low latency. SSD volumes burst up to 3,000 IOPS per volume, they are independent of volume size, and meet the performance needs of most apps.
  • Hard Disk Drives (HDD) volumes — used for frequently accessed data, throughput-intensive workloads with large I/O sizes and large datasets, such as Kafka, MapReduce, log processing, ETL workloads, and data warehouse.
  • Cold HDD — used for volumes that do not require frequent access, such as EBS snapshots.

You should choose the type of the volume based on the workload priority. You can use Provisioned IOPS SSD for mission-critical applications such as large database workloads. For low priority workloads you can use the cost efficient General Purpose SSD volumes.

Regardless of priority or workload, provisioned volumes are not a good choice if you are performing many small operations. Provisioned volumes count each operation under 256K as an individual IOPS use, as opposed to general volumes that combine them into chunks of 256K.

Learn from Your EBS Metrics

Monitoring your metrics can assist you in optimizing your EBS environment by giving insights into storage activity and performance. There are three metrics categories you should monitor:

  • Disk I/O — can tell you if you need to modify your volume size, change their type, or if you need a load balancer.
  • Disk activity — can inform you if the volume type you are using and the limits you have chosen are correct.
  • Latency — can inform you if your volumes need higher limits of Input/Output Operations (IOPS).

Monitoring your cloud infrastructure ensures the availability, performance and health of your application. You can pinpoint issues and negative trends before they cause damage. AWS also gathers information on volume status and can send alerts on issues like disabled volumes. Checking volume statuses and responding to alerts can ensure the availability of data and help you avoid payments for unusable storage.

Leverage Burst Credits

Burst credits are used to improve performance during periods of high activity. You automatically get some burst credits when you create a volume. Each new volume has enough credits to support an increase of 3000 IOPS for 30 minutes. After that, your performance can drop back and you will not get new credits, unless you decrease your volume size.

Remember to check your burst credits if you have unresponsive services, or instances that are suddenly crawling. If the lack of credits is what’s reducing your productivity, you can attach a mirror volume. Mirror volumes can help distribute IOPS and give you an additional burst credit pool. Another option is to simply increase your volume size to 1TiB or larger.Large size volumes are not limited by burst credits and can reach full performance.

Manage Your Volumes

EBS volumes can quickly get out of control if not properly managed, either because they are unintentionally deleted or not fully utilized. EC2 instances have a built-in DeleteOnTermination attribute. This attribute enables you to determine what happens to the attached EBS volumes when an instance is deleted or terminated. You can set it up during the creation of Amazon Machine Images (AMI) or during launch.

Automatically managing the termination of volumes enables you to manage backups of remaining volumes, prevent payment for unused volumes or securely delete persistent data.

Consider Using RAID Levels

Redundant array of independent disks (RAID) is an architecture that uses mirrored volumes to either increase performance through workload distribution or eliminate single points of failure. You can create RAID configurations to quickly duplicate EBS volumes.

You can use any RAID configuration that your operating system supports. However, AWS recommends using RAID 0 or RAID 1.

  • RAID 0 — used to boost performance and distribute workloads when you are unable to gain additional performance by changing volume types.
  • RAID 1 — provides data redundancy. Usually less useful because AWS already provides significant data duplication features. Can be beneficial for critical applications and data.


Although management and performance optimization of EBS volume may look complex, you can use some simple, and highly effective techniques to make it a lot easier. You can monitor EBS metrics to get insights on what you need to optimize, create RAID configurations to duplicate EBS volumes, and improve performance capabilities and reduce costs by selecting the right volume type. You can also replicate data across multiple servers in an Availability Zone to prevent data loss. This replication makes EBS volumes more reliable than regular disk drives.

About the author 

Farhan Munir
With over 12 years of experience in the technical domain, I have witnessed the evolution of many web technologies, as well as the rise of the digital economy. I consider myself a life-long learner, and I love experimenting with new technologies. I embrace challenges with enthusiasm and outside-of-the-box mindset. I feel it is important to share your experiences with the rest of the world – in order to pass on the knowledge or let other folks learn from your mistakes or successes. In my spare time, I like to travel and photograph the world.

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