Instance Volumes

They are ephemeral and always get deleted when an EC2 instance. Can not be added to an instance AFTER creation.

EBS Volumes

Elastic Block Store is permanent storage with snapshot capability that can automatically be mounted to an EC2 instance. Optionally encrypted; can be resized. The type of volume can be changed as well.

Generally mapped to /dev/sda1 and can be optionally encrypted. EBS can be sized up to 1 or 2 Tb depending on the OS and they boot faster than instance stores. Each EBS volume initially gets 5.4 million credits for burst performance (3000 IOPS for 30 minutes).

There are many types of EBS:

  1. General purpose SSD (gp2/gp3) - gp2 has 250 MiB/s while gp2 has 1,000 MiB/s; can not multi-attach

  2. Provisioned IOPS (io1, io2, i02 block express) - For databases… supports multi-attach

  3. Throughput optimized (st1) - Cheap and slow EBS volumes. Can not specify IOPS with this storage type and it is not burstable; not recommended for smaller read sizes using random access. Good for big data and data warehouses.

  4. Cold HDD (sc1) - very cheap with good sequential read throughput

  5. EBS Magnetic - infrequent access

EBS Monitoring

There are four status check statuses coming from EBS volumes:

  • ok - All good.

  • warning = Degraded or Severely Degraded

  • impaired = Stalled or Not Available

  • insufficient-data = not enough data!

Initializing EBS Volumes (pre-warm)

This is no longer required for new volumes.

For peak performance from the EBS volume if you are mounting it for the first time you can do a dd if={mount location} of=/dev/null bs=1M which writes to every block.

If creating from a snapshot use the fio utility which reads from every block on the volume - something like sudo fio --filename=/dev/xvdf1 --rw=randread --bs=128k --iodepth=32 --ioengine=libaio --direct=1 --name=volume-initialize

Resizing and Modifying an EBS Volume

It is possible to resize or modify an EBS volume while it is mounted.

To access an existing EBS from an instance first attach it, then create a file system, then mount it!

EBS Root Devices & Instance Termination

By default, EBS root volumes are lost when an instance is terminated. That said, there are numerous ways to preserve EBS root volumes after termination:

  1. Take a snapshot of the EBS

  2. Disable the “Delete on Termination” option

  3. Attach EBS volumes after instance creation…. this is not exactly a root volume.

Volumes & Snapshots

Snapshots are incremental and stored on S3. Frequent snap shots improve RPO and RTO and don’t cost much as they are deltas.

RAID array snapshots are a pain. You need to freeze the file system, unmount the RAID array; it is easiest is to stop the instance beforehand.


RAID can be implemented on EBS or Instance Store volumes.

  • RAID 0 - striping; improves IOPS performance only; no fault tolerance; 128k or 256k block size preferred; EBS optimzed instance is preferrable

  • RAID 1 - mirror; no additional IOPS or throughput; increased fault tolerance

  • RAID 5 - 4 data; 1 chksum; NEVER on EBS

  • RAID 10 - Mirror and stripe


EBS Volumes are only encryptable at creation and can’t be un-encrypted by any means. If a snapshot is unencrypted, it can be encrypted.

Now the root device on an instance can be encrypted by setting the encryption flag when you create the instance. This is supported by all current generation instance types.

Backup Strategies

EBS does not backup automatically and degrade EC2 performance. Backups are incremental.

Encrypted volumes are snap-shotted encrypted automatically - and are restored encrypted. Unencrypted snapshots can be encrypted during copy using the any key you specify.

There are several situations to be fimiliar with:

  • Restoring by mounting volumes the copying files to the volume then backing it up

  • Backup using Snapshots (which are object level storage and incremental backups…)

  • AMI “pre-baking” reduces the instance spin-up time and can also serve as a backup strategy

  • Application-consistent snapshots are super challenging because they include memory, in-process transations and the data on disk. LVM is a great tool to use here and LVM is also a good choice for RAID Volume Snapshots. The steps to do this sort of “hot backups” are:

  1. first pausing I/O using xfs_freeze or fsfreeze (ext based filesystems)

  2. unmount, snapshot and remount

  3. Use a Logical Volume Manager & backup the LVM snapshots inside the EBS snapshot… then delete the LVM snapshot


Restoration is a straight forward affair; simply, create a volume from the snapshot then mount it. From there you can also do a file level restore by copying the files to a regular production volume.

Use Cases

Long term data storage? EBS

data shared between instance fast? memecached or redis

persist data shared between instances? EFS

don’t care? instance store

DB or INTENSE datawarehouse server = IOPS/io1

General purpose = gp2

Large I/O including EMR, Kafka, log processing and data warehouse ETL = st1 (sequential data reads)

Super high disk IO? either RAID 0 or RAID 10 EBS, EBS-optimized instances, modern Linux kernel


CloudWatch does not have access to disk space available… this is an OS specific metric.

gp2 volumes

VolumeReadBytes & VolumeWriteBytes - throughput measurements can be reported in SUM or more importantly AVERAGE. Average should tell you if you are ending up with a bottleneck or excess throughput.

VolumeReadOps & VolumeWriteBytes - This tells up the number of IOPS

VolumeTotalReadTime & VolumeTotalWriteTime - Looking a trend line of this metric can show what the future requirements might be.

VolumeQueueLength - How long the queue is can determine usage patterns.

io1 volumes

The VolumeThroughputPercentage & VolumeConsumedReadWriteOps metrics show how much of the provisioned throughput you are using.