Optimizing AWS Glacier Storage: Strategies for Managing Small Files

AWS Glacier offers an incredibly cost-effective solution for long-term data archival, appealing to organizations seeking to minimize cloud storage expenses. However, Glacier’s pricing model and performance characteristics present unique challenges when storing many small files. Understanding these nuances is crucial for optimizing both costs and operational efficiency. This blog post will explore the impact of file size versus the number of files in AWS Glacier and provide strategic recommendations for managing small files effectively.

Understanding the Cost Implications

The Challenge with Small Files

At its core, Glacier is designed for infrequent access, making it an ideal solution for archiving. However, this design introduces specific cost considerations that are particularly pronounced when dealing with small files:

  • Storage Costs: While Glacier’s storage costs are primarily based on the total volume of data stored, there’s a catch: Glacier enforces a minimum billable object size of 40 KB. This means if your archive consists of many files smaller than 40 KB, each file is rounded up to 40 KB for billing purposes. Consequently, a large number of small files can significantly inflate storage costs.
  • Request Costs: Glacier charges for data upload (PUT), retrieval, and deletion requests. Managing thousands or millions of small files can lead to high request costs, as each file operation incurs a separate charge.
  • Retrieval Costs: Glacier offers various retrieval options—Expedited, Standard, and Bulk—each with different costs and access times. A higher number of small files complicates the retrieval strategy, potentially leading to increased costs and operational complexity.

Performance and Operational Overhead

Beyond cost, the performance implications of handling many small files in Glacier should not be underestimated. The service is optimized for larger objects, and as such, the overhead of managing and transferring a large number of small files can adversely affect upload, retrieval, and inventory management operations.

Strategic Recommendations

Aggregating Small Files

One effective strategy to mitigate the challenges associated with storing small files in Glacier is to aggregate or bundle them into larger archive files using formats like ZIP or TAR. This approach offers several benefits:

  • Reduced Storage Footprint: Aggregating files minimizes the total number of objects stored, thereby reducing storage costs, especially the impact of the minimum billable object size.
  • Lowered Request Costs: Fewer, larger files mean fewer PUT and GET requests, directly lowering request costs.
  • Simplified Retrievals: Managing larger aggregated files simplifies retrieval operations, allowing for more predictable and potentially cost-effective data access.

Evaluating Alternative Solutions

AWS Glacier may not be the most suitable solution for scenarios requiring frequent access to small files. In such cases, consider alternatives like:

  • Amazon S3 Intelligent-Tiering: Automatically moves data to the most cost-effective access tier without performance impact or operational overhead.
  • Amazon S3 Infrequent Access Tiers: Offers lower storage costs for data accessed less frequently, with faster access times than Glacier.


While AWS Glacier presents an attractive option for long-term data archival, its unique pricing model and service characteristics necessitate careful planning and optimization, especially for workloads involving a large number of small files. By understanding these challenges and implementing strategic solutions like file aggregation and service selection, organizations can optimize their storage costs and operational efficiency in the cloud.

Remember, the key to effective cloud storage management is not just in choosing the right service but also in how you prepare and manage your data to align with the strengths and limitations of the service you choose.