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Using Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering

Published on
Last updated on

May 20, 2024

Max 3 min
Using Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering


  • Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering is a storage class introduced to optimize costs by automatically moving data between frequent and infrequent access tiers based on changing access patterns. This service is particularly useful for data with unpredictable or unknown access patterns.
  • Intelligent Tiering uses machine learning to monitor access patterns and move data accordingly, helping users save costs without manual intervention. It ensures data is stored in the most cost-effective tier, simplifying storage management and enhancing cost efficiency.
  • The service charges a monthly fee per object for monitoring and automation, in addition to storage costs. Users can achieve cost savings by minimizing manual data movement and ensuring data is always stored in the appropriate tier based on usage patterns.
  • Implementation strategies for Intelligent Tiering include manually enabling and configuring the tier or using autonomous systems to analyze storage patterns and recommend the most cost-effective options. Best practices involve regular monitoring, setting up lifecycle policies, and leveraging additional S3 features for enhanced management.


Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is a widely-used object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.   S3 has a variety of storage classes. 

In this article, we will delve into Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering, a storage class that optimizes costs by automatically moving data between two access tiers when access patterns change. We will explore what Intelligent Tiering is, how it works, the benefits it offers, and how to determine if it is the right choice for your storage needs.  

What is Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering and Why It Was Introduced

Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering is a storage class designed to optimize storage costs by automatically moving data between two access tiers: a frequent access tier and an infrequent access tier. This storage class is ideal for data with unknown or changing access patterns.  However, as we will cover below AWS charges a premium for this capability.

Amazon introduced Intelligent Tiering in 2018 to address the challenge of managing storage costs in environments where data access patterns are unpredictable. Traditional storage classes require users to manually manage data movement between tiers, which can be time-consuming and inefficient. Intelligent Tiering automates this process, ensuring that data is always stored in the most cost-effective tier based on its access pattern.

How Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering Works

Intelligent Tiering uses machine learning to monitor access patterns and automatically move data to the appropriate access tier. It includes two access tiers:

  1. Frequent Access Tier: For data that is accessed frequently.
  2. Infrequent Access Tier: For data that is accessed less frequently.

The service monitors data access patterns and moves data that hasn’t been accessed for 30 days to the infrequent access tier. If the data is accessed again, it is automatically moved back to the frequent access tier.

The pricing model for Intelligent Tiering includes a monthly monitoring and automation fee per object, in addition to the storage cost in each tier. The fee is $0.0025 per 1,000 objects stored in the Frequent and Infrequent Access Tiers, and $0.0036 per 1,000 objects in the Archive Instant Access and Deep Archive Access Tiers​ (Amazon Web Services)​​ (Amazon Web Services Docs)​.  Intelligent Tiering can be cost-effective for many use cases.

Benefits of Using Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering

Cost Efficiency: Intelligent Tiering helps optimize storage costs by automatically moving data to the most cost-effective access tier based on usage patterns. This reduces the need for manual intervention and ensures cost savings over time.  AWS reports that S3 users have saved $2 billion from adopting S3 Intelligent-Tiering.

Simplicity and Automation: The automated nature of Intelligent Tiering eliminates the need for manual data movement, simplifying storage management. Users can focus on other tasks while Intelligent Tiering optimizes their storage.

Data Access Patterns: Intelligent Tiering adapts to changing data access patterns, ensuring that data is always stored in the appropriate tier. This flexibility is especially beneficial for data with unpredictable access patterns.

When to Use Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering

Ideal Use Cases:

  • Unpredictable Access Patterns: Intelligent Tiering is perfect for scenarios where data access patterns are not well understood or are highly variable. It automatically adjusts to changing access patterns, optimizing costs without manual intervention.
  • Data Lifecycle Management: Intelligent Tiering simplifies data lifecycle management by automatically adjusting storage tiers based on access patterns, reducing the need for complex lifecycle policies.
  • Large Data Sets: Organizations managing large volumes of data can benefit from Intelligent Tiering’s automated cost optimization, reducing storage costs for infrequently accessed data.

Guidance on Decision Making: To determine if Intelligent Tiering is right for your storage needs, assess the predictability of your data access patterns. If access patterns are highly variable or difficult to predict, Intelligent Tiering can provide significant cost savings and simplify storage management.

Real-World Examples

Salesforce: Salesforce used Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering to manage its data lake, resulting in millions of dollars in savings annually. By automatically moving data to the most cost-effective tier based on usage patterns, Salesforce optimized its storage costs while maintaining high performance and accessibility​ (link​.

SimilarWeb: SimilarWeb leveraged Intelligent Tiering to manage large volumes of data for its market-intelligence platform. This resulted in a 20% reduction in storage costs, demonstrating the effectiveness of Intelligent Tiering in optimizing storage for unpredictable access patterns​ (link)​.

BBC: The BBC used a combination of Amazon S3 Glacier Instant Retrieval and Intelligent Tiering to preserve 100 years of history. This approach provided cost savings and flexibility, allowing the BBC to efficiently manage its extensive media archives​ (link)​.

Illumina: Illumina transitioned 50 PB of data to S3 Intelligent Tiering, streamlining its internal workflows and reducing storage costs. This transition enabled Illumina to better manage its growing data footprint and allocate savings towards enhancing its services and software​ (link)​.

How to Implement Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering

Manual Selection:

  • Approach: In the manual approach, users need to analyze their access patterns to determine if Intelligent Tiering will be viable. This involves assessing how often data is accessed and the potential cost savings.
  • Steps: Provide detailed steps for manually enabling and configuring Intelligent Tiering for an S3 bucket.

Autonomous Selection:

  • Approach: In the autonomous approach, an autonomous system analyzes storage patterns using AI/ML and recommends whether the benefits of  Intelligent Tiering exceed the cost.. This method simplifies the decision-making process.
  • Steps: Outline how to set up and use autonomous selection for Intelligent Tiering.

In the following video we show how to use an autonomous system to determine if Intelligent Tiering is economic to adopt vs. an existing S3 storage class:

Best Practices for Intelligent Tiering

Data Analysis and Access Patterns

  1. Understand Your Data Access Patterns: Analyze your data access patterns to determine if Intelligent Tiering is the right choice. This tier is beneficial when access patterns are not well understood and can vary over time.
  2. Leverage Storage Class Analysis: Use S3 Storage Class Analysis to identify data that can be moved to Intelligent Tiering. This analysis helps in making informed decisions about transitioning data.
  3. Review Data Access Patterns Periodically: Regularly review your data access patterns and adjust your S3 storage class accordingly. Intelligent Tiering is beneficial for dynamic access patterns but might not be the best for static ones.
  4. Take Advantage of Object Size and Duration Analysis: S3 Intelligent Tiering is most cost-effective for objects that are larger than 128 KB and stored for at least 30 days. For smaller or short-lived objects, other storage classes might be more suitable.

Monitoring and Cost Management

  1. Monitor Storage Costs Regularly: Use AWS Cost Explorer to monitor your S3 costs. Intelligent Tiering has a small monitoring and automation fee, so tracking costs can help you understand savings and expenditures.
  2. Tagging and Monitoring: Use tags to categorize and manage your S3 buckets and objects. Tags help in tracking usage and costs, making it easier to monitor and optimize.
  3. Automate Monitoring with AWS CloudWatch: Use AWS CloudWatch to monitor the performance and usage of S3 Intelligent Tiering. Set up alarms to alert you to unusual activity or cost spikes.
  4. Understand Transition and Retrieval Fees: Familiarize yourself with the costs associated with transitioning objects between access tiers and retrieving data from infrequent access tiers. This helps in avoiding unexpected expenses.

Implementation and Automation

  1. Enable S3 Intelligent Tiering for Appropriate Data: Use Intelligent Tiering for datasets with unpredictable or unknown access patterns. It automatically moves data between frequent and infrequent access tiers, optimizing costs.
  2. Set Up Lifecycle Policies: Implement lifecycle policies to transition objects to Intelligent Tiering automatically. This ensures data is managed efficiently without manual intervention.
  3. Configure Event Notifications: Set up S3 event notifications for monitoring object transitions between access tiers. This helps in understanding access patterns and making adjustments as necessary.
  4. Combine with Other S3 Features: Use Intelligent Tiering in conjunction with other S3 features like Cross-Region Replication, Versioning, and Object Lock for enhanced data protection and management.


By understanding and utilizing Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering, organizations can achieve significant cost savings and streamline their storage management processes. Whether dealing with unpredictable access patterns or large data sets, Intelligent Tiering offers a flexible and efficient solution for optimizing cloud storage costs.

You should evaluate your current S3 usage and consider implementing Intelligent Tiering to optimize your storage costs and efficiency. By leveraging the automated features of Intelligent Tiering, you can focus on other critical tasks while ensuring your storage costs are minimized.  If you have a large number of S3 buckets, consider whether autonomous optimization with Sedai would be optimal.

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