Views from Phanfare CEO and Co-founder Andrew Erlichson

Link Phanfare now backing up photos and videos to Amazon S3

I am happy to announce that we have moved our backups to Amazon’s Simple Storage Service, known as S3. All current backups go to S3 and we are copying over historical data. We currently have about 20 terabytes at Amazon and will have about 40 terabytes when all the data is moved over.

We also maintain a copy of customer photos and videos on our RAID servers in our NJ datacenter. Amazon promises multi-data center redundancy for S3 data, so Phanfare customers now have the peace of mind of knowing that their data is in at least three datacenters, on opposite coasts of the US (NJ and WA).

The natural question is, why did we do it? We did it because we wanted to provide the assurance of off-site backup and because the engineering costs (time and money) in building out something similar to S3 exceed any cost savings we might have realized by managing the storage ourselves in the medium term.

We actually get more redundancy than we had before. Before we backed up data on a second set of RAID servers in our NJ datacenter. Those servers were cheaper to operate than Amazon S3 assuming 2 year amortization, but they did not provide the same level of geographic or physical redundancy. So for us, using Amazon was not cheaper, but it was better. Including the opportunity cost of working on Phanfare’s core products versus working on offsite backup, using Amazon is a definite strategic win for us.

To make Amazon actually lower our overall long term costs, we would need to stop storing the data ourselves, instead just caching hot data. We have competitors that do that and it would be cheaper, but we are not positive it would be better. After all, right now, Amazon does not provide a Service Level Agreement (SLA) or even a phone number to call if you are unhappy with the Amazon web service. I don’t expect that Amazon will ever lose our data of course, but we would like an SLA before we bet our customers’ data on that.

Amazon’s web services are game-changing, especially to smaller companies. They allow small companies to have a cost position that rivals some of the biggest online competitors. Amazon’s web services also lower the cost of entry for new startups and hence increase competition and foster innovation. Both these things are good for consumers and we applaud Amazon for embarking on their ambitious plan of providing storage and compute in the cloud for other companies. I know they are also trying to amortize their own costs of development, but for us it is wonderful. With proper SLAs, we would consider using Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud too (EC2).

EC2 enjoys local area network (LAN) latency and bandwidth to S3 storage and that would make S3 that much more attractive as primary storage for Phanfare. One of the first rules of building a high performance system is to keep compute close to the data it operates on, and hence without using EC2, we would always need to cache data on our side for performance. The latency between NJ and Seattle is too long otherwise.

If you think about it, Phanfare does for consumers what Amazon does for us. Just as it would be difficult and expensive for a consumer to build a system to store his photos and videos into the cloud, accessible from anywhere and backed up in geographically distributed locations, it would be difficult and expensive for Phanfare to replicate Amazon’s level of web infrastructure.

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  • Jennifer

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  • chuck


    this is very cool news. i stumbled across S3 in my search for an online backup tool, but quickly learned that its not best suited for the casual home pc backup world.

    glad to see that phanfare is able to leverage this service and provide more security to the paying customers.


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  • Steven

    I am an ardent and enthusiastic Phanfare customer and advocate. I am glad S3 could work out well for Phanfare. On a separate, but related note, I am also a exec at a technology startup and am glad to see your implicit endorsement of S3 along with the statement in TechCrunch about how Amazon needs to have SLAs in place. I love the idea of outsourced infrastructure but am hesitant without an explicit guarantee of reliability.

    I know a number other companies that have also been optimistic about Amazon’s S3 reliability but share the concern of no SLA and won’t use the service yet. I hope it works out great for Phanfare and your voice added to others encourages Amazon to have solid SLA’s in place for their web services.

    More importantly, glad to see Phanfare in the news. :-)


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  • Andrew Erlichson

    Indeed, with an SLA, Amazon would be very hard to beat. One confusion about S3 is that it was not built to be backup. It was built to be primary storage. Since S3 itself is backed up, it has a higher cost than simple backup. In fact, S3 is much more reliable than our old backup servers ever were. But since they were just backup servers, that was ok. Anyway, using S3 as backup is incredibly conservative on our part, but it does raise our costs a bit. If they gae us an SLA and telephone support, we might consider making it primary.


  • Haebby

    Andrew – these are really GREAT news. Using a service like S3 to further secure our priceless memories (in form of photos and videos) through geographically dispersed backups is invaluable. This was one of the weakpoints of Phanfare – and now it’s a very important and crucial strength! Please no compromises in data backup – keep using the strongest solution you can – even if it would mean to raise the service fee in order to cover increased costs. I’m extremely happy to see Phanfare strengthen the backup solution. Awesome!

  • aaron


    I’m working on my 5th free year now :) and i usually just tell people to give it o someone else, I must have signed up 10 users since i found the service.

  • Andrew Erlichson

    thanks for spreading the word and helping to build our customer base. We really do appreciate it.


  • Zenigata

    That’s a great news!

  • mike

    For those of you who lament that S3 isn’t great for home use, you should check out Jungle Disk ( They make a little app that you can use on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems that backs up your data to Amazon. Amazon bills you for the storage. They’re still in beta, but I’ve been using it for a while and it works great. I think they’re only going to charge $20 for the app when it’s out of beta.

    Yes, you still deal with the fact that Amazon has no SLA, and you have to trust the Jungle Disk people. So far, I’ve been happy. (Disclaimer: I have no interest in Jungle Disk; just happy I’m using it and it’s interesting to see someone like Phanfare use it now, tto)

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  • Chris

    Here’s what I want. Access to my photos on S3.

    Not that I’d use it. But if I had to. If Phanfare goes down or goes away. So not access via Phanfare’s S3 account, but in my own S3 account. So this is a little different from your implementation – you would have to add a feature to synchronize again all my data to my S3 account.

    Then I can truly trust my priceless photos to this service for life. I could finally stop keeping local copies of photos. I would have enough confidence to give up local control and go with the combination of Phanfare (backuped with S3 *and* my data backup again in my S3 space.

    I would pay for this feature (and the S3 fees).

  • backupvault1

    That's really good news,

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