Amazon S3 is a highly scalable object storage service. It offers high availability, durability, and performance. Through the Amazon Console and S3 API, you can access S3 data from anywhere across the world.

S3 offers different storage tiers to store data as per user requirements. S3 Intelligent Tiering was introduced by AWS in 2018, adding the option to utilize S3 without having a thorough grasp of your data access patterns. Intelligent tiering lessens the manual work required to shift across different storage classes to save money and enhance performance.

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What is Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering?

S3 Intelligent-Tiering (IT) is a storage class that helps transfer your data to the most economical storage class without affecting the performance of your system.

With S3 Intelligent tiering, you can ensure that your objects will be in the proper storage tier without the operational overhead of creating and managing complex lifecycle management policies, paying for lifecycle transitions, or worrying about minimum retention durations.

S3 IT monitors your data access patterns and automatically moves items that haven’t been accessed for long to less expensive access tiers for a nominal monthly object monitoring and automation fee. Intelligent tiering is independent of data retention duration and object size, which makes it an ideal storage class for data with unexpected or changing access patterns. As a result, S3 Intelligent Tiering can be used as the default storage class for almost every workload.

When to use Amazon S3 Intelligent Tiering?

Although lifecycle policies can be used to manage objects in S3, there are some downsides associated with that:

  • A lifecycle policy applies to all objects in a bucket.
  • Management overhead of creating and maintaining lifecycle policies.
  • Access patterns for different objects can vary a lot.

It is not feasible for you to identify the usage pattern of every object stored in S3. Amazon S3 Intelligent tiering helps by automatically identifying the object usage pattern and moving objects across different storage classes.

How does S3 Intelligent tiering work?

AWS introduced S3 Intelligent Tiering to address the issue of selecting the appropriate storage class and cost optimization when the storage access patterns vary drastically. S3 Intelligent Tiering automatically reduces expenses by shifting data between storage classes as access patterns change.

S3 Intelligent Tiering moves data between the following four storage classes:

  • Frequent Access: When objects are created or transitioned, this is the storage tier used by default. You get low latency and high throughput performance for data you frequently access during the last 30 days.

  • Infrequent Access: An object is moved to this tier after 30 days of inactivity. Infrequent Access tier provides high throughput and low latency.

  • Archive Instance Access: An object is moved to this tier after 90 days of inactivity. Provides low latency and high throughput.

  • Archive Access: The archive access tier is similar to the S3 Glacier Storage class. The archive access tier is optional and needs to be activated. Objects that haven’t been accessed for 90 days are moved to the archive access tier. Data in the archive access tier is available and retrieved in 3-5 hours.

  • Deep Archive Access: Objects that haven’t been accessed for more than 180 days are moved to the deep archive access tier. This level applies to asynchronously accessible data you haven’t accessed in more than 180 days. Data can be retrieved from the deep archive access tier within 12 hours.

Let’s understand how S3 Intelligent tiering works with an example.

Let’s assume you have an object in S3 that is hot (because it is accessed frequently). S3 Intelligent-Tiering will keep it in the frequent access storage class. This object will not be moved to the infrequent access tier.

A cold object, on the other hand, is not used frequently. Let’s assume this object will not be accessed for more than 90 days. After the first 30 days, S3 Intelligent Tiering will move this object to the infrequent access tier to reduce storage expenses.


Amazon S3 charges a fee when you use Intelligent Tiering. Here is a breakdown of Amazon S3 Intelligent tiering pricing:

  • Monitoring fees: The monitoring cost for S3 Intelligent Tiering is $0.0025/1,000 objects each month. The cost will depend on the number of objects S3 Intelligent Tiering tracks.
  • Transition fees: S3 Intelligent Tiering charges $0.01 per 1,000 objects when moving objects from one storage class to another. You have to pay this fee every time objects move from one tier to another via intelligent tiering.

Your overall Amazon S3 expenses will decrease the longer you keep objects in an S3 Intelligent Tiering bucket without using them because the storage tier they move into will be cheaper.

When should you use Amazon S3 Intelligent tiering storage?

You should use the S3 Intelligent-Tiering storage class if your data has irregular and unpredictable usage patterns. It is also appropriate for storing items whose frequency of access is variable or uncertain.

However, based on the Intelligent-Tiering characteristics, it is appropriate for the following situations:

  • Applications that are new and whose data access frequency is unknown
  • Data analytics with variable object access frequency
  • Supporting a data lake, which offers less expensive, longer-term storage with the ability to recover data in 5–12 hours
  • It might be challenging to predict which user-generated content items, like images and videos, will be commonly accessed and which ones won’t.

When is S3 Intelligent tiering not the right choice?

If Intelligent tiering works for your use cases, it can save you a lot of money on your AWS bill. However, it doesn’t work in every situation. For example, you might not want S3 Intelligent Tiering in the cases listed below.

  • Predictable access patterns: If you can predict your data usage, then instead of using S3 Intelligent-Tiering to handle objects, you can use object lifecycle rules.
  • Short-lived objects: A minimum storage length fee of 30 days applies to S3 Intelligent-Tiering. Use an alternative storage class if your items are removed earlier than that.
  • Small objects: If your objects have a 128KB or less size, they will never be transferred from the frequent access tier to the rarely access tier. So do not use Intelligent tiering if most of your data objects are less than 128KB.

What are the benefits of using Amazon S3 Intelligent tiering?

The benefits of using S3 Intelligent tiering are:

  • Savings on S3 of up to 40% with high throughput, enhanced performance, and low latency
  • No data retrieval charges
  • No minimum storage duration requirement
  • High durability of 99.999999999%

Wrapping up

This article taught us about Amazon S3 Intelligent tiering and how it can help you save money on your AWS bill. Intelligent tiering tracks the object usage and automatically shifts the object into different storage classes to save money.