By Barb Darrow
September 26, 2017

Hey it’s no tractor-trailer, but it’s a start. Microsoft has introduced Azure Data Box, a hardware appliance that companies can use to load their data for shipping to the closest Microsoft Azure data center.

The 45-lb box, which is said to be tamper proof, holds up to 100 terabytes (TB) of data. It plugs into a corporate network for downloads, and then into Azure’s own high-speed networks to upload its contents. Companies will be able to rent it, fill it, and ship it while tracking its progress. Data on the device will be encrypted throughout the journey.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because cloud rival Amazon Web Services started down this path two years ago with Snowball—an Amazon (amzn) appliance that initially handled 50TB of data before being upgraded to 80TB. In 2016, AWS went even bigger with the 45-foot long Snowmobile, a shipping container that requires a tractor-trailer to move. Snowmobile can carry up to 100 petabytes of data to Amazon’s cloud data centers. In July, Google announced its Snowball competitor the Google Transfer Appliance, which handles 480 TB of uncompressed data (or 1PB compressed data.)

Related: Microsoft Again Touts Azure and Apps In its Battle With Google and Amazon

It’s difficult to conceptualize these big amounts of data, but consider this: As of 2014, the U.S. Library of Congress said it had 525 TB of data and that it was adding 5TB more each month. Thus a single Azure Data Box could hold about 20% of the library’s initial content trove circa 2014—that’s a lot of data. Going a step further, a petabyte (or 1PB) equals 1,000 TB—or nearly two Libraries of Congress.

Related: Here’s the Complicated Back Story of HPE’s New Azure Stack Appliance

There’s a very good reason why it makes sense to physically ship data instead of using fast network connections. When it comes to big quantities of data, it is faster and easier to hand deliver it than send it online????? When Snowmobile debuted, for example, Amazon said, excluding travel time, it could move 100 PB of data into Amazon servers in a few weeks. That may not sound very fast, but moving that same amount of information over a single 1 gigabit-per-second (Gbps) line would take 20 years.

What Microsoft, Amazon, and Google (goog), are doing is trying to make it drop-dead easy to move your corporate data into their respective clouds, Azure Data Box to Azure, AWS Snowball/Snowmobile to AWS, and Google GTA to Google Cloud Platform.

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Microsoft announced the Azure Data Box preview at its Ignite tech conference in Orlando. Customers can sign up for it now. A spokeswoman said the boxes would be available by the end of the second calendar quarter 2018 in the U.S., Europe and some parts of Asia. Pricing is still a mystery.

Note: (September 26, 2017 4:50 p.m. EDT): This story adjusted to add estimated ship date for the Azure storage appliance.

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