How to manage EC2 EBS volume snapshots with PowerShell


One of the best features of Elastic Block Storage (EBS) volumes in AWS is the capability to incrementally “snapshot” these volumes to more durable S3 storage. Everyone knows that if you don’t create these snapshots, one day your production EBS volume will go “poof” and disappear. Is that why the standard AWS icon, nearby, for a snapshot looks vaguely like a toilet, as in “Without snapshots, that’s where your career will be”?

Whatever the genesis of the snapshot icon, this is something every architect and admin must plan for and implement. In my case, I am working on an application that additively stores terabytes of data in the NTFS filesystem . In other words, recovery of the EBS volumes need only be “today’s” version, or at most, “yesterday’s” version. The EBS snapshot process supports this additive model perfectly as today’s snapshot contains only the changed blocks from yesterday’s snapshot. Even better, AWS manages the data so that if I delete yesterdays’ snapshot, I can still recover all the previous data from today’s snapshot.

Below is a simple script that implements snapshotting of Windows Server NTFS volumes in AWS (that is, EBS volumes attached to a mount point in that server) and, because I can’t stand an endless list of snapshots, deletes snapshots older than 10 days.

Some of the features of this script you might find useful include:

  • Use of the very cool Sysinternals Scan utility to flush the disk cache to the volume immediately before taking a snapshot.
  • Creation of a custom tag to identify snapshots by volume and the use of those tags to retrieve older snapshots for deletion.
  • Processing of an unlimited number of volumes (just be sure to map the volumes to their corresponding Windows drive letter in the hash table; read more about my love of PowerShell hash tables).

I hope you find this useful. Please tweet @yobyot with any comments, questions or feedback.

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<# Create snapshots of production EBS volumes attached to Windows using custom tags and then delete old snapshots based on age.
    This script:
     1). Uses a hash table that maps EBS volumes to the corresponding Windows drive letter
     2). Creates a custom tag for EBS snapshots
     3). Uses the Sysinternals sync utility to flush the Windows disk cache to the volume, eliminating the need to offline volumes before snapshots
     4). Snapshots the volumes with custom tags
     5). Retrieves all snapshots with the specified custom tag and deletes them based on their age.
    Alex Neihaus 2015-05-13

<# The following hash table must reflect the current state of the instance's drives. To determine the 
     current mappings, you will need to access the AWS console and work from the volume id to the 
     mount point inside windows, then using Disk Manager from the disk number that maps to that mount 
     point to the assigned drive letter. FWIW, I thought hard about automating this but decided against it
     as there are too many moving parts for reliable operation. 
Import-Module AWSPowerShell
$hashTable = @{"vol-11111111" = "L"; ` # key =  EBS volume to be snapshotted; item = Windows Drive letter
               "vol-22222222" = "M";

foreach ($hashKey in $hashTable.Keys) {
    $tags = @()
    $t1 = New-Object Amazon.EC2.Model.Tag
    $t1.Key = "Name"
    $t1.Value = "Snapshot of hot-standby volume $hashKey; Windows drive: $($hashTable.Item($hashKey)): {0:s}" -f (get-date)
    $tags += $t1

    $t2 = New-Object Amazon.EC2.Model.Tag
    $t2.Key = "HotStandbySnapshotDate"
    $t2.Value = "{0:s}" -f (get-date)
    $tags += $t2
    # Force Windows to write all data to the disk using Sysinternals Sync utility, which was installed in %windir%\system32. See
    sync.exe $($hashTable.Item($hashKey)) | Out-Null

    $snapshot = New-EC2Snapshot -VolumeId $hashKey -Description "Snapshot of hot-standby volume $hashKey; Windows drive $($hashTable.Item($hashKey))"

    # If AWS does NOT return an error, tag the snapshot and log it
    if ( !($AWSHistory.LastCommand.LastServiceResponse.StatusCode -eq "BadRequest") ) { # See Essentially, HTTP 400
        New-EC2Tag -Resources $snapshot.SnapshotId -Tags $tags 
        "Most recent snapshot: $($snapshot.SnapshotID) created on $($t2.Value)" | Out-File -FilePath D:\Snapshot-logs\$hashkey.log # Just log the most recent snapshot
    Else {
        "Snapshot failed for $hashKey failed at $($t2.Value)" | Out-File -FilePath "D:\Snapshot-logs\SNAPSHOT-FAILURE.log"

<# Now find snapshots that we want to remove based on their age #>
$t3 = New-Object Amazon.EC2.Model.Filter
$t3.Name = "tag:HotStandbySnapshotDate"
$t3.Values = "*"

 Get-EC2Tag -Filter $t3 | ForEach-Object {
    $duration =  New-TimeSpan -Start $_.Value -End (get-date)
    $snapshot = $_.ResourceId
    if ($duration.Days -ge 7) { # Change 
        "Snapshot $snapshot was created on {0:D} and is {1:N2} days old and will be deleted" -f $_.Value, $duration.Days  | Write-Host
        Remove-EC2Snapshot -SnapshotId $snapshot -Force
    else {
        "Snapshot $snapshot was created on {0:D} and is {1:N2} days old and will not be deleted" -f $_.Value, $duration.Days  | Write-Host



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4 responses to “How to manage EC2 EBS volume snapshots with PowerShell”

  1. Eric Anderson Avatar
    Eric Anderson

    This is perfect! Do you have a similar one for tagging snapshots with the instance Name added to the snapshot Name if none exists?

    1. Alex Neihaus Avatar
      Alex Neihaus

      This post might help you tag your snapshots.

  2. Leon Avatar

    Should it be ran form the VM itself?

    1. Alex Neihaus Avatar
      Alex Neihaus

      Run this script after setting up your AWS credentials with, wait for it, Set-AWSCredentials.

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