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I'm trying to decide on the frequency of making snapshots. Is the AWS system designed in such a way that taking snapshots has a negligible effect on the performance of the volume, or can it significantly reduce the performance due to presumably massive read requests from the underlying physical device?

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While the snapshot is in progress it is possible you will notice performance degradation. As far as I know it is typically recommended by Amazon for customers stop doing read/writes (especially database read/writes) to a volume while it is being snapshotted to ensure data consistence. So I would recommend you not to abuse it. I am doing snapshots twice a day for my instances. As 12 hours span is okay to lose for me some data on DB or on FS if something goes wrong.

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