has extended its data hosting service to the European Union, speeding up its service for customers there, and offering them the ability to comply with European data protection laws to boot.

Using Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), businesses can host their data on the same infrastructure that uses to run its e-commerce service. The storage service allows software developers and businesses to write, read and delete objects containing from 1 byte to 5GB of data, each referenced by a unique key. Around 290,000 developers have signed up for the various Amazon Web Services, with the users of S3 storing over ten billion objects, according to Amazon.

The service, commercialized by Amazon Web Services since March 2006, has until now hosted data on servers in the US, potentially posing an obstacle for users in the EU, where the "export" of personal data to countries with less strict data protection laws is forbidden.

With the launch of a new option hosted exclusively on servers within the EU, though, Amazon can now answer European users' most critical requirement, said Amazon spokeswoman Kay Kinton.

Another benefit of the European launch is that the servers can be several tens of milliseconds closer to those accessing the data - a delay insignificant on its own, but which soon becomes important when many exchanges with the database are required to build a web page or fulfill a transaction.

That was the case for, an online photo printing service. It stores its customers' photos on Amazon's servers, from where they can be printed out as albums. The company now hosts its data in the European S3 data centres. Before that it was hosted in the US where "the connection was a little less stable and latency was at some points too long," said Albumprinter's CEO Joris Keijzer. "Now that we are uploading to a European location, both issues have been solved."

Amazon does not yet offer local language support for its European S3 customers, and still only accepts payment for the service in US dollars. Those will come some time next year, Kinton said.

In addition, prices for some aspects of the European S3 service are 20 per cent higher than its US counterpart, while the handling of requests to access the data also costs more. The European prices reflect the higher cost of doing business in Europe, said Kinton. "For example, power is considerably more expensive in Europe," she said.

There are also new charges for those customers exchanging information between a European data store and Amazon's US computational cluster service, Elastic Compute Cloud. Such exchanges are free when storage and computation are both in the US.