Almost exactly two years ago to the day, Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched their CDN service called CloudFront. The initial offering targeted developers and small content owners with a service that was very bare-bones and classified by Amazon as a beta offering. However only two short years later, CloudFront is fast becoming a service used by more of the mainstream market and while CloudFront won’t displace any of the big CDNs anytime soon, Amazon’s service is quickly becoming more competitive.
Last week, Amazon announced that CloudFront has officially come out of beta and has now entered General Availability (GA). The company also announced an SLA for the product and if availability of customers content on CloudFront drops below 99.9% in any given month, customers can apply for a service credit equal to 10% of their monthly bill. If the availability drops below 99% customers can apply for a service credit equal to 25% of their monthly bill.
Naturally one might wonder how Amazon’s new SLA stands up to other CDNs in the market, but none of the other CDNs in the market make their SLA’s available on their website. I’ve seen SLAs from all the CDNs but that’s only because customers send them to me and CDNs seem to go out of their way not to share details on their SLA on their website. I’ve always found that approach odd considering all of the CDNs talk about the quality of their network, yet none of them share their SLA in public. One of the great things about Amazon is they make both their SLA and pricing available to everyone on their website and have made the process of buying CDN services a lot more transparent. (Update: Someone pointed out to me that the Windows Azure service has a public SLA)
In addition to the news about the new SLA, Amazon also announced last week that CloudFront now supports third party origin storage. In the past, in order to use CloudFront customers had to store all of their objects on the Amazon network using Amazon’s S3 storage service. Now, content owners who have their own origin storage or even have their content stored at another CDN can use CloudFront.
For those that follow the CDN space, if you haven’t been keeping an eye on Amazon you need to. In just the past 18 months or so, here is a partial list of functionality that Amazon has added to their CloudFront offering:
- Streaming and Flash Media Server support: the ability to use RTMP, RTMPT (HTTP tunneled), RTMPE (encrypted), and RTMPTE (tunneled and encrypted) flavors of RTMP.
- HTTPS Access: provides encrypted communication and secure identification of a network web server
- Invalidation: The ability to remove your content from all of the edge locations within minutes
- Default Root Object: create a distribution that acts just like a static web site
- Private Content: allow viewing of private content based on certain access controls
- Private Streamed Content: support for customers who want to sell or to secure their video content
- Management Console: support for CloudFront in the AWS console
- Request Logging: the ability for customers to generate usage reports using reporting tools
- LogAnalyzer: generate usage reports containing total traffic volume, object popularity, a break down of traffic by client IPs and edge location
In addition to the above, Amazon has also added a total of 16 edge locations in North America, Europe and Asia, has lowered their pricing at least twice in the past two years and built out a dedicated sales force for CloudFront services. The company also offers telephone support around the clock for customers who sign up for Amazon’s Gold Support plan and Amazon has also announced that they plan to add support for live streaming in the future. Make no mistake, Amazon plans to continue to improve on their CDN offering and more features and functionality are on the way.
On the pricing front, Amazon charges three cents per GB for customers who transfer 1000TB or more a month in North America and Europe and on average, seven cents for transfer out of Asia at the same volume level. Amazon has no minimum fee, customers pay only for what they use without overages, and for customers who have high-volume traffic, they can contact Amazon to get even lower pricing than what Amazon lists on their website. If there is one major thing Amazon has done to help the CDN space in general, it’s the transparency they have brought to the market. You can see the breakdown on all of Amazon’s pricing here.
Last year around this time, when Amazon announced they were adding support for Flash streaming I wrote that Amazon, “Will Disrupt The Market“. Exactly when we start to see that disruption on a wide scale is up for debate, but I would expect that come next year, we start to see a lot more large scale content owners looking at Amazon as a potential option for high-volume bit delivery of small and large objects, including video.
The barriers to entry in the CDN market are high, especially if the goal is to become a leading vendor in the space, based on revenue. Most CDNs who try are subject to the usual pitfalls of not having enough capital to see their plan to fruition, trying to do too much too soon, not having the technical resources and R&D to be successful and trying to be everything to everybody. With Amazon, they don’t have any of these problems and are in a very comfortable position of being able to continue to add more functionality to their CDN service each year without having any of the usual headaches that most other CDNs have.
To be clear, I am not predicting that Amazon takes a huge share of the CDN market overnight from Akamai, Limelight, Level 3 or AT&T. But Amazon will take some share for certain CDN services in a steady process over time and their CloudFront and Amazon Web Services (AWS) should not be underestimated.