Amazon Slowly Turning Into A CDN For Video

About a year ago, I wrote a post about how content owners who wanted to deliver Flash streaming could use Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3) along with a CDN to deliver streaming media based content. In the past few months, Amazon has made some new product announcements that over time, lead me to believe that more content owners are going to look to Amazon for video delivery needs, particularly those who are only delivering video via progressive download.

Last month, Amazon announced some new features with their cloud computing product including new functionality for Elastic IP Addresses and EC2 Availability Zones. Simply put, Elastic IP allows you to associate static IP addresses with a unique EC2 and Availability Zones lets you deploy your apps into different regions. Amazon is effectively allowing content owners to replicate apps in different data centers and in different regions, thereby also protecting them from outages. While only a limited number of U.S. based locations are available today, more locations, including those outside the U.S. will be added in the months ahead.

When the new locations are added, then this offering is something to really watch. Amazon is offering faster performance between servers in the same EC2 zones and one would expect they would then offer some level of performace guarantee across all zones. When this happens, they essentially become a content delivery network. We’re already starting to see some companies like Digital Fountain build an entirely new CDN offering around Amazon Web Services, and there are more to come.

It’s also interesting to see how much of the internal workings of Amazon’s cloud computing service they are willing to share with developers and everyone else. Most delivery networks are so closed and Amazon has wisely taken a different approach, primarily due to the size of the customer using their service. Wired has a great article from yesterday that talks about Amazon’s cloud computing service and the best line in it is the response from Amazon’s CEO when asked about cloud computing becoming a commitized service. "Commodity businesses don’t scare us," he says. "We’re experts at them. We’ve never had 35 or 40 percent margins like most tech companies."

While Amazon’s cloud computing service will have more of an impact over time, especially as it evolves into more of a traditional CDN offering, it still won’t be a big disruptor to the major CDNs like Akamai and others. For some customers Amazon could be a viable option with reliable and cheap services. But for many content owners, and in particularly those who have video, their needs are getting more complex each year as they struggle not to deliver bits, but rather solve the entire workflow problems associated with ingestion, transcoding, authentication, meta data, content management, syndication, tracking and reporting and traffic analysis.

That being said, anyone as smart and as big as Amazon is one to watch.

  • Amazon is already the chosen CDN for most “2.0” startups. However, once they scale to any reasonable size they need to move toward a traditional CDN. You will see that some CDN’s even advertise to S3 customers on their websites. If Amazon can improve their support, etc. of S3 it may prevent these customers from moving.

  • Amazon EC2 and S3 are great services, but sites looking to deliver high bitrate (or HD) video can easily get into trouble with EC2 and S3. Those services are not geographically located, and when you need to deliver a few megabits consistently, Amazon usually has problems.
    I’ve heard that people using Wowza with EC2 have had problems when streaming high bitrate files, but of course for general flash applications, audio or lower bitrate video, EC2 provides great scalability without the initial investment… a great starting point for many “2.0” sites.

  • Harvey Benedict

    Nice post, Amazon has made some great traction in this space. Probably more then most would have expected. Also shows that many companies are building in-house talent to treat video, or rich media, as pure bit delivery. Seems to be a growing trend. The “hand off” is going further upstream in the workflow.

  • It is a fascinating question.
    We have built a video streaming service internally for one of our portfolio companies (service still in private alpha) that has been using EC2 for streaming video up to fairly decent Mb/s rates. It is great with anything under 1Mb/s, does fine with 2Mb/s and is *OK* at 4Mb/s. Regardless, the high end of these are not practical streaming rates for the vast majority of end-consumers anyway…
    It has not really been tested under heavy load yet, but, net result, so far we have been pleased. My sense is that this is not primarily an issue of “can you stream a high Mb/s stream?” since the service can knock that out of the park, but how much I/O and streams you can get on one EC2 instance and therefore becomes more of a cost/caching/load balancing questions.
    Hope to have something that the external world can play around with in May. Will keep you updated.

  • RD

    Amazon is certainly doing a lot of interesting things with the AWS project, and they look to be picking up steam.
    One of the things that I think is more relevant to this post is the feature that is currently in beta – Persistent Storage on EC2. This will compliment S3 greatly, and make it easier to develop and easier do and scale certain components.
    Point of clarification though, Amazon’s availability zones are zones within the same datacenter. Regions/locations are actually geographically separate. Availability zones are described as not sharing the same cooling and power infrastructure. Ie. different suites in the *same* facility.
    Currently, Amazon has 2 locations (which they do not disclose or distinguish between) both termed ‘east’ in the United States. In addition, they have a European location.

  • Dan,
    The comments (and article) suggest Amazon has a less expensive, low-margin, technically less sophisticated product that works for smaller companies but doesn’t meet the needs of large, high-value clients.
    A classic recipe for a Disruptive Technology. One to watch indeed.

  • It’s interesting to note that CDNs were likely one of the earliest “cloud computing” systems — an outsourced in-the-sky system provided a certain Internet service.
    To me building a CDN out of EC2 would be like building your own storage system on EC2. You can do it, but why bother when something (S3) is already available for that particular “web service”.
    I find CDN prices these day to be comparable with Amazon’s transfer rates, so I don’t see a cost advantage (except perhaps vs. Akamai which can be pricey). Most CDNs charge for outbound bits only, so to compare, add up the AWS in+out+request charges.

  • Good post Dan. I started using EC2 more as a low cost application testing environment and it has evolved into a scalable solution for a number of our applications.
    For example, the Live Timing and Scoring today from Kansas Motor Speedway on was served up from extra large instances using EC2. The Live T&S application was build in Flash and used the Flash Media Server to distribute out the data.
    The application performed very well under a heavy load. What is interesting is the cost of bandwidth is cheaper than I have been able to get Akamai or Limelight within that range. The savings has lead us to switch our web serving to the EC2.
    During May, we will be experimenting with using live video using EC2 to see how it handles the load. If it performs as well as it did for the T&S application, I could see us moving all of our live and VOD to the EC2.

  • Velocix Accelerator Offers Free CDN Service

    Velocix today announced that it will provide free content delivery network services as part of its new CDN offering, Velocix Accelerator.

  • Great post – and we’ve come a long way since April. We now have persistent EBS storage in EC2. We also now have CloudFront, which is Amazon’s answer to all those customers leaving S3 for traditional CDNs.
    For those users streaming video on a small scale, they may be able to take advantage of It will encode all videos uploaded to an S3 bucket to FLV for free.

  • Thanks a lot blogger for such a nice and informative posting. I appreciate it .
    Keep blogging