Amazon has become a major player in cloud computing in recent years. Many Web startups have come to rely on its pay-as-you-go hosting and computing services rather than investing in costly and complex infrastructure of their own. The newest offering from Amazon Web Services, called Cloudfront, may provide insight into Amazon’s long-term business model. This new product offers companies that are already hooked on Amazon storage and processing the ability to distribute their content and thus make themselves more stable and reliable.
Cloudfront is a distributed content-delivery network. It improves the performance of a website by strategically placing copies of that site’s content on servers around the world. A user of such a site who is located in Europe, for example, might see an improvement in performance by loading that data from a European server, rather than from the original server hosted in the United States.
The giants of content delivery–companies like Akamai and Limelight–need a lot of infrastructure, not to mention clever algorithms, to provide services to massive Internet companies such as Google and Microsoft, and this makes it difficult for new entrants to challenge them. Amazon has servers dotted around the world and says only that it has “invested significantly” in building capacity for Cloudfront.
However, rather than take on the giants of content delivery directly, the new service is a fairly simple add-on to the company’s existing storage solution, Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service). “[Customers] asked us for a service that complemented Amazon S3’s high-durability storage with even higher performance delivery, by storing and delivering popular content from edge locations close to where their customers make requests,” says a company spokesperson. “That is why the service was built.”
Cloudfront reflects the fact that it is basically an extension of an existing solution in that it offers a fairly basic content-delivery service. The infrastructure can be used to distribute large files but not live streaming video, and it is not as large or complex as the content-delivery network offered by Akamai, for example. However, Amazon says that other features are on the way, again as an outgrowth of existing uses of Amazon infrastructure. “We intend to add streaming in later versions of the service,” the spokesperson says. “Many Amazon Web Services customers already use Amazon EC2 [Elastic Compute Cloud] to stream content live or on demand.”