Amazon launches content-delivery service

The web company is pushing CloudFront as a high-speed, low-latency alternative to content-delivery-network rivals such as Akamai, while emphasising the service's lack of upfront costs

Amazon has launched its cloud-based content-delivery service, CloudFront.

Announced on Tuesday, CloudFront is designed to deliver static content to web users. Amazon is particularly emphasising CloudFront's capabilities in handling the delivery of large files. Amazon will charge for the service on a per-use basis, as opposed to the contract approach taken by content-delivery-network rivals such as Akamai.

The service was initially trialled by Amazon executives in September.

CloudFront is essentially an extension to Amazon's hosted-storage facility, the Simple Storage Service (S3). The service is supposed to provide low latency and high data-transfer speeds, achieved by Amazon's global network of edge locations — the content is cached across these various locations, and requests for the content are fulfilled through whichever location is closest to the user.

The pricing for usage, however, depends on which locations are used — fulfilling 10,000 requests for data will cost $0.012 for European locations, for example, but $0.010 for US locations. Amazon claims this is because its own costs vary according to geographic location. For European delivery, data transfer is priced from $0.170 per gigabyte.

Businesses and developers wishing to use CloudFront can do so placing the original version of their content into an Amazon S3 "bucket". Calling up the CreateDistribution application programming interface will return a unique domain name for the content in that bucket. The domain name can then be used to create links to the content that can be incorporated into websites or web applications.

"Amazon CloudFront has been designed to be fast; the service will cache copies of the content in edge locations close to the end-user's location, significantly lowering the access latency to the content," wrote Amazon's chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, in a blog post on Tuesday. "High sustainable data-transfer rates can be achieved with the service, especially when distributing larger objects."

According to Vogels, CloudFront goes further than simply distributing media for websites. "There are two main technology components to such a service; the first is intelligent request routing, which routes requests to the location that can best serve the user given a series of requirements and the status of the network," he wrote. "The second technology component is that of object caching, which is a fundamental building block in both operating systems and in distributed systems."

"Many of our customers will look to Amazon CloudFront for… content distribution for websites, but its application is not limited to that," Vogels added. "Developers can easily integrate the service into their desktop and server applications and benefit from the advanced routing and caching that Amazon CloudFront offers."