Blog Post

Amazon's CloudFront Could Storm Rival CDNs

etc_nologoToday Amazon Web Services launched the beta version of its content delivery network service called CloudFront. As Om mentioned in September when the service was announced, this is a good move for Amazon, (s AMZN) and something that may put the hurt on fellow CDNs such as Limelight (s LLNW) and Akamai (s AKAM). Amazon will charge a usage-based fee, rather than a long-term contract, bringing CDN prices even lower for smaller web players who don’t have the scale to negotiate lower prices. Here’s how it works from the release:

The service caches copies of content close to end users for low latency delivery, while also providing fast, sustained data transfer rates needed to deliver popular objects to end users at scale. CloudFront works seamlessly with Amazon S3, where users store the original versions of objects delivered through the service. Customers need only put their objects into an Amazon S3 bucket and then register that bucket with the new service using a simple API call, which then returns a domain name used to access content through the network of edge locations.

Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, explains all about CloudFront on his blog.

A content delivery service that would extend Amazon S3 has been something that is very high on the wish list of our customers. They were already successfully using Amazon S3 for some of their content distribution needs, but many wanted the choice to do so with even lower latency and with higher data transfer rates to any place in the world.

He goes on to explain:

Using Amazon CloudFront is dead simple. Many of our private beta customers have reported that it only took them 10-15 minutes from the moment that they first signed up for the service to the moment that Amazon CloudFront was distributing their content.

The second Amazon Web Services principle that sets Amazon CloudFront apart is that no upfront commitments are necessary and you only pay for what you have used. There are no upfront fees or high volume requirements and no negotiations are necessary because we have published low prices from the start.

The second point is the more disruptive one. When Amazon announced its CDN in September we wrote,

Akamai is less likely to be impacted in the near term, but it further commoditizes the CDN business and forces a big shakeout in the industry, taking down the small and the weak. Akamai has been focusing on value-add services, as a way to stay ahead of the commoditization of the basic CDN services.


With prices ranging from 17 cents per gigabyte for the first 10 terabytes sent out a month, to 9 cents per GB for everything over 150 TB, the service seems to undercut the pricing offered by other CDNs for small to medium sized customers. It might be a good thing that Akamai’s looking at diversifying into online advertising.

24 Responses to “Amazon's CloudFront Could Storm Rival CDNs”

  1. Denise Richards

    Cool development. Amazon understands that you need online services, not expensive sales reps. Setup, pay, configure and go. But Amazon forgets that you also need professional support and SLA’s. Professional statistics. Streaming support.

    I got a preview of the upcoming StreamZilla service which does all: online self service in Amazon style and professional support Akamai style.

  2. My motto is: “If you can’t easily find the price then it cost too much.”

    My problem with services like Akamai is that you need to call and talk to a sales rep to get started. In the Web 2.0 world this may work, but in an Web 3.0 environment where services and computing power is on hand (and unlimited), no one has time for a sales rep and a contract.

    Amazon CloudFront is easy to get started and less than 15 minutes your done.

    Companies building Web 3.0 (like mine) will go for Amazon’s ease of access to resources. I predict Amazon will dominate the CDN landscape in less than 3 years. We will be doing our part to help make that happen. :)

  3. Amazon’s CDN will probably compete with guys like Panther Express, not AKAM. AKAM is doing much more with regards to optimizing the path around the network, driving computation to the edge, plus all of the other stuff that previous commenters have mentioned (transcoding, etc) I didn’t do the math but I wonder how the pricing of Amazon’s CDN matches up vs the cost of bandwidth (my guess is that they are pretty darn close to one another).

    Amazon will certainly uplevel the feature set over time but it will take them a long time to catch up w/AKAM, who is not going to stand still, either.

  4. Tom Coseven

    Dan, if you shorten “years to come” to less than 2 years, then maybe an $18B AMZN has no chance to match Limelight’s $120M revenue… Then again, the CDN market is in perpetual transition and has no 800 pound gorilla. It’s not like they are trying to take on Google in search.

  5. Stacey Higginbotham

    Dan, Amazon pulled its Window’s EC2 offering out of beta in a few weeks. Also total revenue isn’t anything to scoff at, but we also should look at revenue growth and margins. I don’t look at this industry every day like yourself, so I respect your experience in this, but I do think this will pose a challenge and may indeed put the hurt on the major players, especially as it offers up a new type of product geared at a slightly different audience.

  6. Limelight first started offering services in 2001 and has been doing so for the past eight years. In that time frame, they have grown CDN revenue to roughly 25% of Akamai’s CDN only revenue. There is no way Amazon is going to come anywhere near that in the next two years. Plus, if you look at Amazon’s AWS offerings, most of them stay in beta for years before they come out of beta and Amazon adds things like SLAs.

    This has nothing to do with stock. Let the revenue speak for itself. Two years from now Amazon’s CDN offering won’t be doing the revenue that Limelight has today, let alone the hundreds of millions of dollars a year that Akamai is doing. How is that a “challenge”?

  7. Tom Coseven

    Stacey, you are backing down too quickly. Do you really think Amazon won’t provide a challenge for “YEARS to come”? AKAM went public less than 10 years ago, how old is Limelight? How different was the landscape just 3 short years ago? In 2006, no one thought McDonalds could challenge Starbucks. Run a two year stock price comparison, and you will see how quick a well managed competitor can take down a well respected market leader.

  8. Stacey Higginbotham

    Dan, okay, I got carried away with my Texan love of bravado. I do appreciate you pointing out the limits of the service, and please check out our New Tee Vee coverage for a deeper dive. My focus was on pricing for smaller players and how this service would be useful for startups today. Eventually I do think it will be a threat, but you’re right that today it’s not.

  9. Agreed, for smaller players, this is a great service for customers who have very specific needs but it won’t challenge any of the major CDNs for years to come. Amazon would have to add so much additional functionality to the service that it would take years just to build and deploy it. You can’t turn up a CDN with a bunch of boxes and locations and compete with Akamai or Limelight in terms of size, scale and functionality.

    You saying when the service does “get there” it could compete with the major players but the text in the article talks to putting the “hurt” on Akamai and Limelight as if it is imminent. No where in the article does it say IF Amazon added all the additional functionality, does not say what that functionality is they would have to add, or give any indication of how long it would take them to add it.

  10. I’m not sure this will compete with the big CDN’s anytime soon.

    One of the biggest downsides is that it requires S3. You have to re architect your site to use this as a CDN if you aren’t already using S3. You have to “preregister” the objects you want to cache. This is how I understand CDN’s worked a long time ago.

    The big CDN’s these days all support using a simple CNAME and header tags to manage it. This means you can just make a DNS change and your behind a CDN. Using some rules in your apache config file you can cache certain parts for longer or shorter intervals (or not at all). You could also cache just part of your site using a subdomain.

    If Amazon could support fetching from another server as an origin, rather than require you to use S3, then that’s something.

    Development isn’t free, especially for smaller sites.

  11. Stacey Higginbotham

    Dan, my point is that this gives some options for smaller players who don’t need high volume, adding transparency and eventually pressure to the other players. The features aren’t comparable today, but it’s in beta, so it’s likely Amazon will get there. When it does, I hope the major players will be prepared.

  12. Stacey, can you please explain how this Amazon service is going to have any impact at all on Akamai or Limelight? The new Amazon service does not support streaming, live broadcasting, has no SLA, no credit for outages, provides no reporting or raw logs, can’t pull from origin storage, provides no transcoding and no way to manage the content. These are all things that Akamai, Limelight and other CDNs offer.

    In addition, Amazon’s lowest tier pricing is $0.09 per GB delivered. Limelight and others are less than half that price for very large volume customers. So even Amazon’s pricing is not lower than most of the major CDNs when it comes to volume.

    The Amazon service is very simple and straight forward and great for what it does. But lets be clear, it’s not going to take any business from the major CDNs and it’s not going to force them to lower pricing when they are already cheaper than Amazon’s service.