What is AWS CloudFront?
There was a time when only huge companies could deliver content in a timely fashion. Whether it was a video distributed around the globe to employees in a remote office, a gaming network where players are in disparate countries, or even a new music streaming app offered to go head-to-head with Spotify, the options were limited.
About one decade ago, it was extremely rare for a company to create their own customer Content Delivery Network (or CDN) because of the high costs and complexity of the IT infrastructure. Imagine a small startup that wants to create a music app or a company that needs to share encrypted, highly secure videos with employees. Few could afford to develop the CDN let alone manage it, keep up with technology trends, and make it secure.
Introduced in beta in 2008 but fully deployed by 2009, AWS Cloudfront is a CDN that runs in the cloud, and it’s available to any company no matter how big or small. A startup could sign up for AWS and start using CloudFront in a few minutes without the hassles of configuring the infrastructure. Amazon operates CloudFront on 216 different edge locations on five continents, so it is available far and wide in Europe, Asia, South America, and many other areas.
It’s a distributed network that consists of physical locations at edge locations, but to the customer, it is a cloud computing infrastructure that is easy to understand and use. Companies can use CloudFront for distributed videos and audio, but also for media-rich web applications, business dashboards, massive amounts of data, or an API (Application Programming Interface). It’s suitable for both a small startup distributing large high-def videos around the world or a major research institution distributing climate change analytics to local universities.
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Since it runs within AWS, it is the same sign-up procedure and the same interface. It works with all of the existing AWS products you would expect, such as AWS Shield (used for DDoS mitigation), Amazon S3 (flexible object storage), Elastic Load Balancing or Amazon EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), and Lambda@Edge, which is used for running apps closer to users.
The best way to understand AWS CloudFront is with examples of real customers who are using it. Hulu is one customer. This well-known streaming service uses CloudFront for video-on-demand, including movies, their original shows, and other video entertainment like classic television and binge-worthy network shows. Customers have come to expect that the videos will start immediately, never stutter or pause, and play smoothly all the way to the end. Many of us now have very fast broadband access in the home, so the bottleneck that can occur is related to back-end congestion or congestion on intermediary servers. Hulu uses CloudFront as a CDN to make sure the video content is always available and always smooth.
Slack is another company that uses AWS CloudFront. While you might not think of this messaging collaboration service as needing a CDN, it’s actually a rich media app used by thousands of companies. Videos, audio, images, large business documents — they are all sent over Slack and the expectations are the same — for immediate, consistent access. Other customers who use CloudFront include Major League Baseball and PBS.
Benefits of AWS CloudFront
AWS CloudFront provides a framework for fast, consistent, and reliable distribution. In terms of raw speed, it is designed to deliver a consistent stream of content, whether that is high-def videos or business documents and data used for business applications.
In fact, you have probably already experienced the speed and reliability of CloudFront. Amazon uses its own product for Amazon Prime Video, so when you click to start watching an episode of The Expanse and it starts right away on your television, that’s because of the back-end CDN — and it doesn’t matter if you live in Singapore, Germany or New York. Another good example of this is when you visit a website and the videos, images, and text all pop up quickly. That’s likely due to a CDN, and it’s likely that Amazon CloudFront is the provider.
Another important benefit, though, is related to security. As you can imagine, it would be difficult enough to build a CDN that is fast and reliable, but CloudFront is also highly secure, using application-level and network-level security to make sure there isn’t a data compromise. The product works with AWS Shield Standard, which protects against infrastructure attacks. It’s actually included at no additional cost with CloudFront. In addition, companies can choose to enable SSL certificates for extra protection using authentication for endpoint security.
The AWS console itself provides distinct advantages, mostly because you have one point of access for all of your cloud infrastructure, including applications, data, and networking. Added on top of that, when you use CloudFront you can then use the same management console for the distributed content without having to configure or manage a different interface.