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Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing subsidiary of online retailer Amazon, today has put a media serving and caching front end on its Simple Storage Service (S3) storage cloud that lets it act as a distributed (as in globally) media server to feed streaming content on the cheap.

The streaming media service is called CloudFront, and you can start using it here. AWS says that it has put media caching servers in 14 different locations globally, ensuring that the streaming media can be fed to users with low latency. Amazon is promising that the CloudFront service will be low-cost as well, and even though the service is only in beta now, pricing information is available. (Imagine that. An IT company that tells you what something is going to cost long before you commit to using it, and lets you see how it works in a beta.)

While the S3 storage utility is the back-end for the CloudFront service, Adobe's Flash Media Server 3.5.2 is the front end. Media content can be delivered in the Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) or the encrypted version (RTMPE). There is an API that connects the Flash Media Server to the S3 "buckets," and you can serve the files from a CloudFront.net domain or alias one of your own domains if you want to look like it is your own infrastructure doing the job. The media server is able to do dynamic bit rate streaming, which adjusts the bit rate of the media stream based on the quality and speed of the connection between an end user and the media server.

AWS says that it can currently support stored, on-demand media now but will support the streaming of live events sometime in 2010. (So much for not having any competition there, Cisco Systems.) The CloudFront service is priced only on the amount of data they stream out of the Amazon systems; there are no minimum fees and no up-front costs. The CloudFront approach to pricing also means that a company that is streaming media doesn't pay the full cost of a user hitting the media when they stop viewing a video stream or listening to an audio stream. Some media streaming firms charge per user connection, but Amazon is pricing based on terabytes served.

For the edge servers located in the United States, it costs 17 cents per GB for the first 10 TB of data beamed out from CloudFront, with the price rapidly dropping per GB until you are down to 5 cents per GB for a petabyte of data out; it costs 1 cent for every 10,000 GET requests. Pricing in Europe is the same for data transfers on CloudFront, but it costs 1.2 cents per 10,000 GETs. Pricing in Hong Kong and Japan are considerably higher for data transfers and a little higher for GETs. Amazon says that it is charging more where its costs are higher and simply passing on the costs. ®

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