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Amazon Cloud Front – Flash Media Server Review

Posted by geeknews at 7:17 PM on April 22, 2011

For content creators like me that have 3-4 live shows a week, there have been few affordable live streaming options. While there are literally hundreds of companies in the live streaming business, their pricing plans are designed to support their significant capital costs in running those services. Generally the pricing, terms, caps and limitations they set in their offerings are a barrier to entry for most small content creators.

Earlier this week when Amazon announced a new service, Live Streaming using Amazon CloudFront and Adobe Flash Media Server. I immediately jumped on the opportunity to see how well it would work and how the pricing would flush out.

Here is how the pricing breaks down, you incur a re-occurring $5.00 a month charge for the right to use Flash Media Center Enterprise. If you are going to have less than 1000 people watching the stream you can get away with the default single large EC2 instance which cost you .44 cents an hour, if you are expecting more people you simply invoke a larger instance that can handle 10,000 or a 100,000 viewers, while the per hour cost goes up, it is not that outrageous when you’re doing a short events. Bandwidth is charged at .10gb inbound and .15gb outbound.

The service took me about an hour to setup the first time, largely because I had no clue what I was doing but the instruction page was pretty decent minus figuring out the DNS issues. But within 60 minutes I had my stream up and running. Now that I have it pre-configured launching is simple 1-2 minutes, although a little planning is in order because it takes about 15 minutes from the time you initiate the server instance until it is ready to stream.

For my first real test, I changed all embeds on the variety of sites where my stream is available. I then brought the service online 30 minutes prior to show time, and streamed the live show followed by 8 hours or replay. All told the service was running for about 10 hours. Feedback from the audience via my own chat server was positive and everyone was happy with the stream quality.

Looking at the logs, we had nearly 500 people watch the stream over the 10 hour period for a variety of times.

With any streaming event you just really have no way of knowing on other services how much bandwidth your really moving so I was curious to see the charges for a single show. The total server and bandwidth charges from Amazon, was less than $10.00 for a single event. Perfectly reasonable for a single event where my message, branding and advertising was front and center! As you know Justin,  Ustream and Livestream have become very aggressive in their often non-related advertising, and media player branding presence. I now have a dedicated sever hosting my stream and the quality was exactly the level that I determined.

Some will say, well I use Ustream because they have a community which will build awareness, Ustream as a company could care less about tech as is apparent from their home page try finding tech content via a tech category, I will give you a hint there isn’t one.

While I love what Ustream does and while some of their features are great, the price to remove the advertising and branding via their pay service is very expensive. I will likely still use them as a secondary streaming point until they start to do some revenue sharing otherwise I cannot see them being our primary streaming source for live events. I will probably use their service for replays of my show when it is not as critical that our message and branding be at the forefront.

Here is where this streaming service by Amazon is going to kill other streaming business. Commercial Streaming providers make you choose a plan, and then they have viewer and bandwidth caps. If you bust the viewer limit or bandwidth cap you have to upgrade your plan which your are generally locked into for a year. Different events have different stream requirements. With this service i configure on a per show basis and pay as I go.

That being said, every year I hold the Podcast Awards Ceremony virtually, we will have 5000 people that show up to watch that single event. For events like the Podcast Awards, I can set the server size or clone more servers on the fly at Amazon to handle 10,000 or a 100k viewers for the event, I can then stream the event for 2 hours and when I am finished I can shut down the stream/service and incur no other costs for a whole year.

It boils down to this. I use this service on a demand basis as I need it. I am no longer locked into some companies 12 month contract very few people have the need to do 24/7 live streaming. For those that do the price is still pretty good considering what the service is capable of from a large server instance.

In my humble opinion Amazon CloudFront and Adobe Flash Media Server service is something I have been waiting on for a very long time.

One Comment

  1. From Andy, CloudBerry Lab at 2:48 am on April 24, 2011

    I always enjoy learning what other people think about Amazon Web Services and how they use them. Check out my very own tool CloudBerry Explorer that helps manage S3 and CloudFront on Windows . It is freeware. http://s3.cloudberrylab.com/
    The newer version comes with CloudFront Live Streaming support.