|By Tim Negris||
|December 20, 2010 09:00 AM EST||
This week, stalwart packaged applications software vendor Adobe announced the availability of its Flash Media Server on Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure. It's a move that should be good for both companies but one that also raises a few questions.
Adobe's Flash brand is worn by a number of different parts and products, including the media player client much maligned recently by His Hipness, Steve Jobs, the graphical authoring application for animation and interactive media and web sites, and the server discussed here. The Amazon incarnation of the Flash server joins a family of variations comprising Development, Streaming, Interactive and Enterprise variations. Feature-wise, it is identical to the Enterprise edition, with only one exception: the Flash Media Server on AWS does not support IP multicasting, a feature more commonly used in institutional and enterprise network applications.
The Flash Media Server enables network-efficient, large-scale media delivery and real-time communications. For the former, it can be used to do live, on-demand, and interactive media content streaming to PCs, mobile devices, web-enabled televisions, and other media devices. For the latter, it enables audio and video chat, voice over IP (VoIP), and multiplayer gaming. Additionally, it also supports various interactive capabilities, including server-side playlists, server-based DVR recording, and, in conjunction with the latest Flash player, fast motion, slow motion, and frame-stepped video playback.
To accommodate all these different uses and to enable network performance optimization, the Flash Media Server employs three different protocols. HTTP dynamic streaming supports real-time packaging, server DVR, and adaptive bitrate streaming for live and on-demand streams over standard HTTP connections. RTMP streaming supports low-latency real-time communication, and adaptive bitrate delivery and stream encryption for live and on-demand streams with enhanced buffering and support for advanced Flash Player capabilities, like "trick mode" playback. And, finally, it also introduces a new proprietary Adobe protocol called Real Time Media Flow Protocol (RTMFP), which provides for real-time peer to peer audio and video communications between devices equipped with the Flash client or AIR apps for conferencing, gaming and social networking applications.
The Adobe Flash Media Server for AWS is good for Amazon because it can attract developers and providers of sexy, resource-hungry applications like social networking, content delivery, gaming and HD video streaming and conferencing to AWS. It should help Amazon sell a lot of cloud time and bandwidth. But, it is also likely to cause some confusion, given Amazon's recent announcement of their CloudFront content delivery service, which offers a number of the same capabilities. But, they also might be complementary. Neither company addressed this issue in the announcement.
The AFMSfAWS is also good for Adobe, in that it gives them a badly needed cloud story and it exposes the Flash technology to a much wider audience than it otherwise would be. The latter is especially timely in the face of the recent badmouthing Flash has gotten by Jobs and others and the rise of various open source media technologies coming on the scene. It should help Adobe pick up a lot of new customers for whom the Flash Media Server would be otherwise unaffordable and unmanageable.
And, speaking of affordability, the new offering is also good for customers because it brings PAYGo subscription pricing for a product that was previously very expensive. The packaged software version, the Adobe Flash Media Enterprise Server sells in the channel for about forty grand a pop, and that's for a single-CPU license. The AWS version has variable pricing depending on instance size and P2P connection requirements, which are on top of the charges for AWS EC2 compute instances and S3 storage services.
For smaller users, it will cost $0.44/hr for an AWS "Large" instance or $0.60/hr for a "High-memory Extra Large" instance. (See here for an explanation of AWS instances.) This level allows up to 100 P2P connections active at one time. For medium-size users on either the "Extra Large" or "High-CPU Extra Large" instance levels it will cost $1.30/hr and allow up to 1,000 P2P connections. For really big customers using "High-memory Double Extra Large" and "High-memory Quadruple Extra Large" (that's what they call them) it is $4.60/hr and $5.60/hr, respectively, with both allowing up to 10,000 P2P connections. For all users, data transfer costs ten cents per gigabyte inbound and fifteen cents outbound. To see what the AWS instances offer and cost, look here and for S3 pricing, here.
So, clearly the up-front cost for Adobe's Flash Media Server on AWS will be miniscule compared to purchasing a license for the enterprise version plus the cost of server and networking hardware, software, and ongoing management skills for those, all of which can be considerable for resource-hungry media applications.
But, customers not interested in theP2P real-time communications and Flash-specific capabilities of the Adobe offering might find that Amazon's CloudFront pricing makes for a better deal. It is priced independently of EC2 instance level, with charges varying by outbound bandwidth load, from $0.15/GB for the first ten terabytes per month down to $0.03/GB for over 1000 TB/month. The only addition charges are for HTTP and HTTPS requests which are $0.0075 and $0.01 per request, respectively.
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