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Cloud-based Content Delivery (Amazon vs. Rackspace)

Amazon

Amazon's file storage service is called S3 (or Simple Storage Service). Files stored on S3 can be downloaded directly from S3 servers to your end user's browser. Amazon has a
content delivery network (CDN) called
CloudFront which can take your files stored in S3 and deliver them to your end user via their 14 servers geographically separated around the globe.
Rackspace

Recently Rackspace has entered this market with a file storage service called Cloud Files. The name is uninspired but certainly readily understood. Instead of creating their own content delivery network, as Amazon did, Rackspace partnered with the well-known CDN provider
Limelight Networks. Files stored in Rackspace Cloud Files can be delivered via the Limelight CDN. This is exciting because
Limelight has 60 edge locations compared to Amazon's 14. I believe that Rackspace provide
LimelightDELIVER service rather than
LimelightSTREAM.
Price Both Amazon and Rackspace offer file storage at 15 cents per gigabyte. You get a better deal with Amazon on traffic, which charges 17 cents/GB. Rackspace charges 22 cents/GB. Interestingly, both Amazon and Rackspace don't charge any extra to deliver your files via the CDN. However with Amazon, you are charged for traffic between S3 and their Cloudfront servers. That means that if someone downloads a file from Cloudfront, you may be charged twice: once for the traffic between S3 to Cloudfront, and then again from Cloudfront to the end user. If the file is already cached on hand at the Cloudfront edge location, then you are only charged for traffic from Cloudfront to the end user. At some point the cached file at the Cloudfront edge server will expire and further requests will prompt that edge server to retrieve an updated version from S3. Rackspace, on the other hand, doesn't charge you for any bandwidth usage for file transfer between their Cloud File servers and Limelight.
CName Amazon allows you to have files hosted on S3 and Cloudfront to look like they are hosted on your own domain name. You just need to add a
CName directive to the DNS zone for your domain name that points to the appropriate bucket in S3/Cloudfront. Rackspace doesn't support CName redirects for your Cloud File storage.
SSL Delivery Amazon allows you to serve files to your end user via SSL. This is important if you are hosting graphics for use on SSL encrypted web pages/sites. If your cloud host cannot do this, your web page will not be fully SSL'd and IE users will get the irritating warning that the page contains secure and non-secure items. Amazon will not allow you to deliver files via SSL on your CName domain name. To reference a file stored on S3 via SSL, the URL should be formatted as follows: https://s3.amazonaws.com/bucket-name/key-name Note that files delivered via SSL this way will be served from S3 not CloudFront. Rackspace does not support delivery of content via SSL, as reported to me by a Rackspace salesperson via chat. I also chatted with a Limelight salesperson who said that it is supported. He gave me the number for a person at Rackspace who I called and was friendly and helpful. She confirmed that Rackspace's solution out-of-the-box cannot deliver content via SSL. However she was going to check with some engineers to see if anything can be done to enable SSL delivery. UPDATE: The Rackspace solution consultant emailed to confirm that there is not a way to deliver images via SSL in CloudFiles.
Thoughts Amazon has a more mature and affordable cloud storage service. However Rackspace, partnered with Limelight, is a player to watch especially if they can provide CName and SSL. At that point Rackspace's higher bandwidth cost may be worth considering. If you are hosting larger files that do not require SSL and speed is an issue, going with Rackspace is a better option now because you can deliver via Limelight and not have to pay double bandwidth charges that you would be charged with Cloudfront/S3.
Other cloud storage providers
GoGrid
ParaScale
The Planet
Caringo - They will only take you on as a customer if you host more than 1TB of data.

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Comment by Cameron Souza on April 10, 2009 at 3:43pm
Do you have experience dealing with the Google AppEngine Datastore and GQL? I wonder how limiting it is compared to using ActiveRecord or Hibernate on top of a relational DB.
Comment by Laurence A. Lee on April 10, 2009 at 2:50pm
Not at the same level, but Google AppEngine is starting to gain some serious steam.

With newly added Java Support, Rubyists are excited because it opens a door via JRuby. There's also early rumblings about a guy experimenting with PHP on AppEngine. (Japanese site, so my comprehension is limited..)

It's gonna be an interesting 3 months to see this action play out. :-)
Comment by Daniel Leuck on April 10, 2009 at 2:09pm
Thank you for sharing your research. Where will you put Ascribe?

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