Three use cases where you should use Amazon CloudFront

Amazon CloudFront is likely not the most common and known service in the AWS family. Nevertheless, it proves to be a very interesting alternative to S3 or other products alike when you aim not to the storage in itself, rather to delivering content for your appliance. Indeed, CloudFront is a content delivery web service with a “low latency, high data transfer speeds, and no commitments”. Despite that, I see that CloudFront is often poorly used or unused at all. So, to make clear what it is thought for and how to take advantage of it, let’s see 3 typical use cases where you should use Amazon CloudFront.

Cloudfront Logo

Replace S3 with CloudFront when your userbase is geographically distributed

A typical usage of S3 is to store and deliver data for your appliance. Unfortunately, this is a poor choice when the userbase is geographically distributed and you can’t focus your storage on a particular area of the world to achieve the lowest possible latency. On the other hand, CloudFront has a global network of so-called “edge locations”, which are datacenters spread around the world, all replicating the content you would like to deliver to your user. Every time a resource is asked for by an end users, the request is automatically routed to the nearest edge location, in order to achieve high performance delivery of the content. In addition to that, you can even set different domain aliases for your CloudFront distribution, that is, having cdn1.mydomain.com, cdn2.mydomain.com, and so on, all pointing to the same CloudFront distribution. This allows parallel downloads and improves even more the performance of your appliance.

Harness the Origin Servers feature to cache dynamically generated content

When Cloud Front was launched, it was a feeder of content stored on S3 only. You put your objects on Amazon S3, CloudFront takes and caches them on the edge locations, then delivers them from there. This was quite a strong limitation for certain applications, but later on Amazon introduced a feature called “Origin Servers” that quite changed the game.
Adding a Custom Origin Server allows CloudFront to feed content from anywhere, even from your on premises web server, or a machine from another cloud provider. The great thing behind that is that you can deliver even automatically generated content via CloudFront, and use CloudFront to replace a custom caching solution. CloudFront allows you to tune quite finely its behavior, especially thanks to HTTP headers like Cache-Control, who control how long CloudFront should cache a given resource. Another nice feature is that CloudFront supports Etag headers.
Do you know what Etag is? They are a sort of a hash, or a digest, of the given resource. Modern browser use them to save bandwidth. When a browser request something that is available in browser’s cache, it will send a special If-Match header with the ETag of the resource from the cache. CloudFront will compare this ETag with ETag from his cache and will respond with HTTP 304 Not Modified without sending the resource again. Just add Etag’s to your content on CloudFront and this behavior will be automatically triggered.

CloudFront caching on steroids: Whole-Site Delivery

If we can deliver even dynanically generated content, why not taking full advantage of it and move to a Whole-Site Delivery approach? In the typical usage pattern, CloudFront act as a CDN for static content only, typically hosted either on S3 or on your Custom Origin server. Neverthless, we have just seen how you can use it to cache dynamic content form your origin server. So, what blocks from using CloudFront as a CDN for your whole website? The key idea here is to use CloudFront as a proxy for both S3 (where your static assets are stored) and your EC2 instance, or your on premises Custom Origin server (where dynamic content is generated).
If this seems a bite off more than you can chew, fear not: a lot of websites already use an approach like this, with a significant improvement of their performance. The idea that user-personalized pages can’t be delivered via CDNs is simply a myth. Truth is that network and path optimizations allow CloudFront to speed up dynamic content without losing a bit in customization. Setting up this architecture isn’t difficult at all, you will probably need some time to perfectly tune it, but your profits in term of performance, better scalability, improved availability and reduced costs will go way beyond that.

Written by

Software Engineer with a solid focus on QA and an extensive experience in ICT. Above all, Andrea has a very strong interest in Free and Open Source Software, and he is a Debian and Ubuntu Developer since years. Non-tech interests include: Rugby, Jazz music and Cooking.

Related Posts

— November 28, 2018

Two New EC2 Instance Types Announced at AWS re:Invent 2018 – Monday Night Live

Let’s look at what benefits these two new EC2 instance types offer and how these two new instances could be of benefit to you. Both of the new instance types are built on the AWS Nitro System. The AWS Nitro System improves the performance of processing in virtualized environments by...

Read more
  • AWS
  • EC2
  • re:Invent 2018
— November 21, 2018

Google Cloud Certification: Preparation and Prerequisites

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has evolved from being a niche player to a serious competitor to Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. In 2018, research firm Gartner placed Google in the Leaders quadrant in its Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service for the first time. In t...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
Khash Nakhostin
— November 13, 2018

Understanding AWS VPC Egress Filtering Methods

Security in AWS is governed by a shared responsibility model where both vendor and subscriber have various operational responsibilities. AWS assumes responsibility for the underlying infrastructure, hardware, virtualization layer, facilities, and staff while the subscriber organization ...

Read more
  • Aviatrix
  • AWS
  • VPC
— November 10, 2018

S3 FTP: Build a Reliable and Inexpensive FTP Server Using Amazon’s S3

Is it possible to create an S3 FTP file backup/transfer solution, minimizing associated file storage and capacity planning administration headache?FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is a fast and convenient way to transfer large files over the Internet. You might, at some point, have conf...

Read more
  • Amazon S3
  • AWS
— October 18, 2018

Microservices Architecture: Advantages and Drawbacks

Microservices are a way of breaking large software projects into loosely coupled modules, which communicate with each other through simple Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).Microservices have become increasingly popular over the past few years. The modular architectural style,...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Microservices
— October 2, 2018

What Are Best Practices for Tagging AWS Resources?

There are many use cases for tags, but what are the best practices for tagging AWS resources? In order for your organization to effectively manage resources (and your monthly AWS bill), you need to implement and adopt a thoughtful tagging strategy that makes sense for your business. The...

Read more
  • AWS
  • cost optimization
— September 26, 2018

How to Optimize Amazon S3 Performance

Amazon S3 is the most common storage options for many organizations, being object storage it is used for a wide variety of data types, from the smallest objects to huge datasets. All in all, Amazon S3 is a great service to store a wide scope of data types in a highly available and resil...

Read more
  • Amazon S3
  • AWS
— September 18, 2018

How to Optimize Cloud Costs with Spot Instances: New on Cloud Academy

One of the main promises of cloud computing is access to nearly endless capacity. However, it doesn’t come cheap. With the introduction of Spot Instances for Amazon Web Services’ Elastic Compute Cloud (AWS EC2) in 2009, spot instances have been a way for major cloud providers to sell sp...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
— August 23, 2018

What are the Benefits of Machine Learning in the Cloud?

A Comparison of Machine Learning Services on AWS, Azure, and Google CloudArtificial intelligence and machine learning are steadily making their way into enterprise applications in areas such as customer support, fraud detection, and business intelligence. There is every reason to beli...

Read more
  • AWS
  • Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • Machine Learning
— August 17, 2018

How to Use AWS CLI

The AWS Command Line Interface (CLI) is for managing your AWS services from a terminal session on your own client, allowing you to control and configure multiple AWS services.So you’ve been using AWS for awhile and finally feel comfortable clicking your way through all the services....

Read more
  • AWS
Albert Qian
— August 9, 2018

AWS Summit Chicago: New AWS Features Announced

Thousands of cloud practitioners descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place West last week to hear the latest updates around Amazon Web Services (AWS). While a typical hot and humid summer made its presence known outside, attendees inside basked in the comfort of air conditioning to hone th...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS Summits
— August 8, 2018

From Monolith to Serverless – The Evolving Cloudscape of Compute

Containers can help fragment monoliths into logical, easier to use workloads. The AWS Summit New York was held on July 17 and Cloud Academy sponsored my trip to the event. As someone who covers enterprise cloud technologies and services, the recent Amazon Web Services event was an insig...

Read more
  • AWS
  • AWS Summits
  • Containers
  • DevOps
  • serverless