We’ve all been asked over the last few years to stream live events on our campus – one of the challenges has been what service should you use to livestream your events.

There are free services, such as uStream and Justin.tv, but the quality they offer can be erratic and, if you are using one of the free tiers of service, your content will have pre-roll and/or pop-up ads. This is annoying.

In a perfect world, we’d all have our own Flash media streaming setups we could push a button and start using. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time to manage all that stuff.

Enter Amazon, naturally.

They’ve announced today a new service and framework to get up and running doing live Flash media streaming. They’ve combined several of their services, including DNS, servers on demand and their content delivery network to offer an interesting on-demand Flash streaming rig.

The actual setup looks like this, but don’t be scared by all the pieces.

With their CloudFormation service, much of the work of setup only needs to be done once. Instances can be created from that template as needed.

Let’s look at costs for this type of setup. According to Amazon, they say this about costs:

In addition to the $5.00 monthly subscription fee for Flash Media Server on Amazon EC2, you pay for only for the AWS resources you consume.

Let’s examine those costs for a moment. After the $5 monthly charge, you’ll pay $0.44 USD for a server in Virginia that can support 100 simultaneous connections. Prices go up from there. Streaming to 1,000 users would run you $1.30 USD per hour. Prices are higher in Asia and Japan.

Screen+shot+2011 04 19+at+9 42 01+AM

The big unknown here is bandwidth usage. I’m having a hard time trying to estimate the amount of bandwidth needed for an event, such as graduation. 20GB? 50GB? 100GB? If you have a number you’ve seen in the past, let me know so I can correct the numbers.

Let’s use 100 as our basis here – that bandwidth would cost you $15.00 USD.

So let’s say you are streaming two hours of Commencement. That would be:

  • Flash: $5
  • 1000 streams at $1.30 per hour: $2.50
  • 100GB of Bandwidth: $15.00

Under $25 for a platform you have full control over? That’s not too shabby.

Let’s compare that to some other services out there:

uStream offers ad-free streams, and you can get 100 hours for $99 per month. 4,000 ad-free hours per month will run you $500 a month. LiveStream.com offers 3,000 ad-free hours and HD quality for $350 per month.

Looks like an interesting offering from Amazon. As we start to plan our graduation streaming, it will definitely be in the mix. If you’d like to read a tutorial from Amazon on live Flash streaming, you can check it out here.

I’ve been getting a great deal of questions lately from people who are interested in how to use the cloud at their institutions but aren’t sure what sort of things they could be doing there. I’ve been thinking about this and here are a few thoughts I’ve had about ways you can integrate Amazon’s S3 or Rackspace’s CloudFiles product into your web workflow.

1. Videos and Podcasts

Putting your videos and podcast audio in the cloud is a no-brainer. In fact, it’s the first thing we did in S3 a few years ago. Not every video we produce is meant for YouTube, or perhaps you want to have a really nice, high definition embed on your site, that’s what sites like Amazon’s S3 were made for.

Why? If you’ve got a large number of video files and audio files living on the same server as your college’s website, you could be potentially taking away cycles and bandwidth from your site. What happens when one of your videos goes viral? It has the potential to slow down your site and negatively impact the experience of your site’s visitors who are there to find out more about you.

Here’s an example of a video we produced that we hosted in S3. The HD video downloads quickly and it put no strain on my campus server.

2. WordPress Media

I’m a huge fan of WordPress. We’re rolling it out departments across our campus. They will want to upload PDF files, images, and lots of other content to go along with their blog posts and pages. That content can pile up pretty quickly, so why not put that uploaded content into the cloud? You can do it manually or use the Amazon S3 Plugin for WordPress, which will allow you to upload media to S3 and have it be displayed in your blog. It will also create thumbnails of your images and upload them as well.

I’ve been using this plugin on this blog for a while and it’s worked really well.

3. PDF Files

PDF files can get big and if your site is like mine, they are spread out all over the place. Our PDF files range in size from 50k for forms generated from Word to 11 or 12 MB for our athletics media guides.

I’ve been trying to put all our PDF files in a central spot in our S3 account so they are easy to find and update when needed, and during peak times of use, such as right now when students are downloading and completing forms before coming back to campus in a few weeks.

4. CSS and Javascript

Since your site’s CSS and javascripts will get cached after the first visit, why not serve them from S3? It’s fast, seamless to the end user, and since they are cached, you’ll barely notice they aren’t coming from your web server.

5. Images

Maybe S3 isn’t the perfect spot form which to host every image on your website, but it’s a great spot to host galleries, large hi-res version of your photos or serve as a backup spot for your image collection. I keep a bunch of critical PSD files in S3 so that they’re save if my hard drives and other backups fail. Obsessive? Maybe, but having lost critical data in a hard drive crash a few years ago, I’m much more obsessive about backups and having redundant copies of things.

So there you go – five easy, quick things you can start to do in the cloud file storage platform of your choice, be it Amazon or Rackspace.

I love Amazon S3. It’s so versatile and can fill a multitude of roles in your web work flow. Need secure backup? Check. Need to create a shared space across multiple computers and locations? Check. Need a place to quickly serve your videos, graphics, CSS, podcasts, javascript and more? Check. One complaint I read about delivering media quickly over S3 was a bit of latency, so Amazon addressed that.

Last year, they announced their Cloudfront product, which is a content delivery network that sits on top of S3. S3 is pretty fast, but Cloudfront, for extra cost, is even faster, especially internationally. I blogged about CloudFront here last year, and have used it for several projects at my institution.

The challenge was getting up and running with Cloudfront. There just wasn’t an easy way, other then API calls or a browser add-on like S3Fox, to designate content that one wanted served from Cloudfront.

As of yesterday, Amazon has added Cloudfront tools to their great management console. Now, you can easily create new Cloudfront distributions and manage them from one central location. It’s a great addition, and one I think will help increase the usage of this nice product.

You can read more about this on Amazon’s Web Services Blog.