Cloudfront to cut your AWS costs

By Andreas Spak
Published on 2023-11-18


In the dynamic landscape of cloud computing, efficiency and cost-effectiveness are important variables. Amazon CloudFront, a robust content delivery network (CDN) service offered by AWS, plays a critical role in optimizing both. In this article I explore how CloudFront not only enhances user experience through faster content delivery but also how it can be used to significantly reduces costs. 

Amazon CloudFront is designed to securely deliver data, videos, applications, and APIs to customers globally with low latency and high transfer speeds. It integrates with other AWS services, such as Amazon S3, EC2, and Route 53, providing a seamless experience for AWS users.

Data transfer as a cost driver

In my experience, working with a variety of clients, data transfer costs can be among the most difficult ones to deal with, but for different reasons. Let's first understand how data transfer costs can be a main cost driver in AWS.

  • Volume of Data Transfer: The amount of data transferred in and out of AWS services can be substantial, especially for data-intensive applications. AWS charges for data transfer "out" from AWS services to the internet or to other regions. The more data you transfer, the higher the costs.

  • Load Balancing and Data Processing Services: Services like Elastic Load Balancing and AWS Lambda, which process and transfer data, can add to the data transfer costs, especially when used at scale.

  • Inter-region and Internet Transfer Costs: Data transfer between different AWS regions (inter-region data transfer) incurs charges. Similarly, data transfer from AWS to the internet is usually more expensive than transferring data within the same AWS region or between AWS services.

  • Backup and Replication: Regular backups and replication of data across different regions or availability zones for disaster recovery can involve significant data transfer, thereby increasing costs.

  • Egress Costs from AWS to On-Premises Environments: Organizations with hybrid cloud environments may incur costs when transferring data from AWS to on-premises data centers.

Understanding and managing data transfer costs is crucial in AWS to avoid unexpected charges and optimize cloud spending. Techniques such as data compression, efficient data transfer methods, using AWS's private network (AWS Direct Connect), caching content with services like Amazon CloudFront, and strategically locating resources to minimize inter-region transfers can help in controlling these costs.

So how could we use Cloudfront to lower these data transfer costs? And, are there any significant drawbacks?


Using Cloudfront to reduce costs

There are quite a few different ways to use Cloudfront, with the purpose of reducing your data transfer costs.

  • Cloudfront has cheaper "out" costs
    When using CloudFront, the cost of data transfer out to the internet is often lower than direct transfers from Amazon EC2 or S3 to the internet. This is because CloudFront's pricing is typically more favorable for internet-bound data.

  • Caching at Edge Locations: CloudFront caches content at edge locations closer to the end users. This reduces the need to fetch data repeatedly from the origin server (like an Amazon S3 bucket or an EC2 instance), thereby reducing the data transfer costs between your origin server and the end users. Here, we also need to understand the concept of "edge location". The primary purpose of edge locations is to cache and deliver content such as websites, applications, media files, and APIs as close to the end user as possible. By doing so, they reduce the distance data has to travel, improving speed and reducing latency. AWS explains an edge location like this: A site that CloudFront uses to cache copies of your content for faster delivery to users at any location.

  • Optimized Content Delivery: CloudFront can compress and optimize files, which reduces the size of the data being transferred. Smaller file sizes mean less data transfer and consequently lower costs. While this may not be a gamechanger to most architectures, we have reduced the costs for some clients significantly by being able to use Cloudfront for this kind of optimization.

  • Persistent Connections to Origin: This is something that even most cloud experts don't think about, in the context of cost optimization, yet it can be an important one for large-scale cloud architectures. CloudFront maintains persistent connections to the origin server. This efficient connection management reduces the overhead and cost associated with establishing and closing connections for each request to the origin.


Drawbacks of using Cloudfront

Cloudfront can definitely reduce your costs in AWS, however, it does not come without some potential drawbacks, that you need to consider carefully. For instance, Cloudfront comes with a pretty complex pricing structure, which can be challenging to understand. For organizations with specific compliance or data sovereignty requirements, using a global CDN like CloudFront might introduce challenges, as data is cached and transferred across multiple locations worldwide.

Other examples of challenges with using Cloudfront, is high level of complexity in configuration and management. For organizations with specific compliance or data sovereignty requirements, using a global CDN like CloudFront might introduce challenges, as data is cached and transferred across multiple locations worldwide.



We have used Cloudfront with great success on several cost optimization projects. Due to its complex nature, a CDN is never the first thing you pull out of your toolbox when working with cost optimization, but used correctly it can reduce costs significantly, in some architectures.

About the author

Andreas Spak

Andreas is a Devops and AWS specialist at Spak Consultants. He is an evangelist for building self-service technologies for cloud platforms, in order to offer clients a better experience on their cloud journey. Andreas has also strong focus on automation and container technologies.