Content delivery networks (CDN), have helped businesses get rich media content from origination to consumers since just before the turn of the century. These international networks of servers and edge devices loaded with feature-rich software have since improved streaming quality, raised download speeds, and supported ads. Challenges remain with climbing video use.
CDNs came to be because businesses began adding rich media content to their websites. That and increased traffic loads often crippled the sites or knocked them out altogether. Owners could neither predict nor plan for these costly instances. Frustration soared as angry customers couldn’t buy products from e-commerce sites, nor could they receive video content when they desired. Throwing servers at the problem was not a viable response.
Enter CDN services, which offered businesses an affordable and effective alternative to building and maintaining networks themselves. The CDN architecture focused on delivering rich media content cached in the network from edge servers closest to the customer, speeding the process and cutting latency, packet loss, and more. It also eliminated a single point of failure for customers.
Fast-forward to today, where some CDNs (Akamai, Limelight, and Mirror Image) remain independent, while yet others (Level 3/CenturyLink and Verizon/EdgeCast) have been snapped up by carriers. More importantly, they have evolved to offer a variety of value-added services to current and potential features and functionality including event monitoring and management packages, enhanced security, quality of experience measurement, and more.
In fact, these cloud-like service providers have evolved their service portfolios to the extent that they no longer like to be called CDNs. They continue to focus on providing their content delivery and value-added services from the edge of their networks−closer to businesses’ customers.
Trends on Tap
With the continued rise of video and other rich media content delivery, especially by media, entertainment, and technology companies of all sizes around the globe, what should we expect in the year ahead?
Use of multiple CDNs: Though it may sound like heavy lifting, content companies typically use two or more providers to ensure the best and safest delivery of their content assets, especially for large and high-profile events such as sports matches, concerts, and news events for a vast, far-flung viewing audience. This approach offers backup, redundancy, network route diversity, and more. Load balancers let customers switch video between CDNs. And, software packages are available for monitoring multiple CDNs. They also enable corrective action in the event of local or regional drops in network performance, or potential link outages.
New features and functionality: In the fast-paced race to differentiate their offerings from other CDNs and cloud service providers, CDNs continue their functionality evolution. Earlier this month, Akamai announced plans to offer Customer Identity Access Management through its planned purchase of Janrain Inc. Typically, these capabilities are made available by adding intelligence to the network’s edge servers.
Security never sleeps: Protecting CDNs and their customers from a growing list and type of security threats keeps many up all night. That’s because old ones such as DDoS attacks have evolved over the years, while others have emerged more recently. Protecting customers’ websites, APIs, and applications from attacks is a full-time job for CDNs. Don’t forget the bot threat and application vulnerabilities.
Going mobile: In the beginning, the challenge was to get rich media content to desktops and laptop computers, for large audience viewing from home or from work. But the proliferation of smartphones has driven demand for wireless video viewing options. Content owners (sports leagues and broadcasters among them) have seized on this audience expansion opportunity.
Customers want only to push play and receive a superior video viewing experience. They couldn’t care less about low connections speeds, bandwidth limitations, and the technology challenges they continue to fuel, especially as video files grow in size.
CDNs are battling these and other challenges by adding more broadband to their networks and offering outsourced services to content owners that allow wide delivery of video at lower speeds that can be adapted to network link bandwidth. Add in offerings whereby CDNs handle aspects of video publishing that include matching streams to different protocols. Don’t forget addressing myriad device types. Only the largest content owners perform these tasks on their own as they are expensive and devour resources.
The Bottom Line
The above-listed trends are not completely new, but instead are continuations of challenges that have arisen in past years. In many cases, everything old is new again.
Stay tuned for more CDN coverage as these service providers pass milestones on the road to delivering a robust, high-quality, device-agnostic, viewing experience, available globally with a robust menu of added features and functionality.