CDNs are much more complex in practice than the simple diagrams used to depict them.
A new non-profit group is about to launch for the CDN (Content Delivery Network) industry, aiming to provide more consistent media transport with greater resilience against the outages that have recently afflicted some of the world’s major CDN providers.
Called the CDN Alliance, it is the latest in a long running series of initiatives inspired by the desire to achieve integrated global CDN delivery for all IP traffic, with the grand ambition of delivering a safer, more reliable, scalable and affordable internet for everybody.
These were the words used in a recent blog by Mark de Jong, CEO of Netherlands based streaming media technology consulting firm Axello, who is one of the CDN Alliance’s founding members. He took three recent outages afflicting Akamai, Fastly, and Cloudflare as consciousness raising fodder and evidence of the need for a body like the CDN Alliance to crash heads together.
There is little clarity yet though over exactly what the problems are, what is needed to fix them, or why the CDN Alliance is the right body to address the issues. What is true though is that, as de Jong pointed out, CDNs have become more complex as their scale has grown and the data they transport has proliferated in volume and scope. It is also true that while the mega media content distributors, such as Netflix, Disney and YouTube, have the resources to establish their own global CDN based media transport infrastructures, smaller players are more at the mercy of individual CDNs, more susceptible to outages and often pay more than they should.
Various attempts have been made to improve global CDN delivery over the years, most of them proprietary or led by specific industry groups such as telcos. One of the earlier ones that stood out came from French CDN technology vendor Broadpeak, with its Umbrella CDN.
This enabled content distributors or broadcasters to select from a group of CDNs the one that best met criteria such as cost and latency taking account of factors such as user, type of content requested, and time of the day. This won multiple awards but it is less certain how many customers it gained with relatively few names published. However, Broadpeak’s CDN technology has been deployed on Amazon’s AWS Wavelength for video delivery over 5G networks, applying Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) to move traffic and services from a centralised cloud to the edge of the network and closer to the customer. This could combine well with a multi CDN strategy as supported by the Umbrella CDN technology.
On the telco side, network infrastructure and technology vendor Ericsson made a splash in 2016 by launching its Unified Delivery Network (UDN) at Mobile World Congress 2016, with growing video traffic in mind. The ambition was to take on the big CDN specialists such as Akamai, Limelight and Level 3, by hitching together regional telco networks into a global CDN infrastructure. This did succeed in attracting some major telco partners, such as China Telecom, Chunghwa Telecom and Far EasTone Telecommunications covering Taiwan, SingTel for Singapore, SK Broadband in South Korea, XL Axiata in Indonesia and Globe Telecom embracing the Philippines.
This initially gained further purchase, with Paramount Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox signing up on the content front, while Dolby contributed media technology and Vubiquity monetization for charging end customers. Yet this initiative has faded since, perhaps because its ultimate ambition was to drive right through the last mile to deliver a full end to end managed media service. Ericsson was pursuing revenue sharing arrangements with broadband service providers for that last mile, aiming to manage the CDN and business operation itself, including monetization with network owners getting a revenue share. Ericsson was perhaps overstepping its own competence at a time when it was actually withdrawing from the video technology sphere to focus more squarely on its telco technology business, especially mobile as one of the world’s big three or four players there.
This has left the global CDN field still dominated by those big players, motivating the founders of the CDN Alliance to make a fresh attempt to fix the problem. The question again is what needs fixing, given that as de Jong himself noted, Akamai was quick to restore service within an hour after its recent outage. If CDN providers are on top of the outage situation themselves, then the CDN Alliance would be better focusing on other issues, such as variations in regional performance and cost, identifying where and how a multi CDN strategy could help.
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