Evolution of The Network

  • By Adrian Pennington

Evolution of The Network

As online video consumption reaches new peaks, the industry is adopting new and varied Content Delivery Network strategies - Adrian Pennington...

The global CDN market is worth US$14 billion according to Deloitte, up more than 25% from US$11 billion in 2019. The market is set to more than double to $30 billion by 2025. Live video streaming and the streaming video games may spur further growth. The consulting firm points to how media companies are working out their CDN strategies, including whether they should build their own CDNs. “Only a few major media companies will have the capital to do so,” Deloitte reckons. “The rest will probably rent capacity from CDN providers who, in turn, will pay telecoms to run traffic on their networks.”

CDN technology is evolving rapidly with a particular focus on improving scaling, cost-efficiency, and the Quality of Experience for viewers. A key development in the industry pinpointed by Jim Brickmeier, CPO/CMO at Velocix, is the move towards infrastructure agnostic, cloud-native CDN architectures. These allow the optimum solution balance, across cloud and on-premises platforms, to suit the individual requirements of video service providers. 

“For instance, some operators may prioritise the elastic scaling and rapid service launch capabilities of cloud-based CDNs, whereas others place a higher premium on seeking the lowest cost per bit delivered from an on-premise solution,” says Brickmeier. “In many cases, a hybrid approach across cloud and on-premises infrastructure can provide the right mix of capabilities.”

“To bolster the Quality of Experience, there has also been renewed interest in managed services for licensed CDNs as video service operators seek to accelerate their transition to new cloud and hybrid architectures. In addition to assisting clients migrate to newer models, the managed services team can also assist with advanced video network monitoring that reduces incident response times, proactively detects traffic bottlenecks, and strengthens capacity planning.”

At a time when the popularity of streaming services has never been higher, content security needs to be a top priority. Credential sharing is endemic, with 36% of UK consumers admitting to sharing their login details for streaming services with others, according to Limelight Networks’ state of online survey 2020. 

“Streaming providers have to work harder to ensure traffic is passing through legitimate channels,” says Steve Miller-Jones, VP Strategy, Industry & Partnership, Limelight. “However, how they respond needs to be guided by their priorities.”

He says identifying credential sharing and problem accounts will take closer collaboration between streaming providers and CDNs. Tracking the activity of individual accounts is important for understanding user behaviour but detecting credential abuse and blocking access can be very complex. Live events in particular are subject to this attack vector.

“A CDN partner can play a crucial role here - keeping a detailed log of every content request for a given stream or piece of content,” says Miller-Jones. “This data is then shared with the streaming service provider, letting them compile a blacklist of compromised accounts that can then be blocked from accessing future content. CDN providers are consistently looking at ways to make the process faster and more efficient. Indeed, the use of AI to rapidly detect account abuse may be a source of future innovation.”

“As streaming has overtaken broadcast viewing, traffic is shifting away from global CDN providers,” says Xavier Leclercq, VP Business Development at Broadpeak. “Several streaming giants, from Netflix to TikTok, have built their own CDNs to better control consumer experiences.

“The approach - whether global or focused on where global CDNs are unable to reach - is made possible by CDN selection tools, such as Broadpeak’s umbrellaCDN, which distributes requests across CDNs. This is how a portion of HBO’s traffic is delivered today using Broadpeak HBO caches, deployed inside various ISP networks in Central America.” 

2021 continues to see a developing trend, with CDNs initially built by the ISP for their own video services. These CDNs are being opened to content providers like Disney under new wholesale agreements.

Leclercq says, “whether new CDNs are deployed by content providers or wholesaled by the ISP, being inside ISP networks provides a crucial advantage - it positions content closest to the consumer, typically allowing low-latency and congestion-free consumption.”

As online video consumption reaches new peaks, new challenges are arising for industry newcomers and veterans alike. Amid a global pandemic, in a highly competitive market, and in an age where streaming failures make headlines, Verizon Media say QoE has never been more critical for content publishers. 

“As pressure on networks intensifies, customers expect CDNs to support new video formats, have the ability to achieve greater scalability and optimize quality regardless of demand,” says Muhammad Rehman, VP, Product Management, Delivery, Security & Edge Compute. “At Verizon Media, our CDN is optimized for Video delivery while maintaining best in class QoE regardless of demands. We are working with our customers to move key video workflow capabilities such as video ingestion, video encoding and ad-insertion closer to where users physically are by utilizing a CDN Edge Compute platform.”

He adds, “Computing at the CDN Edge has the potential to meet the challenges of a network tasked with delivering more data at higher quality to end-users with minimal latency, guaranteeing quality and reliable experiences for broadcasters looking to reinvent the viewing experience.”

To ensure a consistent high-quality video experience, an increasing number of broadcasters are turning to multi-CDN strategies, deploying several CDNs in their video delivery workflow.

Choosing a multi CDN strategy for the delivery of streaming TV services  is the best way to ensure the highest quality for end users, offload peak traffic, enable redundancy, increase reach and reduce cost. Today a multi CDN strategy is an integral part of any streaming service.

“Once the decision is made to use more than one CDN for the delivery of your content, the question that needs answering is: how do you get a unified view of the end user experience when data is being delivered from multiple sources to a variety of clients, independent of CDN and client?” poses Edgeware.

Besides the difficulty of automatically gathering delivery statistics from the different CDNs within your eco-system, there is also the challenge of collecting information from the clients. One way to monitor the user experience is to integrate supervision inside the client. However, the client landscape is fragmented and holds a complex mix of device types, models and variations. This makes achieving 100% coverage of devices difficult - and expensive.

In response to these challenges, Edgeware has developed the StreamPilot delivery control platform. StreamPilot inserts itself into the control plane between client and CDN for each session and orchestrates the delivery on a per-segment basis, totally independent of the delivering CDN. By sitting in this critical patch between the CDN and the client, StreamPilot collects session data and in real-time collects data related to the session, what bitrates are used, what is available and information on location and ISP. As 5G rolls out there are strong arguments that legacy CDNs with fixed PoPs are not best suited to maximising the technology’s high network capacity, ultra-low latency and extreme reliability. Telco operators are particularly keen on monetizing 5G and are looking to a virtualized CDN platform based on web scale technology and positioned closer to the edge of network.

Varnish Edge Cloud is a virtualized CDN and edge caching solution delivered in the cloud. It is highly scalable caching software that runs on commodity hardware, as virtualized instances or on bare metal within the MEC (multi-access edge computing) environment.

The 100TB cache capacity of Varnish Edge Cloud nodes can scale on demand, whether deployed at the network edge in virtualized PoPs, in aggregate data centres or between 5G base stations.

Varnish provide the software components and services to help telcos build a 5G CDN in a 5G network or inside of the traditional 4G LTE network. If customers are not comfortable with integrating the technology themselves, or CDN operation is not a core part of their strategy, its managed services team can remotely manage it on their behalf.

Transforming their networks into edge cloud platforms offers telcos a lot of opportunity for monetization and for innovation,” Varnish state. “Why would they leave money on the table for someone else?”