As online video, data transmissions grow, need for CDNs expanding
PUBLISHED: 01/09/2017 4:41 PM EST
Last month, Amazon.com Inc. announced that its data centre business was expanding into Canada, a move that illustrates what some say is the need for more data points as an increasing amount of digital content is consumed and emerging technologies like 4K and virtual reality grow.
Among the features provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS), which made its debut in Montreal in December, is a service called “CloudFront,” a content delivery network (CDN) with locations in Toronto and Montreal that the company said in a December press release would give customers the ability to “deliver websites, applications, and content to Canadian end users with low latency.”
According to Sasha Zivanovic, CEO of CDN provider Nextologies Ltd., content-sharing within various industries is expected to grow exponentially. “Delivering content over the Internet needs to be reliable, without latency or buffering,” he said.
That’s where CDNs like Amazon’s — which are effectively data centres that gather and distribute data within their geographic area with the intention of reducing latency, or delays — come in.
“Without a CDN, the user has to go directly to [the content distributor] to get the content,” Zivanovic said in a phone interview. CDNs cache the data along the way to the end user, he said, adding that the more hardware there is along the way, the lower the latency.
“If [the content delivery company] only existed in Toronto…you don’t need a CDN,” Zivanovic said. “If you go outside of Ontario, you need to have some kind of CDN.”
Iain Grant, an analyst at the Seaboard Group, said in an email that CDNs are also “useful when millions of downloads are likely within short periods.”
“Sports is a big consumer, as are things like major software releases, think [Apple Inc.’s] iOS 10 — a hundred million downloads expected, of a 1GB file, within 24 hours,” he said.“You know the tsunami is coming, so you prepare…CDNs are part of that solution.”
CBC/Radio Canada uses a global CDN from U.S.-based Akamai Technologies Inc. The public broadcaster, which has a global audience, began working with Akamai on September 11, 2001, according to the CDN’s website.
In 2009, BCE Inc. announced it had developed its own CDN in partnership with Limelight Networks called the Bell Content Delivery Network.
A year later, Bell released a white paper suggesting CDNs are “gaining widespread adoption in media and entertainment, software and gaming, retail, financial and insurance industries” and public institutions. In “highly competitive business sectors,” it added, “slow delivery is not an option, and organizations are looking for ways to ensure that content reaches their audiences as quickly as possible, every single time.”
Shaw Communications Inc., Telus Corp., Cogeco Inc., Rogers Communications Inc. and Zayo Group Holdings Inc.’s Allstream all have their “own distributed data centres which could be used for CDN services should they see that as a business opportunity,” Grant said.
Apple and Alphabet Inc. also have their own internal CDN, according to Grant.
For Akamai, its customers include Buzzfeed, Score Media and Fox Sports, according to its website.
Grant said money will factor into whether an incumbent decides to build a CDN or outsources the capabilities. However, given that the Canadian incumbents’ audience is generally not global — such is Akamai’s strength —“then a domestic CDN that is proprietary to you, makes sense,” he said.
Bell, Rogers and Telus did not respond to questions about CDNs from The Wire Report.
Zivanovic said CDNs “charge you on the amount of traffic that comes in and out, or cumulatively when they charge you per megabyte or per gigabyte of traffic that goes through, and that can vary.”
While networks are built to handle lots of smaller events, CDNs are focused on larger downloads and event-specific demand, Grant said.
Those bigger downloads include longer videos. “So much of web video is short content…you have lots of opportunities within that customer experience to ‘catch up’,” Titus Bicknell, chief data officer and executive vice-president of operations at film distributor RLJ Entertainment said on a panel at the Capacity North America conference in Toronto in October, referring to the Internet’s ability to pre-load parts of a video ahead of it being played to avoid stoppages.
“When you’re committing a user to a 45 or 90 minute experience, you don’t have any wiggle room for that catch-up; you’ve got to be buffering ahead of them absolutely in real-time.”
As video quality increases, more stress is applied on the delivery networks. “The bandwidth or storage required for video delivery scales considerably as the resolution increases,” an AWS spokesman said in an email, adding that compression technologies help counteract that.
“The architectural decisions to expand or construct data centers are determined by a variety of factors,” he said, including “advancing technology in the video market” such as 4K and virtual reality and augmented reality, the production and consumption of which has been increasing in the last few years.
Jeremy Dujardin, chief technical officer of global media services for Tata Communications Ltd. and panelist at the conference, said he expects CDNs to see some pressure from the increase in content consumption.
“As the shift to OTT [over-the-top] viewership and cord-cutting continues, you’re always putting a tremendous amount of strain on CDNs and the requirement for capacity on the end user is increasing at an exponential rate and it’s causing a lot of concern,” Dujardin said on a panel.
He added: “From a content delivery network perspective, in order for OTT to continue, it’s imperative for CDN capabilities to get closer and closer to the user and I think that’s going to spur a lot of regional operators to acquire that capability.”
Dujardin also noted that CDNs can provide OTT operators with metrics about how their content is being consumed.
The need to get content to the user as quickly as possible is a factor for companies beyond traditional media and OTT providers.
“We’re reducing friction to zero accessing our site…with a progressive web address that loads in less than 500 milliseconds, videos with zero latency — those are the things that are being hammered,” Micah Gelman, director of video and senior editor at The Washington Post, said on a panel at the conference.
— With reporting by Ahmad Hathout at firstname.lastname@example.org and editing by Anja Karadeglija at email@example.com