This post is a recap of a panel I sat on at TV Connect 2015 titled “Should You Put Your CDN Into the Clouds?” The panel was attended by a good cross section of industries all of which had some direct experience with either standing-up, utilizing CDNs, or both:
- Network operators—Simon Jones, Chief TV Architect at British Telecom
- Content distributors—Sevan Brown, Head of Digital Cinema Distribution Strategy, at Deluxe Digital Cinema EMEA
- Broadcasters—Jeff Webb, Solutions Architect Content at BSkyB
- Telecom—Sotiris Bithas, Marketing Director Telco Software Business at Intracom Telecom
It was clear during the panel that everyone agreed on one thing—CDNs are becoming critically important to distributing content effectively to global audiences across a wide variety of devices. In fact, I don’t think it would be hard to argue that having a content delivery network is becoming table stakes for providing high-performance digital experiences. But Simon Jones threw a monkey wrench into the discussion by making the statement that there are multiple types of CDNs. In fact, he proposed three (I’m paraphrasing):
- Internal—this is a CDN built for just internal content delivery.
- Outsourced—this is an external CDN that is operated “as a service” by a third-party company and can either be the cloud-based or a physical network
- Network—this is an external CDN that is organized by a logical, physical network including peering relationships or transit to other networks
This, in turn, opened the floodgates to a host of questions such as:
- What kind of CDN should I use?
- Should I build out my own network with content delivery capabilities?
- Should I employ cloud-based resources?
- Should I use a commercial CDN provider?
And what we quickly determined as we attempted to answer those questions was that cloud wasn’t that important in the underlying discussion because cloud and CDN were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Not all CDNs are cloud-based. Yes, they are all distributed by nature (with multiple points-of-presence geographically dispersed) but some, like Limelight, are physical, logical networks. Others, like Amazon, are largely virtualized.In fact, what we came to realize was that none of that really mattered because, at the heart of the discussion, there was something far more important to consider—an organization’s content delivery strategy. Choosing a type of CDN, whether that was cloud-based or not, involved understanding how the content delivery technologies were being used:
- If the CDN was just being used to deliver training videos or talking heads to an internal audience, it may not make sense to use an outsourced CDN (cloud or otherwise). That’s because this kind of content has a much lower threshold for quality of experience than content you might be delivering to a paying audience.
- If the CDN was being used to deliver digital content to a global audience on different devices, it may make sense to outsource content delivery to a commercial CDN that has the scale and reach to make this possible. Whether or not to use a CDN that employs cloud resources should depend almost entirely on its relative performance, not on the underlying technology.
- If content delivery reaches a certain level of operation (think Netflix), it may make sense to build out a physical CDN that includes servers, routers, switches, and peering relationships with other networks. Again, this could involve cloud resources but overall performance should be the deciding factor, not the technologies themselves.
Ultimately, the panel concluded that selecting which kind of CDN technology to utilize is a complicated decision. For instance, even though the content delivery needs may be to deliver videos to internal users (which could be served by an internal CDN), it still may make sense to utilize an outsourced provider if the scale of delivery (multiple geographies, tens of thousands of employees) exceeds the capacity of the corporate network…or the IT folks don't want to (or can’t) support the services required for delivering rich media content. And this isn’t something that is unheard of. There are some organizations that have a CDN of their own and outsource to commercial providers to extend their reach and scale or provide them services their internal CDN doesn’t have.
Selecting a CDN then can’t be addressed by the question of “to use cloud or not to use cloud.” Although the panel recognized that cloud-based technologies could be used to deliver content, it is ultimately irrelevant to answering the question posed by the panel’s title. Organizations need to focus on answering a much more important question—“how am I delivering content?” in order to determine the kind of CDN technologies they need to use.