Along with cloud computing, online video seems likely to go down in history as one of the most important transformational technologies of the 21st century – overhauling long-standing business models as well as consumer (and employee) behaviors. A new study from research firm In-Stat shows that 45% of U.S. broadband households now prefer to obtain at least some of their digital entertainment from online video services. And the recent rumors that online, free content provider Hulu might shift its own model to become an online cable provider, offering various “Internet channels” for a fee, is a shocking testament to how dynamic this market still is.
It clearly creates a significant opportunity for a CDN provider and actually serves as a great inflection point to pause and consider how CDNs will evolve in this new era. But no matter how these networks advance, the reality is a CDN provider cannot serve the needs of every customer – nor should they try. Customers have drastically different needs, based on numerous factors like the size of the organization, budget, types of content being delivered, video quality requirements and the market segment being served.
Large companies where video is central to the business – such as media and entertainment, financial services and online gaming, to name a few – may have ample budget and demand premium performance with the fastest speed and lowest latency. Smaller organizations or those simply looking to “test the waters” – with internal-only applications or lower-priority projects – may want to invest less initially and instead place priority on things like simplicity and ease of use. Some will want to optimize live streaming vs. “on demand”; others will focus on multi-device delivery, including mobile, while still more will need to deliver non-video content, such as large audio or application files.
The market and requirements are incredibly diverse. Which is why we’re seeing more companies consider more than one CDN provider to serve different business needs (and minimize risk) – as evidenced by the recent high-profile example of Netflix using Level 3 in addition to Akamai.
Another area of content delivery set to gain steam in the coming months and years – judging from bold cable and industry moves like Comcast’s acquisition of NBC – is HD video streaming. My colleague Pete Mastin, who heads up CDN engineering at Internap, recently called into question the industry’s current answer to it – adaptive bit rate (ABR) – in this debate-provoking FierceOnlineVideo article. How HD streaming will evolve and the impact on CDNs is yet to be seen.
In any case, all of this change is good, giving a CDN provider – and their customers – the perfect opportunity to redefine the future of video delivery. One thing is certain though – the “perfect” CDN will undoubtedly remain the one that is “right” for each specific customer.
What do you think are the biggest shortcomings of CDNs today? And, what is your version of the “perfect” CDN?