In this Brave New World of technological advancement and technical jargon, it’s rare to find industry agreement on the definition of anything. Yet when it comes to CDNs, they all agree on two fundamentals; what CDNs are, and why we need multi-CDNs.
Simply put, CDNs are Content Delivery Networks. And as the name implies, they do just that, delivering all types of digital content worldwide. Before these networks were around, digital content was delivered by a small number of servers, from producers to end-users. With CDNs, the digital content, which can be anything from downloadable or streaming media, files, web objects and applications, is cached across several servers around the globe.
Of course, the advantages of getting content from the closest CDN server are great and varied.
According to Limelight’s White Paper, using multi-CDN servers to facilitate the delivery of digital content, without having to go all the way back to the original provider to retrieve it, results in a much better performance for customers, avoiding overloading the original provider, plus allowing your audience to scale.
Stephen Job from the Forbes Technology Council wrote that it used to be that only the best-funded, biggest companies could afford more than one CDN. However, “new cloud-based routines in techniques, are making this strategy a reality for smaller organizations”.
There are two methods of managing a multi-CDN network; automation through a single management provider or DNS load balancing. Job recommended automation for start-ups that don’t have the luxury of time or a dedicated team for its management. DNS load balancing, he said, is best for companies with a dedicated service staff unit. Typically, these are larger, international businesses and video streaming service enterprises.
An increasing number of media companies are transitioning to a multi-CDN strategy. This allows the companies to stream content across multiple networks, leading to optimizing the quality of the experience for subscribers and achieving scalability. It also leads to greater control of content distribution, thus enabling companies to benefit on pricing deals, capacity, and service reliability.
The three elephants in the room as far as any company relying on global delivery of its content, are slowdowns, downtime, and outages. According to the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of an unplanned outage is about $9,000 – in many cases, it is more than that.
“Today a poor user experience can be just as damaging as an outage. 78% of people will stop watching an online video if it buffers three times, and the majority of people will not wait more than five seconds for a web site to load” says Limelight. According to the paper, the catalog of cloud outages over the last few years ‘reads like a Who’s Who of the high-tech industry’; Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft to name but a few.
The advantages of having a multi-CDN strategy benefit both the consumer and the company.
In a fascinating article on the practical application of having a strong multi-CDM strategy, System 73 extols the virtues of content delivery networks, describing them as ‘playing a valuable role in making online content available to users across a distribution area’. It calls the use of multi-CDNs a ‘win-win scenario’, explaining that each CDN provider serves just a portion of the request volume. Thus, in most cases “a load balancing scheme is defined and determines how the traffic will be distributed between them”.
So just how advantageous is it for a company to use multi-CDNs? Historically, content distributors have always looked for the ‘best’ single provider, guaranteeing good performance and reliable access of content to the end-user. Of course, not all CDNs operate at the same levels of efficiency – they are not all the same. With multi-CDN deployments, several CDNs can be used to cover large geographic regions and ISPs, thus rerouting traffic content when necessary.
Businesswise, having multi-CDNs breaks single vendor reliance-which is always a disadvantageous business model. Having all the traffic on one network increases the risk of performance too. An embedded CDN can constrain workflows as well. Inevitably all CDNs suffer from performance issues. According to System 73, it’s a natural part of managing a network. Multi-CDNs, however, can provide natural insulation against broad and prolonged outages. “Employing a multi-CDN helps to route traffic through the healthiest CDNs at the time of the request given the user’s location and ISP.”
Distance and delay are important issues associated with using a single CDN. Imperva – the international antivirus company – says that whether we know it or not, each one of us increasingly interacts with CDNs on a daily basis, when reading online articles, shopping, watching YouTube videos, or perusing social media feeds. Our usage will only increase. The delay interval, it says, between every character of text, every image pixel, and every movie frame that is delivered to our PC, smartphone or tablet is impacted by the physical distance between us and that website server. A multi-CDN’s mission is to virtually shorten the physical distance. The goal being to improve site rendering speed and performance.
Since January 2020 and the global pandemic of COVID-19, there has been a huge increase in home media consumption across the globe. Although the figures only reflect the changes in the first 12 weeks, it’s clear that there is a significant surge in utilizing world digital content. More than 40% of consumers around the world are spending longer on messaging services and social media and at least 50% of respondents said they were watching more news coverage.
Netflix for example has seen subscriber numbers shoot up this year in direct proportion to the number of government-imposed COVID-19 lockdowns. Almost 16 million people created accounts between January and the end of March. That’s double the amount of signups it saw in the last three months of 2019.
If you are considering a strategy of multi-CDN distribution, all the experts agree that now would be the best time to start.