Commoditization and the Future of Content Delivery Networks: Part One

For the undisputed heavyweight of the CDN world, Akamai, investing in a highly distributed network architecture was a matter of making sure digital assets are available when their customers need them. ""That’s what we fight for everyday," says Thierry Curis, who manages Akamai’s streaming and Flash Communications Server solutions. "This is the main thing that matters."

Services Matter Too
But it’s not the only thing that matters, since today’s CDNs offer much more than access to a network of servers; they’ve become heavily invested in providing software solutions to business problems. "The three major things that we keep hearing from the market other than scalability and performance are how do you store and manage the growing number of digital assets, how do you protect those digital assets through the management of licenses, and how do you gain access to more detailed, granular analytics about how consumers are using those digital assets," says Kris Alexander, product manager for the Akamai Media Delivery division.

Unfortunately, addressing these demands by adding more features doesn’t necessarily mean that a CDN will be able to distinguish themselves from their competitors, at least not for long. "We don’t see any deals [with new clients] that come down to features, which is a frustrating thing in the industry," says Richard Buck, VP of engineering for Mirror Image. "We’re all spending some amount on research and development, but we’re not successfully differentiating anything. The top guys in this space can all do the same things."

What typically happens is that as soon as one major provider comes out with a new feature, service, or value add, the rest follow suit and build out the same functionality in short order. "Everything changes on an almost daily basis," says Jack Waterman, VitalStream’s CEO of eight weeks. VitalStream has done what it can to stay on the leading edge of development. "We’re on a six-month product update cycle now with the sole purpose in mind that we always want the latest services taking advantage of the latest upgrades in technology," Waterman continues.

Mirror Image has tried to stay ahead of the curve through development of its content targeting, but the unpredictable nature of CDNs’ futures makes difficult the decision-making process of where to focus most of the company’s efforts to grow its business. "We don’t know if the market’s going to shift in a year," says Buck. "Do we have to add more and more free features to keep people paying for bandwidth, or do we try and push the market into someplace new? It’s something we struggle with."

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