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The State of Content Delivery 2015

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Security in the cloud is one reason that we’re also seeing a trend toward CDNs focused on security messaging and offerings. Some CDNs are using Denial of Service (DoS) benefits as a way to entice enterprise to consider CDN services beyond caching.

“Some CDNs, like Cloudflare or Incapsula, are leading with security benefits, not caching,” Malnati says.

An interesting finding in the State of CDN Services survey also proves the market’s not as saturated as industry veterans might assume. When we asked respondents to rank the potential limiting factors for using CDN services, the highest was pricing—not really a surprise, since this is a major struggle that all CDNs face with customers that don’t know they need a CDN until they need a CDN—but almost 13 percent of respondents say they weren’t familiar enough with CDN services to make an informed decision.

What Do CDN Customers Want?

One more area that bears mentioning in this look back into the 2014 content delivery market is what potential CDN customers are actually looking for.

We asked respondents to the Akamai-sponsored survey to check off multiple services and features that they either use or would be interesting in using from a CDN provider.

Chart 1 is weighted heavily, so that responses that might appear close are in fact farther apart than the chart indicates. Each survey taker was allowed to choose more than one option, so it is clear to see that multiscreen/multidevice delivery is far and away the No. 1 functionality that our respondents look to their CDN provider to deliver on.

Adaptive bitrate (ABR) and analytics were the next highest choices, and while they appear to be separated by two percentage points, in actuality they are separated by more than 7 percent of responses from survey respondents.

The list of features and functionality is rounded out by cloud-based storage and a global delivery footprint. This isn’t to say that a global footprint isn’t important, but respondents clearly felt they needed to scratch the mobile delivery itch before they thought about scaling up to global delivery.

Peer-to-Peer, Redux?

It’s worth noting that 2015 may see the re-emergence of peer-to-peer technologies. We’ve had a number of these available for years, from Adobe’s Flow (RTMFP) to Octoshape’s offering, but there is renewed interest in peer-to-peer technologies such as those offered by Hive Technologies. The idea is to leverage peer-to-peer delivery of the media bits, since multicast and adaptive streams don’t tend to play well together, especially on enterprise networks.

Combine these with a platform like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft’s Azure, and it’s possible that a tightly constrained version of peer-to-peer might gain traction in 2015. At least one company mentioned, off the record, that it’s currently testing peer-to-peer with more than 20,000 desktops.

ABR and Caching

Given the rapid shift toward ABR technologies for streaming, which all utilize the benefits of a traditional web server to deliver on-demand and live streaming content via HTTP, it’s not a surprise that the trend toward caching continues to grow.

We address a few of the issues around HTTP delivery in The State of Media Servers, but one clear trend in the marketplace is the adoption of DASH, alongside the much broader adoption of Apple’s competing HTTP Live Streaming (HLS).

Google’s adoption of HLS for more recent versions of its Android OS, as well as its continued push to have the Google-backed VP9 codec integrated into smart televisions and OTT boxes, means that we’re still in a bit of a flux when it comes to adopting a single HTTP-based ABR technology. But 2015 could be the year in which the two competing H.264 (AVC) camps come to an unsteady truce. Or it could be the year we start the battles over again, as H.265 (HEVC) emerges to address some of the high-bandwidth requirements for 4K / UltraHD.

When it comes to the mobile device front, however, there’s clearly a move toward ecosystems within ecosystems. In other words, these days it’s not just enough to say that you deliver to a mobile device. Given the fragmentation of the Android market—from forked versions run on Amazon devices, for instance, to the official versions of Google’s Nexus devices—the need to deliver to an ecosystem within an ecosystem has become more important.

And that’s where a CDN comes in to play. With hundreds or thousands of customers facing the same set of disparate mobile devices, form factors, operating systems, and even ABR technologies, CDNs have the ability to message both their stability and ongoing ability to handle emerging platforms.

Incremental Innovation

The changes to content delivery in 2014 appears, at first glance, to be somewhat incremental, but CDNs are hard at work innovating to address existing and emerging mobile devices, building out solutions that combine the ubiquity of the cloud with the benefits of caching, and working hard to address the security concerns of enterprises.

Going into 2015, watch for movement in the premium content space, especially around the National Association of Broadcasters show in early April. Not only will more companies enter the fray with innovations around delivery, but we should also seem some interesting movement toward addressing a broader overall market, using legacy video container formats and players. We’re in for a fun year.

[This article appears in the 2015 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook as The State of Content Delivery.]

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