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What Should You Look For In A CDN?

Because the total product CDNs' supply is comprised of multiple parts and suppliers, service scope and quality can differ widely. The added-value trappings can differentiate a Ford from a Rolls Royce in the CDN world.

Practically all CDNs offer security (to make sure content isn't stolen along the way), quality of service guarantees (so you get guaranteed uptime), reporting (to determine which streams are popular and which aren't), compatibility (with your hardware or software and with your file formats), a number of points of presence (so the content doesn't have to travel far to get to the end-user), and other added features. The choice of these extras, of course, will be a major determining factor in the price of the service.

When picking a CDN, World Streaming Networks' Gitlin believes that reliability and efficiency form the bottom line. "If I were a content owner with a first-run movie," says Gitlin, "I'm not really going to care ultimately if it's delivered through cable, IP, or Pony Express. I just want it to arrive in one piece, be secure, and to get paid for it, so I can take the money to the bank and make another one."

But while CDNs talk a lot about quality of service, speed and reliability, verifying those factors can be difficult. How can you really make sure that your content is getting delivered better and faster? Many suggest that perhaps the best — even only — way is to take a candidate CDN for a test drive. "There are several ways of doing that," says Speedera's Smith. "You can use third-party independent measuring services like Keynote, or undertake a trial period with our services. Then they should be able to make up their own minds whether we're blowing smoke or delivering the goods."

Price / Date
NextVenue (provider of webcasting solutions to financial institutions)
$375 million (7/2000)
Webcasts.com (live, interactive webcaster)
Undisclosed (3/2000)
Network24 (streaming provider of interactive elements)
$200 million (1/2000)
Digital Island
Live On Line (live and on-demand streaming media service provider)
$70 million (1/2000)
SoftAware (distributed hosting provider)
$260 million (7/2000)


Many CDNs are finding that just handling content delivery limits their potential profitability. That's why many have decided to offer value-added features, either by allying themselves with other companies or by acquiring them (see table, below). For instance, if you need help with a live event or with putting together a corporate presentation, you can now go directly to companies like Akamai, iBEAM and Digital Island for a total solution. (Naturally, part of the deal would include streaming.)

This trend toward value-added services is so widespread among CDNs, some analysts feel that pure hosting companies may be elbowed out in favor of the more full-service CDNs. But research firm IDC says that CDNs won't completely displace centralized hosting centers. "CDNs have neither the interest to become full-blown Web hosters nor the storage capacity," says Melanie Posey, research manager for IDC's Business Network Services program.

Still other companies, like CacheFlow and Digital Pipe, are taking yet another angle, with a focus on the corporate enterprise market. After all, says CacheFlow's Harr, "That's where buying decisions are being made." (See sidebar, next page.)

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