Whether CDNs can truly solve quality of service problems for streamers is open to debate. Clearly, though, enough people have believed in the value of CDNs for the industry to explode in a very short period of time. With the possible exception of a rather high-profile departure (Intel bowed out of the CDN arena in February, after less than a year of participation), companies continue to flock to the CDN space.
Competition between these leading providers — including Akamai, Digital Island, Enron, Adero, Real Broadcast Network, Yahoo! Broadcast, Axient and iBEAM — is fierce. In a rather extreme example, Akamai filed suit against Digital Island last year, claiming that Digital Island violated Akamai's content delivery patents. Digital Island, in turn, filed its own suit against Akamai. At press time, the suits were still pending in court.
Akamai claims to operate the largest content delivery network, with over 8,000 servers located around the world. For the pipes, Akamai has partnered with bandwidth providers like AOL, British Telecom, AT&T, Cable & Wireless, Deutsche Telekom, Excite@Home, France Telecom, NTT, PSINet, UUNet and others. Akamai's FreeFlow Streaming service uses proprietary technology dubbed "SteadyStream," which transfers streams to edge servers. "The software is based on an algorithm developed by scientists at MIT," says Akamai spokesman Jeff Young. "The intelligence we add makes them capable of finding the optimal edge server."
Young says that Akamai's customer list speaks for itself. "The proof is in the pudding. MSNBC is using Akamai for its broadband streaming news site, which is a validation of our technology," he says. He also maintains that Tower Records saved over $2 million in infrastructure costs by outsourcing its delivery to Akamai.
Critics claim that Akamai concentrates mostly on static Web delivery, not streaming. But Akamai president Paul Sagan said in late 2000 that about 40 percent of the content it delivers is streaming.
The next biggest player, Digital Island, touts its Footprint Streaming Service for the delivery of live and on-demand video. The company's services division helps prepare and deliver content over the network. And the Footprint Interactive services allow users to add interactive elements, like audience polling, to streams.
Though new to the space, up-and-coming CDN, Speedera, has bravura. Gordon Smith, vice president of marketing, brushes off the competition by saying that Speedera does more streaming. "We have built all our own core technologies, so it's not from acquired companies and technologies," he says. "Others have been around for a while, and I think that's saddled them with yesterday's technology. We have the advantage of building our format and service from more sophisticated technology, and we fully control and give a fully integrated solution."
In January, Speedera unveiled support for live streaming delivery to add to its existing video on demand solution. "We built all the core technology ourselves, except where it made sense to buy off-the-shelf products," Smith says. The off-the-shelf software is in the form of Real and Windows Media servers. QuickTime support is added through RealServer.
Although Speedera says that streaming is a "rapidly rising" component of its content delivery solution, Smith says it doesn't publicly release information on what percentage of its customers use streaming.
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