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Buyer's Guide to CDN Services 2016

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In recent years, though, live streaming delivery has begun to look much more like massive small-file delivery than it had in the past. The major reason for this is the use of HTTP-based media delivery, in which the traditional video stream is chopped up into hundreds of thousands of 2- to 10-second segments, with each segment delivered to an end user. Think of it in terms of high-availability transactional database deliveries, but with the database delivering hundreds of thousands of small files to each customer—in a specific order and in a very timely manner—over the course of several hours of a live event.

There are still reasons to deliver a traditional media stream, using RTMP or RTSP, to live event users. Delay (latency) and security are two primary considerations for the use of these traditional streaming media protocols. But as those use cases trend their way toward the fringe, usurped by HTTP-based delivery, the need to spend significant capex to build an at-scale traditional streaming infrastructure is less compelling. This makes a CDN that’s already invested in streaming servers a bargain if the number of live RTSP or RTMP events are few and far between.

STORAGE STRATEGY

For content that needs to be stored after a live event, or even for content that’s only going to be delivered for on-demand playback, CDNs offer storage options. The benefit to storing content at the CDN is fairly straightforward: The closer the content is to the delivery network, the faster the egress for delivery to the end consumer.

With the advent of cloud-based storage, though, offering large online storage repositories at rock-bottom prices, it is possible that you’ll find traditional CDN storage a bit pricey.

This is due to the fact that some CDNs have chosen a revenue strategy that charges more for storage and less for transport. Some even go so far as to eliminate completely the cost of moving content on their own backbone, but choose to charge a significant price for every location where the content is stored or cached.

Can you afford to store your content on a cloud-based storage provider and have your CDN vendor serve that content up? Possibly. There’s a movement to allow Box or Dropbox integration with various online video platforms (OVPs) for the purpose of storing on-demand content, but it’s uncertain as to the extent to which that can scale, as moving content from the cloud storage provider to the CDN itself could introduce additional delays, unless a small portion of each on-demand video is cached on the CDN for initial fast playback startup.

TRANSPORT PRICING STRATEGY

Conversely, some CDNs choose to lower or even eliminate the storage costs, charging only for transport delivery costs. Some CDNs also charge transport costs for internal movement of stored content between their internal data center locations, but offset that by charging a minimal amount for storage.

Transport costs vary widely between CDN providers, and StreamingMedia.com hosts a Content Delivery Summit in New York each May that covers the average costs in the marketplace. Visit the website to get more details as well as historic data on transport pricing.

Conclusion

That wraps up our basic guide to buying CDN services. While those services are offered in a variety of ways (e.g., a pure-play CDN or a piecemeal set of storage, media serving, and delivery options) the need to engage a service provider for large-scale webcasts and streaming events won’t be going away any time soon.

Even with the advent of cloud-based solutions that address the various parts of media delivery, potential buyers of CDN services may find it advantageous to work with a single provider. And when it comes to very large-scale media delivery, especially a live event, it’s worth considering the use of multiple CDN providers as a mature delivery strategy.

This article appears in the 2016 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook.

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