Choosing a CDN
When it comes to online video hosting and delivery, I’ve written a lot of articles over the years about how to choose the right content delivery network (CDN) or regional service provider. With the service now being around for more than 10 years, you would think it should be pretty easy to compare one provider to another to decide what service is best for your needs. It’s a nice idea in theory, but in reality, it’s still not that simple for most customers. The CDN market is constantly changing, multiple distribution protocols are available, and online video formats and platforms are constantly evolving, ensuring that it will remain a complex task.
But even with the confusion in the market, simply knowing what questions to ask a CDN and knowing what your specific needs are can make the process much easier. Before you talk to any service provider, you need to have a very clear outline of what it is you are looking for. You can’t simply call a CDN and say, "I need hosting. What does it cost?" expecting to get back any information you can actually use.
Know What You Need
Before you talk to any CDN or regional service provider, know what type of video delivery you need: streaming, progressive download, or both. Do you need on-demand delivery, live, or a combination? Are you supporting Flash, Windows Media, or multiple formats? How many hours of content do you think you have now or plan to add each month? Do the majority of your viewers come from the U.S., where there are many regional service providers, or do you need delivery from a CDN that focuses on global distribution? Are you a small- or medium-sized business that can benefit from a regional service provider that tends to have lower pricing and more localized delivery? Or are you a major media, entertainment, broadcast, or enterprise organization that requires a CDN that focuses on larger-volume customers with global content? How much delivery are you doing now, and how much do you expect to grow each quarter?
These are the kinds of questions you need to resolve before you call any delivery provider.
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
Once you know the answers to those questions, you basically have a very simple request for proposal (RFP) that you can now use to accurately judge the service offerings from each provider to compare them against one another. One of the biggest reasons so many people seem confused when choosing the right CDN is that they get too caught up in market perception. Too many people in the online video industry tend to spout rumor and opinion as fact.
In many cases, the information they base their opinions on is just plain wrong. For example, I hear a lot of people say Amazon’s S3 service is cheaper and better than any major CDN. That is incorrect. Making a general statement that one provider is better than another is flat-out wrong. Yes, Amazon’s S3 service is cheap and it may be a great solution for some, but it’s not for everyone. Amazon’s service does not support streaming; it only supports progressive downloads. So for anyone who needs to deliver video via a streaming media protocol, Amazon is not an option.
Don’t worry what others may think they know. Go by the information the CDN or service provider gives you, and ask for examples of video in action if you have any doubts about whether or not they really offer the service.
Four Questions to Ask Each CDN
Keeping all that in mind, there are a lot of questions to ask providers, including what formats they support, where they are located, what type of reporting they have, etc. The number of questions you need to ask depends on exactly what service you need and how familiar you already are with shopping for a delivery provider. Most customers already know to ask the basic questions, but there are some questions that involve more detailed responses and require more knowledge of the offering.
With that in mind, here are detailed explanations of four questions you should ask when speaking to any CDN or service provider.
How Is Network Performance Measured?
Just about every vendor you talk to will tell you its network is global, scalable, high-quality, and has great performance. But what exactly does "performance" mean and how is it measured? The answer depends on whom you ask. A lot of customers measure performance in many different ways. Some measure it based on things like customer service and service level agreement (SLA) terms. Others base their assessments on the physical speed of the network and delivery service. While this is common, the part that is not common is how to do it effectively.