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Content Delivery Summit 2013: New Challenges and Opportunities

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"4K is nice to talk about, but we need to figure out solutions to more generic problems," said Barry Tishgart, Comcast Cable's vice president of Network Services, during one of the panels at the 2013 Content Delivery Summit, held Monday in New York.

"For instance, how do we provide enough bandwidth for a family of four to watch four separate over-the-top (OTT) streams within the home at the same time?" he added.

Tishgart was joined by representatives from Conviva, Level 3, and Verizon's Redbox division, exploring ways to manage OTT video quality for both service providers and network operators. Their panel, along with keynotes from Netflix and Telstra Global, set a few key themes for the day-long event.

Cache This

One theme was the question around the overall benefits—and costs—of transparent caching.

"With the rapid rise of video playback in the home, it's safe to say that premium content owners need a multi-CDN approach," said Bill Wohnoutka, vice president of Level 3's Solutions Architecture Team. "We're exploring ways to do bit-mile peering as a way to share costs and benefits for premium content delivery across a variety of ISPs."

"We need to solve the question of how to get the right form factor in the living room as well as in the local edge facility," added Tishgart. "And we need to make sure transparent caching is done both securely and efficiently."

Wohnoutka's comments were echoed in a separate panel, this one titled "Deploying an Operator CDN to Enhance Customer Experience" in which Kreig DuBose, a principal engineer for Charter Communications, spoke about deploying an operator-based CDN based on Verivue technology.

"We wanted to take ownership of our own CDN for caching, live video delivery, and—to a lesser extent—storage," said DuBose.

Verivue, which was acquired by Akamai in late 2012, offered a compelling transparent caching solution for use within the Charter backbone.

"We wanted to make sure our solution was based on commodity hardware," said DuBose, "using open-source software (OpenStack, Puppet, LXC, Nginx) and standard protocols such as HTTP and WebDAV."

"We've placed caches at both the backbone and regional core interconnects, making sure we were near drain and peering locations," he added.

DuBose said one reason they've continued to work with Akamai after the Verivue acquisition is that they own their own data and don't have to license it back to run analytics and other performance and business goal measurements.

Charter Communications' caches are in locations as varied as St. Louis, Richmond, and several locales in the Northeast, Southwest, and West Coast.

"We have about 360Gbps of backbone, and about 24TB of content at the edge, in case we move beyond a primary focus on live streaming," said DuBose. "Our15-20 testers that have been testing for a month have consumed 2 terabytes of data that were typically 1.5Mbps streams, so we can immediately see that there will be cost savings when we take it to scale."

Service Providers Working with Pure-Play CDNs

DuBose was joined by Frank Childs, director of product marketing for Akamai's network division. Childs said Akamai was interested in working with Verivue's customer base, since these operators have the ability to eliminate bottlenecks that the general internet would face, allowing an optimized transparent caching solution.

Childs sees three operator CDN business use cases: multiscreen video, commercial CDN sales in the media and enterprise space, and using CDNs to provide network offload.

"28 per cent of home networks stream video to their TV," said Childs, "which is a significant percentage growth from 2012, when only 19 per cent of home networks streamed to their televisions."

"In addition, there is a 32 per cent increase to 32.6 million over-the-top video households, with 42.7 million OTT content descriptions," he said.

Childs then corroborated an interesting comparison we've been making at StreamingMedia.com for a number of years: Like the VHS and DVD industries, which bumped up box office attendance, it appears that OTT is doing the opposite of cannibalizing pay television.

"Almost 25 per cent of pay TV households also subscribe to OTT services," said Childs, "so it's not an either-or scenario—and this is why we think cord cutting is overhyped—because pay TV and OTT appear to go hand in hand. OTT is about flexibility of devices and locations to access the content."

To Federate or Separate?

Francois Le Faucheur, a distinguished engineer in Cisco's service provider video technology group, gave a brief presentation about a CDN federation approach that leverages a business and technical model similar to the bit-mile peering solution mentioned by Level 3's  Wohnoutka.

Le Faucheur discussed a federation model in which the content provider only needs a contractual/technical relationship with one prime CDNs, which in turn then leverages federation with several sub CDNs.

"Why do we do it?" asked Le Faucheur. "To benefit consumers, content providers, service providers and pure play CDNs."

Several benefits were offered by Le Faucheur, drawing on use cases created during phase 1 of a CDN federation pilot that Cisco is leading, and expanded on during phase 2, which ended in late 2012.

"The federal model allows consumers a better quality of experience while improving delivery options for the content provider," said Le Faucheur. "For service providers and telcos, the federation model offers the joint benefit of better control over transport costs and incremental revenue through a new interconnect model."

Benefits for pure-play CDNs, is a bit less clear, but Le Faucheur noted that a pure-play CDN could reduce capex and opex costs, while leveraging the availability to sell value-added services to service providers and content providers.

"Today, we're in the middle of phase 3 of the federation pilot, expanding advanced capabilities," said Le Faucheur. "Multiple federations will emerge, based on specific use cases. For instance, a global CDN may interconnect with mobile and ISP networks."

Le Faucheur even noted similarities in federation use cases.

"A similar federation could emerge that's based on a national federation—within a country—working with local, third-party wireless and wireline infrastructures to move content delivery closer to the end customer," he said.

An outstanding issue, though, is whether a pure-play CDN should enter into a federated CDN model with service providers.

"If so, can it be economically viable for both sides, and what would the use cases or circumstances be where it would be beneficial?" asked Le Faucheur.

CDN Beyond Video

With the Content Delivery Summit tied so closely to video delivery—and rightfully so, since video delivery accounts for almost 50 per cent of traffic—we wondered if there were other areas where edge caching are beneficial?

According to Dan Franklin, EdgeCast Networks' segment manager for commerce, the answer is yes.

"We've added a number of features this year," said Franklin, "including near-instant content purging: changes now are made within five seconds instead of the older, longer one-minute change time. In addition, analytics come back much faster, with close-to-real-time analytics."

The practical benefits of content caching, beyond video content, come in terms of decreased page loads and greater engagement.

"We have one customer who saw a 33 percent decrease in page load times, "said Franklin. "It used to be that their page took nine seconds to load, but EdgeCast optimization dropped the load time to an average of three seconds. In another example in the the travel and hospitality industry, not only was our customer able to take a two-step process from 15 seconds to 9 seconds, but over the first six months, this use of acceleration benefited the bottom line as the company saw a 38 per cent increase in e-commerce conversion rates for their fourth-largest market."

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