IP Application Delivery: The Unsung Hero of the CDN Industry

Content delivery networks play a key role in improving user experiences on the web and are responsible for the growth we have seen in the consumption of online content. All content providers rely on CDNs because they provide an effective medium to avoid the global limitations of the public internet. They add value through edge caching by delivering popular content locally from a cache server deployed within a region and completely skipping the latency ridden middle mile as well as through intelligent routing and optimization to avoid congestion at the Internet peering points.

Today’s CDN market is heavily fragmented. [See: cdnlist.com] A majority of the vendors broadly call themselves CDNs, which is a generic term these days, but in reality are focused on a smaller piece of the pie. Vendors such as Level 3, for example, are deeper into the video and large file delivery ecosystem. Others, such as Instart Logic are focused on front end optimization for publishing, retail and ecommerce customers. Some vendors, like Aryaka, run upstream towards the premium enterprise segment.

With the broad coverage of premium content offerings, video and other consumer content delivery has enjoyed extensive coverage by the media, vendors and analysts. Out of the 30+ CDNs today, 20 or more provide value for static content and video. Only a handful truly focus on dynamic content delivery. There is a niche offering in the CDN market that is seldom talked about, one which is very different in terms of technology. IP application delivery or IP application acceleration is likely the unsung hero of the CDN world. It provides value for enterprises with 100% dynamic content with no edge caching capabilities included and isn’t something that’s sold strictly on price, giving CDNs much higher margins.

So how did the need for delivery of dynamic IP applications come about? Legacy ERP, CRM and HR applications were hosted centrally in a client-server model for distributed access within the company’s internal wide area network. MPLS networks combined with WAN optimization appliances did a fairly good job of accelerating employee access to these applications.

However, the enterprise ecosystem has become exceedingly global and mobile over time, while the need for collaboration is stronger than ever. Partners, suppliers and customers have become a part of an integrated supply chain that needs access to these centrally hosted applications from anywhere in the world. So, client server access and WAN needs have changed. Also, MPLS with on premise optimization cannot be deployed for every partner and customer alike. IT teams are faced with the unique challenge of making these applications, that have traditionally been behind the firewall, available to public users.

Pushing these enterprise applications outside the firewall and the use of the public Internet as a mode of access poses the same challenges that content and media customers faced before their adoption of CDNs including latency, congestion, packet loss and jitter. Poor application performance especially in the enterprise space, results in low adoption rates and lost productivity.

Enterprise mobility is different from the issue of delivering cacheable content to a mobile device. The need is to accelerate not just HTTP but practically any IP application, irrespective of the application layer protocol. Fortunately, a few CDNs have recognized this need. IP application acceleration solutions cater to the challenge of providing high performance, cost effective access to centralized applications like the use of distributed SSL VPN by users directed to centralized concentrators, Citrix, FTP and Remote Desktop across globally distributed partners, remote employees, mobile workers and smaller international offices.

Some IP Application acceleration solutions cater to application performance needs through intelligent routing of dynamic traffic over the Internet middle mile. TCP Optimization combined with persistent connections reduces handshaking to a minimum and leads to improved response time. However the public Internet is still a major bottleneck when it comes to delivering dynamic applications with greater real-time needs. The middle mile over the Internet with optimization may be considered intelligent but the Internet is still a shared medium. And even though its availability within a region may be plentiful, across peering points and during rush hour there is still tremendous congestion, packet loss and poor performance.

If you are looking for an ideal solution for your IP application acceleration needs, I would recommend you consider the following issues before you make a decision:

  • Are your users regional or truly global with a footprint into the Americas, Asia Pacific and Europe? If global, the best solution might just be one that is built over a dedicated private network to completely bypass the unreliable public internet for IP application delivery. This would enable end users to experience stable latency and consistency in application performance.
  • For dynamic applications, ensure that the solution includes intelligent features such as TCP optimization and persistent connection capabilities so as to provide acceleration benefits.
  • Ensure the solution is application agnostic and not limited to only one or two applications like SSL VPN as some vendors provide other possible use cases like Citrix, FTP server and RDP.
  • A real world trial for a subset of your critical locations on the vendor’s production network is a great way to determine application performance.
  • Pricing models for IP application delivery can range from simple pricing based on locations, bandwidth and applications to a fairly complex exercise for certain vendors.

The IP application delivery market still presents an unexplored opportunity in the CDN space. More companies are entering this segment of the market, but many still haven’t made the transition to value add services. The competition is scarce with Akamai, CDNetworks and Aryaka trying to capture market share. Akamai is the largest in the space and CDNetworks primarily sells outside of the U.S. Aryaka seems to have an interesting solution for this market, which they claim is truly application agnostic and built on top of a private network. Other CDNs are somewhat in the space, and have limited offerings, but haven’t really gotten them to scale or been able to win a lot of business to date. The CDN market is moving towards more value add services and CDN vendors are still trying to enter those markets and diversify their revenue away from just commodity CDN services. Akamai’s been successful at this for years, CDNetworks has shown success outside the U.S. and Aryaka’s been very aggressive in the market lately, which is getting them into more deals. This is a segment of the CDN market to keep an eye on as Web App Acceleration and IP Application Delivery services are the future of the CDN industry.

Thursday Webinar – Video Monetization and Audience Building

Thursday at 2pm ET, I’ll be moderating another StreamingMedia.com webinar, this time on the topic of, “Video Monetization and Audience Building.” With an explosion in the amount of content being consumed Over-The-Top, video content providers are scrambling to accelerate the capture of additional, ongoing viewership and monetize this new distribution channel. A one-size-fits-all strategy for this type of disruptive scenario can yield disastrous results. Identifying and tailoring specific subscription and other automatically recurring revenue-based monetization models appropriate for a content owner or provider’s audience based upon viewing habits is a key to rapid growth.

Join speakers from Vindicia and Clearleap and bring your questions for a discussion on:

  • Video Consumption Trends
  • Revenue & Monetization Models
  • “Frictionless” Customer Experience
  • Maximizing ACLV/ARPU
  • Innovative Pricing Strategies
  • Revenue Uplift & Churn Mgmt

Register now to attend this webinar, “Video Monetization and Audience Building”.

Video Presentations From Streaming Media West Show Now Online

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 11.07.18 AMAll of the sessions and presentations from the Streaming Media West show are now online and available for viewing at streamingmedia.com/videos. I haven’t had the chance to review each video yet so please let me know if you encounter any problems with any of the clips. Presentations from the show can be downloaded from here.

Also, the call for speakers has now opened for the 2015 Streaming Media East show, taking place May 11-13 in NYC. The deadline is January 19th and you can get all the details on the call for speakers page.

Rev Takes a New Approach To Speed Up the Mobile Last Mile

Rev_logoThe CDN market has both steadily grown and evolved over the past twenty years, but the core CDN function continues to be to deploy a network of distributed caches in order to “move the content closer to the user.” As content has also evolved to become much richer and personalized, advanced techniques such as front-end optimization (FEO) and dynamic site acceleration (DSA) have been added to deal with these demands. In recent years, attempts have been made to adapt these techniques to address the rapid shift to mobile access, with many vendors looking to solve the mobile challenge in the market. Despite these attempts, mobile web access performance remains significantly slower than wired access.

CDNs continue to focus on getting content to the edge as quickly as possible, while also relying on low latency, low packet loss inside the last mile, which is typically limited to wired connections. In the U.S. for example, web publishers will pay a traditional CDN to mitigate 70 milliseconds of coast-to-coast latency, but the mobile last mile is anything but low latency. It is both high and highly variable and can range from 30 ms to 300 ms, even in a 4G/LTE network. Rev Software, a two-year old start up has just emerged with a new service it calls, m.cdn  to deal with this challenge.

The founding team at Rev has been building high performance network systems, both wired and wireless for many years at companies such as FastSoft, Juniper Networks, Cisco Systems, Intel and others. The company has raised $4M in private funding with the goal of building a new system that was able to deal with the many variables that exist for mobile users at both the network and device level. Their result is a policy-based system that is able to both detect and respond to rapidly changing conditions in real-time.

Rev says their system is able to uniquely optimize every end-user request at both the content and network levels. When a session request arrives, a learning machine examines historic real user measurement (RUM) data collected from previous sessions and also a real-time feedback loop that runs continuously. Key session parameters are then extracted, which inform the policy controller how to dynamically set the content and network optimization resources, which are then implemented by an on-the-fly configurator. Once the content is optimized, the network optimizer, which provides the bulk of the performance benefits, adaptively accelerates content delivery over the last mile. Accelerated last mile delivery can be done asymmetrically (no changes needed to receiving end) to both browsers and mobile apps as well as symmetrically to apps via a mobile SDK.

Traditional CDNs primarily deliver content from the web publisher/content owner, however, a growing amount of web content comes from third-party sites such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and various ad servers. For some sites, more than half of the content comes from third-party sites. In order to ensure that this third-party content receives the benefit of last mile acceleration, the Rev system sets up a device proxy at the edge that is able to redirect this content and accelerate the delivery of it as well.

The company says that due to the highly complex nature of its technology, a decision was made to deliver that technology in a “CDN form factor” in order to abstract that complexity from its customers. To accomplish this, a veteran of the CDN industry was recruited and key CDN features were added including caching, instant purge, DSA, WAF/DDoS, SSL, etc. and deployed over a 22 PoP global network. Rev has also built a very robust user interface portal, which includes: real-time RUM reporting, self-configuration, support for Google analytics, and integrated synthetic testing.

Another way Rev says they are unique is in the way it makes its service available to customers. Unlike its CDN competitors, who attempt to displace an incumbent, Rev can be configured as an overlay network in order to provide dynamic last mile acceleration for just the mobile users. Of course, for those companies that prefer, Rev can provide the standard CDN functions as well and the onboarding process for Rev’s m.cdn service is consistent with that of existing CDNs.

Over the past few years, a number of CDN vendors have started offering services aimed at improving mobile performance. Rev says that what truly makes them different is the fact that they are a “networking technology” company that is addressing the mobile last mile latency at the network level. They claim to be providing up to 2X increase in end-to-end mobile performance for both mobile browsers and apps, when compared to the customer’s existing solution. It will be interesting to see if actual customers agree and how the incumbents respond. Rev came out of beta in October and are now in general availability and currently have around 20 customers.

Chart Shows Limitations Of TV Everywhere Services From Cable/Satellite Providers

Sling Media has a new chart out highlightning just how limited TV Everywhere services are from DIRECTV, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Optimum. While it’s part of a new marketing campaign (www.dontgetcwap.com) geared to push people to purchase a Slingbox, they make a good point. Five years after some of the cable companies announced they would offer TV Everywhere services, these services as a whole are still very limited in support for channels, functionality and devices. Getting a Slingbox is still the only true way to get your full channel lineup on all your devices. It’s the one device I would not want to live without. Amazon has the Slingbox 350 for $90 and the Slingbox M1 for $135.

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