Because of substantial growth prospects within the content delivery industry, CDN providers are continuously looking at opportunities to broaden market boundaries and offer new and unique value propositions to their customers. One of the interesting ways in which some providers have diversified recently, is by looking to get behind the firewall, for enterprise deployments. Essentially, CDN vendors are looking at the larger WAN market, and are introducing cloud networking solutions for global businesses.
Some analysts predict the demand for enterprise SaaS applications is set to exceed that for on-premises applications by a factor of five. Enterprises are increasingly adopting SaaS-based applications, even for mission-critical workloads, due to obvious cost and flexibility advantages. Alongside SaaS, businesses are also investing in IaaS and PaaS platforms such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and others.
Businesses are often unable to take full advantage of their potential productivity gains from cloud adoption because of substandard network performance. Poor accessibility of SaaS applications and IaaS/PaaS workloads through the public Internet kills user experience. Globally dispersed end-users, especially those from remote locations like China, India and the Middle East, are subject to inconsistent latencies, congestion and packet loss. This often results in frustratingly slow performance, which is the most common complaint I hear of from customers.
In the past, the enterprise WAN primarily served the purpose of connecting geographically dispersed branch offices to enable organizational collaboration. But most enterprises go over the public Internet to access mission-critical cloud workloads, and suffer from performance issues. With the onset of the cloud-era, legacy WAN providers have had to transform and adapt themselves to the changing technology landscape, while a slew of new vendors have brought a variety of new approaches to the table. This has caused the cloud networking market to become quite cluttered.
For instance, Telcos like AT&T, Verizon, British Telecom and others, have partnered with cloud service providers to offer private connectivity to limited cloud providers, using Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology. A few software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) vendors provide low-cost, appliance-based solutions that dynamically route traffic over multiple links based on traffic profiles and quality of links. Other WAN providers own private global networks and adopt a cloud delivery model to provide easy-to-use, high-performance connectivity solutions. CDN providers have now hopped onto the cloud bandwagon, and decided to make their presence felt. These providers are banking on leveraging proprietary routing technology over the Internet and technology partnerships, to offer optimized access to enterprise cloud applications. However, for most of them, there are a few limitations to the technology:
- The biggest problem is that these solutions, again, rely on a public Internet backbone. Hence, there is simply no way of avoiding the challenges of congestion, packet loss, jitter, and fluctuating latencies, which are inherent to the publicly shared medium.
- Traditional CDN players have based their network architecture on caching static content close to end users, and that’s what they’re good at. Their expertise does not lie in optimizing the performance of bi-directional, dynamic, cloud-hosted enterprise content.
- These solutions require organizations to invest in, integrate, and maintain a number of components, such as the network, optimization appliances, visibility software, etc. – something that demands the enterprise’s time and resources.
It’s going to be interesting to see how internet-based CDN vendors perform against incumbent cloud networking providers who are ahead in the race by several years and offer tightly-integrated, enterprise-grade cloud connectivity solutions. I like how Aryaka Networks, for example, has generated market traction with their cloud networking platform, one which combines private connectivity, optimization, cloud acceleration proxies, and visibility. And since they are focused only on the enterprise market, and aren’t trying to also provide CDN services for live streaming of M&E events, or targeting broadcasters, their solution can be very focused and solve a specific problem.
The enterprise WAN market has always welcomed network service providers who bring innovation and value to the table to address prevalent use cases, and the rapid growth of SaaS adoption by global businesses has painted a large bullseye for CDN vendors. However, it is likely that most CDN providers will find it difficult to set foot into an industry that consists of established cloud networking providers who have built their solutions from the ground up to provide enhanced cloud connectivity to enterprises. I would be interested to hear in the comments section below from companies who are using such solutions and what their experience, both good and bad, has been to date.