Latest List Of CDN Vendors Selling To Broadcasters, Carriers and MSOs

There have been a lot of changes in the CDN vendor landscape over the past few months, so here’s an updated list of all the vendors I am tracking. They are broken out by vendors that offer commercial CDN services to content owners, and vendors that offer CDN platforms for MSO and carriers. (You can easily find this list at anytime by going to www.cdnlist.com)

The term CDN means many things to different people and is an umbrella term that covers a lot of different types of content delivery services. Video streaming, software downloads, web and mobile content acceleration, licensed/managed CDN, transparent caching, and services to measure CDN performance, load balancing, multi-CDN switching and analytics and cloud intelligence. It’s a complex ecosystem with a lot of vendors both large and small. You also have some CDNs that cross over into other industries like security and WAN optimization, two segments that for the most part, are not included in my list.

Just because two vendors are on the same list together, it does not mean they should be compared to each other at a company level. You have to compare the services they offer apples-to-apples. Some are more regional than others, some are targeting certain sized customers and some only focus on certain types of content delivery.

Commercial CDNs (sell to content owners and publishers)

CDN Platforms For Carriers (sell to MSOs, ISP, and network operators things like traffic management, transparent caching, licensed CDN, DIY CDN etc.)

Analytics and QoS Platforms

Telco/Carrier Based CDN Deployments
We hear a lot about telcos and carriers in the CDN market, but the vast majority of them have built out CDNs for their own internal use and are not selling it as a commercial CDN service. There are a few exceptions like Level 3, Verizon, Comcast and Tata who offer commercial CDN services and compete against other commercial CDNs, but most telco and carrier based commercial CDN services are based off of reselling a traditional CDN, for example AT&T reselling Akamai. This telco/carrier list is far from being complete and needs to be updated.

CDN Related Vendor Acquisitions/Closures
In addition to the current crop of vendors in the market, I think it’s important to remember how the CDN industry got to where it is today. Many CDNs raised tons of money but didn’t have a business model, some only focused on selling at the lowest price and many had technology that simply didn’t work. Lots of CDNs went under, some within a short time of launching. The CDN market has been through a lot of hard times over the past 20 years and here’s a running list of those who got acquired or went under.

Each time I make a list of vendors, for any solution or service in the market, I always get emails from companies asking why they are not on the list. If you think you should be added to the list, please add it to the comments section but note that I am not listing regional hosting providers or companies who get most of their sales from $100 a month customers. Also, just because you are not on this list doesn’t mean you don’t have a valid solution in the market, but the companies listed are the ones I get asked about most often, get mentioned in the media, are included in major RFPs and promote and market their services to medium and large customers.

More Content Owners Asking For Low Latency Streaming Options

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-2-35-58-pmOver the past few months I’ve been hearing from more content owners that are looking for and asking about low latency video based streaming solutions. The traditional live event is a one-way stream from broadcasters to viewers where the average latency can be anywhere from 15-45 seconds if not longer and interactive viewer participation is impossible in this format. There is a growing interest in use cases such as online talk shows, auctions, virtual gaming, fan engagement and online classrooms where real-time interactive guest participation is integral.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to solution providers and looking at specific low latency offerings in the market and am impressed with the Agora.io platform. Agora.io is a two-year old startup which has raised $26M in funding to date. They are headquartered in CA, with offices in Shanghai, UK and India. The company’s CEO Bin “Tony” Zhao was the first voice/video engineer for WebEx, and combined, the employees they have decades of real-time communications experience.

It’s an interesting company that doesn’t have major brand exposure here in the US, but has amassed an impressive list of customers internationally. While you may have never heard of Agora.io, the service is powering nearly 500 million devices globally, streaming an average of 3 billion interactive voice and video minutes a month.

I started comparing CDNs in the market to a solution like Agora.io’s and found really big differences in how they are designed. Most CDN solutions are TCP/IP based, which tend to degrade badly at 15% packet loss. But since Agora.io uses UDP, even with 40% packet loss the solution is resilient. Its end-to-end latency is 200-600ms, which is unheard of when it comes to CDNs. For any kind of interactive or two-way remote broadcast, CDNs can’t offer a bi-directional low latency solution at this level. It’s the difference between running a successful service, or not being able to apply it to specific applications, which limits its value in the market.

From an implementation standpoint, the service is very simple to integrate. With only a few lines of code customers can embed Agora.io as a white label service into their web or mobile application, with support for thousands of endpoint types. The Agora.io service supports HD voice and video (720p/1080p), up to 50,000 real-time participants in a single interactive session, with the option to extend to an unlimited audience using traditional non-interactive streaming via a CDN. Their technology is mobile-optimized with advanced packet-loss concealment/recovery capabilities and it also supports real-time recording, server-side recording and can transcode and distribute audio/video streams with their recording API.

As we have seen with some of the most recent large-scale live events on the web, traditional one-way live streaming is being disrupted by the demand for interactive engagement. Just look at the rapid emergence of mobile-centric social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter that highlight interactivity with viewers. With that demand and need for more engagement from viewers, low latency streaming options are going to become the future of the live streaming market. I expect we’ll see a lot more providers focusing on low-latency functionality this year as the demand continues to grow.

Next Streaming Media Meetup – Tuesday Feb. 28th, NYC

554821_327218634021249_880501208_nThe next streaming media meetup in NYC will take place on Tuesday, February 28th, starting at 6pm at Tavern 29, located at on 29th street and Park. We will be on the second floor and they do ask for ID at the door. There is no RSVP list, just show up, bring a friend and spread the word! We will have open bar thanks to sponsors Level 3, Haivision and Cedexis.

If your company would like to sponsor the meetup and cover $500 of the bar tab, please let me know.

These meetups are a great way to network with others tied to the online video ecosystem. We get a great mix of attendees from companies including AOL, NFL, Showtime, Omnicom, NBC, NBA, Time, HBO, Viacom, CBS, Twitter, WPP, Google, Nielsen, Facebook, FOX, R/GA, Twitch, Riot Games, American Express, Comcast, wall street money managers, government agencies, VR production companies and vendors from all facets of the video ecosystem.

I’ll keep organizing these every month so if you want to be notified via email when the next one is taking place, send me an email and I’ll add you to the list.

Best Practices For Using A Multi-CDN Strategy: How To Balance, Prioritize and Optimize Traffic

The debate surrounding the use of a multi-CDN strategy has been gaining momentum over the past few months with more case studies showing how it can be done. For a while now, multiple vendors have provided CDN load-balancing as a service, and in that time customers have learned a lot about the process of configuring CDNs to improve quality and match business goals. When used correctly, a multi-CDN strategy provides great advantages to content owners including the ability to better control quality, prevent overage charges, ensure bandwidth commitments are met, and permitting a selection process for delivery using additional requirements. A multi-CDN strategy requires two decisions: the first is the criteria used to select the CDN, and the second is deciding the process by which the switch between CDNs is carried out.

There are many selection strategies that can be used when discussing CDN balancing, and solutions provider NPAW recently shared with me how they explain the process to customers. There are three types of strategies, those being balanced, prioritized, and optimized. Using a balanced strategy, one merely distributes traffic with different thresholds (like traffic served or concurrent streams) to spill over into secondary CDNs upon reaching a specified limit. A prioritized schema provides a criteria hierarchy, which may include the platform, ISP, device, or protocol utilized until a certain level. For example, you can control concurrencies in your own delivery network better by diverting overflow to a regional or global CDN network depending on the amount of incoming traffic, or number of concurrent users. Ultimately, on the most granular level, an optimized strategy leverages performance metrics in the decision making process. This means that the CDN chosen is the “best” performing CDN, which has received the highest score across a number of factors, including the recent measurement of QoE metrics within a specific region, for a specific piece of content, considering the ISP and device of the end-user intending to access the video.

By choosing the best performing CDN for each user/view, OTT platforms and content distributors can significantly reduce buffering rates, play failures, and join times of their services which results in driving more consumption, reduced churn, longer play times, and maximizing a user’s quality of experience. The second part of the process is deciding how to actually perform the switch once the CDN has been selected. There are three main ways to execute a switch: based on DNS routing, through the sole use of client-side plug-ins, and based on client or server-side communication between APIs.

DNS: A CDN switching technique that works at the DNS level can be integrated without modifying the app, as it is independent of the application layer. This is a big advantage as far as integration is concerned, although it makes CDN traffic analysis more difficult afterwards. The main benefit (which can also turn into the worst drawback) is that the application is unaware of anything about the CDN being used and therefore cannot influence the DNS routing.

A DNS routing switch indicates the URL of the service and this URL is divided into two different parts: the base, which changes every time there is a CDN switch, and the content, which specifies the video content to be delivered. DNS routing for VOD streaming poses a low risk with such modifications of the URL, but live streaming switching might not be possible given the specific URLs used by some CDNs where not only the base route changes, but also parameters in the entire URL.

PLUGINS: CDN-switching based on plugins is basically a third-party software platform inside the player that makes the decision to switch between CDNs. When switching between CDNs (or even renditions) this permits parts of QoE metrics and performance issues affecting to the user’s device (for example CPU performance or memory usage) to be taken into account. NPAW says this grade of autonomy, although it may seem tempting, is very dangerous because these systems are making very important decisions without any knowledge of the whole business context.

Plugin based switching may make automatic adjustments to account for preset QoE parameters, but since the program is unaware of the context of that adjustment, the chosen CDN might not match the business and strategic goals the distributor desired. However, the main risk associated with having an autonomous system in your player that makes decisions purely based on performance, is the liability of impacting another “middleman” that can fail along the critical path with your video delivery plan.

API: While a bit more complicated to implement than a DNS solution, one of the most important differences between an API based model and other strategies is that it is completely scalable. For example, CDN-Switching based on plugins is a model where the switching method occurs in the players. This means that for each new player adopted by the customer a new implementation with that new player is required, with the cost of time and development that this represents included as well. By contrast, a solution based on APIs is totally scalable as it functions based on the server, so the integration of new players is fast, effective, and without additional costs.

Also, if a switching method based on an API is used, the communication can be extended from ‘client-server’ to ‘server-server’. In fact, this is the communication method that the majority of industry leaders use. The client or server-side sends a request to for instance NPAW’s API inquiring as to which CDN is the best for a specific IP and device. NPAW’s API computes the algorithm considering the configurations previously made by the customer and it returns the CDNs ordered based on the switching method configured in real-time. Then, the client’s API will finally choose the CDN and redirect the data flow. Here’s a diagram from NPAW that shows how their Youbora solution works:

communication_client-server_vs-_communication_server-server

Last but not the least, NPAW’s solution exists independent of the “critical path” as their platform operates based on the server, not based on client. The players-plugins scheme only collects useful information, it does not execute actions, which means that they will never drive a total blackout of the service, with the economic costs that this means for the customers.

Content owners I have spoken to have tried and tested many alternatives with a CDN-switching method based on APIs. Yet, the industry appears to be defaulting to the belief that an API based switching technique offers a lot more benefits when compared to the other solutions previously explored including low customization, low client side cost, and higher flexibility. Multi-CDN deployments aren’t new in the industry, but they are getting a lot of traction as of late with solutions like NPAW’s and others in the market that let you do it easily, cost-effectively and most importantly, based off of real video QoE data.

AT&T’s Streaming Service DirecTV Now Peaking At 35,000 Simultaneous Users

In speaking with third-party suppliers responsible for delivering the video for AT&T’s DirecTV Now live streaming service, I can confirm that to date, AT&T has peaked at around 35,000 simultaneous viewers. That doesn’t say how many subscribers AT&T has in total, but if we use the industry average that at any given time about 25% of users are streaming from the service, AT&T would have about 140,000 total subscribers. [Updated 1/20/17: AT&T says they have 200,000 subscribers] But that number would also include those that are testing the service for free for the first 30 days. While I don’t know what percentage of total users are paid versus non-paid, I would estimate AT&T has less than 100,000 paying subs for their new service since it launched.

I would also expect that due to all the technical problems AT&T has had with the service and the volume of negative press the company continues to get, that the rate of sign ups is slowing since it launched in the market more than 30 days ago. When a service like AT&T’s struggles with reliability, video quality and functionality, and has non-existent support for consumers, it’s not going to fare well. Add in the fact that it is not available on Roku, Xbox and PlayStation devices and you can’t expect the offering to do very well. Even though some want to suggest otherwise, AT&T’s DirecTV Now service won’t have any material impact on cable TV subscriber numbers and isn’t a catalyst for cord cutting.