CDNs: Think Globally, Stash Content Locally


BTR_Feature_Art_CDN_2-23-14 Now more than ever, MSOs are companies with their feet in both the past and the future. The past focuses on local or regional services. The future - as illustrated by the pending acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast - will feature organizations that increasingly operate independently of geographic borders. Subscribers are changing as well. They expect to get their content no matter where they are. 

A key arena in which the give and take between local and national operators is most keenly felt is in content delivery networks (CDNs). The concept of CDNs - delivering and storing content near where experience says it will be used - is not new. Currently, cable operators are getting more serious about CDNs and educating themselves on how to use the different types that exist.

The rationale behind the use of CDNs is shifting. "CDN investments started out as a move to get video onto tablets and mobile devices and have a second and third screen presence," said Jim Brickmeier, Concurrent's (NASDAQ:CCUR) senior vice president for strategic marketing. "Now we are seeing CDN use on more of the core services, from traditional networks to IP. One of the things we are seeing is a lot of interest in CDN-assisted VOD."

Indeed, the growth is both defensive and offensive. Chris Rittler, the senior vice president of sales and marketing for Deluxe Digital Distribution, suggested that an element of the interest in CDNs is from operators proactively planning to compete with OTT providers.

It's not only about today. Indeed, the key is tomorrow. "TV Everywhere, you could argue, is still a small service," Rittler said. "But if you look at it through another lens, [services such as] Netflix and Amazon Prime are on-demand OTT services with 50,000 to 100,000 titles. Traditional VOD systems offer only about 10,000 titles. TVE is a about multiscreen and competing with Netflix and Amazon Prime [and others]."

Operators are heavily involved in trials of CDNs, said Daniel Sahar, the co-founder of Qwilt. One of the things that the industry is studying is the characteristics of the two types of CDNs. Operator CDNs serve only the MSO that deploys them. They are aimed at carrying its programming (or the programming for which it has content rights). The goal is 100% control and reliability. The other flavor of CDN is known as transparent cache. These are devices that handle content from tenants on the operator's network.

Both approaches are necessary. CDNs that are dedicated to the operators’ controlled content are getting a lot of attention, said Sahar, whose company demonstrated what it calls the first implementation of live streaming on a transparent cache. The point is that in the past cable operators relied upon the likes of Akamai and Limelight for their CDN needs. Forward-thinking companies are beginning to take control and build their own. It is, however, a long process. Sahar said very few subscribers currently are being served by operator CDNs.

Figuring out precisely which caching solutions are best for them and where in the network to put them will be high on the list of issues with which planning executives will be dealing going forward. "In North America, we are anticipating a large number of deployments of transparent caches," Sahar said. "This is what we are hearing from most MSOs."

Operators - along with other members of the content delivery ecosystem - are working to enable their CDNs to work together through the Internet Engineering Task Force's Content Delivery Network Interconnection (CDNI) task force. Rob Hickey, the vice president of engineering for Azuki Systems - which is being acquired by Ericsson - said the goal is to create interconnected networks that can make reliance on commercial providers unnecessary. Cable operators and others, Hickey said, "don't want to depend on companies such as Akamai and Limelight and having SLAs with them vs. having control themselves."

The cable industry has moved, during the past few decades, from playing second fiddle to the telephone companies to being the ultimate insider. That transition is deeply connected to parallel transformations in the composition of the content and the places where it needs to be delivered.

CDNs are a necessary step is finding ways to distribute content in a manner capable of supporting those changes. A combination of operator CDNs and transparent caches constitutes the industry's effort to think locally - and grab content globally. "CDNs are becoming required to address the size of content libraries and the cost of distribution," Rittler said. "They are absolutely growing."

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at

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