If you have ever watched a movie on Netflix, listened to a song on Spotify, or downloaded a game onto your Nintendo Switch you have used a Content Delivery Network or CDN. Online services use CDNs to overcome limitations within the Internet infrastructure to improve the end user experience and provide nearly instantaneous access to content. However, the benefits of using a CDN is not limited to just faster load times. CDNs also provide greater reliability, scalability, and better security and DoS protection for your online service. These performance improvements have real bottom line impacts for businesses as they translate to higher SEO rankings and increased conversion rates and sales. With all the performance and business benefits of using a CDN, it’s important to understand the CDN solutions available in 2020 and how you can best take advantage of it.
How has COVID-19 impacted streaming services?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on video streaming services. As more people are working and sheltering at home, they are turning to video streaming as a means of entertainment during these troubling times. During the pandemic, Disney+ has seen added 22 million subscribers, and Netflix new subscriber projections have more than doubled.
However, it’s not just subscriptions, users are watching more content as well. For example, during a recent webinar with Brian Fuhrer, SVP product strategy at Nielsen, he shared that on April 4th, “Americans watched 27 billion minutes of streaming content on TV — 50,000 years of content in just one day”. This is more than twice the average watch time a year ago.
And it’s not just video streaming, gaming and esports have seen an increase in engagement as well. Verizon recently reported a 75% increase in gaming traffic during peak hours amid the coronavirus outbreak. Part of this increase stems from a shift to esports as professional sports leagues such as the NBA, MLB, and others are postponing their seasons during the outbreak. Some leagues have embraced this trend and are using esports to engage their audience. For instance, the motor racing organization Formula 1 is hosting a Virtual Grand Prix in place of scheduled events.
In order to serve this growing audience across a variety of streaming services, CDNs are being deployed to make sure they can meet the demand.
What is CDN and why do we need it?
CDNs take advantage of a distributed network architecture. This means that Instead of a single server providing content to you, a distributed network of servers located in different regions are temporarily storing, also known as caching, the content. When a user needs to download content, the CDN will redirect that request to the nearest cached copy of the file for download.
One analogy is pizza delivery. If I want a fresh pizza, I will order it from my local pizzeria so that it arrives hot and ready to eat. However, if there were only one single pizzeria for the entire country located thousands of miles away, my pizza is likely to arrive cold, stale, and days late. This is similar to content on a CDN. If your content is served locally, it will arrive quickly and ready for consuming. However, if your content is served by only a single server farm outside of your region, the content is more likely to be delayed, damaged, or dropped.
Why is latency important? In my previous analogy, I talk about latency, which is the time it takes between when data is sent across a network vs when it arrives at its destination. However, latency is extremely important because it has real world impacts. For instance, Amazon found that for every 100ms delay in website load time impact conversion rates by 7% ; Google found that a 2s delay in mobile page load time would decrease traffic by as much as 32%. Offering content at low latency not only provides a good user experience but keeps users engaged and translates to real world revenue.
The act of distributing and caching content to servers at multiple locations, or Points of Presence (PoPs), offers many advantages. First of all, performance is greatly improved. By downloading content from a server located near your location, latency is reduced since the data does not need to travel as far between server and user. In addition, overall throughput is often increased as well since there is less of a chance of the data being impacted by network congestion as the data is transferred across the internet.
The second benefit of CDNs is reliability. The service creates redundant copies of content across the internet. So if any one server or network fails, content can still be served using any number of redundant cached copies hosted in other locations. This means that the content will always be available.
Finally, CDNs offer security in the form of DoS/DDoS protection for services. A Denial of Service (DoS) attack happens when a malicious party attempts to flood a server with requests in order to make the server unavailable to actual users. However, due to the distributed nature of CDNs, attacking any one server will not take down the service. In many cases, CDNs have 10s if not 100s of thousands of servers which are widely distributed making it nearly impossible to take down a CDN service with a DoS attack.
Traditional vs Peer to Peer CDN
One factor that differentiates CDN services is the server distribution which is measured in the number of PoPs. Traditional CDN services such as those offered by Akamai and Fastly have mostly concentrated their servers in regional data centers. Fastly, for instance, only offers PoPS in 59 countries worldwide. While these data centers provide a reliable and scalable infrastructure for CDNs, the limited number of PoPs can translate to decreased performance in regions without a supporting data center nearby.
In Contrast, Peer to Peer or P2P CDNs are highly distributed with thousands of PoPs. These CDNs have more servers running at localized edge locations and some run on consumer equipment such as laptops or within web browsers to serve content hyperlocally. Companies such as Streamroot and Peer5 offer P2P CDNs. While P2P CDNs have performance advantages in terms of latency since content is often being served much closer to the user, the use of edge equipment including consumer devices can have disadvantages in terms of reliability.
As you can see there are advantages and disadvantages in offering CDN as either a traditional data center based infrastructure or P2P. However, one company that has taken a unique approach to this model is NKN. NKN’s nCDN, New Kind of Content Delivery Network, combines the best of both traditional and P2P CDN by offering a hybrid model. nCDN runs servers both in traditional data centers including AWS, Google Cloud, and Digital Ocean as well as edge equipment from machine’s as small as a raspberry pi or home Wi-Fi router. By doing so, NKN can balance the reliable data center instances with the additional Points of Presence and performance offered by P2P networks. Today, NKN has access to up to 25,000 servers across 40+ countries and regions and delivers content for iQIYI, one of the largest Video Service Providers with over 100 million subscribers.
The CDN Market has seen significant growth over the past few years and research organizations like Markets and Markets are predicting the market will reach $22.1 Billion by 2024. Much of this growth is coming from video, in fact, 82% of traffic will come from video streaming or downloads by 2022 according to the Cisco Annual Internet Report. This is being driven by more on-demand, live, cloud TV, and Over-the-Top (OTT) video services from companies like Netflix, HBO, SlingTV, Disney+, and others. However, the growth is not just due to more users and services, but the addition of more high quality content as consumer expectations shift from HD/2K to UHD/4K video streaming as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, Small businesses are taking advantage of CDNs for web presence and sales. One of the factors in SEO rankings is speed. Therefore, serving your web site or blog with a CDN can help improve your search engine ranking. In addition, studies from Akamai and others have shown that faster page load times directly correlate to more customer conversions. As a result, using a CDN will greatly increase your chances for more sales and customer engagements. Finally, CDNs provide an overall customer experience, especially when your web site includes video or other rich media content.
Interested to see if CDN can help your website or blog? Many CDNs offer free trials to help you get started. NKN offers a free tier of its nCDN service and an easy to use self-service portal to sign up today. There is no credit card needed to sign up, and the service offers global coverage so no matter where your customers are located, NKN has you covered.
Content Delivery Networks have become the backbone of the modern internet revolution. We could not imagine how video and music streaming, gaming, and even the web could provide the instantaneous access to the world’s information without CDN. CDN services enable these applications to be more responsive, reliable, and secure.
However, not all CDN services are built equal. While traditional CDNs leverage established datacenters to provide a reliable infrastructure, P2P CDNs serve content closer in location to the user for improved performance. A hybrid model that leverages both data center and P2P CDN types, such as NKN’s nCDN service, provides the best combination featuring both reliability and performance.
The CDN market has seen tremendous growth over the past few years and that trend is expected to continue. We can expect to see new services and new innovations as CDN networks evolve to meet the growing demand to deliver videos in all its forms from movies on Netflix to the latest TikTok snippets. Its content at the push of a button, available anywhere, anytime, and all delivered with CDN.
NKN is building the world’s largest shared network which features flagship services like nCDN for content delivery. nCDN is a fast, secure, and reliable CDN service used by video service providers like iQIYI to boost their video delivery performance. Find out more at: https://www.nkn.org/ncdn/