By Frank Orozco, Chief CDN Technology & Products Officer
As 2018 dawns, media companies are looking for solutions that offer velocity, scale and agility without sacrificing security – and for the most part, they're not looking to expend capital on building them in-house. Under these conditions, we see companies big and small increasingly taking their environments to the cloud, and specifically using providers who have the capacity and expertise to handle increasing traffic along with security threats. This decentralized approach often helps businesses achieve redundancy, and handle the increasing amount of volume and velocity of data growth. Read on to learn about our four predictions for CDN service trends in 2018.
This is a tremendous opportunity for CDN services, which are in a way, the original cloud. They have been doing the heavy lifting in data centers for more than a decade, before upstarts like Amazon Web Services (AWS) existed. Top-tier CDN services have already been moving data centers closer to where the data is generated and delivered, positioning themselves to assist customers across many different patterns and workflows. However, to capitalize on these trends in 2018, CDNs will need to keep up with the competition and innovation within their own industry. Here are my predictions for four trends that we'll see for CDNs in the next year.
CDN services trend #1: Commoditization will drive diversification and an obsession with quality
Year over year, pricing is on the decline, the inevitable result of the commoditization of CDN services. With less to differentiate one CDN provider from another, companies in 2018 are going to [increasingly] move away from simple media traffic delivery to offering value-added CDN services, such as enhanced security and advanced capabilities that make deployments easier for customers. And, of course, excellent customer service and performance/quality will continue to be large differentiators. Industry leaders will obsessively monitor quality of experience metrics, such as availability, response time, throughput, buffering/re-buffering (for video streams), etc.
In the race for CDNs to distinguish themselves, however, reliability and performance will ultimately be king. On the internet, any outage – whether video, security, or software – is simply not tolerated. Industry leaders will bring downtime as close to zero as possible through a maniacal focus on automation, automation and automation. To defer risk for customers to a maximum degree, they'll run through tens of thousands of automated tests per deployment, as well as using feature toggles and canary deployments with real-time metric visualization and deviation detection to further reduce risk. Most importantly, though, a top-tier CDN will learn from any failures and build systems that adapt immediately, so they never make the same mistake twice.
CDN services trend #2: More media companies will adopt a multi-CDN approach
No CDN can be the best-performing CDN in every corner of the globe. In 2018, we'll see more media companies moving toward a multi-CDN approach to diversify their footprint and risk tolerance. Utilizing a multi-CDN platform with a load balancer is versatile and advantageous because it allows users to load-balance based on economics (sending more traffic to the platform that offers the best deal) or performance (sending more traffic to the platform that offers the best QoE metrics in a given region, regardless of cost). In the latter case, if one CDN is experiencing congestion in a certain location, the platform automatically switches to another, less gridlocked CDN. Today's load balancers are even capable of switching from one CDN to another mid-stream so seamlessly that the user is none the wiser. CDN providers should accept that multi-CDN usage is a reality for any responsible technology platform, and that helping customers understand their unique benefit – even sharing third-party and client performance data – is a value-added service that customers will come to expect.
CDN services trend #3: Increasing demand for mobile video will spur innovative solutions
Today, 58% of online video views are on mobile devices, a 12% increase year over year. This explosive growth is great for content creators and advertisers, but introduces a host of other challenges around video delivery. First is limited bandwidth. 4K is a huge industry buzzword right now, but users are typically not getting 4K bitrates on mobile. Currently, only a few OTT services can stream 4K even on a fixed line at home. Once users get off a fixed line and onto mobile, bandwidth narrows from a bitrate of about 10 to 15 Mbps to about 750 kbps – more than a 90% decrease. Delivering content to mobile devices also means dealing with lossy networks and packet loss in remote areas, and interruptions in service when switching between towers. Under these conditions, even streaming music – much less video – can be difficult.
In 2018, best-in-class CDN services will be tackling these issues head-on. At Verizon Digital Media Services, for instance, we're adapting QUIC, a UDP protocol developed by Google, to our edge, a move that will reduce latency and download times for video on Android mobile devices. Besides launching new protocol offerings, we are also working on architectural enhancements to the TCP/IP stack that target mobile devices. These sophisticated technical adjustments are a differentiator for top-tier CDNs and also supply a reason few media companies want to build a video CDN in house: it's simply easier to leave content delivery optimization to the experts.
CDN services trend #4: Security
The Equifax data breach, which exposed the personal information of almost 150 million people, was a stark reminder of how critical security is to any network. This is another area where leading CDNs can differentiate themselves from the competition, by utilizing tools like a Web Application Firewall (WAF) with Rate-limiting capability to defend against potentially malicious requests. At VDMS, we deploy daily rule set changes to protect our customers from the latest threats in a timely fashion; for example, our customers were protected from the Struts vulnerability that caused the Equifax data breach within 24 hours of its announcement.
Another important consideration here is that scale matters in an attack. In 2017, 84% of organizations experienced at least one DDoS attack; the 2016 Dyn cyberattack, the largest DDoS attack to date, was just slightly over 1 Tbps. The CDN services that will see a dominant market position in 2018 will have a large multiple of that capacity so they can absorb a tremendous attack without customers being affected. Extensive use of automation will also be key to CDNs' security success. At VDMS, we can detect and mitigate 99% of DDoS attacks within 60 seconds of identification without any human intervention.
There are a handful of top players who've built their own in-house CDNs, but we don't see this as a trend in 2018. The abovementioned importance of scale and knowledge when combating attacks is one reason. Beyond that, it requires a significant capital investment, expertise and operating expenses to manage these large deployments. Companies looking to explore this option need to weigh these costs against opportunity costs: what else could be done with the time and capital to grow their platforms versus letting top-tier CDNs carry their data? It's a decision that needs to be weighed carefully.
Ready to get your business ahead of these trends? Get in touch with us today to see how our CDN can help you stay one step ahead.