How SDN and NFV will take CDNs to the next level

20 Oct 2015

The value proposition of content delivery networks (CDNs) has always been a no-brainer - the closer that content resides to the consumer, the better the overall experience for the consumer. That’s been especially true for content like video and online games where low latency is crucial to performance.

Consequently, it’s no surprise that the dawn of the Digital Content era has placed even greater importance on the role of CDNs in ensuring consumers can get the content they want, whenever and wherever. The problem is that demand for digital content is growing exponentially, and CDN providers are under pressure to keep up with demand because legacy architectures simply aren’t designed to scale up to support that growth.

Which, of course, is the same dilemma all telecoms operators face, whether they have a CDN offering or not. Old network architectures are nowhere near flexible or scalable enough to handle the data surges we’re already seeing, let alone what’s coming down the pipe over the next five years. That’s why network virtualization (in the form of SDN and NFV) has become such a hot topic in the last couple of years. SDN and NFV can give telecoms networks the flexibility, agility and scalability they need to handle the data deluge of the future without spending a fortune on capacity upgrades.

SDN and NFV can provide the same benefits for CDNs as well. Ironically, many CDNs have employed virtualization technologies for some time. But they’re still subject to the limitations of the underlying network. Operators who deploy a comprehensive SDN/NFV strategy will enable CDN offerings to achieve all new levels of performance.

Video game-changers

To get a handle on the importance of virtualized CDNs, it’s worth taking a step back to appreciate the enormity of the paradigm shifts taking place in terms of content consumption, especially video.

“The essential performance requirements for CDNs remain unchanged - the ability to deliver a superior quality of experience by moving content closer to users and at the same time to reduce the cost of delivery for content providers,” observes Paresh Khatri, director of advanced consulting engineering at Alcatel-Lucent. “What is changing, though, is that consumers are becoming more demanding, the cost to deliver content is rising and viewing patterns are increasingly becoming on-demand. Today’s service providers have to contend with exponential growth of video traffic, rapid proliferation of connected devices and delivery formats, and surging consumer demand for video from many different online sources.”

At the same time, he adds, service providers have to keep up with rising consumer expectations relative to video quality as more content becomes available in higher-quality formats such as HD and ultra HD. “Service providers continue to search for new solutions and strategies that can help them cost-effectively deliver pay TV content and Internet traffic with the superior quality of experience consumers expect.”

Another issue, says Nivedita Nouvel, marketing VP at Broadpeak, is that a growing quantity of video traffic is streamed via the Internet (vs being broadcast) as operators look to target multiple screens leveraging unicast technology.

“Under the unicast approach, every time a viewer requests a piece of content, a stream is sent throughout the entire network, draining the operator’s resources,” she says. “All of these factors contribute toward the requirement for higher performance CDNs. CDN performance has never been so important.”

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